PHOENIX – Roza Ferdowsmakan has loved food since she was 13 and spotted a strange-looking pie at a dinner party.
What’s this? The host answered by cutting a tiny triangle and urging the teen to savor a bite.
“Close your eyes,” the host said. “I want you to keep your eyes closed. I want you to experience quiche. I don’t want you to just chew and swallow. I want you to really experience this thing.”
“And that was my first lesson in mindfulness. It was sort of a culinary enlightenment,” Ferdowsmakan said.
That culinary journey led the Phoenix resident to launch an app in September where chefs prepare a meal with produce from local farms, right in a foodie’s home. The developing app, Bites, is a finalist in Phoenix’s Smart City Hack, which asks innovators to solve societal problems like waste. City officials will choose a winner from among the seven finalists on Friday.
A victory could lead to a trip to an international gathering in Barcelona, Spain.
That would be nice, Ferdowsmakan said. But what she really cares about is combining her love of food, her commitment to reducing the carbon footprint and her passion for locally grown produce.
The app was still in beta mode this week, with technology fixes expected soon, she said. The Bites app is found by going to Bites.mobi on a mobile device and clicking on the App Store or Google Play button. Searching for it inside either app store may not call up the Bites app.
At its optimum level, Bites users will choose a chef category – culinary students, people who like to cook or professional chefs – and select the date and type of meal they want.
Bites then filters the chef database and finds those within a 20-mile radius who meet the criteria. The chefs buy locally sourced ingredients. The app is meant to entice users, after eating a delicious meal, to discover and buy from local farmers.
“Bites is giving visibility and support to local growers because there is no way in hell that we can move away from globalized commercial food production (without them),” Ferdowsmakan said. “The chef turns around and connects with small, local growers in his or her community, goes to them, and establishes essentially what we want, a relationship between chefs and growers. The chefs can then better help inform growers and not have to waste.”
People who purchase the Phoenix-area service can watch a chef prepare a meal and talk with the chef, learning life stories and why the chef is passionate about cooking, Ferdowsmakan said.
The meal cost is still being worked out, but is planned to mimic prices of a restaurant meal, ranging from inexpensive to high end, she said. The difference: Bites puts the chef at the dinner table.
“I get to bring my passion and experience into people’s home so that people can learn about what I do,” said David Duarte, a former executive chef at Pane e Vino.
“Engaging with the customers is very important to me. Usually people don’t engage with the chefs unless it’s a complaint. I want the dining experience to be personal,” Duarte said.
Ferdowsmakan, a technology and business attorney, credits her quiche experience and working on her uncle’s farm as the ingredients for her culinary enlightenment. She wanted to make the meals convenient and affordable.
“I was working full time, I’m a single mom and I was going through a divorce,” Ferdowsmakan said. “I wanted adventure to come to me.”
The Smart City Hack winnowed the finalists from 30 proposals for apps, software or other tech tools that could potentially solve issues around transportation, health, sustainability and education in urban areas, according to the city of Phoenix website.
The winner gets $3,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to the Smart City Expo in Barcelona, Spain, in November, the website said. The winning technology will be among 600 exhibits at the expo, dedicated to cities creating international partnerships and business opportunities, according to Smart City Expo World Congress.