Gourmet food made from the best ingredients and prepared specifically for takeout seems like the ideal strategy for a pandemic. But that wasn’t chef Jonathan Blackford’s original plan early in 2020. The former executive chef at A Restaurant and CdM and his investor were looking for an 8,000-square-foot space to open a new restaurant, but then things started to shut down in the spring. Even after restrictions eased a bit, Blackford called his partner. “I need to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t really feel comfortable putting $5 million into a restaurant right now.” His investor was relieved, and they decided to wait.
As months of at-home meals went by, Blackford and his wife, Kristi, were less than impressed by what was offered. “Other people must need help, too,” Kristi recalls telling her husband. “Your talent is way too good. So many people just slapped the food they do in a box. Food needs a little more care.”
They wanted to do an upscale to-go dinner. They found space in Costa Mesa, included a market and a grab-and-go case, and Fork and Knife opened in October.
It’s not a restaurant, as there will never be a time when customers eat on the property—pandemic or not. But for anyone looking for fine dining at home or just tired of the same old meals, Fork and Knife has filled a giant need. “We live in Southern California, and people have beautiful homes,” Kristi says. “Why go out to eat? Going to pick something up that is a fine-dining experience and not having to do the cleanup and the prep work is great! I didn’t think this idea would be just for COVID-19 timing.”
The market carries jams, preserves, sauces, and much more. Made-to-order sandwiches are available at lunch, and the bakery items, ready-made salads, pastas, and side dishes provide a gourmet option for folks short on time.
“There are a lot of single people who are just getting off work,” Jonathan says. “They say, ‘You have no idea how nice it is to just come in and grab dinner, heat it up, and it’s done.’ We get a lot of nurses and construction workers. We’re filling a need that people are really excited about.”
That excitement originates with the chef. “The fun thing for me was figuring out how to make dishes good in a to-go box,” he says. “We roast the chicken at 200 degrees, let it cool, take it off the bone, then char it on the grill. That way, when it’s reheated, it retains all the moisture. The biggest challenge is trying to go from cold to hot and maintain the quality.”
Kristi chimes in: “Isn’t it so magical that someone thinks about all that for you?”
“Even when we do the hot pickup menu,” Jon continues, “we have everything labeled with sauces to dress and garnish. We want to give people the best experience.”
As far as post-pandemic plans, the duo wants to open more outlets, including one in South County. “I love the concept, and we’ve been blessed with customers who say, ‘You guys are filling a gap,’ ” Jonathan says.
Kristi summarizes the notion perfectly in relaying how she came up with the name: “All you need are a fork and knife.”