Of the many problems that the pandemic-induced lockdowns introduced, there was one that was extremely primal in nature: cooking. The work-from-home module ensured people had to tweak their schedules, accommodating their personal life alongside professional commitments.
In many households in India, it led to chaos, with people forgetting to eat healthy. Health has become a non-negotiable component of life. What happens in the kitchen ultimately influences everything, including our physical and mental ability to work long hours and meet deadlines.
With this in mind, Bahubali Shete, along with wife Asha Shete and celebrated chef Sanjeev Kapoor brought to Indian kitchens an AI-integrated voice-first platform that functions as a “conversational culinary assistant”. It is called ‘Tinychef’.
The Canada-based app was born in 2017, and launched in India in 2019 on Alexa. It also recently acquired ‘Zelish’, a mobile app founded in 2019, to enhance one’s culinary experience.
In a recent email interaction with indianexpress.com, the Shetes explained how the app marries tech and kitchen know-how to help people save time, its relevance in the pandemic, and how it helps novices across age groups manage their kitchen chores. Excerpts:
How did this collaboration happen and what was the idea behind it?
We realised there was a wider spectrum of daily cooking and kitchen related problems that could be handled with technology. That’s when the idea of having a holistic companion mobile app for seamless transition began to take shape.
We got connected with the team at Zelish and were excited by how we shared the same vision. Co-founders Rakesh, Saakshi and Arpit had done an impressive job with their android application, and had validated a lot of our potential user cases with their engaged communities. We realised coming together would mean a much more remarkable and holistic suite of features along with tech which were very complimentary to each other.
What was the thought behind naming it ‘Tinychef’?
We were earlier called ‘Klovechef’, but people weren’t sure of how to spell it. We wanted a name that was easy to recall. We instantly associated ourselves with Tinychef as we believed that little pieces of technology and our tiny speakers and devices were going to make a huge difference to the culinary journeys of several households. The name is almost as if one has a personal chef who’s guiding them all the way through.
Why did you think it was imperative to bring this app to the masses, especially in the pandemic?
We extensively interviewed people to understand their challenges in the kitchen. We still recall a day when a woman in the interview mentioned how the GPS was such a boon. She felt the GPS platform helped navigate through unknown routes and made life easy. She felt there could be a similar app or a platform that could help her navigate through the complexities of the kitchen, too, which she felt was a gargantuan task.
Over multiple discussions, we identified there were similar challenges that people faced in the kitchen — deciding what to cook on a daily basis, utilising the groceries before they got spoiled, bringing a variety of cuisines to the table, cooking with limited time and automation of the grocery buying process. These reasons made us approach the problem in a structured way.
In the pandemic, everyone was stuck at home — cooking more than they ever had before, which amplified all the above challenges.
We also must realise that most households prefer cooking rather than ordering in. We realised with people advocating home cooked meals again it was the right time to give them access to our platform.
What kind of features are there?
Wee have features such as AI-backed meal planning, automatic grocery list building, one-click grocery shopping, and access to recipes in four formats. The app also has features like a grocery invoice reader which would read the bill and analyse the ingredients to build a menu.
Our menu plans take the shelf life of all the ingredients into account and they are personalised as per preferences.
How does Tinychef work?
Whether you love cooking, want to ramp up the nutrition quotient in your diet, reduce food wastage at home, experiment with new recipes or even avoid tracking groceries, Tinychef has something for everyone. Its five core features are:
* Search: With an in-built search engine for everything related to food — from cuisines and recipes to diet preferences and ingredients.
* Plan: This feature is your 24×7 personal assistant-cum-nutritionist that helps you savour curated meal plans every week. You can customise it as per your diet, taste preferences.
* Shop: You can automate your shopping orders based on your meal plans and recipes. Everything you need for your meals will be served without bothering to browse for ingredients or visit the store.
* Cook: You can choose from voice, text, video or smart conversation on Alexa and Google Play for step-by-step guidance from some of the most renowned chefs from around the world.
* Share: You can also share your recipes and shopping list with friends and family. This enhances your experience of a meal together from scratch.
How user-friendly is it?
We have users who are 21 years old and folks who are 55 and above. The app is pretty simple to understand and with your voice, you just have to share a command, as simple as, ‘Alexa, give me a palak paneer recipe by Sanjeev Kapoor Smart Recipes’.
The app helps reduce your kitchen time by up to 6 hours per week. It takes less than a minute on a daily basis to check out the plan for the day. On average, a user needs to devote 7-9 minutes daily to finalise plans for the upcoming week and get groceries.
How many users have used/been using it?
We had close to 1,25,000 users when we acquired the platform. Our smart speakers see monthly traffic of over 1,00,000 people.
Can a first-time cook benefit from it, especially if living away from family?
Absolutely, we have built this for people who are new to the kitchen. You can define the complexity and the time you have, basis which, all the options would get populated for you. We also have a step-wise guide to help you make the dish quickly and easily.