Last week I rushed my son home after dark. He had already eaten dinner, but still needed to bathe, brush his teeth, and read a book before bedtime. My husband wasn’t home yet to help, I still had a few more emails to catch up on for work, and I had just remembered that we were having friends over for dinner and my fridge was completely empty. I didn’t panic. After tucking my child into bed, I opened a bottle of wine, put my feet up and waited for my personal chef to swing by and prepare dinner. Oh yeah, I said personal chef.
Kitchensurfing, a service that sends a professional chef to your home to prepare a meal, is hoping to outsource your weekly dinner chores and make weekday dinners a time to anticipate with pleasure rather than dread. In my household, dinner is often a race against bedtime during which I desperately try to chop and heat something edible. It’s not uncommon for my family to eat in split shifts, with my son at the table at one time, and his exhausted parents chowing down in front of the TV hours later. Even without kids, dinner can feel like one more exhausting task to prepare and then clean up once you’ve come home from work, the gym and the grocery store.
Kitchensurfing conducted a survey that concluded, “Home-cooked family dinners are one of the unfortunate casualties of New Yorkers’ well-documented stressed and busy lives.” They want to change that. Kitchensurfing has made the personal chef an affordable option for many of us, to help bring home-cooked dinners back to the table. For little more than a high-end food delivery, ($59 for two people; $79 for family of four; $95 for four adults) you can eat insanely well in the comfort of your own home.
My husband and I greeted our friends at the door with glasses of wine, and we relaxed at the table chatting. It felt strange not to be shouting out anecdotes from the kitchen under a steambath of pasta water, and I’ve never been so present while entertaining. At 8pm, Pablo (our extensively trained, background-checked chef) arrived. After showing him my incredibly tiny kitchen, my antiquated stove and my highly sensitive smoke detector, he got to work while I rejoined my guests.
Out of six possible menu options, we chose Korean-style steak with sesame daikon slaw and egg fried rice. I wasn’t worried that he would find my cooking pots and utensils inadequate (they are!) because he brought his own. The chefs are chosen for their people skills, and Pablo was wonderful with our annoying questions and lookyloo tendencies. The fire roared on the stove, the steaks sizzled, and the clanks of dishes echoed to where we sat joking and drinking at the table. It was almost like being at a restaurant, but our shoes were off and we got to choose the music–and hear ourselves over it. And, we didn’t have to hire a babysitter. Within 30 minutes of his arrival, Pablo put the food (family style) on the table. After explaining what everything was, he told us he’d be packing up and leaving soon. Most of the prep work is done before the chefs arrive, so that they can prepare the food in your kitchen in under 30 minutes, and leave shortly after.
“This came out of my kitchen?” I exclaimed. The food was absolutely delicious. We never thought we’d eat so much, but the flavors would not allow us to drop the forks. We yelled compliments through the kitchen doorway, and because we were home, we could relax and eat to our hearts’ content. So intent on eating were we, that we didn’t hear Pablo clean and pack up the entire kitchen, leaving it spotless. “Did he leave already?” my husband asked. (Tip and tax is already included in the price.) “I think so,” I said in amazement, as the only thing I found in the kitchen was a surprise box of artisanal chocolates, a magical ending to what could be (with a Kitchensurfing subscription) an ordinary Thursday night.
After digesting, I touched based with Jon Tien, the CEO of Kitchensurfing, about their dinnertime philosophy and how they can keep costs low enough to allow people who don’t live at Downton Abbey to use the service.
Brooklyn Based: How did the idea of Kitchensurfing come about?
Jon Tien: Originally, Kitchensurfing came about when the founder, Chris Muscarella, got involved opening Rucola, a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. He observed that the restaurant model was great in some regards, but less so in others–namely helping diners and chefs have a more personal connection. Out of this observation was born the idea that having a chef cook for you in your home was a wonderful experience and one that we’ve been constantly evolving since the company’s inception. The idea for the service we provide today was born out of the observation from our customers (and ourselves) that making a weeknight family dinner happen when you don’t have time to cook was really difficult; that’s the core problem we’re trying to solve today.
