Chris Muscarella is a 32-year-old tech guy who's getting into hospitality by connecting foodies with chefs. It's a business called Kitchensurfing with multi-million dollar potential, founded on two related concepts.
First, not everyone wants to have dinner parties in restaurants, especially if you've got a perfectly lovely place (view, gourmet kitchen, wine cellar) of your own. But entertaining people at home comes with its own problems. If you don't have the time and energy to cook a fancy meal yourself, you're going to have to call for delivery. But catered food is almost by definition mediocre and overpriced, and, besides, how do you know if you're going to like it? Still, there's one undeniable advantage of having your dinner party at home: no surcharge for wine or booze!
Second concept: at any given moment, on any given night, there are plenty of talented restaurant chefs who aren't working in professional kitchens. Maybe they're between jobs, maybe it's their day off, maybe their ambition is "personal chef." At any rate, lots of talent out there.
Muscarella's solution, which was born in Brooklyn 18 months ago and launches in Seattle today, is a marketplace website that matches high-end catering chefs and kick-ass restaurant sous-chefs with folks who want to throw a party at home. Two keys: a diversity of menus, and online reviews of the chefs. "The cost is comparable to restaurant prices," Muscarella point out. "And it's as easy as making a reservation on Open Table."
He has 70 people on staff in Brooklyn, a growing number of chefs (hundreds) who participate, and thriving operations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, even Berlin. Menus and chefs are organized by category (African, Asian, Barbecue, Caribbean, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin American, Malaysian ... well, you get the picture) so that you can select, for example, a North African summer getaway (Morocco!) or a Southeast Asian Old World dinner. Plated or family style. Simple or fancy.
Muscarella and his team hosted three dinners in Seattle last week at the Beecher's Loft event space in the Market; Cornichon attended a tasty six-course meal prepared by chef Ryan Ross, a recent transplant to the Pacific Northwest and one of 20 chefs whose names appear on the inaugural Seattle website. Her menu started with deviled duck eggs from her farm near Bow. This particular dinner was listed at $85 per person, but many options are available for $40 or so.
Kitchensurfing takes ten percent as its fee; the rest goes directly to the chefs, who are responsible for their own shopping, prep, cooking and cleanup. The chefs know they're going to be rated, Yelp-style, so they're not going to be sloppy or cut corners. A popular chef, Muscarella says, can make $200,000 a year from Kitchensurfing gigs.
There's a sort-of-similar site called Munchery also coming to Seattle this summer,
but it involves meals ordered from local restaurants. CORRECTION: Muchery's meals are made in a commissary setting. A delivery service called Bite Squad has been around for a couple of months now orders directly from restaurant kitchens, Another new outfit, called Blue Apron, will deliver ingredients to your house. And yet another, this one backed by Howard Schultz, called Gathered Table, offers to put together menus if you're really at a loss.
But there's nothing quite like having a own chef in your own kitchen, is there? While the chef and helpers chop and dice away, you're on the deck with your friends, drink in hand, watching the sunset. Isn't that why you rise at 4 AM, bike to work, jog on weekends, drink wheatgrass smoothies? To earn these magic moments, to hear these murmuring voices and tinkling glasses?