New app links Toronto foodies and home cooks

Toronto foodies now have another option when it comes to ordering meals online — a new app and website that promises the quality of sit-down restaurant fare, but as quick and cheap as fast food.

Kouzina is the creation of Nick Amaral, 22, a 4th-year economics student at Queen's

Eric and Algerine Carriere are among the first home cooks to join Kouzina, a new food app in Toronto. (Jon Castell/ CBC Toronto)

Toronto foodies now have another option when it comes to ordering meals online — a new app and website that promises the quality of sit-down restaurant fare, but is as quick and cheap as fast food.

It's called Kouzina and its creator is a fourth-year Queen's University student, who was fed up with a steady diet of frozen pizza.

"Frozen food gets old really quick," said Nick Amaral, 22, with a laugh, standing in his parents' kitchen in Vaughan.

Nick Amaral chose to name his new app Kouzina, which means kitchen in Greek. It's a nod to his Greek/Portuguese heritage, where he says sharing food is an expression of care and love. (Petar Valkov/ CBC Toronto)

He says he first got the idea last October, but it wasn't until he was back home for summer holidays that he decided to get serious.

The economics major admits he had no idea how to build an app — but he figured it out in no time.

The result is an online marketplace where you can buy and sell home-cooked meals. Think Airbnb, but for food.

Home cooks create dishes in their own kitchens, and then post photos and pricing on the app. People select what they want to eat and pay directly through the app.

Customers can rate cooks and cooks can rate customers. It's posted online for everyone to see.

"It's not all about the food. It's also about the service," said Amaral. "You can get great food, but if they're not on time or there's just an awkward interaction, that might not be something you want to return to."

For now, it's pick-up only, though some cooks offer delivery depending on the size of the order.

Master baker in the making

Since joining the app, husband-and-wife duo Eric and Algerine Carriere, both 26, have seen their business, Cookie Jar, take off.

The best seller by far is Algerine Carriere's specialty, a combination of a chocolate butter cookie and brownie, called Crinkles.

"Everybody loves them," she said with a smile. "If you're on a diet, it's not so good," Eric chimed in. "But they're very tasty."

Algerine Carriere is a self-taught baker, who started making cookies as a little girl growing up in Luzon, a island in the northern Philippines. (Jon Castell/CBC Toronto)

Smaller orders are baked in their North York bungalow, but for bigger quantities, the couple rents out a commercial space by the hour.

Eric Carriere, a freelance writer who also handles Cookie Jar's sales and social media, says he understands why some people may be apprehensive about ordering from a home cook, rather than an established bakery.

"I say give it a go," says Eric. "You might get something very authentic that you never had the opportunity to try."

He adds, "I think over time Kouzina will slowly weed out the ones that aren't very good. And the people that do put a lot of quality and care into their food will shine and dominate the rating system, and get more orders."

Eat at your own risk

Toronto Public Health says it regularly warns people to only purchase food from places it has inspected.

"Once someone starts using their private home to prepare food in a commercial scale ... it is no longer a private home. It is a food premise," said Toronto Public Health spokesperson Sylvanus Thompson.  

And that means home cooks are required to follow the same regulations as restaurants, as outlined in the city's DineSafe program.

Having commercial-sized fridges is one rule. Another is that kitchens should be free of live animals — so pets would be a big no-no for home cooks.

Toronto Public Health says given the sheer number of home cooks and the rise of the sharing economy, it's almost impossible to monitor everyone. The department usually becomes involved only if someone complains.

 'Community essentially governs itself'

Amaral says he understands concerns customers may have about food safety, but he feels the app's rating system will separate the good from the bad. 

Nick Amaral hopes his app 'fills the gap' between cheap and often not-so-healthy fast food, and high-quality restaurant meals, which can often be expensive. (Petar Valkov/ CBC Toronto)

"I think it's been proven in the market in recent years, especially in other peer to peer services, that the community essentially governs itself through reviews and feedback," he said. "After one or two bad reviews or instances of public feedback, people will be less encouraged to order from that person."

And he has big hopes for his blossoming company. He'd like to see it go coast-to-coast.

"There's a lot of people trying to do different things and everyone trying to make some noise but I think trying to grow organically is the best way you can," he said.

"At the rate it's growing and feedback I've received so far, I think it's possible."

About the Author

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.