Transparent Kitchen peels back layers of a dish: Andrew Coppolino

An online platform called Transparent Kitchen is helping restaurants tell the stories of their dishes and connects diners with chefs and farmers.

'You can eat your way across a city, save the products and the system starts learning about you'

This seafood bowl at Borealis Grille and Bar is one of the dishes featured on the Transparent Kitchen portion of the restaurant's website. Transparent Kitchen is an online platform restaurants can use to tell the story of their dishes and connect diners with the chefs and ingredients in dishes. (Borealisgrille.ca)

An online platform called Transparent Kitchen is connecting diners to restaurants and the suppliers who provide their ingredients.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) companyTransparent Kitchen does what its name says: it allows consumers to see behind the scenes to the farmers and producers a restaurant is using as well as the ingredients the kitchen needs to make a dish. It even allows a consumer to buy those same ingredients.

"We're dedicated to the success of the from-scratch independent restaurant movement," said Frazer Nagy, CEO of Transparent Kitchen.

"The goal is to make something complex — the idea of a scratch kitchen and the supply chain that goes into it — as accessible as possible to the everyday Canadian."

Nagy, a Rockwood, Ont., native, said the Ottawa-based company with eight employees is in 35 restaurants currently and starting to make head-way in Waterloo region.

Visit the website of Borealis Grille and Bar in Kitchener and Guelph, and you'll see a link to Transparent Kitchen. What Nagy's team does is build out elements of the Borealis menu so that, like peeling the layers of an onion, you can see a picture of the dish and click to learn what the ingredients are, what farm or producer they came from as well as buy the product, if you want. 

You can also read a profile of the chef and learn about the restaurant's farm-to-table philosophy. That fact is important to Court Desautels of Borealis, who notes that they want first-time visitors to their website to learn more and make a choice to come to the restaurant.

"It's interactive, and it has definitely driven more traffic to the site and resulted in more engagement and time on the page," Desautels said.

That, in turn, can drive more traffic to the restaurant, he said.

Transparent Kitchen can provide information about where items in the dish came from and in some cases, can help consumers purchase the exact same product. (borealisgrille.ca)

Telling your food's story

Restaurants often struggle to tell the stories of their food, something difficult to do with a static, PDF-style menu. Transparent Kitchen's goal is to convert online visitor interest into an actual diner who is connected to the chef, the farmer and the restaurant. 

While there are lots of software systems and platforms for restaurants to use, from point-of-sale systems and fancy websites to reservation systems, this platform is unique.

While sites like Trip Advisor can tell you about a diner's experience and that the restaurant was too bright or too noisy, it's only one layer of information — and a highly subjective one too. 

"None connects you with the digital product and captures where you as a consumer can find specific wild salmon, for instance," Nagy said.

Using Spotify as an example, he said Transparent Kitchen curates a marketplace and a discovery platform directly for diners.

"You can eat your way across a city, save the products, and the system starts learning about you," he said.

Of course, it may also mean providing so much information on a restaurant's website may mean potential diners will decide the restaurant isn't for them and they'll go elsewhere.

No reviews, just information

The platform doesn't judge whether or not you should eat "local" or "organic," and there are no dining reviews like on other online platforms. It strives to get information and education to the consumer and enables restaurants to boost revenue. 

An organization like Ocean Wise shows consumers are demanding transparency about the food they're eating, he noted.

"Does sustainable, wild-caught Canadian salmon have value for you as a diner? Do you believe it is important to the environment and the economy?" he said.

In a time when the local"and farm-to-table movements continue to gain popularity, the terms themselves may have grown murky. It's something Desautels is well aware of, and he wants engaged customers learning more about the ingredients their kitchens cook.

"We want people to dig deeper into our menu beyond just a general list of ingredients," he said. "There is a visual impact that helps tell the stories of the farmers we work with."