Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck once said: “Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors — it’s how you combine them that sets you apart.”
The celebrity chef was spot on, but many home cooks feel like they do not have the right tools to create fine cuisine.
One home cook that felt that way and took matters into her own hands — literally.
London-based Malaysian Grace Lee was always interested in cooking.
After graduating from the University of Cambridge with a degree in economics and working as an investment banker, Lee found herself being happy in the kitchen cooking up hearty meals for her family.
“I enjoy cooking for my brothers on weekends and I always look forward to it. They enjoy their steak and I always try to give them the best possible,” she said.
Lee’s passion for cooking prompted her to take a career break to learn how to make restaurant-quality dishes.
Her keen interest in cooking led to an adventure that included a stint at Le Cordon Bleu, a world renowned network of educational institutions dedicated to providing the highest level of culinary and hospitality instruction, mochi flavour testing, the quest for the perfect hand-made ramen, as well as research into sous-vide cooking.
“Professional chefs use a method called sous-vide to make their food taste delicious,” Lee said.
French for “under vacuum,” sous-vide is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times.
“Sous-vide cooking is all about accurate heat control and it is quite simple. If you knew the exact cooking temperature for each food item, it will be cooked right every time without much hassle. Even chicken breast can be juicy, tender and healthy,” she explained.
However, most sous-vide devices are generally perceived as too expensive, complicated and bulky for home cooks.
In a quest to improve her cooking, Lee thought about getting her own sous vide device.
However, her husband, Tan Xi Yen, said he would build one for her.
A graduate of Cambridge University with a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering and currently working for Google in London, Tan started working on a concept after learning how sous-vide works.
He sourced for parts and put together a working model. “We hooked it up to our own cooker and we were blown away by the quality of the dish,” said Lee.
They named the device Codlo — a play on the word “coddle” which in cooking means a method of low and slow cooking (typically eggs) and “to pamper”. Codlo enables affordable sous-vide cooking by using of existing appliances like rice cookiers.
The London-based Malaysian husband and wife team immediately wanted to share their success with cooking enthusiast across the globe.
The duo invested £20,000 (RM109,500) from their own pocket to kickstart Codlo. Most of the initial investment was spent on design and upgrading the original prototype.
Once that was done, the duo turned to crowd-funding platform Kickstarter for more funds.
“Kickstarter was important for us as this would let us know if the product would be a success. We could validate the demand for the product,” said Lee.
Codlo manage to raise £128,000 from more than 1,000 Kickstarter backers. That showed the husband and wife team that a market existed for their product.
As soon as funds started rolling in, Codlo was shipped to more than 60 countries beginning November last year.
“It was an interesting process for us. The both of us did everything.
“My husband was responsible for doing whatever was necessary to get word out on Codlo, from learning to code and design websites, putting marketing plans together, and making lame jokes on the Codlo Facebook page, while I picked up the financial and legal duties.
“We had no clue about logistics, but we learnt as we went along and thankfully, we got it right the first time,” said Lee.
Codlo’s entire operations are based in the UK as the duo wants to be hands-on with the entire manufacturing process.
“We want to keep our operations close to home as we want to ensure that the quality of our product. We want to be able to make changes quickly and we can easily meet up with our suppliers if we want to,” said Lee.
Despite being manufactured in the United Kingdom, Codlo is reasonably priced at £99, which makes it cheaper than its most of its competitors.
For now, the duo are planning to grow organically and they have moved away from crowdfunding to fund themselves.
“We calculated out first production run well enough that we can keep on going. We run a tight ship and we are OK for now,” said Lee.
She however did not rule out talking to venture capitalist and angel investors in the future.
“We are looking to fine tune our ordering platform. We want to reach out to every cook out there,” Lee added.