What is a CGO you ask? It’s a Chief Gastronomic Officer! And that’s what Amanda Mayo is at Just Add Cooking. She is also the company’s Spokesperson. Outside work, you can find her in the kitchen with her two tiny partners in crime, AKA her kids, Audrey and Henry. She has a background in both the academic and culinary sides of the food world. As a professor she taught in Boston University’s Gastronomy Masters program, and in the meal kit industry she co-founded Pantry, a meal kit style shop that once operated in Brookline. Not many days go by that she hasn’t brought a bag full of goodies for the staff to snack on. It’s all about the food! We sat down with her (over a meal of course) and chatted about Just Add Cooking and being an entrepreneur in Boston’s food world. Keep reading to get to know her better.
Why did you join JAC?
I met Jan before joining the company when I was working at Pantry. He kept trying to bring me on and I kept refusing [laughs]. Finally, I left my partnership at Pantry and joined him at Just Add Cooking and I am so glad I did. I am very passionate about this company and everything that we are doing. I also love the team that I work with. Jan is thoughtful. He is not the kind of leader that talks at someone, he lets you make your own decisions.
What is it like being a part of the entrepreneurial community in the city of Boston?
For all of its old ways, Boston is a city of innovation. People are thinking outside the box here. It’s a big college town. The kids who are not from here fall in love with the city and have to start something. It’s hard being an entrepreneur anywhere, but there is a great support system here.
What is the past and future of meal kits in your eyes?
Although meal kits have been on the market in the U.S. for over five years now, the industry is still in the nascent stage. There has always been innovation in America when it comes to getting food into the home. People are always looking for an easier, more convenient way to get food into their houses. This is just another step in that evolution of bringing food into people’s homes. Will it go away? I don’t think so. There will always be an evolution of how food comes into the home and I think meal kits are here to stay. That being said, I think that the meal kits with the best practices when it comes to sourcing and sustainability, such as Just Add Cooking, will be the most sustainable over time.
Tell me what it’s like being the face of JAC.
I have always been a talker. I was in my first speech competition at five years old and I watched my grandmother become became the highest ranking telephone operator in Nebraska. She believed that the way you speak and present yourself is the most important thing, and I agree. I’ve always been a horrible actor but I can communicate anything. When I was on the debate team growing up I learned to talk to anyone. What I like about being at JAC is that I get to do just that — one day I am talking to millionaires and the next I am talking to fishermen.
I get to communicate something I believe in to a wide range of people. Dinner is hard. I have two kids. I’m in the 2% if the population with the skill set of throwing food together, and I know that if I am having this dilemma, other people are too. I am not just a spokesperson for radio and newspapers, I am the spokesperson for building relationships.
What is the significance of being a part of a company that supports local farmers and producers?
Our farmers and producers aren’t just vendors, they are our partners. We want success for us both. Ultimately, we are doing this to make a better food system. We want to help them, so to us it’s important to spend time with them. Time, energy, money, it’s all worth it.
How do you follow through on sustainable practices in your own life?
Most of the time, especially in the office, I drink out of mason jars. I also keep a cloth napkin at my desk always at the ready, since I’m always snacking on something. I was raised by an immigrant mother, so to me, sustainability is not an initiative, it is part of who I am. Growing up we canned, raised animals, and grew our own food. We don’t waste food in my family. My husband is an immigrant and we don’t believe in waste.
What kind of relationship do your kids have with food and how have you tried to shape that? How is JAC involved?
I’ve always had my kids in the kitchen. I gave Audrey her first nylon chefs knife when she was two and when Henry’s in the kitchen he gets a bowl of ingredients and is always on a stool next to me. I wish I had more time with my kids. Every minute I’m at my job I’m missing my kids, and when I’m with my kids I miss work. This is the burden of a working mom.
At home, where I have to do mundane tasks I like to include my kids so that we can turn it into quality time together, such as cooking. It’s important to get kids into the tactile sensation of cooking. Audrey, who is almost four, can make almost a whole meal kit alone. It takes her longer than 30 minutes, of course. She made the Jambalaya recipe all by herself.
When it comes to Just Add Cooking, Audrey sits on my lap and picks the next week’s meals and she also picks one meal to cook herself. Henry brings the box into the kitchen and Audrey unpacks the bags and names ingredients. This is a great learning activity that incorporates spelling, recognition, texture, and counting. Cooking with kids is not just about getting them to eat better it is about teaching them skills, textures, etc. When kids cook food they want to eat it, it gives them a sense of pride. To me, cooking with kids is one of the best parts of this company!
What is the first meal kit recipe you ever developed professionally? What is your favorite JAC recipe?
The first meal kit recipe I developed was Miso Glazed Fish with Lime Beurre Blanc. Meal kit recipe writing is a completely different animal than any other kind of recipe writing and developing. There are a lot of parameters to be aware of and work within. Generally, recipe writing is an art but also like writing music, it’s never fully original. My favorite recipe, which is also a family favorite in my house, is the Poblano Pork Stew. My husband, David, didn’t even put this meal in the fridge when it arrived last time, he made it right away. Audrey gets to choose her birthday meal every year and she asked for this stew for her 3rd birthday!
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