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That's the thinking behind a new Toronto-based initiative called MealSurfers.com, a website dedicated to connecting talented local chefs with their hungry neighbours.
The inspiration, explains CEO and co-founder Ali Jiwani, came in part from growing up in an area where there weren't a variety of restaurants. "If you're looking for a meal," Jiwani says, "why should you have to be forced to go to a restaurant and pay a lot of money for a debatably healthy dinner?" Toronto's diverse population with its variety of cooking traditions, combined with the fact that many new Canadians are often looking for income opportunities, eventually resulted in the September launch of MealSurfers.com.
A glance at the site's daily menu reflects Canada's rich cultural diversity, with such dishes as Moroccan Beef Tagine, Chilly Chicken with Fried Rice, Butter Chicken or Moussaka at prices ranging from $7 to $14 per dish. To enjoy this virtual potluck, all online patrons have to do is click on the meal of their choice, pay by credit card and pick up their selection (delivery is available for some locations) within a preset time range.
As for the chefs, after filling in an online questionnaire, selected cooks are contacted for further interviewing and to arrange a taste test for the site owners. Once chosen, chefs are trained, given micro-business support, regularly inspected for food safety by MealSurfers.com staff, and rated on an ongoing basis by customers.
And ratings, so far, have been good, says Jiwani. So good, in fact, that his goal is to see MealSurfers.com become available across Canada. "Toronto was a great place to start," he says, "because it's a big, vibrant, diverse urban centre, but I can see this working in any region in Canada. We take pride in our diversity."
Connecting and enjoying that diversity through food, he says, is just one benefit.
Still, such "sharing economy" initiatives are not without their controversy—particularly as Uber and Airbnb continue to face international scrutiny for challenging the global taxi and hotel industries.
Meal-sharing start-ups have begun to pop up all over the world, and in France, restaurant owners are urging the government there to ban to a similar "Uber-style" meal-sharing site where locals can enjoy authentic experiences at French homes.
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