Would You Buy Food From a Stranger's Kitchen?


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By: Aria Bendix, citylab.com

A new app called Homemade allows “hobbyist cooks" to market their favorite recipes to neighbors.

Anisha Samant grew up in India, then attended the French Culinary Institute in the U.S. In her Washington Heights apartment in New York, she prepares food using fresh-squeezed lemons from her garden. Her kitchen cupboards are stacked high with spices like curry powder with garlic and sundried coconut. Cloves and cardamom seeds sizzle on the stove.

Samant is one of over 70 chefs using a new app to sell meals to strangers. It’s all part of a service called Homemade, which the co-founder Nick Devane describes as “Etsy for food,” where culinary craftsmen can market cuisine from their home kitchens.

”The barrier to entering the food industry is quite high, and it can be impossible to start doing your own thing,” explains the Homemade website. “We want to make it simple to start selling your own food, refine your best recipes, and connect with people in your community.”

Many home cooks encounter similar problems when trying to sell their items. Earlier this month, three Wisconsin women spoke to the Associated Press about their attempts to sell breads and muffins without a licensed commercial kitchen. (Canned goods, like jellies or pickles, are okay to sell to consumers, but baked ones aren’t.) Breaking the law could land the women with up to six months in jail or $1,000 in fines.

Homemade effectively bypasses these regulations by making all purchases “donation-based.” To get started, chefs must fill out an application in which they disclose their experience, certifications, and social profiles. Applicants are then personally vetted by Homemade’s co-founders, who visit their homes and taste their dishes beforehand.

Once a cook is approved, Homemade offers them information on how to photograph, price, and schedule their meals. The app’s software also helps to manage requests and pickup information, among other logistics. The aim is to provide what Devane calls “empowerment tech,” where individuals are given the tools and strategies to follow their passion without having to start their own businesses or work for low wages at a restaurant (the annual wage of a restaurant cook in the U.S. is around $23,700).

On the user side, customers can log on to the app and select their food preferences from among six options: healthy, sweet, vegan, homey, ethnic, or munchy. Next, they plug in their addresses to find pictures of dishes from local chefs. The app works similarly to a crowdfunding campaign in that chefs list the number of servings needed to activate the deal. Once their goal has been reached, customers are free to request dishes for the allotted price ($8-$15, on average).

Each dish on the app is featured alongside a list of ingredients, a profile of the chef, a space for people to rate the food and leave comments, and information on when the dish is being served next (anywhere from that night to the following week).

The main drawback to a service like Homemade, of course, is a lack of sanitary regulation. While the service awaits the day when its chefs can receive Temporary Food Establishment permits for their homes, the idea of eating food cooked at a stranger’s house may be disconcerting for some.

Then again, that’s a risk many New Yorkers have already taken by ordering from Seamless. Much to customers’ surprise, an NBC 4 New York investigation recently revealed that private residences were masquerading on the site as licensed restaurants. At the very least, the Homemade app identifies the person making your food, and even hopes you’ll connect with them after eating their meal.

Homemade currently operates in all five boroughs of New York, and plans to expand its business in the near future. “We have several dozen cooks from new cities coming on board over the next few weeks,” Devane says in an email, “but we are particularly interested in under-served food areas with a ton of amazing cooks.” Devane speculates that Homemade could eventually be used as a tool to eliminate food deserts by connecting neighbors with one another.

Until then, we’ll have to wait and see how many people are keen on eating something prepared in someone else’s house. But for those looking to avoid cooking while also sidestepping restaurant prices, Homemade is about as good as it gets.

NOTE: Businesses mentioned in this article are not affiliated with The Chef Alliance.