Imagine a family home where one of the residents is a child with a food allergy. Of course, the parents would be vigilant about keeping the dangerous ingredient out of the kitchen. That type of curated approach is the inspiration behind San Francisco-based food start-up leCupboard. It models itself after a household cupboard (thus the name “le cupboard”) that customers rely on with the same level of trust for food that is both nutritious and delicious.
Founded by entrepreneur Lamiaa Bounahmidi, a former data engineer who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry and also studied biotech and business, leCupboard’s recipes are generated by an algorithm. “Every recipe we do takes into account the bioavailability and how the nutrients are going to work together.” The company uses peer-reviewed research to determine the nutrition goals of each menu item. “I wanted to create something that brought precision and data-driven approach and accountability in food,” Bounahmidi explains. “We want…to make sure we’re not just following trends but creating something that is rooted in science and health and in truth.”
LeCupboard has laudable goals for these exclusively plant-based (also known as vegan) meals—to improve mental health, curb climate change, and reverse metabolic diseases. “We’re not using the word ‘vegan’ because plant-based is more inclusive,” Bounahmidi explains. “Most people who eat our food aren’t even vegan, and we bring in the fine dining experience with the prices of fast-casual food.”
Bounahmidi also understands that most people won’t make consistently healthy choices unless the food tastes good, so leCupboard places utmost importance on the flavor of and layers of texture in their products. “Our dishes aren’t hijacked by fat and sugar,” she explains. “They engage you with tastes beyond plain salt and plain sugar. We’re trying to honor and tell the story of ingredients.”
That’s why each dish has a distinct name inspired by various cities or landmarks around the world. Bounahmidi’s personal favorite dish, Le Sydney Cup, arrives in a glass jar stuffed with almond butter and argan oil over Granny Smith apples and walnut-stuffed dates. The dish called Le Versailles is a plant-based chocolate mousse sprinkled with sea salt, pistachios, and raspberries. “We chose that name because chocolate mousse was made famous by the king of France,” she says. “We really want to reconnect people with the story of their food and ingredients.”
While the company’s first storefront opened on Church Street in 2017, the company has recently gotten the attention of publications like Food & Wine and Eater for their mobile vegan vending machines placed at convenient locations around San Francisco. While the vegan vending machines are meant to provide for individual, daily eating choices, the goal of leCupboard’s catering program is to bring great flavors to social gatherings and also reach people who aren’t near the vending machine locations. “We want to send the message of a better food system through catering and work with events organizers and use it as an asset for the branding of their events.”
The company recently launched two catering packages called Fine Lunching Buffets that can quickly cater for crowds as small as one person and as massive as one thousand hungry eaters. Ordering is simple—the organizer specifies the number of eaters, and then leCupboard brings along the appropriate amount of dishes such as Le Cairo eggplant and chickpea fritters smothered in zippy romesco sauce or Le Bondi Beach salad with baby spinach and earthy cumin-infused lentils tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, pickled onions, cashew cheese, and crunchy cucumbers and pumpkin seeds. Finally, there’s a taste of Le Versailles for dessert. Because if this chocolate mousse was good enough for the King of France, then you know it’s bound to be a crowd pleaser.
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