USA

Side dish becomes side app: gig economy providing needed income for chefs

There’s a gig economy for everything these days, including gourmet cooking.

Plenty of new apps are cropping up to help chefs earn extra income during the coronavirus pandemic by cooking or teaching about cooking — and they’re attracting some big name talent.

On Monday, Franklin Becker, co-founder of restaurant chain The Little Beet, will launch 100 Pleats, an interactive foodie app that he’d like to see as the Uber for chefs who are making their own schedule and working when they want to.

The app — named after the number of pleats in a chef’s hat — offers a platform for chefs to sell their cooking expertise through virtual sessions that might cost $10 for ten minutes or $500 — or more — for up to 120 minutes.

Each chef sets his or her price and pockets 80 percent, and the app gets the rest.

100 Pleats is based on the idea of customers paying chefs for their valuable time — whether to answer a few questions or to teach a group of friends to cook a meal. There also are classes for kids.

“You can ask [the chefs] anything, like what should you make for dinner, or what to do with the ingredients that you already have in your fridge,” Becker says.

So far, participating chefs include Emma Bengtsson, the first female Swedish chef to win two Michelin stars, Michelin-starred George Mendes, Maria Loi of Loi Estiatorio, an upscale Greek restaurant below Central Park, Mexican cuisine specialist Sue Torres and Indian food star Chintan Pandya.

Meanwhile, chefs working to fill their time — and income gaps — during the pandemic also are flocking to food-subscription apps like CookUnity.

When Mateo Marietti co-founded CookUnity in 2016, it was designed as a test kitchen in Brooklyn for trained chefs who did not have their own kitchens or restaurants — a kind of WeWork for chefs.

Marietti still has the kitchen, but the business strategy has pivoted to helping chefs earn extra income with their restaurants being closed or doing reduced business because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The weekly subscription platform allows diners to order meals from the chef of their choice, including weekly menu options from their restaurants and cookbooks. Dishes vary in price from $10.99 up to $16. Delivery started in New York and now is available across the Northeast and parts of New England.

A Moroccan salmon and squash meal prepared by Chef Franklin Becker at his home.
A Moroccan salmon and squash meal prepared by Chef Franklin Becker at his home.James Keivom

Since March, more than a dozen new chefs have been added to the site, including chef maestro Jean-Georges Vongerichten, his son Cedric Vongerichten, as well as Joseph “JJ” Johnson, a James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning chef.

Johnson said he was inspired to join after seeing the success that other chefs have had on the app, including Cedric Vongerichten, the executive chef and owner of Wayan, a French-influenced Indonesian hotspot. Cedric also helms the kitchen at Jean-Georges’ West Village restaurant, Perry Street.

The elder Vongerichten joined after the lockdown hampered business at Wayan, but he says he’s leaning toward staying long after a vaccine is discovered. “I think people will continue to want to eat at home,” he told Side Dish.

Johnson is on track to start cooking for CookUnity in August.

“We’re trying to tap into a new network. The goal is to reach out beyond my restaurant, to people who watch my cooking show but who can’t get to the restaurant,” says Johnson of Field Trip, a pan-African rice-based eatery in Harlem.

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