Rapid City business creates fresh, home-cooked meals

Tami Maguire chops bell peppers for a customer salad at Fresh Creative Kitchen on Rushmore Road in Rapid City on Nov. 21. (Adam Fondren/Rapid City Journal via AP)

RAPID CITY (AP) – Marinell Simpson and her staff will prepare and cook the fresh home-cooked meals their busy customers really want to make themselves – if only they had time.

Simpson opened Fresh Creative Kitchen in late May in Rapid City. Her wide variety of entrees, side dishes, salads and desserts are ordered days in advance, prepared in small batches with an emphasis on low waste, and are ready to pick up and serve.

“A lot of people who want to eat well don’t have time to cook and don’t even have time to buy groceries,” Simpson told the Rapid City Journal. “This is a new concept in doing meals and eating well.”

Fresh Creative Kitchen takes other online meal delivery services – such as Home Chef, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, which also offer a wide variety of complete, healthy meals – to another level.

“This goes a step further,” she said. “It’s fully cooked, ready to eat.”

Another difference: “They send everything you need, but you still have to spend some time cooking it. The real drawback is all the packaging. There’s a lot of waste,” Simpson said.

At Fresh Creative Kitchen, fresh meal choices to go are offered for pickup Monday through Thursday. Orders can be placed online at freshcreativekitchen.com. The deadline to order is midnight Wednesday for pickup on a designated day and time the following week.

Simpson and her chefs will time a dish to be prepared and ready at the appointed pick-up time. To maintain freshness, nothing is prepared in advance.

Dishes that require a sauce needs to simmer for hours, or a meat better slow oven-roasted, figure into the designated pick-up time.

“I’m cooking to deadline,” she said.

Simpson also delivers on her low-waste mantra by serving her dishes in reusable glass casseroles instead of throw-away styrofoam boxes.

Lined, reusable baskets available for purchase, or recyclable fresh fruit cartons from a nearby grocery store are pressed into service.

The glass casseroles can go right to the dinner table.

“You can even make it look like you cooked it because it doesn’t come in packaging,” she said.

Most customers bring the casserole back the next time they order.

“They’re all coming back because people don’t want the container, they want the food,” Simpson said.

The low-waste emphasis comes naturally for Simpson, who grew up in a family of self-reliant gardeners and canners.

“I was raised on good cooking. My mom, Nell, was very budget-conscious. We didn’t eat out really at all as a kid,” she said.

Simpson began her career writing for newspapers and magazines. She also taught English at Stevens High School.

Her skills as a home chef were built through trial-and-error, along with occasional cooking classes.

Eventually, she was not only cooking for her own family but was preparing meals for friends, too.

“I was cooking for five families other than my own for five years and needed a commercial kitchen to take it to the next level,” she said.

In August 2018, she and her husband, Mike, purchased the building that has served as a travel agency, pet shop, and day spa and residence on Mount Rushmore Road.

The couple gutted the entire house, opening up the main floor for a spacious, modern commercial kitchen on one side. On the other side is a homey area that hearkens back to grandma’s dining room and is used for small in-house meetings.

Rejuvenating an existing structure, rather than leasing in an existing strip mall or building new, was also part of her low-waste philosophy.

“It was a sad little building that was in need of rescue,” Simpson said. “Rescuing an older building was part of it, not building new.”

Now in its sixth month, Fresh Creative Kitchen has developed a following. Simpson employs a staff of up to seven part-time cooks to prepare dishes with servings for two, four or eight people.

Next week’s Monday and Tuesday menu is a mixture of Southwestern dishes: Chicken, steak or veggie fajitas, chicken enchiladas, Tex-Mex taco salad, Mexican chopped salad, sweet corn spoon bread. Cranberry-raspberry oat bars or Better Than Chocolate Cupcakes are dessert options.

Wednesday and Thursday offers two types of lasagna, roasted fall vegetables, sauteed green beans with garlic and almonds, with or without bacon, Arugula Fig Salad or Simple Salad, with Maple-Glazed Pumpkin Donuts for dessert.

Her lean bowls, featuring fresh greens and fruit, proteins such as shrimp or lean chicken, have proven popular for lunches.

She will change the menu each week.

“There have been some repeats. I’m learning what people like as favorites,” she said.

Simpson also encourages her staff to bring in new ideas and try new things.

“That’s the fun of it. We’re not corporate. We can do whatever we want to do,” she said.

“It’s a creative kitchen,” she said. “We’re literally making up what we want to cook.”

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