MODESTO -- To hear Modesto entrepreneur Dan Costa pitch it, he's not just launching a company this week, he is resolving a national dilemma.
"Consumers are eating at restaurants too much," Costa insisted Monday. That's an odd comment coming from him, considering he made his first million in the restaurant business.
But Costa is serious about getting people back into their home kitchens. To do that, he is teaming up with grocery stores and professional chefs to elevate the quality and convenience of home-cooked meals.
Your Chefs of America is Costa's grab-and-go solution for fresh, easy-to-prepare, tasty meals made at home.
Monday afternoon, he unveiled nine entree kits complete with ready-to-cook proteins, vegetables, starches and sauces at O'Brien's Market in Modesto. Save Mart Supermarkets will start selling them later this week throughout Stanislaus County.
"This is a national story," the always-passionate Costa stressed. "There are hundreds of companies across the country trying to figure out how to do this."
Costa recruited four local chefs two from Modesto, two from Turlock to share their restaurant recipes, including their sauce secrets.
Fresh veggies and proteins
Their sauces and side ingredients (such as pasta and rice) are being prepared in Turlock, the cut-up fresh vegetables are coming from Sacramento, and each grocery store's butcher is adding the protein.
The result is simple-to-prepare entrees such as chicken marsala, pan-seared salmon with miso soy, and penne pasta with chicken in a citrus Alfredo sauce.
Each kit serves two to three people and costs $10 to $12, with a larger pot roast entree priced at $15. Except for the roast, all the entrees can be prepared in 25 minutes or less.
There are nine entrees so far, but Costa envisions a day when hundreds of varieties are in grocery stores across the nation. Each geographic region would have entrees featuring recipes from its local chefs.
"So far, we've hired about eight people in production here," Costa said. "But if this test goes well, we'll hire tons more."
If Costa could demonstrate cooking those entrees for shoppers nationwide the way he did Monday at O'Brien's, the kits would be an instant success. His enthusiasm for the product was obvious.
"When we cook in a restaurant, we have everything all prepped for us just like this, but we don't cook the protein until a customer orders it," Costa told Birgitt and Jackie Mayol of Escalon as he prepared a ginger beef stir fry.
The Mayols were impressed with the demo and the taste, and they put a couple of the new entrees in their shopping cart.
"It's hard to find something that's easy to put together at home and that's not filled with preservatives," said Birgitt Mayol. While she tries to cook healthy meals for her family, she said she often settles for a store-bought roasted chicken because it's quick.
Turlock chef: No preservatives
Chef Leroy Walker of Turlock's Bistro 234, whose name is on two of the entrees, said he is impressed by the freshness of the ingredients.
"The sauces are good, and there are no chemicals or preservatives in them," said Walker, who typically charges $13 to $35 per entree for dishes prepared at his restaurant. "Dan's whole concept is to make these kits a high-level product."
Modesto shopper Kristina Santiago recognized another advantage to the entree kit: "I can pretend I made it all by myself."
"As someone who can't cook, I think this is a great idea," Santiago said as she debated which to buy. "They all look good."
The one-pan dishes also are easy to make, assured John Surla, who is the chef and owner of Surla's in Modesto. "They're goof-proof, really," he said.
Costa said Your Chefs of America entrees will launch next in Sacramento, where he has lined up a new group of partner chefs.
Besides this venture, Costa who sold his Modesto-based 5.11 Tactical clothing line for $300 million in 2007 is launching two other new companies.
Noble Equine, which focuses on products for those who ride horses, "shipped its first orders to more than 500 stores this week," Costa said. "We've hired about 25 people for Noble Equine so far, and our goal is to have our products in 3,000 stores by the end of summer."
Costa expects his new Med Zone medical balm company to start shipping its ointments Pain Zone, Burn Zone and Chafe Zone in June.
For more information about Costa's companies, go to www.yourchefsofamerica.com and www.nobleequine.com.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.
Your Chefs of America video