PORTLAND — A unique business where foodies of all types are challenged to cook up creative dishes using a mishmash of mystery ingredients has received a mini-grant to help market the fledgling venture.
Fyood Kitchen is based at Fork Food Lab in West Bayside, where an on-site staff does all of the grocery shopping, stocks the pantry and cleans up. It’s also where cooks of all varieties have access to a fully equipped commercial kitchen.
Maddie Purcell founded Fyood Kitchen just three months ago and describes it as a “social cooking competition.”
“I’m thrilled to be launching Fyood in Portland, where there’s such a wealth of good food and people who appreciate it, (and) Fork Food Lab’s gorgeous kitchen offers the perfect space to hold Fyood events,” she said.
Purcell is hoping to launch a Kickstarter campaign early in 2017 and said the $400 marketing grant she recently received from New Ventures, based in South Portland, would help her expand her outreach to hundreds of people.
She said the grant would be “invaluable in terms of increasing buzz about the company and narrowing down the ideal target audience. I look forward to seeing how much it enables me to grow my business and enhance my collaborations with local food producers.”
In describing the Fyood Kitchen concept, Purcell said, “Like a painting might, Fyood provides a much-needed creative and social outlet. Like an escape room, participants feel exhilarated by finding solutions to a challenge under timed pressure. Like a cooking class, players work with new ingredients and try new techniques while building community around food.”
New Ventures, formerly known as Women, Work, and Community, offers the mini-grant competition to entrepreneurs in six Maine regions several times each year. Purcell and Fyood Kitchen were the most recent winners for the southern region, which covers Cumberland and York counties.
The goal of the mini-grant program, according to a New Ventures press release, is “to strengthen access to markets for micro-businesses by supporting the development of marketing tools, materials and activities.”
The mini-grants are funded, in part, by Norway Savings Bank. Gigi Guyton, southern regional manager for New Ventures, said the grants are awarded after her organization holds what she called a pitch contest, which gives local “small business owners an opportunity to really talk about their projects.”
A panel of judges rates each pitch based on clarity, the benefit or positive impact the grant would have on the start-up, and specificity as to how the funds would be used, Guyton said. In the case of Fyood Kitchen, the judges said Purcell presented a “very clear marketing goal” and also showed a “collaborative and creative spirit,” which they appreciated, Guyton said.
“We have found that a small mini-grant of $400 can go a long way in helping a new business get off the ground,” she added. To be eligible, applicants must have no more than five full-time employees and gross annual sales of $250,000 or less.
To participate in a Fyood Kitchen competition, Purcell said “no fancy culinary experience is required,” adding that “tons of ingredients,” along with kitchen tools and cooking equipment, is all provided so that contestants “can focus on the creative side of things.”
“We’re in a golden age of food,” she said, “from food trucks to cooking shows to farmers markets, people are fascinated by food, where it comes from, and how it’s made.
“For too many people, however, cooking is little more than a set of chores –grocery shopping, meal planning, doing the dishes. … (But) at Fyood we make cooking an exhilarating experience by combining a social event with a cooking challenge, culminating in a many-course dinner.”
During a competition the players have limited time “to transform their mystery ingredients into delicious, creative and fun dishes,” Purcell said. Then, when time’s up, “the judges give their feedback based on presentation, taste and creativity.”
Purcell has nine years of experience in event management and four years in food-related businesses. She also comes “from a family of food-tech entrepreneurs and writers, so I’ve been surrounded by different (food) projects most of my life,” she said.
“One of my favorite things about Fyood is that the benefits don’t end when players go home,” Purcell added. “So far, almost everyone has cooked something that they’d never made before and didn’t know that they could.”
Cooking with mystery ingredients and without recipes breaks the “comfort zone” and allows people to unleash their creative sides, she said.
“The feeling of accomplishment and the high success rate of these experiments inspires people to rely on their senses and ingenuity and cook more adventurously,” Purcell said.
A kitchen full of cooks hard at work during a recent competition at Fyood Kitchen in Portland.
The mystery ingredients for a recent cook-off at Fyood Kitchen in Portland consisted of clams, English muffins, chestnuts and sake, or dilly beans, liverwurst, pumpkin chips and almonds.
Erica Swan, a recent Fyood Kitchen competitor, puts the finishing touches on her dessert creation.
Judges taste the dishes whipped up by players in a recent Fyood Kitchen cooking competition in Portland.