An interactive social network for all of us – food lovers – is stealing the show. Inspired by a personal experience, Earlene Cruz created Kitchen Connection, a platform “where the love of food could be the source of peace and cultural exchange for others”. 

In a nutshell

Food is a topic that will always be on top of the charts. Restaurant business is forever booming. Instagram feed is almost entirely dedicated to food. And pretty much anyone could call themselves a ‘foodie’. Which is why the amount of food-related projects, charities and startups is surprisingly not so high. Well, here’s a project that is attracting more and more attention, and feeding more and more people around the world.

Kitchen Connection is an online foodie social network where chefs and lay food lovers can teach online and interactive cooking classes. The hosts of the classes (connections) can be paid, or choose to donate some or all of the funds from the class to the partner charity, Action Against Hunger and most recently, Whole Food’s Whole Planet Foundation.

I’m eating – you’re eating – and because we’re eating together, someone else is eating too.

Earlene Cruz is the one who came up with the idea. She completed her Master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship and Food Studies at the Gallatin school of New York University, where she is an Ignite fellow, as she works to bring Kitchen Connection to life. Earlene is also a James Beard Scholar Award Winner and has been nominated as one of the special envoys on youth under the UN Secretary General for her work with the Zero Hunger Sustainable Development Goals. Most recently, she was appointed as a Youth Representative to the United Nations.

The origins of Kitchen Connection

As many great ideas, KC was born out of a personal experience. An experience that wasn’t just relevant to Earlene, but to many others across the globe. In 2012, Earlene had a moment where, in the midst of the madness of losing her wallet and arriving in Ghana as part of her study abroad, a family took Earlene in, housed her, and fed her – treating Earlene as one of their own:

“With them, I spent an incredible five days, not so much as a tourist, but as part of their family — doing chores, running errands, and sampling their incredible food. During one of my last meals with them, I thought: “I may never be back here again. I may never see them again. I may never eat this again. I don’t even know what ingredients are in this.” And then the thought: “Well, I can purchase the ingredients I need to make this beforehand, and we can cook together and catch up through Skype.” Fast-forward four years later, and we have a working platform, independent from Skype that actually facilitates these interactions with people all over the world.”

My story, of being comforted by and connected to a stranger over food, is not a unique one, which is why I wanted to create a platform where the love of food could be the source of peace and cultural exchange for others.

The Special Ingredient 

Technology has been entering every corner of our lives. Nearly anything can be made better (hopefully) through the means of the all-mighty tech. Kitchen Connection is a platform where food merges with technology to create a fusion that really does work.

Kitchen Connection fills the gap that exists among the multitude of confusing recipes and non-interactive instructional videos, television programs, food magazines, online recipes and blogs.

It provides an improved service, allowing individuals the opportunity to actually be able to be a part of the cooking experience with another person, both enjoying the meal simultaneously and by the virtue of that connection solving global problems.

Since Kitchen Connection is a very technologically based concept, launching it was quite a task. Earlene herself pointed out that “as a layperson in the space, it was something very difficult for me to manage something so engrained in technology without the expertise. Oftentimes, the deadlines we set were humanly impossible to meet, so I had to flexible and adjust our timeline accordingly. It helps to have a development team that is both patient and willing to teach you what you don’t know.”

 

What’s cooking?

A cooking class typically consists of five people in the room, including the host of the cooking class. The host can then choose to broadcast that class to an indefinite number of people. And what’s great about KC is that anyone from homecooks to food bloggers, stay at home moms, and professionally trained chefs can be a teacher.

“Our customers come with an interest in learning to make new global foods, while meeting and interacting with people who make them. It’s not only about connecting kitchens, but also about connecting lives, and connecting stories. This is for the foodie, for the international traveler wanting to relive her gastronomic experience abroad, and for he, who wants a sampling of the food and the culture that exists within his reach, transcending international borders.”

To date, we’ve had topics ranging from the creation of Brazilian açai bowls focused on sustainability to Israel and Palestine in conversation – with one chef from each country recreating a version of the same dish.

The outlook

As for the goals of Kitchen Connection in 2017, here’s what Earlene has to say: “The objective is to continue featuring one country every month, this time increasingly involving the country’s tourism board and public/private food companies, exporters. Guadeloupe was featured this past June, with much of the support from the Guadeloupean Tourism Board, a model that we hope to replicate in 2017.

We hope to expand our cooking demos in more Whole Foods stores, integrating a more educational component around sustainability, food waste, and food insecurity, in line with our support of the UN’s Zero Hunger Challenge. Additionally, we hope to host more events at New York University, as well as in other universities, high schools, and elementary schools.”

As a youth representative at the United Nations, in 2018, we will be specifically supporting countries that are affected by the refugee crisis, in support of the UN Together Campaign, which focuses on changing the discourse on refugees.

Given the mission and the vision of Welker Media to advance global initiatives through social entrepreneurship is complementary to our mission. It’s ultimately not about the money – it’s about the people, and the people’s power to change the world through food. Food insecurity is not an issue that can be resolved with money alone; it is something that requires a mindset change and through the social connection of people worldwide.

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