BB: Originally Kitchensurfing started off as a service where a customer hired a chef for a special occasion and worked out the menu with them. Can you talk about rebranding to a subscription model?
JT: We were hearing from customers a desire to take the great experience of having a chef in their homes, but in a more regular and accessible way. For example, we received an email from a customer asking for a chef to come cook a meal for two—the recipe and ingredients were provided by Blue Apron. This started to point us to address the bigger need addressing the weeknight family dinner and how to get people back together again especially in urban areas where consumers seem to struggle the most.
BB: Having a personal chef seems almost extravagant, but the cost is not much more than you’d would pay for high-end takeout. This seems true good to be true! How is this possible?
JT: Individual personal chefs often don’t have the benefit of operating at scale–they have to do the buying and preparing of ingredients, managing logistics of getting to their clients and often marketing to both new and existing clients on their own or with their own small teams. This often drives the price up because you’re not just paying for your dinner, you’re paying for their time. With Kitchensurfing, we have a central team that does all this for our chefs, buying the ingredients, preparing the mise en place, and coordinating routes to clients’ homes. This allows our chefs to simply focus on cooking, and allows them to visit multiple homes per night.
BB: How do you find the chefs and what are their experience levels?
JT: Our chefs are from a variety of different culinary backgrounds, including recent culinary school graduates, former and current restaurant workers and long-time personal chefs. All chefs go to regular culinary and hospitality training. They carry all of the food supply, pans, cooking utensils, and a kit with essentials like olive oil, salt, and pepper.
BB: New Yorkers hire cleaning women, handymen, drivers…is personal chef just the new normal for outsourcing home services?
JT: Well, we certainly hope so. We see personal chefs, Kitchensurfing style, as a solution to a problem faced by many busy New Yorkers–getting delicious dinner on the kitchen table that doesn’t come from a box without the stress and juggle.
BB: For many New Yorkers (according to the Kitchensurfing Survey and my own experience) people who do cook and eat at home, tend to eat in front of the television. Kitchensurfing seems to help bring the meal back to the table, and might even inspire families to do that the rest of the week. What other ways do you think this service can help busy families?
JT: First, we accept (and hope!) that ultimately what we help families with is something we don’t explicitly provide as a service–building relationships and bonds with each other over the ritual of eating together. We can’t force those things to happen, but hope that making it easy to have family dinner provides that opportunity. We also hope Kitchensurfing highlights all of the benefits of what having really good, fresh food is all about. Temperature, texture, taste–those are three big tenets for us on food. For example, getting a piece of salmon with crispy skin and cooked to medium rare–that’s something you can’t get from takeout or delivery. Finally, we’re currently working on even more solutions to help busy families eat together – dinner happens every night and we want to be there to help whenever our customers need it.
Kitchensurfing is a weekly meal service that provides a home cooked meal once a week, cooked and served to you (up to four people) by a professional chef in the comfort of your own home. Plans are priced as follows: Dinner for two, $59 per week. Dinner for two adults and two children, $79 per week. Dinner for four adults, $95 per week. The cost is all inclusive (ingredients, labor, travel, tax and gratuity.) Brooklyn Based readers can receive a discount on their first order by using the code is brooklynbased2016 upon checkout. This code will expire 2/21/16: Dinner for two, save $5; dinner for two + kids, save $25; dinner for four, save $41. You can request specific chefs again, but it’s not always possible due to schedules and customer demand. Plans can be frozen online for up to three weeks. They always accommodate customers who have dietary and allergy restrictions, and this is confirmed each week upon confirmation of menu. Weekly menu options always include meat, vegetarian and pescatarian options. New customers will need to enter in their zip code to check if Kitchensurfing serves their zone in Brooklyn. Current service areas include: Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO.