Like most of the ingredients in her delicious dishes, Chef Melissa Petitto’s idea for a plant-based meal delivery service was entirely organic. She’d been working as a private chef in Santa Barbara when one of her clients approached her about opening a fast-casual, plant-based restaurant here.
“As the pandemic unfolded, we quickly realized that a restaurant wasn’t our best option and that creating a wider reach with my personal chef business, bringing great food to people’s homes, and elaborating on what I already know and love, was the way to go,” Petitto explained. After finding a shared commercial kitchen, the Thymeless My Chef meal delivery service was born.
“We believe in delicious food, organic as much as possible, and showcasing the amazing produce of the Central Coast,” said Petitto, who worked in New York City for 13 years as a private chef for many such celebrities as Lucy Liu (her first client), Gwyneth Paltrow, and Christy Turlington. She was thrilled to move to Santa Barbara five years ago, and now sources from regional farmers through Tri-County Produce.
Petitto started eating a plant-based diet herself 10 years ago, and is raising her daughter that way as well. “I do not believe in pushing my agenda, but rather showing curious diners that the food is nourishing, delicious, and just happens to be plant-based,” Petitto explained. “The best compliment I have received is when a client tells me they cannot believe my food is vegan.”
When I tried out My Thymeless Chef for a week, I was skeptical of the Beyond Meat sausage in my rigatoni with sausage and broccoli rabe. But as the perfectly al dente noodles with sweet onions, plenty of garlic, and white wine sauce with a kiss of cream intermingled with the robust rabe and tender sausage crumbles, I was converted to the place “Beyond” meat.
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Customers choose the number of dinners, servings, side dishes, and optional “Add-Ons” for light lunches, desserts, or snacks. (Definitely add her chocolate-on-chocolate cupcake as a plus-one — or five!) Prices are about $26 per meal, ranging on the subscription part of the website from $156 for two meals three times a week, to $780 for six meals five days a week. Everything comes in stainless steel containers with recipe cards and reheating instructions. They pick up the containers the following week, and you can skip weeks whenever necessary.
“Sitting down to a nourishing and delicious meal that you didn’t have to worry about cooking, talking about your day with your loved ones, that to me is where the magic happens,” Petitto explained. “I hope that with Thymeless meals memories are created and stories are shared around the dinner table.”
Petitto grew up with a Jewish mother and an Italian father who encouraged a love of food and reverence for family dinners. In high school, she apprenticed with acclaimed chef Frank Stitt, and then earned a BS in culinary nutrition at Johnson & Wales University. A registered dietician, she’s authored nine different cookbooks, and approaches cooking through an artistic lens.
“Our menu changes weekly, so the creative juices are always flowing,” Petitto said. “Following the seasonal produce, making sure to have something for everyone on the menu, and giving as much variety as possible are my standards each week.”
Other highlights from my week included crispy tofu saag with her gorgeously spiced aloo gobi and cumin saffron rice. Her flaky samosas with raita provided a beautiful appetizer as well.
“I love cooking from different cultures and cuisines, and that is evident when you look at the menu,” she said. “I will also be making sure to have something special on the menu if it’s a holiday. Rosh Hashanah just passed, so I made sure to have a Vegan Matzoh Ball Soup showcased.”
That intentionality infuses each meal. Whether it was the stuffed bell peppers or cauliflower tart, each bite reminded me of something satisfying and thoughtful my own mom would have made growing up. Said Petitto, “I guess my favorite thing to cook is food that feels like home, like comfort, like love.”