Chef Erez Komarovsky’s massive kitchen counter, hewn from a eucalyptus tree trunk, has seen its share of intensive cooking sessions.
There was a recent spate of challah breads stuffed with olive leaves, edible flowers, whole knobs of garlic. He also does workshops for clients, preparing fresh fish and meat purchased in the Acre market and using seasonal vegetables and heirloom herbs from his expansive organic garden.
But on a recent Sunday, Komarovsky — known for bringing artisanal bread to Israel through his chain of Lechem Erez shops and now living in the Galilean splendor of Mattat, a small community near Safed — was starring in YesChef, a new Israeli-made video streaming platform featuring cooking classes and documentary-style storytelling from the world’s top culinary talents.
The idea, said Israel-based founder Steve Avery, is to create a Netflix for cooking.
This isn’t “Chef’s Table,” “Master Chef” or “Top Chef.” It’s something else entirely, said Avery, who wants to capture each chef’s story in their culinary landscape and use their stories to inspire home cooks.
It’s a platform that makes you itch to pick up the cutting board and knife.
On said Sunday afternoon, Komarovsky made falafel, hummus, masabacha, matbucha and lamb kebab, under the eyes of three cameras and at least a dozen production staff.
He was feeling worn out from the long days of filming, but pleased about the recipes.
“They’re all things we make on a daily basis for my workshops or in catering,” said Komarovsky. “It’s a real collection of my cooking.”
That’s exactly the idea.
The show, which will begin streaming into subscribers’ homes on August 1, serves up an extensive library of cooking classes taught by world-renowned chefs.
There’s Michelin-starred Los Angeles chef Nancy Silverton preparing eggplant at her home in Tuscany; James Beard award-winning Edward Lee sharing the secrets of fried chicken from his home in Kentucky; and Dario Cecchini, Italy’s leading contemporary butcher, expounding on his favorite cuts of beef and how to prepare them.
Future participating chefs include Sean Brock, Francis Mallmann and Kwame Onwuachi.
With each chef sharing nearly five hours’ worth of stories and demonstrating recipes, YesChef is a platform to sit and watch, or cook alongside, with hours and hours of binge-able material.
“The world needs a devoted, premium, single source of [true] cooking experience,” said Avery, while eating moussaka and chopped salad with the rest of the production crew on Komarovsky’s outdoor patio. “We want to get people off the couch and into the kitchen to make what this chef makes. We want to make it easy to start cooking.”
Each YesChef piece begins with the documentary-styled story of the chef, usually filmed in their hometown, showing viewers their homes, kitchens and daily lives.
Then there are 12 cooking lessons, each of which includes a nifty side panel that contains each recipe and the list of ingredients needed.
That technology aspect is part of YesChef’s secret sauce, said Avery, infusing the platform with an interactive, immersive experience. The company developed a data layer that allows users to start with watching the documentary portion and jump out, moving in and out of classes according to their wishes.
The timing is ripe for this venture, as home cooks and even those who are less inclined to cook have been taking to the kitchen during the coronavirus pandemic, using some of their time to experiment and try out cooking skills.
“Our timing is pretty good, but was not planned,” said Avery. “It’s only going to help with our exposure.”
Komarovsky was one of the first chefs that Avery contacted, and while he wasn’t planning on doing an Israeli shoot quite so soon, it made sense to make use of the time in Israel by filming Komarovsky in his Mattat home, where the stone house is surrounded by terraced fruit orchards, vegetable beds and herb gardens.
For Komarovsky, the YesChef menu had to include the Israeli foods that are now ubiquitous in the culinary world, yet simple to prepare.
“I thought about my message a lot,” said Komarovsky. “Did my recipes really represent me, or Israeli cuisine? I’m not an ambassador for Israel but I feel honored to represent Israeli cuisine, given that there was a time that we doubted that it even existed. Now Israeli cuisine is a well-known thing, and I’m happy that I can represent on camera what we consider Israeli cuisine.”
The participating chefs are game to be involved in YesChef because they’re part of the revenue stream, said Avery, and this first bunch are seen as culinary ambassadors of the product.
Avery, 43, is a serial entrepreneur, one-time car salesman and serious home chef who was in between startups when his mother bought him a Master Class featuring British chef Gordon Ramsay, for his 40th birthday. He was inspired, but watched it from the couch with a glass of wine.
A Canadian by birth, Avery had moved to Israel in his 20s with his Israeli-born wife and when he got here, was exposed to food and culinary culture.
“Food just became a big part of our life,” said Avery. “We became parents and were at home more and we’d make big Friday night dinners, and grew a vegetable garden and watched ‘Chef’s Table’ and Anthony Bourdain.”
When he conceived of YesChef, he wanted to find chefs who represent the contemporary world of food today, but with their own twists. The YesChef culinary experts share the foods, techniques and flavors that most represent them, with concepts that are contemporary but lasting.
“When Nancy makes eggplant or apple pie, her love is going into that dish,” said Avery. Ditto for Erez Komarovsky, Edward Lee and the rest of the guest chefs.
The YesChef platform is backed by international venture capital funds and angel investors, including Altair Capital, Founders Factory, Guardian Media Ventures, BrightEye Ventures, Harvey Goldsmith CBE and Liat Aaronson. Its revenue stream will be derived from the annual $180 fee for each subscription that can be used on smartphones, TV or laptops.
“My passion helped bring money,” said Avery. “Our investors understand that the food world is so massive, and the goal is to let anybody come in and learn what they want, how they want.”
Plans are to have a new class every 60 to 90 days over the next year, and then increase that in 2021, said Avery, adding that YesChef has close to 3,000 paying subscribers for its beta product.
He hopes that YesChef will become a mass consumer brand, allowing anybody to come and learn about food.
“We want it to be their single source of food education,” said Avery.