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A Busy Chef 

Side Dishes: Cindy McKinstrie changes concepts

Until recently, The Busy Chef in Essex strove to cater to the semi-homemade crowd. Folks who like to dabble in cooking, but lack the time or energy to pick up the groceries or suds up the dishes, could stop in and blend carefully prepped ingredients to make easy entrées such as turkey bread pudding and shepherd's pie. Each seasonal recipe was broken into explicit steps by owner Cindy McKinstrie.

But the sort-of-DIY concept failed to set the nation on fire, and Essex was no exception. Luckily for McKinstrie, she had a good thing going with another aspect of her biz: Customers were keen on picking up her pre-made meals to heat 'n' serve. So she plans to phase out the get-your-hands-dirty part and keep making take-out dinners that folks can order in advance. In addition, McKinstrie will turn the front portion of her store into a small café. "I felt there were other ways I could service customers, and adding breakfast and lunch will generate more traffic," she says.

Apparently, good a.m. eats for busy commuters are hard to find. "People are tired of standing in lines, so I'm trying to create something that's quick where the standards are quality," McKinstrie explains. She'll offer muffins, scones and coffee cakes from recipes created by Mary Russell, the original owner of the now-defunct 1820 Coffee House in Essex. Breakfast sandwiches will be served on puff pastry, and coffee will come from nearby Brown & Jenkins.

At lunch, McKinstrie is going for comfort food: "I'm going to do our barbecued pulled-pork sandwiches, which are popular; I have meatballs that I think are kick-butt meatballs - by themselves or on a roll. We'll have two soups every day, salads and quiches."

Because of wastewater permitting regulations, McKinstrie can't serve on flatware, so the meals will come in take-out containers. But entrées can be heated to eat in-house or grabbed to go.

"Everybody is in such a rush that fast food is taking a toll on a lot of people. I want to be fast, but I want to be better," McKinstrie reflects. Hungry commuters can taste for themselves when the café opens in mid-April.

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About The Author

Suzanne Podhaizer

Suzanne Podhaizer

Contributor Suzanne Podhaizer is an award-winning food writer (and the former Seven Days food editor) as well as a chef, farmer, and food-systems consultant. She has given talks at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture's "Poultry School" and its flagship "Young Farmers' Conference." She can slaughter a goose,... more


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