Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, April 4, 2001

The site features dishes from La Mer.

Duo cooks up
’Net niche for
nation’s top chefs

Isle chefs are joining
the site, with menus,
recipes, photos, bios

By Cynthia Oi

One Saturday night a couple of years ago, Chris Botello and Chris Schiavone made crank calls to 65 restaurants in the Boston area.

The calls weren't of the "Is your refrigerator running? Well, you better go catch it" variety. The two were doing research.

"We got on the phones, telling people we were planning a graduation party and wondered if they had a Web site that we could go to check out their menus," Botello said.

When they discovered that only six did, they knew they'd found their niche on the Internet.

It is called and it is riding the chefs-as-celebrities wave that continues to inundate the country. The company is profitable and employs nine people. Schiavone is chief financial officer; Botello chief creative officer.

Hawaii is the partners' newest addition -- is scheduled to enter the virtual world today. Among those showcased are Yves Garnier of La Mer, who contributes the "Recipe of the Week," Scallops with provencal Vegetable Afrrom Sauce, and Alan Wong, whose nori-Wrapped Tempura Bigeye Ahi is "Dish of the Week."

The site focuses on 140 chefs, providing bios, information about their restaurants, menus, recipes, job openings and announcements of special events. For foodies, the biggest draw may be photographs of each chef's cuisine.

The site is arranged by cities and although until today there were only four -- Boston, New York, San Francisco and Chicago -- by year's end Botello and Schiavone hope to have 14 locations online: Honolulu, Maui (in 10 days), Seattle, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

The site lists only restaurants that have an identifiable chef, not a team of cooks, and the chef must make presentation a priority, Botello said. Chain restaurants are not listed. Restaurants pay $74 a month for placement, although Hawaii chefs will get their first six months free.

For the money, Botello and Schiavone provide not only a Web presence but a network where chefs can promote themselves and their offerings and stay in touch. USA chefs has also partnered with Yahoo, which opens a larger arena. "We have regular chats with chefs through Yahoo's chat rooms," Botello said (through April, chats are held at 8 p.m. every Wednesday with the nominees for this year's James Beard Foundation awards).

A more crucial service is the site itself, he said. Few chefs have the time or the skills to set up and manage a Web site. "How many people who run a restaurant know how to code in HTML?" he asked.

"We are the middle men. We get all the contacts, we build the networks and connect one to the other," he said.

Each chef's segment is updated regularly with new menus and special offers or promotions. A news section lists changes about a particular chef or restaurant.

The site doesn't post reviews. "That's not what we're about," Botello said. "What we are is a national Web site of chefs, about chefs, created by chefs and supported by chefs."

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