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3 days of Umami Chefs, my verdict



This review was delayed by a long-overdue trip to Bali, Indonesia, where I've been travelling with a few friends for a week. It's so good to travel again after such a severe lockdown in Singapore and I had a lot of fun and ate so much great food. Before I left, I ordered from a company named Esseplore, which was recommended to me on Instagram; I'd never heard of them or any of their subsidiary brands, Feastbox, Smokehse or Umami Chefs (I ordered from the latter).


Esseplore launched in 2018 and each of its subsidiary brands provides a slightly different food experience: Feastbox provides full gourmet meals themed to different cuisines, Smokehse focuses on smoked meats, and Umami Chefs offers individual meals or meal plans that are blast frozen and delivered to your home.


Plan overview

Umami Chefs offer 4 types of meal plans: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Balanced, Low Sugar, Plant-based and Keto. Similar to Grain, you can choose to order meals individually or purchase a Gourmet Plan, which is essentially a meal plan spanning 3, 5 or 7 days. Each of these includes:

  • 3-day plan: 6 mains, 6 sides and 6 bases

  • 5-day plan: 10 mains, 10 sides and 10 bases

  • 7-day plan: 14 mains, 14 sides and 14 bases

I opted for a 3-day plant-based Gourmet Plan to cover the days preceding my trip to Bali, which would provide me with 2 meals per day. While I was given a list of the blast-frozen foods I would receive, Umami Chefs doesn't provide any size options for meals and, therefore, it wasn't easy for me to estimate or customise the calories and macros I would consume each day.


Here is what you can expect to spend if you choose to receive a Gourmet Plan:

  • 3 days of meals for S$79.99 (S$13.33 per meal plus S$14 delivery)

  • 5 days of meals for S$127.99 (S$12.80 per meal with free delivery)

  • 7 days or meals for S$171.99 (S$12.29 per meal with free delivery)

You can opt to collect your order from 452 Race Course Road or have it delivered. The delivery charge may differ depending on your address, but if your order exceeds S$85.23 (yes, it's a random number) the delivery charge is waived.


After I chose local delivery, I selected the delivery date and time slot, then I added my delivery address and contact information. Finally, my delivery charge was calculated (S$14) and I was pushed to a payment screen before receiving an email confirming my order.


The nitty-gritty

Here are my observations and opinions on some specifics that contribute to the overall experience: user experience and customer service, packaging and delivery, and cost and rewards.

User experience and customer service

Packaging and delivery

Cost and rewards

At a glance

Umami Chefs deliver meals blast frozen, a process that rapidly cools food immediately after it has been prepared (read more about that here) to preserve the freshness and taste of ingredients.


I don't have a preference between ready-to-eat or frozen meals (although the former is more convenient), however, you should be aware that there is research online suggesting that "heating frozen food up in a microwave can lead to you ingesting bacteria that are still living in the cold spots of the food" – read into that what you will.


I was surprised to receive my meals blast frozen. The images Umami Chefs use on their website show meals already plated and don't show or say that each meal's prepared ingredients are sent in separate parts that must be defrosted and then assembled to create each meal. And here's the crazy part, when you receive all the prepared ingredients, you don't have any instructions on how they are meant to go together – I received 6 mains, 6 sides and 6 bases and had no idea what should go with what. To divine how these ingredients should go together, I had to call customer support and ask them to email me a list of each meal and what parts should go together to create them.


Finally, as you'll see in my reviews of my meals below, I don't know how Umami Chefs expect someone to hit their protein requirements each day. Even for someone that isn't trying to build muscle like me, 136g of protein over 6 meals is very low and some way below a recommended daily amount for the average person.


Friday


Full-day calories and macros: 1,170kcal, P47, C162, F39


Impossible Japanese Soup, Grilled Sweet Potato and Brown Rice (672kcal P31 C100 F18)

  • This was so bland! I don't get any flavour whatsoever from any of the ingredients. This meal was palatable only after adding hot sauce.

  • I appreciate the use of Impossible beef as their plant-based protein.

  • While the carbs were a little high, the macros were generally good for this meal.

  • I cooked everything as instructed on the packaging but the sweet potatoes were still practically raw and tasted awful – I binned the sweet potatoes.

Summer Vegetable Stew, Rosemary Potatoes and Cauliflower Rice (498kcal P16 C62 F21)

  • It was great to see chunky vegetables in the stew, but again they had barely any flavour.

