Chef Jona SilvaPhoto by Ann Bodine

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What’s for dinner? Chef Jona Silva, owner of Cooked, a meal delivery service located on Chicago Avenue, has the answer and it is healthy, tasty and ready to heat and serve.

Chef Silva, along with his wife, Erin Silva Winston, opened Cooked in April of 2014 after realizing neither of them had time to prepare nourishing meals for their two young children.

A trained chef passionate about nutrition, Chef Silva and his wife suspected if it was difficult for them to feed their family well, then everyone else must be struggling, too.

“My wife and I often resorted to ordering Chinese food,” said Mr. Silva who grew up in Mexico, surrounded by food. His family owned a restaurant in his hometown of San Marcos, and his grandmother owned a coffee plantation.
Always fascinated with food, Chef Silva left home at the age of 17 to pursue a culinary degree in Montreal, where he was introduced to a variety of cuisines. Gravitating toward healthy cooking, Mr. Silva became interested in the Mediterranean diet and Asian diets and spent some time traveling and working in both regions.

Eventually landing in Evanston, Chef Silva worked at several North Shore restaurants, including Evanston’s Blind Faith Café and Winnetka’s Tru Juice. He was working as a personal chef when he and his wife came up with the concept for Cooked.

“It’s a bit like a personal chef for the average person,” he said.

The concept is simple. Cooked posts weekly recipes based on seasonal ingredients on its website every Sunday, customers order online, and meals are delivered to their front door on the day and time scheduled.

Unlike other meal delivery services such as Blue Apron or Plated, where a box of precisely measured ingredients is delivered along with a recipe to cook the meal at home, the meals from Cooked are already completely prepared.

“All a person has to do is pop the compostable and heat-safe box into a preheated oven and within minutes a home-cooked meal is ready to be served,” said Chef Silva.

Chef Silva uses only fresh, local ingredients and choses organic whenever possible. Some of his purveyors include TJ’s free-range poultry from Piper City, Ill., grass-fed, pasture-raised beef from Strauss Farms in Wisconsin, and pork from Cameron Farms in Lebanon, Ill. The produce comes from a food purveyor called Local Foods, which allows Cooked to offer a rotation of seasonal items from local Midwest farms.

Chef Silva is also certified to cook for customers with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. He takes food allergies seriously.

“Anyone with a food allergy or intolerance can write the specifics in the special directions section on our website and we will accommodate,” he said.

He noted that accommodating food restrictions is easier to manage in this type of setting than in a restaurant.

“In a restaurant, you have all the food out at the same time and it is very easy to cross-contaminate a meal with an allergen,” he said. “But here, I can say to my chefs that we have a nut allergy today. We can make that nut-free meal first, seal it up and pack it safely in the cooler before any other ingredients come out.”

Cooked also has a health coach on staff to ensure all meals are nutritionally balanced. Nutritional facts are included for each meal on the website.

A majority of Americans say they want to eat healthier and cooking with real food at home is a good way to accomplish that. However, modern-day schedules typically don’t allow for the time it takes to shop, prep and cook an entire meal every night.

Kristin Svets, an Evanston mother of two active boys, orders from Cooked when she knows she and her family will be running from one extracurricular activity to the next.

“It’s so nice on crazy sports nights to have a healthy dinner ready to heat up when we finally get home,” said Ms. Svets. “And it offers variety. For example, I would never think to cook lamb, but I ordered it for my family recently and it was delicious.”

Mr. Silva agreed that variety is important to a healthy diet.

“Most people tend to buy the same vegetables, cook the same grains, order the same meal at restaurants,” he said. “ Our menu changes with the seasons and offers a lot of variety.”

The menu includes meat and fish entrees, but there are also plenty of options for the vegetarian and it’s not only for dinner. Lunch bowls and fresh juices are also prepared daily.

Mr. Silva said he keeps his prices as low as possible. He is a firm believer that good, nutritious food should be accessible to everyone.

“If we want to bring something positive to the conversation on nutrition and food in America, we need to make good food convenient, “ he said. “In order to make a difference, we need to talk not only about the quality of the food, but making it accessible.”

More information is available at Cookedchicago.com.