In 2019, tech entrepreneur Morley Ivers was reading a profile of Toronto Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., when he was struck by the athlete’s admission that he missed his grandmother’s home cooking from the Dominican Republic. “Food was such an important part of providing comfort for him as he transitioned to becoming a major league baseball player living away from home,” Ivers says.
(Read about local selling her treats at the Good Goods bakery, which makes Asian-inspired treats both luxe and light.)
Ivers shared the story with his long-time friend Michael Baruch, a consumer-growth marketing pro and an idea began to simmer: what if they made an app that allowed home cooks to share their dishes with local folks? “Our goal,” Ivers says, “was to create a platform to empower talented cooks – many of whom are reinventing themselves from a topsy-turvy restaurant industry – to turn their own talents and home kitchens into a source of income.”
The app, called Cookin, launched in mid-October, and it works the same as other food-delivery apps: open the app, find a meal from one of the chefs’ “stores,” order it, and a driver will drop it off at your house.
It started with 40 chefs, but the last few weeks have seen more than 900 others apply to cook for the app, from newcomers looking for extra cash (cooks keep 85 per cent of the revenue generated) to professionals on the hunt for new, post -pandemic gigs. (All cooks are required to have an Ontario Food Handler Certification and must complete a kitchen inspection.)
The pair also got a big culinary name involved: Patrick Kriss. Considered by many to be the best chef in Canada, the man behind the Alo empire sits on the Cookin advisory board. To celebrate the app’s launch, he put together a one-day-only menu that will be available Nov. 7. Dishes include an Ontario burrata appetizer; an entrée of braised short rib; and a dessert of Meyer lemon posset with Madagascar vanilla chantilly and fig compote.
Kriss’s own spots recently scored Michelin stars, but he’s adamant that some of the country’s best chefs can be found not in restaurants, but at home. “Just because you’re not a restaurant chef,” he says, “doesn’t mean you’re not a great cook.”
Here, five cookin chefs share the stories behind the special dishes they’re offering up on the app.
Chutikarn Amsakul’s Pad Thai
“When I was growing up, my mom would always buy me pad thai. When I make pad thai today, it reminds me of her. To make my pad thai, I use tamarind, which is a plant commonly known for a sour flavor. I add palm sugar or coconut sugar for sweetness, and garlic and shallot for flavor. Then I stir-fry Chinese chive, bean sprouts, pickled radish, egg, chicken, tofu, and rice noodles together.”
Maria Polotan’s Humba
“I learned how to make humba from my mom, who learned it from her mom. My mom came from Visayas in the Philippines, where the dish is really popular. Humba is pork belly marinated overnight in garlic, miso, fermented black beans, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, chili, cilantro root and star anise, and then braised. When I was thinking about my menu, I wanted to share dishes that aren’t well-known – dishes that I would only get at family meals.”
Adam Ward’s Hawaiian Pizza
“Every Friday was Pizza Day in my house. My dad was a single father and a terrible cook, so Fridays were exciting. When my dad passed, my fiancée and I brought back Pizza Day. My favorite is the Hawaiian pizza, which has 12-hour roast pork, pineapple, chili honey glaze, and is finished with paper-thin onions and cilantro. Even when somebody is gone, you still think back to the memories you shared over food. That’s why I named my store on the Cookin app Hooray for Pizza Day.”
Udobong Akpan’s Lemon Honey Fried Chicken
“When I make lemon honey fried chicken, it helps me remember my mom. She’s in Nigeria and I don’t get to go home often. I use her tradition of marinating it for 48 hours and boiling it down with herbs and spices. It’s so tender, it falls off the bone. I then do buttermilk breading with our lemon herb seasoning and deep fry it. I make a homemade lemon honey dip for pouring or dipping.”
Richard Feroze’s Slow Braised Pepperpot Beef
“During the holidays, I remember stepping into my grandparents’ house and all you could smell was pepperpot beef. When my grandfather passed away, I made it for the first time as a way to remember him. When it comes to Guyanese people and their food, you don’t mess around. I made the dish with a beef shoulder marinated in clove, chili, black peppercorn, and cassava root juice. As soon as my family started eating my pepperpot beef, there was silence. All I could think was, ‘This is either really delicious or really terrible. But they told me I nailed it!”
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