Digested Digest: Crème de la crème

Posted 11 months ago in Food & Drink Features

As I write this article while my sink is full to the brim with dishes – the unavoidable by-product and the ultimate downside of recipe testing, compounded by a broken dishwasher. I really feel that food writers should start taking photos of the washing up…Perhaps there’s a book or an Instagram page out there for dirty dishes, to combat all the fake-styled food accounts – I’m feeling ‘Shit London Guinness ’ or ‘Rate My Chives’ energy. Or the not yet created ‘Dublin pot-holes’ (an account I swear to create following every bike ride within my ‘beloved fair city’). But, for what am I recipe testing, do you ask? A photo shoot and video session for food startup CREME.

CREME is a new food experience platform and a way for chefs to create a sustainable income online. The technology company launched in October 2022 and offers a video-on-demand cooking experience to rival the likes of MasterClass. Instead of focusing on a handful of influential names, CREME shares beautifully shot and practical recipes from over 200 chefs & restaurants from around the world. Chefs get paid monthly to contribute their recipes to the platform. In fact, they get paid up to 70% of the total revenue, with an option to give royalties to various collaborators, such as their photographer. To put this into perspective, Eater states that, “For sold cookbooks, royalties are often in the range of 8 percent to 10 percent of the cover price.”

CREME uses an algorithm to calculate recipe engagement. I personally take home 60% of the earnings, giving my photographer 40%. While it’s not exactly straightforward creating these recipes, CREME supplies us with clear guidelines and takes care of all the editing and publishing to the platform. It’s what makes the app so streamlined.

So, that’s CREME. Why am I telling you this? Sure, subscribe and cook recipes. You’ll love its powerful AI-driven software, smooth rolling videos and easy-to-follow guidelines. I want to pay tribute to the guy who helped in giving me the idea to start a Substack newsletter in the first place. In doing so, we became the first food focused account and highest engaging Substack in Ireland. His name is Diego Zambrano and he’s the founder of CREME.

I met Diego at Noma. He was a frequent diner, a larger-than-life human being, of whom I knew little about, but whose company I always enjoyed in the dining room. Brazilian by birth, he had spent over a decade in New York, building the digital agency Work & Co. To this day (although there was no dress code at Noma), Diego is the only diner to eat wearing Havaianas.

Novel thinking

A couple of years later, I returned back home to Ireland. I had left my job as head chef in Bastible restaurant in Dublin, as Covid had just hit. Suddenly I found myself with time on my hands. I created a business plan and reached out to a number of influential people I had come to meet over the years, including Diego. I approached him with what I thought was a novel scheme, whereby a high-end restaurant doubled up as a grocery. It came about through the concept of wanting to make fine dining more inclusive: a business with offerings that were accessible to everyone and an enterprise that placed its employees first (remember, this was long before the articles surrounding workplace culture had surfaced and at a time when restaurants and cafés had yet to pivot, as people thought Covid would last a few months at best). Logistically and economically, it was an approach that made sense: channelling energy into a cooperative style environment, with two separate points of sale. Although our future customers may not all have the means to dine in the restaurant, the grocery would establish itself as an integral part of the local community, whether that meant purchasing bread, a cut of meat, or a jar of miso produced by our team of skilled chefs, or the space itself converting into an evening space. However, in our very first video call, Diego asked me one question – “Why only have two points of sale?”

For the first four months of Covid, I spent every hour researching and documenting, looking at ways in which the model could be built upon. In my mind, we were creating a business plan for the restaurant of the future. I well and truly became obsessed. For months, we exchanged calls, fleshing out all the various possibilities that would allow both the restaurant and grocery to work in unison. Within weeks, we had established a harmonious relationship between retail and dining and gathered a plethora of ways to engage the end consumer. We explored avenues of production, scale, hybrid spaces and flow. We investigated products and ways of connecting those products to recipes. These explorations led to trialling merchandise such as the Vintner’s Companion beverage and our Foraging Tool Kit. They were both a tremendous success and demonstrated a clear route to the future. What Diego had instilled in me very early on, was to no longer look at restaurants conventionally. If the future restaurant was to fully thrive without the common constraints, it required novel thinking.

Diego and I began to think about how we could expand our reach, identifying that food media and software was a potential outlet. Scale and high-end hospitality do not go hand in hand, but on the contrary, the only way to generate exponential growth is to operate with scale. These conversations took place in and around the time a newsletter platform called Substack was beginning to make waves within online journalism. Independent journalists all over the world were moving away from their low and inconsistently paid jobs at newspaper bureaus and taking a leap of faith with Substack, writing independently. As it turned out, the very best writers were earning well above the salaries they had earned in their previous roles. But I had my doubts. I had little to no experience in writing, beyond my B+ honours in English, which hardly gave me the credibility I thought I needed. Little did I know, Substack doesn’t require credentials to publish. Off I went.

At the time, the only food writer I recognised on the platform was Alison Roman. Certainly, there were no Irish food writers. Diego insisted that in order to engage your audience, it was crucial to be honest with them. And so I began writing. Taking inspiration from the tech industry, we decided that the restaurant of the future needed to become open-source and multifaceted. Everything would become transparent: recipes, producers, supply chains, foraging lists, operational know-how and information on makers and craft people. These were valuable pieces of information that restaurants typically held close to their chests. Giving them away seemed vulnerable. But Ómós would operate differently. We would champion that vulnerability and provide stories, insights and valuable food and hospitality-related content at an affordable cost, made possible through scale. Our readers would become the incubators to our business.

It became clear to me that Zambrano really cared about the industry and he was frustrated with hospitality’s stubborn nature and resistance to adapt. With his experience, connections and resources, he felt he could have a direct impact on the industry and most importantly, help the many chefs around the world he considered friends. I do not doubt that Noma Projects (Noma’s e-commerce and retail brainchild) would not have come about without the involvement of Diego. Throughout the pandemic, he decided to leave Work and Co to start CREME, a company whose purpose was to not only change one restaurant, but hospitality as a whole. It now has contributors from all over the world, chefs of all kinds, contributing in a way that simply makes people cook better. CREME optimises the end-user experience better than what any other cooking app has achieved to date, but what’s truly unique is that this is only the beginning. While the app offers chefs and businesses a new way to leverage income, the app is their first act in making hospitality a better, more sustainable place.


Words & Images: Cúán Greene

Cúán Greene is a chef and author of the Ómós Digest Newsletter.  You can subscribe for weekly posts at omos.substack.com


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