Julie Kokinakes Anderson, left, and Nora LaBrocca of Downtown Market Co. bring menus using fresh, local ingredients to home kitchens. - Bob Pennell

Uptown Flavors

Savoring one of Nora LaBrocca's special Sunday suppers, Julie Kokinakes Anderson reflected that families just don't cook enough anymore.

Raised in an Italian clan, LaBrocca shared the sentiment. Soon the friends' attempt at "solving the problems of the world" over a bottle of wine evolved into a new business plan, one that would provide home cooks around the valley with the freshest, local, organic ingredients and an incentive to get back in the kitchen.

"Every woman on the planet has a stack of recipes ... and they never get around to it," LaBrocca says. "What if someone figured out the menu for you?"

Five months after their delicious brainstorming session, the Medford women are poised to launch Downtown Market Co., a dinner-delivery service that invites customers to peruse a week of online menus, select meals, place an order and wait for fixings to arrive with the relevant recipes.

Each Downtown Market meal features a host of local produce and products that Anderson, a 36-year-old nutritionist, selects for maximum health benefits and flavor. Recipes like chicken cacciatore and grilled tuna with roasted tomatoes are offshoots of LaBrocca's "life history," nurtured at her family's homestead in a Southern California olive grove.

"We want to get people reacquainted with fresh food," says LaBrocca, 47.

No mere meals-on-wheels solution, the concept does involve some cooking, for which Anderson and LaBrocca don't apologize. Recipes aren't confined to 30-minute miracles, the women add. However, they perform some of the advance prep work, like cooking dry beans and whisking up homemade vinaigrettes.

"You have to want to cook, or else this really isn't going to work for you," LaBrocca says.

"So where's the convenience?" prospective clients may ask.

Cooks like LaBrocca who work full-time jobs every weekday likely can't make it to weekly growers markets in Medford and Ashland. Families who want to eat organic food may not know where to purchase it or may lack the initiative to research quality brands. Downtown Market does the shopping and brings the groceries to the customers.

"You've got to really go all over town to find this stuff," Anderson says.

Local farmers' community-supported agriculture programs also bring fresh produce to subscribers' doorsteps. But the deliveries can be a mixed blessing — too many vegetables, some of them unfamiliar, making cooking a challenge, Anderson says.

"Those baskets can be very intimidating," she says, adding that she sees Downtown Market as a credible complement to the valley's host of CSAs.

Priced between $10 and $15 per serving, Downtown Market meals are less expensive than many restaurant dishes, Anderson and LaBrocca say, while acknowledging that the prices surpass franchise make-and-freeze dinner services. Primarily fresh instead of canned or frozen, Downtown Market's ingredients are in a class of their own, they add.

"The quality of our foods is impeccable," Anderson says.

Detailed nutritional analysis is another Downtown Market perk, Anderson says. Yet the nutritionist says she doesn't adhere to a stringent formula for weighing the value of whole, fresh foods and hopes Downtown Market customers adopt a similar attitude.

"People are so scared to eat food because they're concerned about grams of this and grams of that," she says.

"The nutritionals you don't have to think about ... because Mother Nature has already taken care of that."

The following recipe is a sampling of Downtown Market specialties available for delivery starting May 30. Home and workplace deliveries are offered to Medford residents. However, Downtown Market will work to coordinate deliveries with customers living in other communities, Anderson says.

Orders must be placed by 6 p.m. on Monday for Friday delivery. Call 778-6123. See more menus at the Web site

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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