What might it mean to disrupt restaurants? What would democratizing the personal chef market look like? What happens when four founders come together to figure it out? Apparently, Kitchensurfing does.
Last week, Thrive Labs hosted an “I Am Here” salon (more on that later) and, rather than booking a caterer or hosting it in a restaurant, we experimented by trying out Kitchensurfing. For less than the cost of hosting a salon at a restaurant and triple the intimacy of it, a personal chef worked with me to create, cook and clean up (!) a beautiful dinner for 14 people. You name your price (there’s no minimum) and you then get paired up with possible chefs. They’re still in beta and are moving towards launching in the coming months.
I recently caught up with one of Kitchensurfing’s co-founders, Chris Muscarella, also co-owner of Brooklyn’s Rucola, to find out more about his team’s vision. I wanted to learn more about how one actually goes about creating a marketplace.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for Kitchensurfing?
A. Kitchensurfing is an idea that evolved over time based on a series of observations. Initially, my German colleagues wanted to build a social system for people to find dinner parties but we didn’t think that would be a good business. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about social marketplaces –and I own a restaurant and witnessed a lot of chef culture. Somehow the tension in that gestational period ended up resulting in our current approach.
Q. What’s the vision?
A. Ultimately, we want to create a community that gives chefs a way to cook the food they love and have an audience – and for people that love food to have their best food experiences outside of restaurants. That might mean a Sunday brunch in a friend’s apartment that can last four hours (and no one has to do the dishes). It might mean finding a local chef to teach you about Turkish culture and food when you’re in Istanbul on a holiday. Or it might mean visiting your family in the Midwest and realizing the best meal you can find is a Kitchensurfing chef who’s a talented amateur. It’s kind of like “No Reservations” for everyone, but hopefully with a homier vibe.
Q. If Kitchensurfing is wildly successful, what are the implications for restaurants? Chefs? Eaters?
A. For chefs: one of the things that’s been amazing to watch in our private beta is the degree to which people love engaging with chefs. The tough thing about loving to cook is that restaurants are unforgiving environments and most people that come out of culinary school just aren’t cut out for a career in a restaurant kitchen. (Something like only 20% of graduates are still in restaurant kitchens five years after graduation). We hope to give those people an outlet for their craft, as well as talented amateurs and professional chefs that want to experiment outside of regular restaurant service. So, what we’re really doing is opening up a pool of very talented people to consumers that they never had access to before.
For restaurants: who knows about the implications. Good restaurants will always have a place, but maybe we end up putting pressure on bad restaurants. Restaurants are a pretty new concept in human history. They’ve only been around since just post-French Revolution and while they fulfill certain needs very well, certainly aren’t the end-all-be-all of dining experiences. They’re very good at some things and awful at others. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever had a great experience with more than 10 people at a restaurant.
For eaters: we’re going to change the way they think about what dining options are available to them. Why go to a mediocre Indian restaurant where everything is oily when you can have a talented Indian chef come to your own home and make you real Indian food?
Q. What are the core values that drive your work?
A. We really do believe that what we’re doing is in service of bringing people together and we never want to do anything that gets in the way of that. Food is culture and food is social. We’re just trying to encourage that and facilitate it.
Q. How do you select your chefs?
A. We actually have an open sign up process for chefs and we encourage everyone, even if they only make one dish that their grandmother taught them, to sign up as a chef. Currently, we’re personally screening chefs for their food and for their personability, but eventually it will be open sign up and left to peer review.
Q. Is Kitchensurfing disrupting a market? Is it supposed to?
A. Everyone eats. It’s a very large market. Do we disrupt the catering world? Maybe. Do we disrupt restaurants? Maybe. Are we creating a new market? Definitely. Are we focused on disrupting any kind of incumbent or existing structure? No – we’re on our own path.
Q. Do you think Kitchensurfing has the potential to scale as dramatically as Airbnb did? What are the similarities? Differences?
A. Any time you help people fulfill fundamental human needs, and you take the right approach, there’s a lot of potential. We’re obviously optimistic about our future, but would be very happy to be doing what we’re doing even if we didn’t end up at the scale of Airbnb.
I do hope that we can offer a more social and human experience than Airbnb. For example, no one would ever “follow” a house on Airbnb. It’s a pretty static thing, whereas chefs are people. They’re always changing their menus, their curiosities. I think there’s a lot of interesting work to be done there that’s never happened in an online marketplace.
Q. Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
A. I’d like to invite them all to try the service. There are very few things that I can promise people. But I can promise that if you used Kitchensurfing once a month with a group of 8 – 10 friends to share a wonderful meal or a private cooking class, that you’d probably find yourself feeling a bit happier.
Envision | Embody | Enact
Priya Parker is a visioner, conflict mediator and strategist. She works with organizations and leaders to zero in on their core purpose and build out smarter strategies. Drawing on ten years of work in government, social enterprise and Track II diplomacy in the United States, India and the Middle East, Priya designs visioning and innovation labs that help organizations grow from the root.