What is and wherein, lies the value of food?
Some say the value of food lies in the minerals it gives to our body, whereas some argue about how food takes them to a place where their heart aches to go. Whether is it nutrition or nostalgia, food is a common entity to all of us, regardless of geography, cultures, or even the year we are born in. Everyone has to eat, and over time, food has evolved to be an entity that encompasses not only nutrients but bits and pieces of our heritage as an important ingredient to the soul of the food.
Today at Swedish App Scene, we had an exclusive interview with Akis Palamidis, the co-founder and CMO of Gastronaut. Gastronaut is a mobile app that aims to bridge home chefs and consumers with authentic immigrant-soul cuisines in Stockholm. As Gastronaut starts to scale its operations, we wonder what is the foresee evolvement to happen in the near future.
Do you foresee any challenges for Gastronaut?
Yes, one challenge we had was delivery. This is an extremely complicated and expensive logistics challenge that persists not just for us, but for everyone in the industry. Rumour has it, that even delivery companies are losing money, but they have big pockets, and start-ups don’t.
In the case for Gastronaut, our home chefs want to cook and not deliver. Similarly, for our consumers, they are used to getting the food served to them. This had initially placed us in a difficult position because we had problems finding a feasible solution to bring the piping hot food from one party to the other.
Did you overcome this challenge?
We eventually did, when we got asked to do catering. Suddenly, the delivery makes sense financially because now we are looking at 40 to 50 portions. The greater demand also allows us to combine different chefs together and this economy of scale helps to drive the financials down.
Catering for events also made it easier for us to explain the new business model to chefs and customers alike.
What is happening for Gastronaut now?
Now, we need to make some noise outside the start-up community. For the past two years, we have been establishing our branding mostly within the entrepreneurial landscape in Stockholm. Now that it’s more or less established, we want to introduce ethnic food to the rest of the society.
What do you mean ‘ethnic food’?
The adjective ‘ethnic’ is commonly associated with food from Asian or Latin American countries without necessarily referring to ethnic groups but to ‘cheap eats’. Cuisines such as French, Greek, Italian and so on, are not considered ‘ethnic’ mostly because of the difference in perceived quality dictated mainly by commercial strategies. Quality is not intrinsic in the national identity of the dishes, but rather in the ingredients, craftsmanship and soul behind every meal served.
That is why at Gastronaut we use the term Immigrant Soul Cuisine to reflect the high quality and origins of the food we offer, as well as our main differentiator from conveyor-belt-food-production: cooking with soul.
Photo: Shaomai Shanghai "flower" dumplings
Thanks to globalisation today, we have an amalgamation of cultures in the same geographical location. This results in a demand for some familiar comfort food from home, but the results we get are often disappointing. Many foods from the different cultures we see today are often misrepresented. Have you ever gone to a Chinese restaurant but realised there are no Chinese people eating there? The same goes for the other cultures, where these foods lost even its own people. Moreover, commercialised food should not be representative of the cultures they bring because they wipe out its soul, flavour, culture and craft.
So, you want to connect people to authentic cuisines?
Authentic is another tricky word because we don’t exactly know what it represents to different people. To dig a little deeper, authenticity is never a single institution of truth. Even home cooked food in the respective countries have different interpretations in the different cultures.
What we really want to highlight, is the authenticity of the soul of the food. We might be using different ingredients to bring about the different flavours, but essentially, it’s how about how you allow the chemistry of the fusion of these ingredients to allow the food to absorb the flavours. That’s the kind of authenticity we are talking about.
For example, Italian cuisine is often of high quality. This is because they prioritise using fresh ingredients and the end result is that you are able to cook the food for a shorter period of time. As compared to Greek cuisine, for example, they are traditionally cooked for 2 or 3 hours because of the history and heritage behind it. The people in Greece used to be poorer, and so they could only afford ingredients that require a longer time to broil.
We want to respect the values behind the culinary experience, the origins of the food, and the soul of the end product. Food is politics, fashion, environment, food is a lot of things. Food is the cross-pollination of not just giving great nutrition to our body, but also the concepts behind it – what it symbolises, the integration of values and a small snippet of how you live your life.
It is tricky to align the message we express with what people interpret them to be. The one we have now is: Connecting immigrant soul cuisine with people.
Apart from bridging food with people, what other missions does Gastronaut set out to do?
We want to break dumb, commercial stereotypes, not just of food, but also of career goals and cultural stigmas.
Gastronaut offers home chefs a good platform to come on board to kickstart their career especially in places where language barriers are a concern. Our platform also allows you to be your own boss, and you determine the profits you want to earn. Let me give you an example. LaoZhao is a Chinese citizen who has recently moved to Stockholm for a living. Unfortunately, he was unable to get a job here because he was not proficient in Swedish. After he came on board as an international chef with Gastronaut, he is now earning what he could have in 7 years compared to 2.5 months here. This is a strong economic empowerment, where skilled people can have the opportunity to quickly enter the labour market.
The second stereotype we want to challenge is of cultural backgrounds. Another of our chefs is from Pakistan, where having a public image of being a chef is often frowned upon. When she was here, it was also a struggle for her to expose her face on the platform and be featured on social media platforms. However, Gastronaut helped to change her worldview, and she was featured in an exhibition in fotografiska museum here in Stockholm.
Also, it is sad that some cultures are not represented in the retail food industry, such as Somalian food. They too have a deep history with different fusions of culture. Through Gastronaut, they will have a chance to be featured to the public.
Future plans for Gastronaut?
Food, culture, chefs are all things not that are not tightly linked to new technology, such as automation. Gastronaut is now reaching a bottleneck and tapping into the automation of technology will be integral to the scaling of the business. We aim to integrate this into our management tools as well as communication platforms. The impact of technology is not something to be underestimated!
Do you know that the Swedish food market is the same as the global music industry? We want to make sure that we don’t spread our resources too thinly, so we are focusing on expanding slowly. Eventually, we aim to launch Gastronaut throughout Sweden as well as on the international market.
Photo: Gastronaut team of Co-founders (form left to right): Kai Xie, CTO - Shu Wei, CEO - Jinlin Li, Head of Community - Akis Palamidis, CMO - Weiping Ding, software engineer (not pictured)
Gastronaut is making ripples not just across the economy, but also bridging across cultures and breaking stereotypes. With a great vision to unite people via dissolving barriers in our diverse food culture, they are nominated for White Guide 2018 in Sweden! Check them out on Facebook and Instagram here!