Last week we had a Cambodian soup – beef kathieu – delivered to our Oak Park home by Shef, a network of local home cooks who prepare meals from a number of different culinary traditions, including the very familiar Italian and Chinese but also other, less high-visibility cuisines like Nepalese, Caribbean and Pakistani. Home businesses are a good way for people to get started in the food industry; more than 85% of cooks on Shef are people of color, and 81% are women; both groups are underrepresented in restaurant kitchens.

Beef kathieu, photo David Hammond

Our beef kathiew, a Cambodian version of the more familiar Vietnamese pho, was a perfect lunch for a freezing day. These meals are delivered with all ingredients portioned out; most dishes can be prepared in a few minutes. Our lunch came with a good amount of broth, lots of fresh vegetables, thin strips of beef, and noodles.  

Tola Kim, the local chef who sent this meal to us, explained the difference between her Cambodian katheiw and Vietnamese pho. She explained her katheiw “has deeper and bolder flavors than Vietnamese pho. We add more fresh herbs and garnish each bowl with toasted garlic, shallots, and preserved salted cabbage. My version of the beef kathiew is a combination of my grandmother’s already delicious recipe mixed with my own twist.”

Tola Kim–a Shef chef (photo provided)

As recently reported in the Washington Post, the previous bans on the sale of foods prepared at home have been lifted due to recent de-regulation. It’s now legal for home chefs to sell their wares through outlets like Shefs, and all Shef cooks must pass an accredited food safety certification exam, undergo a food quality assessment, and be subject to regular food quality checks.

“Shef’s business model is perfect for someone like me who wants to venture out into the food industry but doesn’t want all the risks that come with having a restaurant,” Kim told us, “I love the flexibility and the partnership. I love that I can choose to cook as often or as little as I want, and I love that all I have to do is cook and package the food while Shef handles everything from taking orders to delivering to providing customer service.”    

There are many intriguing meals available through Shef that we intend to order soon. For instance, African food, an underrepresented culinary tradition in the Chicago area, is represented in several dishes, including egusi soup (a spicy, nutty broth of ground pumpkin seeds, hot pepper, leafy greens, and goat) and from North India there’s chole amritsari, an aromatic chickpea curry made with a homemade spice mix, one of many veg-forward offerings from Shef.

With Shef, you can have a cross-cultural culinary experience, an edible adventure, and learn a lot about the foods of the world without leaving the home.

Our beef kathieu was designed to feed three, and it was priced at $28, though for many of the Shef dishes there are sides and solo servings that are in single digits. Delivery is free if your order is over $25. We are fans.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...