The idea of having a private chef might seem like one that's limited to the Hollywood elite, but a new food and technology startup called Kitchensurfing is aiming to change that. The website is a digital forum that acts as an open kitchen, giving diners intimate access to the stories behind their food and the people making it, while allowing chefs and culinary enthusiasts to cook for an attentive audience.
Kitchensurfing was founded by Chris Muscarella and is based out of a townhouse in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. The company vets everyone from credentialed professionals with years of restaurant experience to self-taught cooks. Once they pass the test, chefs are given access to a site full of hungry foodies looking for a personal dining experience.
The site caters to all types of food lovers: folks looking to take private cooking classes, managers interested in a unique twist on office catering, couples wanting to host intimate dinner parties, or even brand-new parents that are simply too exhausted to cook.
The company soft-launched in January of last year, and has been taking bookings in New York, Boston and Berlin ever since. Eventually, they hope to have a Kitchensurfing hub in every major city.
Muscarella wanted to create an outlet for private chefs to access clients interested in a unique, personal and slightly indulgent dining experience, and did so by melding his background in both technology and restaurants.
The result? A service that not only helps hungry food lovers who are willing to pay for authentic cuisine connect with talented chefs, but also serves those with a passion for cooking. Take Lany Phlong, an advertising professional who gave up her career to learn the art of Cambodian cooking. Phlong didn’t go to culinary school, and cooking for a living was just a pipe dream until she started working with Kitchensurfing. Because she is skilled in the kitchen, she’s now able to make money doing the work she loves even though she didn’t have previous professional experience.
Think of it like Couchsurfing.org or Airbnb for foodies. To book a chef, fill out some basic information on the Kitchensurfing site: your zip code, date range, number of guests and price range. The site will then generate a list of chefs, their availability and their menus for you to choose from. The final step: Enjoy a tasty meal cooked in your own home (or office — or whatever locale you choose) while you entertain your friends. The bill for Kitchensurfing bookings includes the tip, ingredients and clean-up, and prices range widely depending on the type of meal, the chef and intricacy of the menu you choose.
For example, a three-course date night cooking class and meal for two can cost around $120, while a brunch for 10 can total as low as $180. So while it’s not necessarily a cheaper option than eating out, the price is comparable while you eat in the comfort of your own home.
Muscarella currently tries out the chefs’ fare before they’re allowed to book clients on the site, but as the business grows, he’ll have to hand off some of the vetting to his peers.
“We're moving towards more of a peer review system for chefs, but we still do a weekly lunch at the Kitchensurfing office where five to eight chefs show up, make something delicious, and then sit down to share it with the other chefs and the Kitchensurfing team,” Muscarella told TODAY.com. “We've put hundreds of chefs online, but we have a backlog of thousands of chefs.”
Of course, it's not just about the dinner — it’s also about creating a unique shared experience.
“At the end of the day, eating with other people isn't really about the food. The food needs to be good and it provides a backdrop to the experience, but I think if you ate every dinner focused solely on the food you might end up an unhappy person,” Muscarella said. “I think people initially try Kitchensurfing for the novelty or to fulfill some kind of epicurean fantasy—but then they realize the value of being in their own space and what that does to a conversation.”