Kitchensurfing is a one-year-old company that allows people to bring professional chefs into their own home kitchens, and after launching in Berlin and New York City, Kitchensurfing is now preparing to get started in Boston. Here's how it works: you pick one of several participating chefs, you choose one of their menu options, and then they show up with everything they need to cook you dinner, sometimes teaching you how to do it as they go. It works for companies, too. Kitchensurfing president Ben Leventhal says the service is a good way for food lovers to get closer to chefs and for chefs to gain an intimate audience, try out some experimental stuff that might not fly at their place of employment, and make some extra cash.
For instance, you could have O Ya alum Mark O'Leary, from the wildly popular pop-up Guchi's Midnight Ramen, come make ramen in your own kitchen and show you how to do it. His menu includes "handmade noodles, long simmered broths, beautiful runny tea eggs... fluffy steamed bao, juicy pork belly, crunchy peanuts." Eater spoke with Leventhal about how it's going to work in Boston and which other chefs will be on the roster. See below for the interview.
So how exactly does this work? Kitchensurfing is a marketplace that connects chefs with people who love to eat. We want people to think about Kitchensurfing like you would a restaurant, like when you're starting to wonder what restaurants should we go to our what should we cook? We think that Kitchensurfing should be in that conversation. You can find chefs basically from $25 a person all the way up to the kind of pricing structure you might see in restaurants. Like where there's a really cool dim sum place that you know of that's really cheap, or, if you're going to splurge, you can go out and get a 25-plus tasting menu at $150 to $200 a head.
Who do you have lined up for Boston? We have a bunch of great chefs. We have this woman that calls herself the "Chief Dumpling Officer," Patty Chen, who will do dumpling classes and cooks amazing dim sum brunch for you. We're going to chefs all the way up the line from all kinds of restaurants that you've heard of who are taking the opportunity with a little extra time to push creativity and make some extra money. You can get these guys who are trained by the best chefs in the world doing their own thing. In Boston we also have Chris Hallahan, who has worked at No. 9 Park, Mark O'Leary from O Ya and jm Curley, and more.
Is it always in someone's home? So far the venue we're seeing is about 99% private homes. We're starting to get some inquiries around weddings, when somebody's looking for something a little more offbeat than a traditional caterer. We do some business lunches and corporate lunches. Google has kind of ushered in this age of having to feed your staffers, so we work with a bunch of companies in New York, Berlin and Boston who are looking for interesting stuff to put in front of their employees, and it just so happens that we have a bunch of chefs on the platform that do really cool stuff for lunch. In New York we feed Tumblr and we feed Etsy and a bunch of other companies.
Why Kitchensurfing instead of going to your favorite restaurant? For me, if you look at the story of food in the past fifteen years, there's this closing of physical distance between chefs and people who love their food. If you're talking about fifteen, twenty years ago, we're starting to see the food celebrity become a thing and you're starting to care more about the chef than what he cooks. Mario Batali becomes a rock star. And then from there we kind of get into this age of tiny, tiny little open kitchen restaurants and you've got a guy like David Chang who's almost standing in front of you when he's serving your food. The idea is that people who love food and people who love to cook are just getting closer together in terms of the kinds of spaces that people eat in.
To state to the obvious, I love restaurants as much as anyone, and I've spent the better part of the last ten years in restaurants, in terms of my eating habits, but I think there's really something to be said for certain events and certain nights of the week and certain meals and cuisines where, if you have a great table in your house and you want to use your kitchen and use your stove and create food and maybe try a cuisine you've never had before, or learn to make dim sum or learn to make just really crazy Indian food, you can get a chef in your house and do it. We're obviously not trying to take any business away from restaurants.
In terms of the nuts and bolts, are chefs bringing their own equipment and service? How does that work? It's all in. When you negotiate a price it includes ingredients, it includes prep, it includes shop time. In a conversation before the meal, the chef will make sure if he needs a wok or he needs a frier, that's something that's at the house, and if it's not there he'll bring it. But in most cases there's a quick conversation around what's in the kitchen, and it's usually sufficient.
So people don't end up washing dishes? Oh no, we leave the kitchen at least as clean as we found it.
What's the feedback from chefs been like? The chefs have really, really enjoyed it. Chefs love face time with people who love to eat, and I think that experience of being in front of some enthusiastic food people has been a real thrill for the chefs. The creativity we're seeing from the chefs is really awesome: the different things that they want to do. We have a husband and wife team who grew up in Morocco and Lebanon and Israel, and their cuisine is this crazy mix of semitic, kind of traditional things; the guy hand-rolls couscous. You kind of think, could this work in a restaurant, would this work in a restaurant? At the end of the day, a lot of chefs are doing things that are way more daring and creative than you'd find in most restaurants. That's one of the reasons that they're loving it.
When will this become available to the public in Boston? Hopefully really soon. We don't want to open it up until we feel that a high volume isn't going to have a negative impact on the product, but I don't think it will be more than a couple of weeks more. We're letting people in every day: if you sign up today, you most likely get access to the site tomorrow. We just want to make sure the quality is where it needs to be before we open the floodgates.
Note: Ben Leventhal is also one of the founders of Eater.