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Stanford alumnus Christopher Kim wanted to go big for his tailgate party before the annual football game against archrival University of California at Berkeley in November. He hired a private chef, who arrived at Stanford’s campus on game day with baked beans, potato salad, corn bread, and a 56-pound pig he’d smoked for six hours the night before. The feast was a hit with the 52 Cardinal fans who showed up, each contributing about $25. “Most of the people didn’t go into the game,” says Kim. “The food was the attraction.”
Kim found the chef and placed the unusual order for a tailgate pig roast on Kitchit, a new website that connects picky diners and party planners with cooks. Visitors to the site choose from a selection of chefs in their area‚ ranging from freelance spice-rub specialists to master chefs at Michelin star-rated restaurants, and provide the location, date, number of guests, and how much they would like to pay. A chef who agrees to the details does the shopping and prep work and shows up ready to cook, serve, and clean. Kitchit takes a cut of 10 percent to 20 percent of the price.
The idea for Kitchit came from three Stanford students in 2010 as they entered their last year at school. “We wanted to help people with dinner parties in the home and take the pain out of finding what you are going to cook, how much time you have, and what the best sources for all these different ingredients are,” says Brendan Marshall, who, along with fellow MBA student Ian Ferguson and computer science grad student George Tang, explored creating a smart shopping-list website. Then it hit them: “Chefs have the answers to all these questions,” says Marshall. “We can bring chefs to these people.”
Kitchit opened for business this fall, offering more than 20 chefs in the San Francisco Bay area for personalized dinners, cocktail parties, and cooking lessons. The cost typically runs from $25 a person for large events with basic menus to as much as $200 a person for six-course meals including linens, flower arrangements, and wine pairings. Over the next year the company plans to expand to New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, and Boston
“Catering businesses are scattered around the Internet, and you have no idea if the service is going to be good or bad,” says Karla Gallardo, a happy customer in San Francisco who used Kitchit to host an Argentine-style asada dinner for her boyfriend’s birthday in November. The site let her browse the user reviews and background of the chef she chose, Danny Guerrini, and message him to make sure he could prepare the meal without using pork. “Everything is customized for you,” says Gallardo.
Chefs say Kitchit takes the extra work out of finding and coordinating with customers. “My least favorite part [of being a chef] is getting clients and talking yourself up,” says Kirsten Goldberg, a veteran of Mario Batali’s Babbo restaurant in New York. She’s booked nine Kitchit dinners and cooking lessons in the past two months, and Goldberg says the Web service has let her “just focus on the food and the cooking.” The site also handles billing and provides chefs with a calendar to keep track of engagements. Some chefs are such big fans that they’ve requested business cards and chef coats with Kitchit logos. “They really believe the platform has something for them in the long term,” says Kitchit’s Tang. “It’s not just a place for them to get business, it’s a place to do business.”
These are early days for the trio behind Kitchit. Ferguson and Marshall graduated in June and, with Tang, raised their first round of funding from investors including Crosslink Capital and 500 Startups in August. But the site is picking up steam. “We have gotten unsolicited requests from chefs in geographies you wouldn’t expect,” such as Louisville and Charlotte, says Ferguson. Will Kitchit accommodate bespoke meals in such far-flung locales? “Once we’re at scale, there’s no reason we couldn’t,” he says.
The bottom line: Kitchit plans to bring its chef-matching service to New York, Los Angeles, and other cities in 2012.