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Home » My Shef Review – A New Way to Find Diverse Authentic Homemade Food In America

My Shef Review – A New Way to Find Diverse Authentic Homemade Food In America

Bright red food bag from Shef

Food is an essential part of travel. From the street food of Mumbai to the Caribbean cocktails of St. John, food gives us a holistic view of the culture and history. This connection between food and people gets deeper when we eat homemade food. It comes as no surprise that eating and/or cooking with locals is one of the highlights of people’s trips.

But what if you didn’t have to wait to go on a trip to sample diverse, authentic, homemade food? In this post, I’ll show you how you can enjoy international cuisines by using a service called Shef. I’ll give you a candid Shef review based on not just one or two but 30 orders from 19 Shefs.

So let’s get started.

What is Shef?

Shef is an online marketplace that connects local home cooks with customers in their community. These cooks are food safety certified by Shef. The food is prepared by each shef at their home and delivered through the delivery partners (more on that later).

The company was founded by Alvin Salehi and Joey Grassia, sons of Iranian and Italian immigrants respectively, in 2019. The name shef comes from a combination of she and chef to honor the women who have historically played a large role in making nourishing meals for the family. As per Shef’s website, 85% of their shefs are women and 80% are people of color.

It currently operates in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Austin, Houston, and Washington, D.C. (which includes Maryland and Northern Virginia) with plans to expand.

What cuisines are offered by Shef?

You can order a variety of cuisines from American to Japanese to Italian to Indian, depending on the shefs available in your area. The website says that the shefs represent over 85 countries across the world.

Presently my Chicago zip code offers about 14 cuisines. These are Indian, Speciality (like vegan), American, Southeast Asian, Mexican, Caribbean, Italian, African, Mediterranean, Southern, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Korean, and Chinese.

My favorite part about ordering from shef is that you can really drill down and sample regional dishes. I love the South Asian restaurants of Chicago but sometimes I crave very specific regional dishes like Maharashtrian or Gujarati or Bengali which are still missing from restaurant offerings.

For example, the puran poli which is sweet jaggery and lentil-filled flatbread from my home state of Maharashtra. I can turn to Shef and order this regional favorite from cooks hailing from Western India and relive my childhood memories of eating this dish.

Filtering food results by cuisine
List of cuisines available in Chicago

How to place an order on Shef?

You can simply visit the Shef website, enter your zip code and start browsing the food offerings in your area. The good thing is that you don’t need to be logged in to see what shefs and dishes are available for order.

By default, the earliest delivery date will be selected at the top left corner. Bear in mind that this food is made to order so you can’t order something to be delivered the same day. The food needs to be ordered at least a couple of days in advance at the latest. And you can place an order up to two weeks in advance if you’d like.

Click on the delivery date at the top left corner and you’ll see a calendar open up for other available dates. Most shefs also have different items on the menu on different days of the week. Keep that in mind as you are browsing dishes and adding them to the cart.

At the very top of the homepage is a list of filters for browsing the food. Select the date of delivery, preferred cuisine and subcuisine, dietary restrictions, and other filters. Based on these selections, You’ll get a few different ways to browse like recommended shefs, popular dishes, new dishes, or special discount offers. You can also browse collections like family style, desserts, and healthy.

Clicking on a specific item opens up a popup with the details. You’ll see a description of the item, main ingredients, and quantity. Start adding items to your cart and once you are ready to checkout, you’ll be prompted to create an account or log in using Google, Facebook, or Apple.

List of options to filter food results
More filter options like spice level, price and rating

How does food delivery work?

One of the best things about ordering food from Shef is that you don’t have to worry about pickup. The food is delivered right to your doorstep. There are two delivery windows available at present, 1 pm – 3 pm and 3 pm – 5 pm. Select your delivery window at the time of placing the order. You can also reschedule the delivery up until midnight two nights prior to the delivery day at midnight.

You’ll receive a text on the day of the delivery with a link to track the delivery. The food was delivered via Doordash for a long time but recently it looks like they’ve moved to the delivery platform Nash.

