Point, Click, Eat

Food portals in India claim to be doing good business, as people opt for the
convenience of ordering takeaway food online. But is there a market for companies that help you recreate a gourmet meal in your kitchen, or bring you choice dishes from relatively unknown chefs? Vinita Bhatia looks at two companies that believe the answer is yes, and let you take a judgment call.

Imagine this scenario. Your friends call up to say they will pay you a visit the coming day and expect to be treated to a gourmet meal. You decide that going to restaurants is passé and ordering food in is impersonal. Cooking a gourmet meal from scratch might not be your forte, especially because you do not have all the requisite ingredients in your pantry.

So do you eat the humble pie and settle down to getting food from a fancy restaurant?

Actually, there are some food portals that empathize with your dilemma and help you plan a gourmet meal without having to be dependent on a restaurant. They might be relatively unknown, but their promoters believe that they are onto a good thing, since
they o er quality and convenience in a package that is hard to refuse.

We take a closer look at two such entities – FoodCloud and CookFresh – that are putting their money where your mouth is.

As college students, Anshul Narang and Raghav Kohli hosted parties where they cooked for their friends by trying out new recipes. Post-college, they began cooking only on weekends, due to paucity of time and that is when they realized that lack of time to shop for ingredients is one of the reasons people become disenchanted with cooking.

"Our service is  useful for people who don't have much experience with cooking or if someone wants whip up a fancy meal for their date or friends." - Raghav Kohli, Cookfresh
“Our service is useful for people who don’t
have much experience
with cooking or if someone wants whip
up a fancy meal for
their date or friends.”
– Raghav Kohli, Cookfresh

“We did a brief survey to study cooking habits and found that the nuisance of sourcing ingredients or finding the right recipe deters most people from getting into the kitchen. Even though most ingredients are now readily available, it makes little sense to buy a bottle of rice wine when all you need is a tablespoon,” Raghav explained.

That is how Cookfresh was born, as an ingredients delivery service, to make cooking a fun process rather than a headache. The site has 33 dishes on its multi-cuisine menu from India, Thailand, Burma and Mediterranean regions, including salads, main course and desserts.

Cookfresh sources the ingredients for each recipe, which are then washed, portioned, chopped, labeled and delivered fresh to its customers. The Cookfresh box includes everything you need for your chosen dish, right down to the rice and olive oil. All you have to do is follow the instructions on the recipe card.

The company has tied up with various vendors to source fresh meat and vegetables daily. Cookfresh currently delivers for free to most parts of Delhi and Gurgaon and offers same day deliveries for orders placed before 2 pm. “Our service is very useful for people who don’t have much experience with cooking or if someone wants whip up a fancy meal for their date or friends,” Raghav adds.

A Greek Salad on CookFresh.in is priced at INR 339, a Thai Red Chicken Curry costs INR 439 while a Classic Cheesecake is for INR 749; which is cost-prohibitive in our opinion. However, Raghav argues that using CookFresh works out to be cheaper than ordering in from a restaurant as the portion sizes for each recipe is for two.

While agreeing that it may not be as economical as cooking from scratch, he points out that buyers also have the convenience of not having to shop, chop or think. “Cookfresh provides a unique service in India for people who enjoy cooking. It saves them time, reduces their effort and prevents wastage,” he notes.

However, it is an uphill ride for CookFresh to differentiate its offerings from restaurants that offer takeaway services, especially since the latter is cheaper and more convenient. Raghav empathically points out that his company is not competing with restaurants and has instead created a platform that enables people to use their hands in their own kitchens, thereby giving them greater stake in what they eat.

Before naysayers dismiss CookFresh on the grounds that it is not viable, take a look at a similar ingredient delivery service in the US, Blue Apron, that closed a $50 million round of funding by Stripes Group. The company delivers 500,000 meals a month and is operating with a $60 million revenue run rate. Will CookFresh be able to pull off a similar feat in India?

"Our strategy is to offer fresh home-cooked gourmet food, unlike commercialized restaurants." - Vedant Kanoi, FoodCloud
“Our strategy is to offer fresh home-cooked gourmet food, unlike commercialized restaurants.” – Vedant Kanoi, FoodCloud

A passionate foodie, Shamit Khemka, owner of SynapseIndia, wanted to create a platform where people could enjoy culinary experiences within the comfort of their homes by sourcing meals from home chefs. Why home chefs, you ask? Because the food from restaurants often feels like assembly-line fare, whilst home chefs add their own bit of whimsy to every gourmet dish. Private caterers often have a minimum requirement, while customers can order for two or more people on FoodCloud, all with a click on the site.

The website lists each chef ’s profile along with their menu, portion sizes of the dishes, prices, pictures of the dish and the time the chef will take to prepare the food. You choose everything online and pay when the food is delivered to your home, which makes it a very convenient process.

Explaining the business model, Vedant Kanoi of FoodCloud.in says, “Our strategy is to offer fresh home- cooked gourmet food, unlike commercialized restaurants. The chefs on our site belong to different cultures and provide food such as Austrian, Goan and Kashmiri, which one can’t easily find in a restaurant. The food is healthier as well, since no preservatives and no excess oil is used.” He adds that this model is definitely cheaper and healthier than ordering food from a restaurant.

Currently, the 150-odd chefs on the site cater to orders from Delhi, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Faridabad, and some of them, like Nutty Gritties, offer packaged food rather than meals. Some small-time restaurants have also jumped onto this site, for instance Ramu Kaka’s Kitchen, offering dishes at much lower cost than home chefs. Some might view this as internal cannibalization, though the site’s promoters believe that ultimately the customer has the right to choose between one or the other.

“These chefs are experts in their fields and you might not be able to replicate their dishes at home, especially given the amount of time and effort that goes into it. We have a standard process to bring chefs on board and as a part of the process, we interview all chefs and do the food tasting personally. So far, we have received repeat orders and rave reviews for our chefs – be they home chefs or small time caterers!” Vedant emphasizes.

He adds that running FoodCloud is challenging as he is organising an unorganised sector of home chefs or home based catering services. But he is confident of pulling it off and plans to take the site pan-India soon.

Read the complete article in the July 2014 issue of CaLDRON magazine by clicking here

Main image: Courtesy CookFesh