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It was the kind of culinary theater that restaurant patrons swoon for. In an open kitchen just off Manhattan’s Union Square, as customers looked on, a team of cooks clad in dark gray chef coats, aprons, and hats labored over hot stoves, bringing meals to life in stainless-steel pots and pans. It was a Friday afternoon in late winter, and the emphasis was on comfort food: venison and squash, beef and russet potato.

The romance of the moment dissipated a bit once the cooking was done, however. Rather than plating the hearty meals, the cooks set them aside to be packaged

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