When Hannah Kučerová moved to Prague from Tennessee, she relentlessly hunted for meals that would remind her of home. But the offerings on the Prague dining scene didn’t quite live up to her US culinary sensibilities.
Scouring the supermarket shelves, she quickly discovered pickings for American-style comfort food like, for example, Monterey Jack cheese, were (unsurprisingly) slim. We are after all talking about a city where peanut butter did not make any kind of meaningfully debut until well into the 21st century.
Undeterred, Kučerová decided to take matters into her own hands, combing the markets until she’d pulled together enough ingredients that came as close to American home cooking as realistically possible. Because, as Kučerová herself notes, “after awhile you get tired of eating those dumplings that they put on everything here.”
Her efforts paid off and a few months ago, this Maryland native felt confident enough to expanded her cooking repertoire beyond the confines of her cozy Vinohrady household, which includes her Czech-born husband and two rambunctious pups, who aren’t allowed near the kitchen.
She launched The Girl With The Cast Iron Skillet, a personal chef service that caters to folks craving fresh homemade food but who simply don’t have the time or the know-how to spend hours slaving in the kitchen.
The concept is simple: pick out what you want from Kučerová’s lengthy main dish menu along with a side dish or two, fill out an order form and within three days you can pick up or have your pre-cooked meals delivered to your doorstep. Everything’s vacuum-sealed and comes with precise preheating instructions, a sort of cooking-by-numbers system that is easy and stress-free.
“I don’t want you to feel like you are eating leftovers,” Kučerová says. To that end, she makes sure everything she offers can be effectively reheated and come out of the oven looking and tasting as if it had just been prepared that morning. So, while pizza is out, Quiche Lorraine, chicken enchiladas, southwestern egg rolls, lasagna coated with homemade ricotta cheese, as well as good ole mac and cheese are all doable.
“I wanted a menu that covered what a typical American was used to making,” Kučerová explains. “The idea was to make things you couldn’t just go down the street and get.”
And that’s exactly what’s she’s done: pork-stuffed peppers with rosemary roasted potatoes, chicken Parmesan meatloaf with Italian salad, three-bean chili with a side of cornbread. Kučerová offers around 20 main dishes (including a limited veggie selection) and just as many side dishes, not to mention a couple of pages dedicated to sweet things, baked goods and dips. “My friend actually told me I have too many things on the menu,” Kučerová laughs and then shrugs: “I like trying new recipes. It’s interesting. I’m a notorious non-recipe follower.”
Take, for example, her savory white BBQ bacon chicken – marinated chicken breast with diced bacon and Swiss cheese coated with a tangy white BBQ sauce. Kučerová had come across something similar at a Tennessee sandwich shop, tweaked the ingredients a bit and – bam! – made it into dinner for two.
Whether you are cooking-impaired or just looking to pass off a dinner party without the hassle of actually baking a thing, then Kučerová’s your girl. She really is that good.
Gorging ourselves on Kučerová’s “ultimate lasagna” with a side of rosemary olive bread on a recent weekday evening, my roomie let slip this tempting thought: “Think she’d wanna move in with us?” Followed by this not-so-polite observation: “Why don’t you know how to cook like this?” Yeah, buddy, never gonna happen.
“All of my meals are made by me and prepared with fresh ingredients in a non-smoking home. No frozen mystery meat, sub-par ingredients, preservatives or ingredients that you cannot pronounce – I am not referring to the Czech names here,” Kučerová explains.
Pricing is essentially broken down into “light” and “loaded” options with portion sizes for two to four people. The “light” menu option includes a main dish and one side dish, ranging from 300 CZK for two people to 580 CZK for four. The “loaded” menu option, meanwhile, includes one main dish and two sides for 380 CZK to 740 CZK. If you place multiple orders, 20 CZK is shaved off each meal price.
In a city where the going rate for a lunch-time daily menu is less than 100 CZK at many restaurants, there will undoubtedly be some who balk at the thought of forking over 300 CZK for a meal-for-two that still needs to be warmed up. But honestly, people, you’d be missing out.
“Depending on what you order at a restaurant, you could eat for less than one of my meals,” Kučerová admits, “but your options would be very limited. Averaging out to about 150 CZK per person, my personal chef meals come out to be less per meal than the majority of dinner dishes available at restaurants.”
Plus, she adds, “I’ve never had anyone tell me they didn’t like my food.”
And for those who are curious, yes, she really does cook with a cast-iron skillet.
The Girl With the Cast Iron Skillet
Meal pick-up at Jiřího z Poděbrad or Náměstí Míru metro stations
Meal delivery fees: Prague 1 or 2, 100 CZK; all other districts, 150 CZK
Photos by Michael Heitmann