The studio apartment I had in graduate school shared a lightwell with another three apartments. None of my neighbors were particularly noisy but man, could they cook! Sunday afternoons as I was tied to my desk finishing up a paper or preparing for the next day’s seminar, my apartment would fill with the aroma of meatballs being fried or lamb roasting in the oven. I still remember late afternoons in the fall when my concentration was completely broken by the smell of an apple pie baking in a neighbor’s oven.
As a single and relatively poor student I relied heavily on take-out, salads and the university cafeteria. My cooking, if you can call it that, was confined to things like macaroni ‘n cheese, tuna casserole and now and then a pan-fried pork chop.
Of course I never dared ask for a portion of my neighbors’ cooking, though I was on friendly terms with most of them, and I imagine they would have cut me a piece of lasagna had I asked. The irony is that they probably had a few servings left over anyway. I would have paid. And at least one of my neighbors, a retired unmarried woman trying to make ends meet on a small pension, would have been glad for the extra cash. If only Cookisto had been around then.
Cookisto is an online community that connects amateur cooks and hungry city residents. The idea is diabolically simple. Like me at graduate school, there are lots of people who can’t or don’t want to cook, but would love an inexpensive home-cooked meal. And there are people, like my pensioner neighbor, who are cooking anyway—and usually more than they can eat—and might be interested in selling the extra portions. Connect the two and let them exchange food for cash.
Cookisto says its “gourmets”—the order placers, as it were—are people who don’t have the time, energy or talent to cook. Or people who are tired of take-out or simply can’t afford it anymore. We are in the middle of a protracted and deep recession after all. And the cooks? Talented enthusiasts who are glad of the public recognition of their skills or who just want to earn a little extra cash.
Cooks list the dish, number of servings available and cost per serving, as well as a time frame within which the user can pick up the order. As a user, you begin by entering your location and then are presented with a list of the day’s menu offerings in their area, as well as a map of the cooks in your area. You find what you want to eat, contact the cook and arrange the pick up (the site rightfully recommends that this not happen in the cook’s home). Many of the cooks registered with Cookisto even deliver, within a 1 km radius of their homes. Most of the dishes are down-to-earth and relatively healthy Greek home cooking, things like braised chicken with okra, zucchini and cheese pie, baked elephant beans. Prices seem very reasonable. The cooks in my neighborhood are offering dishes like stuffed peppers and tomatoes with rice and minced beef for €4, chicken and mushroom pie for €2, and chickpea stew for €2.
Cookisto has no way of knowing how scrupulously its cooks observe the rules of hygiene or of determining the quality and freshness of ingredients they use. One security gateway, admittedly very basic, is provided by linking the cooks’ profiles to their Facebook and Twitter accounts and even telephone numbers, but this is in itself no guarantee against tasteless food or food-borne pathogens. No, the most important quality check naturally comes from users’ reviews and you can bet a case of chicken fricassee staph would get reported quickly (and no, there hasn’t been a single case reported. .On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of reviews have been very favorable.). In fact, given the immediacy and reach of social-networking feedback, you probably have more information on the quality of the food that Cookisto cooks prepare than you would for the food you eat in restaurants. By the way, users rate not only the quality of the dish itself but also the quantity or size of the portion and the reliability of the cook.
Cookisto was founded by two long-time friends, Mihalis Gkontas and Petros Pitsilis, with Master’s degrees in Global Entrepreneurship and Management, respectively. The idea for the platform grew out of the business plan that Gkontas completed for his thesis project. The rest of the team includes Yannis Asimakopoulos and the duo responsible for the technical side of the project, Panayiotis Paradellis, and Dimosthenes Nikoudis.
Since the launch of the beta platform at the end of July this year, Cookisto has registered 285 cooks and 2155 ‘gourmets’, who’ve placed more than 400 orders. An auspicious start which, with the introduction of new features such as the ability to pre-order a dish in the cook’s repertory, is poised to make Cookisto a very visible feature on the city’s budget-range gastronomic map.