Shef review

So having covered all the basics of finding and ordering food on Shef, what do I think of this platform?

I started ordering on Shef during the pandemic in 2021. I wanted a change of taste and a break from having to think about what to cook for the next meal.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m writing this Shef review not just based on one or two orders. I’ve placed about 30 orders from 19 shefs over the course of a couple of years.

I really like the premise of Shef, it reminds me of the dabba service in India where you can get a homecooked hot meal even at your workplace. It is honestly something that I craved for the longest time in America and I’m so glad this platform now exists.

Taste

A homemade food delivery platform is only as good as the cooks on it. And that’s where your experience will vary depending on whether you find the shefs that appeal to your tastes. I have mixed feelings about this because I’ve definitely found some good shefs on the platform but also come across several others whom I didn’t like as much.

There are at least three shefs from whom I’ve ordered food repeatedly at least three or more times. I love ordering regional dishes like sabudana vada, puran poli, and appe. I also order dishes that may take a long time to prepare since I’m lazy about preparing them at home from scratch.

On the other hand, the dishes I don’t end up enjoying are usually when a shef’s cooking style is very different from my own. For example, if the food is very oily or a chicken dish contains very little chicken or a dish just doesn’t taste as good as I’ve tasted elsewhere.

So be prepared to try at least 2-3 shefs before you find the one that you and your family enjoy.

Flatbreads arranged in a white plate
Maharashtrian sweet flatbread puran poli

Technology and operations

A Shef review cannot be complete without the technology and operations that power this food engine. The technology itself is pretty seamless. I’ve never had any issues with placing orders, updating orders, or getting the delivery.

I did notice however that the delivery with Doordash was more seamless than the delivery with Nash. Doordash had point-to-point delivery so the food did get dropped off sooner. I also had a better idea of when to expect it once it had been picked up.

The Nash delivery this week was a slightly different story. My food was picked up but the driver was driving around the city for a while, presumably making other pickups and deliveries, before finally coming over to my place.

I did receive the food within my selected delivery window so it wasn’t really a late delivery but it definitely took longer than it’s taken in the past (both on Nash and Doordash). I’m a technologist too, so I understand the decision to move to a delivery platform like Nash in the long run. But I hope they can optimize the deliveries.

The food arrives in a bright red color insulated bag with two frozen water bottles inside. Every container is labeled and includes heating instructions. When you order from someone for the first time, they will also add a handwritten thank you note to the bag and include a small bite-sized complimentary item for tasting. These are a nice touch and help you see the person behind the food.

They do run a bag recycling program in some cities. But its collection frequency varies from one location to another. In Chicago, they email every few months about signing up for bag pickup if you have more than 5 bags. It’s nice that they try to incentivize recycling by offering a coupon on your next order. The bag collection was pretty regular until last year but I’m yet to see an email in 2023.

An insulated bag with food boxes and frozen water bottles
A peek inside the Shef delivery bag

Price

I am also a price-conscious buyer, so that definitely factors into my Shef review. The costs of food on Shef have definitely risen in recent times due to inflation. If you’re a budget-conscious person too, pay attention to the portion sizes of each dish. Some dishes come in 8oz containers rather than the standard 16oz containers. On the other hand, family-size dishes may be in 32oz containers. Some shefs may offer two rotis while others may offer three or four.

But there are several ways to save on Shef, especially when you are new to the platform. You can sign up using my referral link which offers $10 off your first two orders. Full disclosure, I will also receive a one-time $10 credit if you place an order using this link. They also run promotions when you order from new shefs or send you promo codes from time to time for $5 or $10 off.

Delivery is free over $40, which has increased from the original $25. Note that the entire $40 has to be from the same shef for it to be considered for free delivery. There is also a new promotion where you get $10 off if you order two deliveries on the same day. Plus they’ve started offering a 10% discount if you subscribe to recurring orders from the same shef.

Shef is pretty transparent about their pricing structure. The company keeps 25% of every transaction to cover the technology, customer support, and delivery costs. The shefs making the food get to keep 75% of every item plus any tips given by the customers.