  • The new potatoes were quite oily but microwaved far better than the sweet potatoes.

  • Overall, this wasn’t a bad meal, but it needed more texture, this could have come from some tofu or tempeh. Adding a vegetarian protein would also boost the amount of protein in this meal, boosting the pitiful 16 grams of protein.

Saturday


Full-day calories and macros: 1,216kcal, P52, C129, F53


Japanese Vegetable Curry, Roast Cauliflower Florets and Konjac Rice (473kcal P16 C55 F20)

  • Again, the meal looked promising with lots of chunky vegetables, but it was generally flavourless.

  • I did appreciate an attempt at some spice in the curry sauce – something that most meal plans steer clear of.

  • I was particularly disappointed with the "roast" cauliflower florets, which were barely roasted at all.

  • Again, this meal contained only a small amount of protein.

Impossible Lasagna, French Beans and Lentils (743kcal P36 C74 F33)

  • This meal had great macros and was probably one of the best meals I received all week.

  • The lasagna tasted great, looked sumptuous and had a great mozzarella-like texture.

  • The lentils and french beans microwaved well but may as well have not been included, they were completely bland.

Sunday


Full-day calories and macros: 1,179kcal, P37, C124, F60


Cauliflower Soup, Butternut Squash and Pilaf Rice (446kcal P8 C30 F33)

  • The macros for this meal were bad with high fats and barely any protein, which is a shame because the soup tasted great.

  • I am unsure who put these ingredients together, but soup, butternut squash and rice are an odd combination.

  • Similar to other blast-frozen vegetables, the butternut squash did not microwave well.

  • Overall the meal was tasty but not filling.

Impossible Japanese Curry, French Beans and Japanese Rice (733kcal P29 C94 F27)

  • This was the best meal I received with sushi-style rice and chunky vegetables that both had great textures.

  • Sadly, the amount of Impossible beef included was sparing, there were just 3 small meatball-sized pieces in the curry.

  • Umami Chefs finished as they started, with a general lack of seasoning across all the ingredients and very little flavour in the curry sauce.

Overall review

3-day calories and macros: 3,565kcal, P136, C415, F152


Average daily calories and macros: 1,188kcal, P45, C138, F51


Umami Chefs confuses me. On the surface, the umbrella brand (Esseplore) and its subsidiary brands look and sound professional and give the feeling that they know what they are doing. However, after spending more time with the brand, my overall feeling toward them is not positive and I think they have some glaring issues with their overall user experience. I would not order from them again or recommend them to a friend.


As the number of meal-plan providers in Singapore increases, so do our expectations of what should be provided by them as we are exposed to companies doing it better. I feel that Esseplore falls victim to this, perhaps because (in my opinion), they are a corporate food provider that has just bolted on consumer options without really thinking through how to best serve consumers.


Here are a few changes Umami Chefs could make to improve their offering:

  • Overhaul your website to improve navigation and the user experience. There are so many things pulling my attention in multiple directions and, when I do eventually get to web pages that allow me to browse meals, the distinction between meal types, categories and purchase options is murky at best. Replace the "Categories" menu with a simple filter and more clearly explain the differences between your meal options (and list nutritional information on the Gourmet Plan pages while you're at it!)

  • Include instructions on how ingredients should go together. This is a real facepalm moment for your user experience – you must include instructions that clearly state what ingredients go together to create each meal.

  • Make it clearer that meals are delivered in blast-frozen parts. Yes, you have a web page talking about the process of blast freezing and its benefits, but your product images show plated meals, not the parts a consumer receives. Acknowledge that you do things differently from other meal-plan providers and prepare the consumer to receive your meals differently, otherwise, it comes as an unwelcome surprise.

  • Improve the flavouring and seasoning of your ingredients across the board. I acknowledge and appreciate that you try to preserve the freshness and taste of your ingredients, but that's less apparent if you don't get basic seasoning and flavour right.

Ratings

Price ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Taste ⭐️☆☆☆☆

Meal variety ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Plan options ⭐️⭐️⭐️☆☆

Packaging & delivery ⭐️⭐️☆☆☆

Ease of use ⭐️⭐️☆☆☆


Thanks for reading and I hope you find this review (as well as the reviews of other meal plans I've tried) useful when choosing your plan. If you'd like to keep up to date on the workouts I do and the meals I receive, you can follow me on Instagram.

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