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Bitter melon soup with pork rib. PHOTOGRAPHY VASSAIRE

Book The Cook

Hankering for home-cooked meals? Thanks to enterprising Singaporeans, there are now apps providing just that, as Rachel Loi and Avanti Nim discover.
Nov 12, 2016 5:50 AM

HCOOK Renton Yap, 38, founded home-cooking app Hcook not to jump on the startup bandwagon but for the more analogue purpose of feeding people. "Last year, I started dabbling in home cooking because I wanted to learn some of my mum's dishes," says the former banker. "She makes some great heritage dishes that I didn't want lost, but there're only so many times you can feed your family and friends without them getting bored."

He tried to start a food business "but it just wasn't sustainable because there was no viable platform; there were problems with finding people, letting them know what I was offering, and then trying to actually conduct the transaction."

Finally, Mr Yap and his co-founder/full-time lawyer friend Loh Kia Meng, hit on Hcook, an app "to unite all home chefs online and give them a platform to conduct their business." Launched in July this year, Hcook already counts about 200 home chefs and a few thousand users in its database. Available on both the App store and Google Play, the app lets home chefs list their dishes for free, and potential customers can contact them to work out the pricing and collection details.

There is also a rating and review system, shares Mr Yap. "If there's a complaint against a home chef, we check it out and if it's legitimate, they're barred from our platform because the most important thing for us that people enjoy their food safely."

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Any chef who wants to join has to apply. Mr Yap arranges a home-visit cum hygiene-audit and to explain the concept. "We furnish each home chef with a tool-kit that contains information on how to use the app and hygiene guidelines, and once they've been approved on the platform, we conduct unplanned home visits on a monthly basis to ensure our standards are being met."

The 1,200 listings on the platform have dishes like ondeh ondeh, which start from 50 cents to cakes priced at S$45. "But we're still in the early stages of development," notes Mr Yap. "What we're ultimately aiming for is to have a home chef in every single HDB estate in Singapore." hcook.sg

SHARE FOOD SINGAPORE You may have heard of the food blogger Diana Gale (aka The Domestic Goddess Wannabe), who blogs about her adventures in the kitchen. Now, you can also order and taste her picture-perfect home-cooked food in the comfort of your living room, through the new mobile platform Share Food Singapore.

While barely a week old, Share Food already has over 100 home cooks - including Ms Gale - dishing out everything from Hakka yam abacus seeds, to Thai red curry with duck and Indian paneer butter masala.

"When it comes to home-cooked food, these people also cook for their family," says one of the app's three founders, Loo Pei Wen. "So they're making their own stocks from scratch, and putting time, effort and quality ingredients into each dish."

Chefs post a photo of their dishes and customers contact them directly. Prices are expected to be reasonable - around food court prices (they even include an option for cooks to give away excess portions for free). The app doesn't charge a commission but instead makes money from advertisers and sponsors.

Share Food also encourages its home cooks to take up a basic food-hygiene course with the National Environment Agency. Once they get a certificate, they get a seal of approval (something like Airbnb's 'Trusted host' badge or Twitter's 'Verified account' badge) for being food safety-certified.

"That's the thing about an open market app like ours. If home cook A has a badge and receives more orders, home cook B will naturally want to take up the course as well. It'll be very self-motivating," says Ms Loo.sharefood.sg

HEARTLAND CHEFS In January this year, Siddip Poh found himself facing a predicament that many of us could probably relate to. "My mum is a housewife and I think she's one of the best cooks in the world. So it's such a waste that people cannot enjoy her cooking," he says.

To solve it, he started Heartland Chefs - a mobile app that allows people to buy and sell home-cooked food. "It's a platform for anyone with a passion to sell what they cook, and for people who have no time to cook to get healthier, home-cooked food," he says.

Cooks just have to upload a photo of the dish they are making and details like price and collection details. After every meal, customers can leave a review and rate chefs based on things like their portions, taste, and packaging.

"For now, we have no aim to monetise it at all. It's just purely for the community. Half my salary is going towards running this thing, so it's quite painful - but we believe in our cause," says Mr Poh, who keeps his full-time job at Barclays Investment Bank. One of his other business partners - all schoolmates from Singapore Management University - also keeps a day job, while the remaining two work on the app full-time.

Orders are made on a self-collection basis, but Mr Poh hopes to create neighbourhood communities of chefs and customers where food can be delivered by underprivileged or out-of-school youths for pocket money. "I think an app like this is perfect for Singapore because our population density is quite high. So many of us live in HDBs and in close proximity, so the self-collection thing works. Plus the diverse population in Singapore means a wide range of dishes so if we build a big enough base, customers will consistently have a variety of food to choose from." heartlandchefs.com

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