Kitchensurfing: Sharing the Pleasure.

Those who invite chefs to their homes can enjoy a more laid-back meal, higher quality treats – and the whole kitchen surfing experience – the latest start-up craze from New York. We took the plunge and tested the service.
Photos & Text: Felix Zeltner

A Loft in Tribeca.

“Hey, let’s get you a beer!” says Borahm Cho, welcoming me with a bottle of Samuel Adams. Nodding breathlessly after scaling five steep, creaky wooden stairs all the way to the top of an old residential building in New York’s hot Tribeca district, I marvel at the spacious loft. White-washed walls, windows facing a nocturnal New York. The loft itself was a spontaneous Airbnb rental, another well-known example of the budding sharing economy, which thrives on people sharing their goods and skills with others, often for a fee.

Borahm has asked me to come over to experience his Kitchensurfing start-up in action. The evening’s chef, Frederick, usually works as a sous chef for a major bank’s canteen – and now he uses Kitchensurfing to rent out his skills in his spare time. He tells us about all the fun he is having, the many great kitchens he gets to use and sparkling conversations he has with the strangers he treats to his excellent cooking. Within half an hour, he has whipped up a delicious vegetarian feast of poached eggs, pita bread and hummus. Borahm Cho, the founder of Kitchensurfing, had ordered it only a few hours earlier via his own website.

Sharing Economy.

Borahm, Kitchensurfing is part of the so-called sharing economy. Can you tell me a little bit about how it all works? My definition of the sharing economy is that you have a certain good – say, a building, car or skill – and then you decide to share it with others. Meaning: What’s mine is also yours. At the same time, to me the sharing community also has a financial aspect. It is not only about just sharing, but it also allows people to make money from their skills or goods – something they couldn’t really do before. In a way, Kitchensurfing allows people to monetise their cookery skills – and develop their own brand as a chef.

First Steps.

How did you end up here? Back in 2011, I already had a rough idea of a service for social dining-meets-travel and planned to buy the domain. Although this domain was already gone, its owner turned out to be this super cool guy. He not only sold me the domain for bitcoins and convinced me to invest in this virtual currency – which in 2011 was still virtually unknown – but also advised me to take my kitchen surfing idea to New York. He introduced me to his local network by e-mail and I spent two weeks just meeting people, including Chris (Muscarella, co-founder of Kitchensurfing). We immediately hit it off. Chris had already run a restaurant and realised that chefs are not only badly paid – in addition, most tips tend to stay with the waiters and rarely make their way back to the kitchen. It was his aim to give chefs a new opportunity to make money with Kitchensurfing.

How did the launch go? Chefs soon spread the word within the city. We did events, activated networks and received our first funding round after just a few weeks. And then there was Sandy… the worst storm to ever hit New York. We immediately activated our community. Our chefs ended up cooking around a thousand meals a day and taking these to the Rockaways, an area in the south of New York that had been especially hard-hit by Sandy, almost cut off from the rest of the city. We were faster and more cost-effective than the Red Cross. Sandy and the response it triggered among people, the way people helped each other on any level; that was really crazy.

The Customer.

So, who are your customers? Young professionals with above-average incomes. But also rich people. And the New York crowd. Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) is one of our best customers. But there are also plenty of people who simply want to treat themselves. Overall, last year around 100,000 guests enjoyed Kitchensurfing. And Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day are always extremely busy.

'As minimal as possible'

Enjoyment and sharing instead of ownership. In your opinion, how will this affect our view of status symbols, like owning a car? According to many statistics, fewer and fewer people own homes, apartments or cars. Yet the next generation will still drive a Mercedes – using services like Car2Go, a company partially owned by Mercedes-Benz. Car2Go still has the fixed costs, owns the cars and enables people to lead a more flexible lifestyle. I, myself, try to have as few fixed costs as possible. I own a laptop, I have internet access, I have my phone and that’s all I need. I don’t even have very many clothes. I try to live a very minimal lifestyle. I use Car2Go almost every day and am very happy with the set-up.

Finally, what is your future wish or vision for Kitchensurfing? We want to get more people to share meals with each other.

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