Just in time for Thanksgiving, a new app launching this week aims to make it easier to discover that perfect holiday dish, find a great restaurant, or just flood your newsfeed with even more food selfies. Aptly named "Nom," the iOS and Android app allows you to engage with everyone from professional chefs at gourmet restaurants to amateur cooks in their home kitchens—all with an eye toward building stronger communities around what we eat.
"Food touches people of all different cultures and backgrounds, people in different parts of the world," says Nom cofounder Vijay Karunamurthy. "It's become an important part of people's lives and what they want to share online about themselves. So we built the entire company around the idea that food and cooking is a passion and you can build a community around it."
Karunamurthy and his fellow cofounder, Steve Chen, came up for the idea for Nom while sitting in the cafeteria at Google. Chen is the cofounder of YouTube and previously worked as its CTO. Karunamurthy was an engineering lead at YouTube. While the two were eating lunch and trying to come up with ideas for their next startup, they realized they were spending as much time talking about the food they were eating as they were tech ideas.
The goal behind Nom is to create communities specifically around food, both the people preparing it and those consuming it. Users can share the preparation of dishes with their followers live in a single video, or break down a recipe or meal into a series of short video clips and pictures, similar to an Instagram story. People watching can comment on photos and videos in real time to get clarification on a step, or they can comment later and interact with the chef.
"It kind of adds a new texture to what people share," says Karunamurthy. "I think that feels very different than other social media networks people have tried."
Chefs on the network range from Michelin-rated chefs showing you what goes into making some of their most complex dishes, to home chefs showing you how to make something that you could easily recreate at home using ingredients from your local supermarket. And it’s not just for chefs. The service also works for people who just want to share what they’re eating for dinner at a local restaurant.
"It's a great way to discover and find restaurants in the city like San Francisco that's so amazing for great restaurants, because you can see things visually and with photos. It feels very different than just reading a text review or seeing a three-star review," Karunamurthy says.
Searches can be done by type of food or location, so you can find everything from a great new restaurant in Hong Kong to some inspiration on how to cook your mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner.
The app has been in closed beta for the past few months with chefs and influencers, but launches for iOS and Android Thursday for everyone. It's already lined up contributions from big names such as ABC’s The Chew, Vice Munchies, Disney Family, and Disney’s Babble. The Chew, for instance, plans to use Nom to offer behind-the-scenes footage and additional access to some of its food personalities
It’s also got some money behind it. The company has already raised $4.7 million in Series A funding, including support from Blue Run Ventures, WI Harper Group, Khosla Ventures, SV Angel, the Disney Accelerator program, Scripps Digital, and personal investments from YouTube sensation PSY (yes, the "Gangnam Style" guy), actor Jared Leto, 3-Star Michelin chef Corey Lee, and American restaurateur Ming Tsai.
As for how it’s going to compete against the likes of YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, Karunamurthy says it has to do with community.
"One thing we’ve head from existing creators, especially people that have created videos for YouTube or shared photos on Instagram, is that a lot of times you don’t really get to know your audience that way," says Karunamurthy. "You might share a video on YouTube and you might get millions of views—we have PSY as an investor and he has like a billion views on there—but you don’t get the sense of community by doing that. You don’t have people that are passionate about food and cooking coming to the video and asking questions."
That ability to ask questions and for creators to interact with their audience in real time is something that Karunamurthy says a number of content creators are excited about, many seeing it as an opportunity to build on their existing YouTube and Instagram audience.
"Being able to share a little bit about what they're doing live when they're building a story with that audience is a great way to get people in," Karunamurthy says.
And chatting with the video creator is just the beginning of how he sees people interacting with Nom posts. In the future you might also be able to buy the ingredients to make something directly within the app to have them shipped to your home or book a table a the restaurant where a creator is uploading pictures.
"There are all sorts of fun things happening every day in food and cooking," says Karunamurthy. "We get excited about sharing those experiences."