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Strava for Cooking: A Conversation with the Co-Founders of Pepper

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Pepper

In the 21st century, socialization is foundational to so many people's processes of commitment and actualizing a routine. Apps like Strava and Goodreads demonstrate the potential of socialization in encouraging people to foster healthy habits. These apps become a log not just for yourself to reflect on, but for your community to celebrate and even compete with.

So while there might be some superhuman reading this story remarking at how their only inspiration comes “from inside” and their work ethic alone nurtures their healthy habits, the vast majority of us don’t always thrive in an isolated vacuum. Socialization allows for competition, it allows for recognition, and—most importantly–it builds community.

This ethos was the basis for Pepper, a digital cookbook social app created by Matt Schkolnick and Jake Aronskind. The duo had noticed the oversaturation of food content on apps like Instagram and Facebook, but realized that this method of sharing could be so much more than how it existed statically on non-specialized apps. Incorporating a social component to how we disseminate our food experience can help people build routines; sharing and growing with your community encourages lasting commitment. It’s why apps like Strava have seen such success in the world of fitness. It’s why Goodreads has become the pillar of the literary community it is today. So why not cooking?

Every chef deserves an audience.

- Pepper App Co-Founders Matt Schkolnick and Jake Aronskind

Matt and Jake, lifelong friends who “went to sleep-away camp together,” tell me about their experience in a food-dedicated GroupMe with friends from college and how it contributed to their “aha” moment with Pepper. “It wasn’t until I got added to this group chat that I felt a connection to cooking,” Matt tells me, adding that seeing what his friends were cooking encouraged him to try to replicate their exploits and get involved himself. “My interest in cooking, my journey as a chef, started when I was exposed to what my friends are cooking.” And this is essentially the premise of Pepper. By incorporating a socialization element into the process of cooking, Pepper will encourage people to cook more, to share more with their friends and to be proud of their journeys, as opposed to focusing on the world of fine dining as the only kind of cooking deserving of recognition.

“If you cook, you should feel empowered to share what you make and have a platform to learn,” Matt tells me. And as he says it, I personally feel the desire to cook more. While relying on apps like Instagram and Facebook perhaps discourages “amateur” chefs from sharing their creations, an app devoted to the very process of cooking—from your oven-baked nachos to a labor-intensive Beef Wellington—encourages everyone to participate. “There’s value in specialization,” Jake notes to me. 

By incorporating a recipes component in addition to imagery, the food posts in Pepper are alive. They don't just exist—as they would on IG or Facebook—as static imagery that sits on the web, never to be interacted with again. As the app continues to pick up steam, eventually users can rely on the app to not just get recipes and inspiration from their friends, but from professional chefs as well. And the accessibility of the app could allow amateur chefs to build up a reputation/following to rival that of the most admired pro chefs around.

Throughout our conversation, I was reminded of the adage from Pixar’s Ratatouille: “Anyone can cook.” This is the ethos driving Pepper’s early success and potential for the future. I left our call feeling energized to get into the kitchen with the newfound knowledge that my cooking, too, is worthy of recognition. We all deserve an audience; and with Pepper, your community is waiting.

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