What about food safety protocols?

Before they can sell on Shef, all cooks need to pass an accredited food safety certification and a quality assessment. They are subject to quality checks from time to time, although the exact frequency of these tests is not clear on the website.  

Shefs are also required to cook out of commercial kitchens or other legally permissible facilities in states where home cooking laws are not yet implemented.

Since the service launched during Covid-19, shefs need to take their temperature before cooking. They are also required to wear a mask, hairnet, and gloves while cooking.

I personally feel good about their food safety procedures. But I do understand that, unlike restaurants, these can be hard to enforce and monitor at home over the long term. You’ll need to introspect and see what is your and your family’s comfort level.

Description of puran poli and list of ingredients
Description of puran poli and list of ingredients

Should I try Shef?

Absolutely! I personally love the idea of Shef and what they’re trying to do. It’s nice to have the comfort of a homecooked meal, the way I would if I were visiting a friend’s place. And along with that, you end up feeling good about supporting a local cook who is able to generate an income by utilizing their cooking skills.

Shef IS right for you if:

  • You like the comfort and simplicity of homemade food
  • You like to vicariously travel to different places through food
  • You enjoy trying different cuisines and subcuisines in the way regular people make it in their homes
  • You enjoy how different people may create the same dish differently

Shef ISN’T right for you if:

  • Precise taste and consistency are most important to you
  • You need the food to be delivered at short notice or at an exact time
  • You have serious food allergies (the main ingredients are listed in the description but a shef may be cooking multiple items with different ingredients in the same area)
Website with options to browse by collection and subcuisines
Browse by collections and subcuisines

Tips for ordering from Shef

So having said all that, if you’re still reading this post, I imagine you’d like to give Shef a go. Here are some important tips to keep in mind while placing an order on Shef:

  1. Read the shef’s description – One of the things which really tells you a lot about a shef, their cooking style, and inspirations is the description section of their profile page. This content is easy to miss due to its small font size and the fact that it is truncated with a Read More link. But I’ve found this to be really helpful in making an educated guess about whether I will like a shef’s cooking. Plus it’s nice to put a story to the face and cultivate that personal connection.
  2. Check the rating but don’t solely rely on it – You’ll see a numerical rating inside the thumbnail of dishes and on the shef’s profile page. You can definitely keep this rating in mind but use it with caution. I’d recommend using this rating more as a threshold of the minimum rating you’d like to see on a shef. I don’t use this rating to compare shefs or only order from the highest-rated shef. The shefs I’ve enjoyed have often been in the mid-4s as far as their rating goes. Food can be very subjective so just because someone has a rating close to 5 doesn’t mean that you will love their cooking. The other thing about this rating is that you don’t really see a distribution of the rating. This takes away some of the nuances in understanding that number.
  3. Read the shef reviews – I don’t think the platform showed the full reviews in the beginning but now you can read all the shef reviews and see which dishes have been given a thumbs-up. This is often more helpful than the numerical rating as I mentioned above.
  4. Check out the dish-specific recommendations – Every dish has a percentage below it which shows how many percent of people recommend the dish after trying it. You can pick specific dishes to order based on this and the information in #3.
  5. Order lunch in advance – The delivery windows are two hours long and the first delivery doesn’t start until 1 pm, at least in Chicago. Consider ordering the day before if you’re planning to have this for lunch. Or eat a hearty breakfast to sustain yourself until a late lunch. The 3 pm to 5 pm window works well for dinner.

And that friends, is my Shef review based on personal experience with this homemade food service. I really love the concept and technology and do hope that the food gets tastier. I love home-cooked food and I’m definitely not planning to stop ordering from here anytime soon.

It’s been sad to see a couple of my favorite shefs leave after a while. But I guess that’s the nature of work. People change over time and so do their life situations. Be prepared to see shefs rotate over time.

Would you like to try food from Shef? Let me know if you’d like me to cover anything else in this review. If you’ve already tried the service, please consider leaving your Shef review in the comments so we can all learn from each other.

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