When Linda Delaney’s kids went off to college, she found herself with too much free time. Hopping on a website called ThumbTack, she discovered a new passion: Cooking for paying clients through the freelance economy.

Now Delaney cooks several times a week for a site called DishDivvy. An avid chef, Delaney likes the ability to make side income doing something she loves and does anyway. But a word of warning is necessary for those who want to follow Delaney’s lead and cook for a living.

Cooking jobs in the gig economy fall faster than a cold souffle. SideHusl.com started researching sites that allowed you to cook for a living with a list of 20 different platforms and discovered that at least a dozen have gone out of business.

Long-lost cooking jobs

MyTable, Meal Surfers, Umi Kitchen, Sprig, Maple, Leftover Swap, Cuchine and the ever-popular Josephine are all once-popular cooking gigs that have disappeared or formally folded. A few others still have websites, but don’t appear to be offering meals — or at least not offering them in the U.S.

Legal limbo

Worse, home cooks must deal with an often unfriendly regulatory environment. In most states, selling home-cooked meals for delivery is illegal — a violation of food safety laws. California, where Delaney works, is one of the few states that has passed legislation making home cooks legal. However, that law didn’t technically go into effect until January of 2019 — long after many cooking job platforms launched and failed.

Some cooking platforms get around home-cook prohibitions by offering cooks access to a commercial kitchen. Others, including DishDivvy, require all cooks and customers to be part of a closed community — essentially a cooking club.

“We have had to be a little creative is offering this as a private service,” says Ani Torosyan, chief executive of DishDivvy. “When you purchase the food through us, you are essentially commissioning a private cook to buy groceries and cook for you.”

The legalization effort in California is part of a national effort to legalize home cooks everywhere. It was started by one of the home cooking industry’s pioneers, a site called Josephine.  However, Josephine collapsed earlier this year after a two-year battle with regulators over violating California’s Homemade Food Act. The Homemade Food Act effectively prohibits individuals from making and selling hot meals.

“At this point, our team has simply run out of the resources to continue to drive the legislative change, business innovation, and broader cultural shift needed to sustain Josephine,” the company said in an email to its members.

Josephine’s founders, however, continue to champion the C.O.O.K. Alliance, which pushed through the new law.

Survivors

Legal or not, numerous sites offer ways for home cooks all over the country to ply their trade and find new customers. These sites include EatWith, which is available worldwide and the site that got Delaney started, Thumbtack

But, a word to the wise: build your own clientele. After all, given this industry’s history, you shouldn’t be surprised if your favorite cooking platform goes up in flames.

*Updated 12/23/2020