By Lauren Bens
When times get tough, the cooks get cooking – and beyond restaurant walls – with CookUnity, the first ever chef-to-consumer meal subscription platform, serving up a scrumptious and seasonal variety of ready-to-eat meals from famed local chefs. By preparing meals in either CookUnity’s kitchen or their own, chefs can create meals which are delivered to homes across the East Coast, and soon enough, to the rest of the country. Argentinian founder Mateo Marietti is shaking up the food industry with this digital-first model, especially during these turbulent times. Marietti, who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children, hopes to bring happiness direct to homes with fine fare created by their roster of talented chefs – they have even launched “The Creators Club” which brought nine of New York City’s most iconic chefs, including Leah Cohen, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and others to CookUnity. This exciting new concept, which offers weekly, fresh and sustainable items, is changing up the culinary world as much as an upside-down cake!
How did you get your start in the food industry?
My love for locally grown, hand-crafted food began with my upbringing on a small farm in Argentina. I formed a connection to quality ingredients through harvesting, farming, and preparing meals — it was a true farm-to-table lifestyle. I got my start in the food industry in Buenos Aires, where I co-founded Sushi Pop, an innovative sushi delivery service that ended up revolutionizing the way people in the greater Buenos Aires region ate sushi. Our team was one of the first to conceptualize and use the now popular virtual, or “ghost” kitchens and we used them across six different brands over the course of six years. I grew Sushi Pop to become one of the largest food delivery companies in Latin America, and also expanded into 32 brick and mortar locations. I also co-opened several restaurants before moving to New York City and creating CookUnity.
What inspired you to start CookUnity?
To put it simply, my passion for creating a better food system. I believe we should spend our time solving the world’s biggest problems and food is one of the biggest since it affects our bodies (nutrition), our spirit (culture), our economy (jobs) and our planet (footprint). Food brings people together and connects communities and I wanted to create something that did that and amplifies local talent and businesses. I knew that I wanted to work with diverse chef talent and farmers to offer a variety of cuisines that represent each community uniquely, and from that came CookUnity. CookUnity was founded on two ideas; to bring consumers an elevated, chef-prepared experience in their home and give independent chefs an opportunity to share their passion for cooking beyond the confines of a restaurant kitchen and lifestyle – enabling them to scale and grow beyond those four walls.
How are you attempting to shake up the food industry?
We are shaking up the food industry by offering a unique, daily meal plan that is unlike anything else on the market, and an opportunity for chefs that has never existed. Unlike any other meal-kit delivery service, our dishes are made by independent chefs and ready to eat whenever from the convenience of home, giving customers exceptional food without the hassle of cooking. We offer over 250 different meal options every week, prepared by the chefs themselves, and our options are ever growing. CookUnity’s digital platform also lends itself to connecting chefs with consumers. From real-time meal reviews that can inform recipe adjustments to seeing what meals may be more successful than others, we can make necessary changes to the menus in a way we have not been able to do within the confines of the brick & mortar restaurant experience. For chefs, CookUnity’s model enables them to deliver restaurant-quality food to customers in a way that’s operationally manageable and aligns with business goals. For chefs who do own restaurants, they often have constraints, be it space restrictions, serving a finite number of consumers, limited reach outside of NYC, etc. With CookUnity, chefs can amplify the restaurant and their CookUnity meals to millions of consumers beyond New York City. In the current climate, CookUnity has allowed chefs to rehire staff, reopen a restaurant, and/or supplement existing revenue streams.
Is the quality and freshness equal to restaurant quality?
Absolutely. We have an ingredient-led philosophy at CookUnity that prioritizes sustainably sourced proteins, seasonal produce, dynamic flavors, and balanced nutrition from real food. Some of our ingredients are even brought directly from our chef’s private gardens in the Hudson Valley. CookUnity is focused on key things when it comes to food: using the best ingredients; encourage culinary creativity and make it convenient; connecting farm to kitchen to table.
What were your goals when you started this unique concept?
To create a third alternative for both consumers and chefs. Current alternatives for chefs are working at a restaurant cooking someone else’s menu day after day or opening your own restaurant which is very hard. Current alternatives for consumers are cooking yourself, which takes a lot of time, or ordering restaurant delivery that is expensive or not great food. We want to put the chef back in the center of the food universe and re-enable the dialogue between the producers of the food and consumers in a more conscious way. And as a consequence of this, provide much better selection and quality to consumers and a more fair and exciting way of life for chefs, doing what they love.
Do you accommodate people with various food allergies/cuisine preferences?
Yes, our chefs curate a vast variety of cuisines and allergy-friendly/diet-friendly meals to best accommodate your diet and taste. We accommodate Paleo, vegetarian, Keto, Mediterranean, whole 30 and vegan diets, as well as any dietary restrictions such as low calories, gluten, soy, dairy, low-calorie etc. We want to know your preferences (plant-based, kid-friendly, high protein) as well as any specific food allergies so we can serve up a menu that delivers on your preferences.
How do you think the restaurant industry will be affected in the long term?
In some ways it will be negatively affected, and in other ways I’m optimistic it will create the context for positive evolution for the restaurant industry. To start, I think it is time to really think from first principles and remember why restaurants exist in the first place, and what the best role chefs and restaurants can play in our modern society. Restaurants have been created for people to stop, recharge physically and spiritually. The first restaurant was created in France in the 18th century, the name comes from the french verb “restaurer”, which means to restore. As people cook less and less, we need to come up with the optimal way to solve that daily meal need while having restaurants be the best version of the initial essence of helping people restaure.
Describe how the subscription series works – can you try different chefs?
You can try as many different chefs as you like! Choose from 4, 6, 8, 12 or 16 meals per week and we deliver them fresh, in our 100% recyclable, refrigerated box, for you to simply heat up – in the oven or microwave – and enjoy.
Who are your most popular chefs at the moment?
The most popular chefs at the moment are Chris Ratel, Akhtar Nawab, Andy Mendez and Esther Choi. They all have very different styles and stories and bring amazing diversity to the platform. A special shout out to Andy who came to NY as an immigrant and after working hard in several Manhattan restaurants he is now building his own brand, employing five cooks and selling 4,000 meals a week through CookUnity! Those are the chef hero journeys we want to enable.