iTunes Meets Facebook & Epicurious: Kitchen Monki Brings A Number of Big Internet Ideas To the World of Food

There’s no denying Seattle is a tech savvy town. And when it comes to food, I think it’s safe to say we’re climbing up in the ranks. We’re the most caffeinated city in the country, according to The Daily Beast (no surprise there), and when it comes to the intersection of food and tech, we are not only on the bandwagon, but way up at the front of the caravan. We’re home to more coffee shops than you can count, and a startup called Bacon Salt that makes zero-calorie, vegetarian, kosher seasoning that tastes like, you guessed it, bacon (it’s real, trust me).

And as if that weren’t enough, we seem to be springing up more and more services and apps for finding the best food around town, and managing our own home cooking. Seattle-based restaurant review site Urbanspoon has taken finding a restaurant to the next level with its mobile app that allows users to, quite literally, shake their way to discovering a new place to eat. Local online recipe sites like Allrecipes, BigOven, and wiki-style recipe encyclopedia Foodista, have been cropping up all over the place, competing for breadth and depth of recipe discovery against popular brands like Conde Nast-owned Epicurious.

But the newest recipe engine to hit the Seattle scene, Kitchen Monki, is challenging its predecessors to do more than just bring recipes to consumers. It wants to simplify all aspects of the cooking process, from searching for dish ideas, all the way down to meal planning, and building the all-inclusive grocery list.

“Kitchen Monki has become the operating system of my cooking life,” says co-founder and self-described ‘top banana’ Sam Kinney.

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Sam Kinney

Rather than focusing on bringing hundreds of thousands of recipes from around the world to the everyday cook, Kinney says his site is truly different from the rest because it instead combines the greatest aspects of recipe search sites, with the library functionality of iTunes, and the social interaction of Facebook.

“It’s really the power tools that we provide to cooks to be organized and prepared and spend less time racing around planning, and more time cooking,” he says. “It is like the offspring of a recipe site and corporate purchasing.”

Kinney, who co-founded sourcing and supply management startup FreeMarkets (now part of Ariba) in the early ’90s, says he grew up in a “great cooking household” and loves finding ways to automate everyday thinking tasks with software.  He got the idea for Kitchen Monki while trying to manage his working life with his home life as a single dad raising and cooking for three sons.

“I literally started building a Microsoft access application to do what I was describing earlier—I wanted my recipes to automatically know what I had to buy and where I could buy it. I didn’t want to have to think about it anymore—to just go to the store and execute,” Kinney says. “I would find myself in a rut, and going to the butcher counter was not necessarily the best way to get out of the rut. I have 7,000 tracks on my iTunes, and I thought, that’s what I need. Whenever you’re on iTunes, you’re two or three key strokes from finding anything you need on iTunes—you’re only a few keystrokes away from discovering what’s already in your repertoire. When you look at Kitchen Monki, it looks a lot like iTunes—so you’re always just a few keystrokes away from finding what you’re looking for.”

While Kitchen Monki has an archive of thousands of user-generated recipes to search through, the site puts a greater emphasis on the time-saving tools it offers for cooks. Anyone can search for a one-off recipe online when they’re looking for something new, but tools to manage recipes that you use regularly are what most people need, according to Kinney.

“That’s the thing that I found missing, a recipe site that has functionality first and foremost built around my current repertoire,” he says. “When I look at my use pattern, which I think is similar to many of our users, my 150 or so recipes that I have on Kitchen Monki, that accounts for more than 100 percent of my recipe site visits all over the Internet.”

The resulting site, which has attracted more than 12,000 registered users in just its first two weeks, allows people to upload their own recipes, including unique ingredients, specific instructions, and images, plan out family meals using the “meal planner” tool, and have the subsequent grocery list sent to them in either a PDF document or directly to their phone via text message. And though there are a number of recipe sites (and apps) that have similar functionalities, including Epicurious, Charlestown, MA-based Springpad, and Cambridge, MA-based Plummelo, Kinney says Kitchmen Monki has a more advanced technology that keeps information from cluttering up and overlapping.

“We are seeing people try to develop what I would call a more rudimentary grocery list functionality—if you grab three recipes that have overlapping ingredients, you’ll see those ingredients appear multiple times on the front end,” he says, noting that Kitchen Monki’s system consolidates ingredients and data from multiple recipes into one easy-to-read list. Other sites that are great recipe aggregators, but don’t offer the same tools, “end up being a fairly shallow user experience because there is no good data representation,” Kinney says.

Another key element to Kitchen Monki’s offerings—it’s highly social. You can upload your own recipes, and easily share them with friends via Facebook and Twitter.

“When you have users adding recipes, it doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of recipes to keep me busy—10 really foodie friends could keep me busy for a lifetime,” Kinney says.

All social aspects of the site are optional, however, and people who want to keep grandma’s secret cookie recipe that’s been handed down for generations a secret have the option to do so by including it in their personal Kitchen Monki account, without making it public to the rest of the world. The site also provides an easy way to embed recipes you’ve created into a blog or website, with little to no formatting.

Kitchen Monki is also totally free for consumers, unlike many other software-based recipe managers out there, including SousChef‘s platform for Mac, which costs $30, and BigOven’s desktop and mobile system which goes for $29.95. Instead of gravitating to a subscription model like Allrecipes, or cluttering up the user interface with ads like Facebook, Kinney plans to implement social media marketing for food vendors on the site.

“While I love Facebook as a platform, it is a mile wide and an inch deep as it relates to the kind of application that marketers use—there’s no way for food product companies to interact with one of the coolest ways for users to interact—and that’s recipes,” he says. “The pay-per-click model does not tend to work in sites where you’ve deeply engaged the user. I want to find a better type of corporate sponsorship than that, in the context of a better social marketing social media site like ours.”

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