Kitchensurfing connects hosts with a professional cook
Ari Warsaw wants to come to your house and make a dinner that puts a modern twist on dishes. How about a salad with a virtual egg made of mozzarella whites and yellow bell pepper juice as the yolk?
First, let Meaghan Q. Sinclair and Harmony Dawn of Booze Epoque serve some of their boutique cocktails, perhaps the “Mercado” of basil, lime, ginger, and gin or one of their 100 different martinis.
Maybe you prefer a ramen dinner. Mark O’Leary, an alum of O Ya and Guchi’s Midnight Ramen, will serve it with handmade noodles. There’s also a meal redolent of Andalucian and Moroccan flavors. Ryan Redmond has that menu for you.
Choices abound on Kitchensurfing, a New York start-up that this month inaugurated its Boston link. You can browse the user-friendly Kitchensurfing.com for chef profiles and meals prepared in your home or office. Menus range from $15 each to more than $200 per person, depending on the cuisine and the chef’s hourly rate (membership is free for customers and chefs). Chefs come to you, cook for you, and do the cleanup.
“If I say, ‘You could have a private chef whenever you want,’ you might say, ‘Cool, I’ll do that when I have a private plane,’ ” says Chris Muscarella, Kitchensurfing’s CEO and cofounder. “You don’t realize this is available and accessible to you now.” He explains that young line cooks working long days want to be able to express themselves and be paid more. “This is an economic transaction that works well for both sides,” he says.
Kitchensurfing has vetted all chefs, eating their meals, observing their interactions. “We need to understand their bedside manner, so to speak, to see how they might connect with customers,” says Max Siegal of Kitchensurfing at a Feb. 12 Cambridge kickoff event with Yelp. So far there are 37 chefs on the Boston site and 45 more about to be added; New York has 211 chefs.
To find a chef, you fill out a form outlining your needs and the form goes to all chefs, like an open casting call. Interested chefs respond with price quotes and menu ideas. Or you can browse lists of chefs, winnowing by price and cuisine, and contact someone directly. Kitchensurfing takes 10 percent of the chef’s total fee (ingredients and labor).
“Kitchensurfing is building a community of chefs and eaters,” says Joseph Yoon, a New York chef who was among the first to join the website. “They handle marketing and attract clientele. They’re getting hundreds of requests a week and giving me constant referrals. Last week, I did a 50th birthday party in the residential portion of the Ritz at Battery Park. I’ve done gigs at Tumblr, Kickstarter. I’m getting amazing visibility. I would not be getting that type of quality gigs on my own.”
Kitchensurfing came online last May. Ten full-time employees and some interns work at the Brooklyn, N.Y., headquarters, which is replete with a large kitchen. It’s not far from Rucola in Boerum Hill, one of two Brooklyn restaurants co-owned by Muscarella. The other is BrisketTown in Williamsburg.
Muscarella is a young tech wiz from Framingham who, among other things, in 2006 cofounded Mobile Commons, a text-messaging campaign tool for nonprofits, government, and businesses. He graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., and has no culinary training. “I got sick of being in front of computers all the time. I liked food and cooking and turned to food as therapy,” Muscarella says.
After opening Rucola in 2011, Muscarella was struck by the “amazing labor pool of people” who attended culinary school but couldn’t find full-time jobs. With two German partners, he launched Kitchensurfing in New York and Berlin. Boston is a working model for expansion to other cities.
Currently, Boston’s Kitchensurfing site is in its infancy, in “Friends & Family” mode. “We’re going to do a special program for Restaurant Week [March 17-22 and 24-29], where some talented chefs from Boston restaurants do more intimate dinners in intimate venues,” writes Muscarella in an e-mail. “We’ll have tickets available.”
The Boston branch has been under the helm of Mary Knudson, a Harvard MBA student who spent last summer as a Kitchensurfing intern. Knudson invited a dozen friends and colleagues to a pop-up dinner last December in the Jamaica Plain home of Warsaw, a freelance chef. Warsaw prepared a six-course meal with whimsical touches like crispy carrot foam in a salad, small filet mignon rounds on a cushion of saffron Yukon Gold potato puree, and a dessert of cocoa puff truffles and mint milk.
Warsaw’s pop-up dinner is the type of service Kitchensurfing may offer in the future. Guests stayed for hours that night. One, Ben Edelman, a Harvard Business School professor, noted that a concept like Kitchensurfing capitalizes on the Internet’s ability to connect people who love food with a business model. “There’s a market for this and, done right, Kitchensurfing should succeed,” he says.
Warsaw views the website as a way to expand what he does best. “I’m an artist. This is my craft,” he says. “Kitchensurfing will, hopefully, bring clients to me and I won’t have to do as much searching.”
For more information, go to