These Apps Are Helping Out-of-Work Chefs and Home Cooks Sell Their Creations
An unexpected lifeline for professional chefs, born out of the pandemic.
When Oren Saar first came up with the idea for WoodSpoon, he had his dad’s shakshuka in mind. The dish is made up of basic ingredients and requires only a simple technique, but he had truly mastered it over the years, and with help from an app like WoodSpoon, he’d be able to sell the dish to people in his area and bring in some extra money on the side.
Saar envisioned people whipping up traditional family recipes, selling their creations on his app, and delivering the food all around New York City—but COVID-19 had other plans. Once the pandemic hit, Saar found there was an entirely new population interested in using his service. WoodSpoon and other apps like HomeMade, Cook’d, DishDivvy, and Shef that are designed to help casual home cooks quickly became lifelines for out-of-work professional chefs who had lost their income.
After its official launch in March, WoodSpoon was inundated with requests to join the app. “We thought we were going to support people who had a daily job but wanted to share their culture and food with other people, but all of a sudden we found ourselves in the middle of the pandemic with more than 1,000 restaurant workers applying in the same week,” Saar said. “They had just lost their jobs, their restaurants were closed—they didn't know what to do.”
They had just lost their jobs, their restaurants were closed—they didn't know what to do.
The app currently has about 120 chefs selling their food in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Hoboken, and Jersey City and there’s a waitlist of chefs who have completed the application process and will be added to the program once demand allows.
To get involved with WoodSpoon, home cooks apply online, undergo a food safety training and onboarding session, have their home kitchen checked by a WoodSpoon employee, and cook test meals that are served to WoodSpoon employees for grading. WoodSpoon has one of the more rigorous application and onboarding processes out there, but they also help the chefs take photos of their creations and market themselves to ensure their success.
Over on the West Coast, Kapil Pershad and Yaniv Horovitz launched HomeMade in August and now have about 700 professional chefs and home cooks using the app in a 200-mile radius around Riverside County near Los Angeles.
Pershad said they were inspired by the pandemic and passage of California Homemade Food Operations Act—a law that allows home cooks in certain California counties to sell up to 60 meals per week and bring in up to $50,000 per year—to create an app that would help home cooks share “old generational recipes.”
The legality of selling food from home without a license varies by state, but Horovitz pointed out that the idea of casually selling food to friends and neighbors was not a new concept.
“We came to realize that before this law was enacted there was a lot of food being sold underground or within communities that hadn’t really been talked about or made mainstream,” Horovitz said. “So this law is going to bring these people to the forefront and help them make an income.”
While many of the apps were designed with home cooks in mind, they have been vital for chefs like Kevin Martinez, a chef who worked at Nobu in NYC and now uses WoodSpoon, or Danielle Duran, who has worked in top kitchens on both coasts and appeared on the Food Network’s show Beat Bobby Flay and now uses DishDivvy.
James Distefano, an NYC-based pastry chef who has earned a Michelin star for his work at Rouge Tomate and taught at the Institute of Culinary Education, started selling miso-butterscotch blondies and classic tiramisu on Shef over the summer after being furloughed despite never selling pastries on his own before.
“I never had a reason to do that before COVID because I was always working,” he said. “I was working like 10 hours a day, sometimes even up to 14 hours a day during our busy times, so the last thing I wanted to do when I got home or when I had a day off was do more baking.”
But with more time on his hands, Distefano set up shop in his apartment and started baking. He would use the app to accept orders in advance and have his treats ready for delivery on two designated days per week. At the time, he was fielding several orders per day.
Distefano is now back to work in a professional kitchen as the executive pastry chef at Brooklyn’s Francie, but he’s kept up with orders on Shef once a week to supplement his income. The flexibility of the app allows him to juggle personal orders with his work for the restaurant, and providing that extra bit of support is what founders of these apps said their work is all about.
“What gets me going and makes me want to wake up every morning for work is speaking with these local home chefs and the community every day and trying to help them thrive through this time,” WoodSpoon’s founder, Saar, said. “We just want to do whatever we can to help.”