KitchIt brings Airbnb simplicity to hiring a party chef

The new startup is making it easy to find an accomplished restaurant chef to come to your house and handle all the duties for a dinner party. It is using an Airbnb-like system to match prospective customers with an impressive range of chefs.

KitchIt is bringing Airbnb simplicity to hiring a chef for a private dinner party.

Who needs to go to a restaurant to have a great meal when you could have one made for you at home?

That's the idea behind KitchIt, a Silicon Valley startup that is hoping to use technology, smart and easy design, and good culinary industry connections to offer everyday people custom restaurant-quality meals at home at affordable prices.

The concept is simple: To use KitchIt, you go to its Web site, enter your city, the date and type of the dinner you're planning, how many people are in your party, and the price range per diner.

Once you've added all that information, the KitchIt system is supposed to match you up with chefs that meet all your criteria--although a quick test yesterday revealed that it is not matching up everything correctly--and then it's up to you to choose the one you want to hire. The end result? A dinner party at your own house with the food prepared entirely by the chef and all the setup and cleanup work done for you. And all without having to pay for "restaurant overhead, management, and marketing."

For anyone who's ever rented a house using Airbnb, the process of choosing a chef on KitchIt will feel very familiar. And that's a good thing, as Airbnb is easy to use once you get used to the idea. KitchIt is clearly going for the same kind of selection process, one in which a buyer and a selection of sellers are automatically matched up through the specific criteria set by the buyer.

As does Airbnb with renters, KitchIt requires the person wanting to host the dinner party to initiate a conversation with the chef they want to hire and then proceed from there. Still, its matching technology is what will make the service attractive to those looking for personal dining experiences--by setting realistic criteria, the party host is supposed to be given only choices that meet their individual needs.

Every chef listed on KitchIt has a bio and a set of representative dishes. Users can also leave ratings for each cook. KitchIt

For the time being, KitchIt is only serving the San Francisco Bay Area, but it clearly hopes to expand before long. Within that area, though, it making the cooking skills of a series of a growing number of accomplished chefs available. Those already offering their services are veterans of such famous restaurants as French Laundry and Per Se, Gary Danko, Chez Panisse, Jardiniere, Fifth Floor, the Restaurant at Meadowood, and more.

According to KitchIt founder Brendan Marshall, chefs will work events ranging from casual dinner parties to cooking classes to birthday or cocktail parties. Prices range from $50 to $100 or more per person.

Clearly, based on those prices, KitchIt is not for everyone. But for those who find themselves inclined to go out for a nice dinner, the company is hoping that the convenience of having that meal at home--not to mention the fact that they can then drink all their own wine without additional charges--will appeal to a substantial number of potential customers.

Transaction technology
Like Airbnb, KitchIt is a service that uses technology to enable transactions in an otherwise low-tech arena. "Our view on technology is that we want to reduce as much friction as possible between the member and the chef," Marshall said. "We really leverage that in terms of design...[Also], a lot of thought has gone into the [site's] architecture and database to make sure that whatever the member is looking for, we're providing.

Part of that, of course, is payment. And like Airbnb, KitchIt is managing the payment process between the party host and the chef. But all of that is done through the Web site, meaning that once the time for the party comes, there's no transaction to complete--everything has already been done. That's a big plus not only for the host, but also for the chef, who doesn't have to worry about getting paid after a long evening of work.

Growing service
Even though KitchIt is in beta and has been available only by invitation until now, it has already enabled more than 100 events. As you would expect, diners and hosts alike can leave ratings for the chefs in categories like food quality, professionalism, service, and value. Each chef is able to present a short bio--including the restaurants where they've cooked--as well as a sample selection (with pictures) of their signature dishes.

And being a Silicon Valley startup, it's only fitting that the six-person company has gotten off the ground with seed funding from, among others, 500 Startups investor Dave McClure.

Today, KitchIt is pulling back the wraps on the service and unveiling a selection of holiday packages that include "Home for the Holidays curated menus." These packages are designed around all the fall and winter holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, and more.

Right now, KitchIt requires an invitation, but anyone reading this article can get into the system using the code CNETKitchit.