Ever since we clawed our way out of the recession (*cough* bailouts *cough*), cooking has seemed like nothing more to the average New Yorker than an occasional opportunity to save some cash during tight times, or perhaps a last stand against cleverly-targeted delivery food ads on the train. But thanks to a new iPhone app, cooking your own food isn’t limited to a last-resort moneysaver anymore — it can also be a significant source of income!
So it goes on Homemade, a location-based cooking service for smartphones that lets you make money off cooking meals for your neighbors. Do you freelance from home? Bake your famous cookies while you write. Running between jobs but make a killer winter chili? Put that slow-cooker to good use.
“It’s like Etsy, for food,” says Homemade’s co-founder, Nick Devane. “We wanted to match that makers’ spirit.”
[UPDATE 8/11/16: Homemade removed its iOS app on 7/5. You can still use Homemade for web, read more about it here] Learn why here. Here’s how Homemade works: the app asks for your preferences using informal labels — vegan, sweet, healthy, soul, etc. — and sets you up with a user profile. Then, it uses your location the notify you when people are cooking the food you like nearby. You can request a meal, and it functions like Groupon in the sense that enough people have to order the food for the ‘deal’ to be on.
Depending on the nature of the food, you may have to request it 1-2 days in advance (Like for a loaf of homemade bread, for instance). You’re notified when it’s ready, and you can go in to pick up your order just like you would at a takeout spot.
Devane sees the Homemade app as a matter of course (ha ha, get it?), since New York is already the No. 1 food destination in the United States, insofar as its wealth of options and its catering to dietary restrictions of every sort. And he says that most chefs on Homemade simply use the service in order to offset the costs of their passion — that is to say, in order to cook their favorite foods for free.
“A little extra scratch offsets the cost of making your own food,” he says. “And at a certain point, you find you don’t pay for food at all anymore.”
If you’re suddenly getting visions of having to arrange craigslist-style meetups to eat, don’t worry: this app is nothing like that weird one ‘find nearby leftovers’ one. Instead, Homemade has an application process for aspiring cooks looking to join, requiring an informal portfolio (i.e. Instagrams of food), evidence of formal training or some equivalent due diligence in the culinary arts, a questionnaire, and often an in-home taste test of the food. So now, instead of just praying that your delivery order was actually made in an up-to-code restaurant, you can chow down on an affordable meal that you know was lovingly prepared by a neighbor.
Of course, just like any open market platform, the app poses a few risks. Just as you can never be 100 percent sure that a restaurant is following health code regulations in the kitchen, you can’t be sure that your food hasn’t been involved in a drug-crazed orgy before being served to you. The best safety assurance Homemade can offer here is, “We’ll make an immediate tally on someone’s record if you’re throwing up the food you ate.”
The service is about as legal as Airbnb for the time being — transactions are technically donation-based, in order to bypass regulatory laws about food service — but Devane’s vision is that one day, home cooks can acquire the same TFE (Temporary Food Establishment) licensing system that food carts have.
And maybe down the road, we can all pay our astronomical rent by doing nice stuff like this for each other. Dream big, right?