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Zest: App-to-Table Cooking Lessons

The American dining landscape is a case study in polar extremes, as it often feels like we simultaneously exist in a golden age of high-quality restaurant options while we’re also surrounded by junk food crammed with loads of unhealthy ingredients and additives.

And let’s be real, whether we’re patronizing a top-tier establishment or sitting in our car waiting for someone to hand us a paper bag with our dinner in it, the cost of eating out has become noticeably more expensive. Thanks to this development, many folks are spending more time in what is often one of the most underutilized spaces in our homes: the kitchen.

But what happens when we exhaust the handful of recipes we’ve committed to memory over the years? After all, spaghetti and meatballs can only trigger the salivary glands so many times.

From left to right: Graham Kirstein, Jake Gutstein

Over at Brickyard, Jake Gutstein and Graham Kirstein have built a wonderful solution to this cooking conundrum. Their app, Zest, which they often describe as “the Duolingo of cooking,” teaches subscribers not only how to cook a long list of delicious recipes but also how the best chefs think about food and which ingredients work best.

How Zest works

Getting set up with Zest couldn’t be easier. It’s as simple as heading to the App Store on your cell phone and downloading the program. As soon as this is done, a user has access to an extensive list of recipes and cooking tutorials that will turn them into little Gordon Ramsays in no time.

What’s really exciting is that these aren’t a collection of repurposed how-to’s you could find with a simple Google search. Behind the recipes is some serious culinary heft. While Gutstein and Kirstein power the business and marketing side of the organization forward, the brains in the Zest kitchen belong to Julie Ottusch, whose resume includes a degree from Harvard University and a stint in Chicago’s Alinea, which boasts three Michelin stars.

“Learning any new skill can be a frustrating process, so we’ve worked really hard to make the experience feel supportive, encouraging, and use language that will resonate with someone of any skill level,” says Kirstein.

A tasty future for Zest

Since its launch in 2022, Zest has leveraged a strong social media presence into an impressive user base. On TikTok, the startup has nearly 160,000 followers with multiple videos hitting viewership numbers in the millions while over on Instagram, another audience big enough to fill Neyland Stadium routinely engages with posts explaining food- and cooking-related topics like “What freaking pan should I have?” and “Why wasabi spicy hurts so different than chili pepper spicy.”

As of now, Zest enjoys an active user base in the tens of thousands, and if the reviews on their site are any indicator — “the best app to learn how to actually cook” and “they make a $3 meal taste like it is $30!” — the future is looking very bright for this group that joined the Chattanooga entrepreneurial scene in early 2024.
As Gutstein tells it, “moving from building Zest in the beginning primarily as a remote organization to now focusing on an in-person model has been quite a change, but there are two primary reasons we did it and decided to do it in Chattanooga: attaining radical focus and knowing we did everything we could do to achieve success.”

There are already plenty of believers in Zest. In addition to gaining the support of Brickyard, the team also has the backing of other well-respected VC firms including Accel, LAUNCH, Techstars, and Rosecliff.

“We really do think Zest has what it takes to become a household name,” says Brickyard’s Matt Patterson. “They’re solving a universal problem with their technology, and they’re doing it in a way that is both entertaining and educational. Yes, we invested in them, but my family also uses Zest on a regular basis at home. My family loves it.”

So, if you’re already thinking about what you want to eat this weekend, just hop on your phone and download Zest.

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