Chef Pierre cooked for four sitting U.S. presidents, oversaw the cuisine for several Tom Cruise films, and studied for 12 years at France’s top culinary school. He also served as executive chef for a few Michelin-starred restaurants. Next month, he’s creating menus for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I know this because we spent four hours in my kitchen–he in a traditional white chef’s uniform; me in sweats, a T-shirt, and my coziest fuzzy slippers.
A mixture of instruction and entertainment, Chef Pierre (who goes by just his first name) regales me with stories of exotic meals on superyachts and Italian hilltop towns. He animatedly demonstrates how to sauté finely diced vegetables for ratatouille before detailing the proper seasoning for roasted potatoes. We move onto wrapping a puff pastry for beef Wellington before attempting the delicate art of crepes.
Monitoring my bloated amateur crepes far outweighs the restaurant kitchen experience, Pierre explains while leisurely sipping wine. “No one tells me what to do,” he says, “I write the menus.”
I’ve landed Chef Pierre through Cozymeal, the rapidly growing on-demand cooking platform. The online cooking class marketplace has been compared to Airbnb, but unlike the home rental behemoth, everything has been thoroughly vetted to ensure quality. In just four years, Cozymeal expanded from two cities to 26, with 50 more markets planned for 2019. There are now more than 1,200 classes.
Users book chefs of every cuisine (or dietary need) thinkable to cook at their own home, or they can venture to the chef’s kitchen/studio. Cooking classes start at $65, while more private instruction runs $90 per person.
Cozymeal founder and CEO Sam Nasserian launched the platform after encountering a constant dining issue in San Francisco: Every restaurant was too damned loud.
“If you want to have a conversation, you almost have to shout at each other to be able to communicate,” recounts Nasserian, echoing a popular customer sentiment. There’s now even a crowdsourced app dedicated to restaurant noise reviews.
Not to mention, he found the overall experience lacking. Dishes often suffered from overworked chefs who barely ever interacted with their clients. By cooking for 100 to 200 patrons a night, kitchen staff rarely had the opportunity to perfect their dishes.
“I had several friends who worked as professional chefs, and they would often complain about the tough lifestyle,” adds Nasserian, noting the low salaries and high-stress positions. With Cozymeal, “They get to be their own boss.”
A better meal?
In late 2014, Nasserian launched Cozymeal to not only cater to diners such as himself, but to create an alternative way to earn money for burned-out talent. The average full-time American chef earns $5,646 per month working five to six days a week, generally clocking in late hours in an aggressive kitchen culture, the company found.
“Most chefs don’t make that much money, especially for the amount of effort and hours they put into the work,” says Nasserian.
In comparison, a Cozymeal chef makes $7,864 a month working part-time, roughly three to four days a week. They choose their hours, menu, location, and frequency. (The gig, however, is without full benefits.) Cozymeal takes between 20%-30% of the booking value as commission.
Cozymeal isn’t the first company to capitalize on private chefs. Several startups tried to cultivate the at-home dining experience, but floundered to build a devoted audience. Kitchensurfing, the platform to book private chefs for at-home dinner parties, shuttered in 2016. Kitchit, which sought to connect local chefs to private households, followed shortly thereafter.
Nasserian believes Cozymeal will thrive where others failed due to two differing factors: the thorough vetting of talent, along with a framework of setting up chefs to succeed. Interested cooks undergo background, training, and experience inspections, followed by a full interview and mock meal at the chef’s venue or home. Most are former executive chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants or cookbook authors.
If accepted, the platform handles all promotional materials, including photo shoots and a food writer to pen their individual pages–free of charge.
“We provide you [the chefs] with all the tools you need to be able to market your craft,” explains Nasserian. “They can just focus on what they’re best at, which is providing superior culinary services and experiences to customers.”
A growing empire
In the coming year, Cozymeal will expand to 30 more national cities and 20 international markets. While the company won’t provide details, a rep confirms the company was profitable in 2018 in the range of several million dollars. Growth rate tops 100% year-over-year.
So far, millennials compose the largest share of the customer base at 55%, followed by ages 36-44 at 20%. While attendees are equally split between the genders, women represent 65% of bookers. Many women use Cozymeal to celebrate big relationship milestones, female gatherings, or for date night.
The startup increasingly sees interest from companies looking for alternative team-building exercises. In the last year, Cozymeal worked with tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Uber, Lyft, IBM, and AT&T, as well as organizations like the World Bank and the U.S. Army.
Apart from cooking classes, Cozymeal offers two more limited services: private chef services (a prepared meal without cooking lessons) in Los Angeles, and food tours in larger metropolitan areas. The latter costs $75 per person and involves chefs who takes patrons “restaurant hopping,” in which each course is eaten at a different spot. Cozymeal will expand both services nationwide in the coming year.
“We really focus on cooking classes as an experience,” says Nasserian. And the best part? You don’t need to battle traffic or deal with dirty dishes. “Chefs come to your house, cook, clean up, then leave.”