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Culinary Pros Lend Credibility to a Dining App

Chefs Feed has a network of more than 600 chefs that rate and review items at restaurants in 15 U.S. cities.
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Everybody has an opinion about food. While sites such as Yelp make it easy to see what other members of the eating public think, the reviews can be suspect--who are these commenters, and what do they know about balanced flavors, anyway?

Chefs Feed brings a dash of credibility to online reviews by adding expert opinions to the mix. Brothers Steve and Jared Rivera launched the San Francisco-based company in 2011; since then, they have recruited a network of more than 600 chefs to contribute to their free interactive app (currently available only for Apple's iOS). The chefs rate and review items at restaurants in 15 U.S. cities and in London; the app's users can search the recommendations for specific dishes, or follow particular chefs to see what they're eating.

The idea grew out of the Riveras' public relations business, which served some of the biggest restaurateurs in San Francisco. Back in 2010, during a meeting with Michael Mina, Jared asked the celebrity chef to recommend a burrito joint in the city's Mission District. Mina fired back with a number of options--some of which didn't even appear on Yelp. "We realized that every city has this great resource of people who have been in the industry for years and know food better than anybody," says Jared, who serves as Chefs Feed's chief marketing officer. "We wanted to build a platform around them and their expertise."

To bring their vision to life, the brothers raised $1.15 million in angel investments, with a sizable chunk coming from the founders of Artis Ventures in San Francisco. Artis co-founder Mike Harden says the brothers are capitalizing on the high profile of today's chefs and the hip following they have cultivated. "If you think about the early days of rock 'n' roll, with the personalities and the devoted fans, food today is no different--a bunch of tattooed guys with sharp instruments dealing with heat and blood and high activity," he says. "Just as MTV was built as a cutting-edge media company that revolved around music, I see [the Rivera brothers] building Chefs Feed into a similarly cool company that's all about food."

The Riveras are working on broadening their platform. The latest iteration of the app incorporates back-end features that allow chefs to push messages--and, eventually, special deals--to followers.

What's more, the company is expanding into other forms of media: It has produced a number of food-oriented videos that air on most Virgin America flights and recently started syndicating monthly editorial content in Sunset magazine. The diversification has led to discussions with the Scripps Network and Sony to produce TV shows with some of the participating chefs. Says Steve, "We started as a good app for chefs; now we're working on creating a great chef-driven media company."