Matt Taylor wasn’t necessarily interested in packing lunches for a living.
Taylor is the chef at Farmhouse Delivery, the Austin-based grocery delivery service that, in recent years, has added meal kits and prepared foods.
When the company started to expand from selling primarily produce, meat, dairy and pantry staples, Taylor was tasked with finding ways to make prepared meals that would hold up after being in the fridge for a few days.
"I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to do prepared meals at all," he says. "I love food. I cook constantly outside of work." But like many of us, he sometimes finds himself without lunch and didn’t love the most common options: a plastic-wrapped sandwich, an egg or potato salad or a wrap filled with wilted lettuce.
"My change of heart was, instead of looking at it with a negative viewpoint, I decided that I’d try to do (prepared meals) better," he says.
He started thinking about foods that could be cooled and reheated (or eaten at room temperature) while maintaining good texture and flavor. "Heat-and-eat stuff is usually so overcooked, so when it’s heated, it gets worse."
What he discovered during his research for Farmhouse’s prepared meals has changed how he cooks at home.
Taylor says that one of the biggest breakthroughs was making flavor-packed seasonal sauces that can go on roasted vegetables, grilled meats, grain salads and leafy salads. Most non-dairy sauces, like Farmhouse’s ginger tamari vinaigrette, work with both hot or cold foods, but they also can make even room temperature taste better.
Over the summer, he was making a creamy corn and green chile sauce, and last fall, it was a puree of apples, Dijon mustard, white balsamic vinegar and oil.
To enjoy the signature tastes of each season all year long, Taylor preserves high-flavor ingredients of each season — basil, cilantro, strawberries, lemongrass, corn, peppers, lime and lemon juice — through pickling or as a puree, which he’ll then freeze in ice cube trays.
"A punchy sauce keeps things popping," he says.
When he’s making vegetables that he knows he’ll use in the coming days, he purposefully undercooks them. Roasted sweet potatoes are one of the most versatile basics to come out of his kitchen. "They go in salads, wraps, noodle dishes, grain salads, bean salads, almost anything."
On the flip side, Taylor will make a hearty main dish, like a beef stew, without vegetables, and then eat those leftovers paired with freshly cooked vegetables from his community-supported agriculture bundle. That means he might have the beef stew with sauteed kale one night and with curry-roasted cauliflower the next.
If he has a stew that he’s tired of eating, he’ll strain off the liquid and then use the vegetables, beans or meat in a wrap with fresh lettuces from Bella Verdi Farm in Dripping Springs.
"It’s not like you have to start over every day," he says. "Cooking a big project every day can be tough, but this way, it feels like a new meal, and you’re cooking and it’s fun and delicious, just not so much work."
Taylor hosts an almost weekly soup night for friends. "Soup is a good vehicle to use up what you’ve got on hand," he says, but you also can keep it real simple and then eat it during the week. "You could do a real basic tomato soup, then each time you rewarm it, add spinach, couscous or a different garnish each day."
Some foods, like a marinated white bean salad with roasted vegetables or a lemongrass chicken bowl on cabbage with carrots and cucumbers, get more flavorful with time, as long as they don’t lose their texture, so stick with hearty ingredients at the beginning or plan to make the more delicate components — vermicelli, quinoa, rice — as you go.
"I care a lot about healthy eating, but delicious is the most important," he says. "You can have that health element without having to be super health conscious about it. Wholesome food doesn’t feel like a punishment. To me, that’s what you want to avoid. Cooking should be fun."
This story is part of an ongoing series called Home Chef about what chefs cook at home. You can find other stories in this series at Austin360.com.