Leave it to a Stanford man to create a website that people love to use, yet creates little to no controversy in the financial world. In fact, three Stanford men — George Tang and fellow Kitchit co-founders Brendan Marshall and Ian Ferguson — created a site that matches an ever-growing database of restaurant and independent chefs with people in need of a chef for a night. Consider that niche filled. I had the chance to hang out with Tang at Kitchit’s New York launch, a spectacular dinner by ABC Kitchen’s Dan Kluger, and ask him how he ended up with this “catering gig,” so to speak, with his shiny new degree in computer science. Yup, George is 21.
Why a food website? Aren’t Stanford men supposed to be creating the next LinkedIn or an algorithm that matches people on Gchat based on how funny they are?
Sure we’re Stanford men and the computer science department is known for strong technology, but there are other problems to solve. The three of us were really passionate about the food space. Food is this thing that brings people together, it’s where all our happiest memories are.
I think there’s this perception, especially at the top schools, that engineers are supposed to work on hard technical problems. I have no problem with that, but ultimately it’s just great to have really smart, talented people who want to build something. No, it’s not necessarily “really hard engineering,” but it’s still great minds coming together from different backgrounds.
You must have an interesting food background to be going all in on a food website. Where did you grow up?
I was born in the US and grew up in the Phillippines, Singapore, Thailand, Bangladesh and China. My food background is pretty amazingly diverse, actually. I used to like very traditional Filipino food, and Singapore is a mashup of Thai, Indian, Malaysian and Chinese. They’re different flavors you don’t find anywhere else — delicious, obviously.
I used to cook for my parents. They worked really hard and it was something I would do once or twice a week. I’m not very good, I made the same few things, but it definitely showed me it was something I could do to give back to my parents in a tangible way, other than doing well in school. I was like, “My parents are eating my food, and maybe they’re faking enjoying it but they’re eating it.”
A culinary child, eh? Would you be down with an all-Kitchit staff-cooked dinner?
An all-Kitchit dinner would be terrible (laughs). You need a lead cook in there and I know Brendan is not that and Ian is not that. I think we would have to tap the shoulders of some of our chefs. It might be awesome though, maybe we could cook for our chefs. Actually no, that’d be a lot of pressure. I’m going to go with no.
Cool, yeah, stick to actual chefs. What’s the largest dinner Kitchit has put together so far?
We have done a 150-person dinner, which was done by three of our chefs in collaboration. It was a big upscale event. We have chefs who do everything from 5,000-person corporate catering all the way down to a two-person intimate romantic dinner. It’s about making sure that the client has the right chef for what they want. We don’t stand in the way of the chef in any way; we’re more of a storefront for them to express themselves and build their craft. Most of our events are 10-20 people in an intimate environment, the chef’s right there, you can talk to him and everyone can sit around and have a great time.
How does the current incarnation of Kitchit differ from your original brainstorm?
I wouldn’t say it’s changed much. At first we thought, “there’s not a lot of good recipe apps out there,” so we were brainstorming around that space and in doing so, we ended up talking to a lot of chefs. We said, “tell us about your history with food and why you got into it,” and discovered a whole ecosystem these chefs go through, school and stuff. We realized the chef is the key to this entire system, the lynchpin is that the chef’s the artist, the creator and the visionary of all the food that you eat.
The “aha moment” took about a month. We thought, “Hey, what if we brought chefs into your kitchen and had them teach you what to buy and cook? Well if the chefs are already in there, then why not have them cook for you? It might work better than have them teach you everything.” And that was that.
What is the single strangest request you’ve received to date?
A bachelorette party wanted to do an Iron Chef competition. The chef picked the ingredients, split them into three groups and had a cookoff with the chef making sure they were doing the right things, then judged them. I thought that was hilarious. In New York, a mom sent a request saying “My 10-year-old loves to cook and wants to be the next Mario Batali. Could I have someone come in and teach him how to cook?” It was adorable, I was like, “This is the greatest mom ever and this kid is so lucky.” So, Kitchit works in a lot of ways.
Not so much. I think once we get bigger there probably will be, but all of our chefs so far have understood what we’re trying to do. They see it as a way to be able to express their art without having to work in a restaurant or tag of selling out by being a private chef. On the client side we haven’t gotten a single bad review so far. The experience has been amazing and that’s what we’re all about — quality, making sure each experience is a magical one.
Kitchit.com has launched in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Check it out for your next dinner party — you won’t be disappointed. If your experience isn’t magical, we know where to find George.