Whether it’s the latest restaurant being introduced at Federal Galley led by a star chef or your favorite pizza shop that has been around in Pittsburgh since the ’50s, the Steel City has plenty of pleasing options to tempt your palette.
John Clifford, a PA local who recently returned to the city in the last few years, wanted to find a way to better embrace this great culinary diversity. A technology expert involved in the field for over 25 years, he was inspired to connect his love of and experience with food with the technology he has seen grow more and more throughout the years. Technology which has, effectively, transformed the lives of those using it.
“For a while, I worked for Amazon, so I thought: what if we applied those principles and logic to food tech, this sort of ‘recommended’ system? What if there’s a more interesting or a different way to discover food?”
Enter chefs.cloud. The app/website is currently in development. Once it is released to the public, it will be free to use. The technology has two components. One is a search tool that allows the user to type in the dish or ingredients that they are in the mood for. Chefs.cloud will then pull up a list of results from which the user can select their restaurant of choice. Not only does it allow you to customize your preferences based on dietary restrictions, but you are also able to browse the menus of individual restaurants and see a history of dishes that each local chef cooks.
“What you like is what you like, and – hopefully – matching this benefits the person, benefits the restaurant…There are a dozen things on any chef’s menu How do you help that thing find its audience? When you do that, you’ve created a new loyal customer for the restaurant and a great experience for the person.”
Once you begin to discover restaurants that you love, you can then rate them using chefs.cloud, and it will begin to sort through the necessary algorithms in order to suggest other places you might love. You will also be able to connect it to other social media outlets, such as Facebook and Instagram, to be able to share the food you’ve found.
The second component of chefs.cloud is a series of videos featuring local chefs as the stars. “One meal, one chef, one minute” is the slogan of the series, which has included culinary artists such as Curtis Gamble, Sonja Finn, and Maggie Kielburger amongst others.
“We are trying to educate people about the food that is available,” Clifford explained. “Twenty-five years ago, we weren’t talking about chefs the way we’re talking about them now. Last year, you saw the first time where mom-and-pop restaurants outperformed fast casual… For the first time, people are thinking about food in a more holistic way. They’re trying to eat more farm to table type things, more local…Even the healthcare companies, such as UPMC and Highmark are becoming more incentivized to keep people healthy.”
When talking about reaching out to the chefs for the video series he started with filmmaker David Bernabo, Clifford said: “My number one fear going into this was ‘Hey, they’ll never want to give me this recipe.’ As I started to talking to chefs, they said ‘we’re in the entertainment business.’ Food is a big part of it. They are more than happy to share…When we asked them to highlight things they want to show, they are used to doing that for KDKA and other morning shows…They’re helping people learn how to cook; it’s part of what they do. It doesn’t make the consumer want it less, it makes them want it more. They say, ‘I’ve tried to make that… teach me a trick.'”
Although Clifford hopes to expand this app to eventually feature chefs, restaurants and dishes from other cities in the US so that Pittsburghers can even use it when traveling, right now, he is fully focused on gathering as much data as possible about local restaurants, and sees the culinary scene in the Steel City as wholly unique.
“I love Pittsburgh. I am amazed at what some of the chefs are doing. It’s really interesting that they’ve developed a close knit community. We started this about a year ago, and we have been able to talk to and connect with so many people in the local market. I’ve lived in Seattle, New York, Boston…In those places, it would not have been possible.”
In fact, chefs.cloud is not just a way to connect the customer with their new favorite food. Instead, it is a way of connecting individuals with their community at large as they get to enjoy new favorites with their family and friends, as well as getting to know and connect with the chefs.
“Food is a fun experience, it’s not a competition. It’s not like what the Food Network is putting out right now. If we create a tool and products that allow people to connect more, I think it benefits everyone.”
Photos courtesy of chefs.cloud.