Spoon-Feeding Go-Go Americans Their Cooking Cues : Enterprise: Nathan and Malak Otto offer Bon Vivant, a personalized dinner planning service that takes the brain work out of kitchen chores.


If you are what you eat, many Americans are pepperoni pizzas to go--resorting to restaurants because they lack the time, energy or motivation to make their own dinners.

Nathan and Malak Otto want to change all that. Their solution is Bon Vivant, a personalized dinner planning service that takes the brain work out of kitchen chores.

For $19.95 a month, Bon Vivant subscribers receive 14 days of planned menus every two weeks, along with step-by-step recipes for each meal. Most can be cooked in an hour. For an extra fee, subscribers can order menus for brunches, holidays and special occasions.

Included in a customized three-ring binder are tear-out, itemized shopping lists for each meal, cooking tips and techniques and a glossary telling how to roast bell peppers or the best way to peel tomatoes.

The Ottos say they simply want to remove the worry and guesswork from mealtimes. They also think that preparing meals such as chicken with herbed cream sauce, tarragon shrimp or pasta primavera beats taking the family to a pizza parlor or a fast-food joint.

"If you were to use it once a week," Malak Otto said about the service, "it justifies the cost. That's $5 a week. And if you stay home and cook that one time instead of going out--even if you use it once a month, it still justifies the cost."

Bon Vivant should be attractive to a diverse clientele--working parents, homemakers, singles, anyone who enjoys entertaining and even professional cooks, she said.

"Working mothers, or mothers who are at home with toddlers, they just don't have time to sit with five or six cookbooks and plan a well-balanced, nutritionally sound meal," she said.

Born 26 years ago in Egypt, Otto moved around a lot while growing up. When her father, a banker, moved to Paris, she was introduced to some of the finest restaurants the city could offer.

Nathan Otto, also 26, is the grandson of Wilbert Lee Gore, inventor of the water-repellant fabric Gore-Tex. Bon Vivant actually was the brainchild of his brother, Jan, "but we redefined it," Nathan Otto said.

"We were driving up to Des Moines for Malak's naturalization ceremony last October, two weeks away from having our first baby," he said, "and on the way we just hashed out the whole thing. We thought it had great appeal."

The person in charge of putting together the menus is Rusty Hoffman, 40, who was working for Great Midwestern Ice Cream in Fairfield, Iowa. It was his chocolate-and-marion-blackberry ice cream that Playboy magazine chose as No. 1 in the nation a few years ago.

"I was the culinary design director, a.k.a. 'The Tongue,' " Hoffman said.

Bon Vivant offers five main menus, which can be combined. They include meat, poultry, seafood, vegetarian and "slim," which is compiled with the help of a nutritionist.

Each menu contains a main course, two side dishes and a dessert. Recipes are adjusted according to how many people will be served, a feature traditional cookbooks overlook.

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