YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wants you to invite the whole world into your  kitchen.

On March 9, Chen and former YouTube engineering lead Vijay Karunamurthy  launched San Francisco-based startup  Nom, a live, interactive video platform focused on just one thing: food. Chen and Karunamurthy talked about their vision for the company Monday at the  South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. Described as  Twitch for food, Nom lets viewers watch you cook and interact by sending in messages in real time. You can capture your Top Chef skills either via a computer or through the company's mobile app.

So why focus exclusively on food and, perhaps the bigger question, letting people watch amateurs make it?

For Chen, the subject of food (whether it's cooking a meal or brewing coffee) is a cultural topic that's fundamentally interesting to millions of people globally. "Almost every time we get together with family or friends, the conversation ends up being about food," Chen said. "It's just exciting to be able to see what someone around the world is eating in Sicily or Tokyo."

One of the reasons Nom is focusing only on live video has to do with the unpredictable nature of the format that allows commenters to interact with the hosts, who don't know how each video is going to end, or how their dishes will wind up. In an early video, one host who needed to substitute an ingredient at the last second turned to viewers to make suggestions.

"It's kind of this this choose-your-own-adventure you're playing along with the host," Chen said. "You're actually changing the outcome of what this video is."

For the cooks, engaging with viewers in real time will be crucial for making the experience enjoyable, according to Karunamurthy. "Doing live video is actually not that much fun because you're kind of talking into the ether," he said. "When you know there are people out there and they're actually replying to you while you're cooking your dinner that evening, it's actually kind of fun."

One of the ways Nom has made it easy for viewers to quickly share feedback is by integrating emojis like a thumbs up, heart, and LOL. Some hosts, however, have started conducting their own online polls by asking viewers to vote on various aspects by using a corresponding emoji. 

"When we saw that, we thought, oh shit, we should do our own polling," Karunamurthy said, adding that polls will be included in the 2.0 version.

Nom has raised $4.7 million in Series A funding from venture firms including Blue Run Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and SV Angel, and has attracted individual investments from actor Jared Leto, three-star Michelin chef Corey Lee, and restaurateur Ming Tsai.

Much like YouTube, the video creators won't all be amateurs. Nom is aiming to get professional chefs on board, too. And because no restaurant is run by just one person, Nom expects food companies to create their own channel on the site that features live video hosted by anywhere from 10 to different 20 people.

To be sure, it's still early days for the week-old company. The next step is to see if the concept will be as popular with individuals and restaurants as its founders predict it will be. Chen, for one, is confident.

 "It's more fun than you think watching someone else cook and talking to them," he said. 

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Published on: Mar 14, 2016