For Charley Wang and Tal Safran, home cooking sparked a movement. When each spontaneously moved, separately, to Los Angeles two years ago, both found a home away from home with a woman named Josephine, the mother of a mutual friend. “Josephine gave us a home and a place to be vulnerable during a chaotic and career-driven period of our lives,” says Wang.
“She mothered us, scolded us, cooked for us.” To return the favor, they cooked for her, and shared meals around Josephine’s table became a ritual that led Wang and Safran to find their calling. The two teamed up to launch an online service allowing customers to order dinner from a home cook in their neighborhood, and called it Josephine.
Inspired by the nourishing spirit of its namesake, Josephine provides cooks with access to higher-quality ingredients and a platform to get educated about business and food safety. But it’s also about bringing back the tradition of breaking bread with families, friends, and neighbors. Consider the shift: In the mid-1960s, families ate at home up to 95 percent of the time. By the late 2000s, that percentage had dropped to as low 65 percent, depending on income. And last year, less than 60 percent of dinners at home were home-cooked. We can all relate to the urge to order in instead of cook. Life moves fast these days, and modern conveniences like pre-packaged meals from the supermarket, take-out, and delivery facilitate that.
By ordering out, we tend to lose touch with the people around us, including our food purveyors. And it definitely makes us less connected to the food we’re eating. Most likely, we don’t concern ourselves with the ingredients in that falafel plate or buffalo chicken sandwich.
With Josephine, Wang and Safran want to foster the tradition of home cooking at the community level and reconnect people with one another and their food. Josephine customers can view a daily menu of offerings under $15 from local cooks—all of whom undergo rigorous food safety training, kitchen inspections, and taste tests—place an order, and pick it up right from the cook’s home. It doesn’t get more locavore than that.
Josephine is not about attempting to gentrify suburban ethnic neighborhoods or infiltrate them with trendy health food. It’s about embracing a shared lifestyle, in which home cooks are better able to feed their own communities and people, sharing experiences and information. “We help cooks reach out to their networks and sell foods relevant to their neighbors,” says Wang. “We’re not making ethical decisions on what people should cook. That limits the impact we can have for underserved communities and people in food deserts.”
Wang views the narrative around organic eating progressive and necessary, but not quite yet realistic for everyone. “Organic eating is not something that’s afforded in all communities,” he says. “It’s much more effective for us to empower cooks already in those communities and give them tools to build business and layer in access to healthier, affordable ingredients through our resources and partnerships with organizations like Imperfect Produce and local CSAs.”
Local home cooks become stewards of healthy eating in their communities; neighbors get wholesome home-cooked meals straight from the source. And often that source is just down the street—an open door to a warmly lit kitchen filled with intoxicating aromas of the best Vietnamese pho in the city.
Right now the service only serves one market, the Bay area, with about 75 cooks listed, but we can’t wait until Josephine lands in our neck of the woods.
Photo credit: Alicia Ong via Stocksy