The Kitchen Meets the Computer
Today's tech investors are spending heavily on a new menu of innovative culinary businesses. The next wave of food-tech startups goes beyond the social review platforms (Yelp), food delivery services (Foodler, GrubHub) and online reservation services (OpenTable, UReserv) that have dominated the market in recent years. And they're doing it by focusing on the side of the equation these startups left out: dining at home.
Here's a look at a few notable startups that are winning over investors, and giving you a whole new way to get your grub on this October:
Blue Apron: At last, a company finally understands how awful it is that you need to skip "Wheel Of Fortune" to go grocery shopping once a week. Blue Apron is a New York-based weekly subscription food delivery service that offers to send all the ingredients needed to make fresh, restaurant-quality dinners directly to your door.
At $60 a week for a maximum of three meals, Blue Apron won't exactly replace your weekly shopping trips -- for that you'll need to check if AmazonFresh, Peapod or Instacart is available in your area. But, it does provide a cheap alternative to dining out, and a fun way to enhance your cooking skills with new ingredients and recipes.
Blue Apron sends refrigerated packages every Wednesday, and in two trials, the meals and produce beat expectations. One avocado bested anything at my local Trader Joe's, and meals like the orange-glazed tofu with barley and vegetable salad, and the peronata pizza with broccolini and fresh mozzarella, while occasionally intensive to prepare, packed a taste that kept me talking about the service.
Similar services: Chefday!, HelloFresh, PlateJoy, Plated
Cookening: Tired of making your wine-simmered manila clams for an audience of one? Cookening may be the startup that helps you finally share your passion with others. Styling itself as the Airbnb or Couchsurfing of cooking, the France-based company pairs travelers looking to save money with semi-pro cooks willing to welcome guests to their table, sometimes in their own homes.
While the concept is novel, the service is still in its initial stages. As of this writing, only about 10 tables are hosting visitors in the United States, and none was available in my area. With travel costs straining most budgets, it may be for early adopters only in the foreseeable future. Still, it's hard to believe that those travelers who can manage the expense won't give Cookening a try.
Local Dirt: Founded in 2005, Local Dirt is still a bit of a niche service. It aims to connect farmers with businesses and individuals that want to buy and sell fresh food directly from the source. To increase its accessibility, Local Dirt partnered with Locavore in 2012, a like-minded mobile app that allows you to search for local in-season food and try new recipes.
The catch is, it won't exactly reveal new farms hidden near your cramped inner-city apartment. It seems to work best in rural areas where the farms are located. Those urban dwellers that want to take advantage of the service may need to rent a Zip Car for that long country drive to reach them, or just settle for what's available at their local grocery store.
Supercook: SuperCook was made for single guys. It quickly and easily answers this essential question: Is there not a gourmet meal somewhere in this near-barren fridge?
Simply tell SuperCook the ingredients you currently have in stock, and it will give you recipes tailored to your current options. It won't exactly turn your leftover fortune cookies and mustard sauce into French onion soup, but it's a fun and easy way to clean out your fridge without wasting food.
The service itself is a recipe aggregator -- meaning it will direct you to other more well known sites for the recipes themselves. It's a worth a stop, though, for its large community and helpful recipe reviews. After all, don't you want to know what you're really getting into with Martha's Soft-Boiled Eggs?
Similar services: Recipe Matcher, Cocktail Builder