A LOCAL business owner is encouraging people to “get back in the kitchen” through an innovative online cooking platform which helps chefs to earn money from home.

Leo Aghili, who lives in Llanellen, has seen his business Chefbay grow rapidly since its launch in July 2019 despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Having altered his business model, Leo has garnered national recognition for his award-winning cooking platform which continues to go from strength to strength.

When Leo started the business, Chefbay was a recruitment-focused company, helping businesses to find chefs and vice-versa.

The idea was to help either party find “quality and consistency” through direct contact, with businesses paying an annual fee to use the service.

Following the launch, Leo also setup a video platform on the website prior to the first lockdown last year, to allow chefs to host their own cook-along sessions and make money from home.

Leo wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the videos that they were able to produce using Skype and Zoom, which were “too messy” and generally not fit for purpose.

So he decided that he would develop his own software for the cook-along sessions, which was a long time in the making and was only completed a few months ago.

As chefs started hosting more cook-along sessions on the site, Leo found that a lot more people were using the platform for that purpose than they were for the recruitment services.

As a result, he decided to cut away the recruitment side of the business and focus solely on the online cooking sessions, which currently provide more than 300 chefs with the opportunity to earn money from home.

Leo said: “The cook-along sessions give chefs a chance to cook high quality meals at home while socialising and connecting with people, and earning good money at the same time.”

A variety of professional chefs have hosted cooking sessions on the website since its launch, including celebrity chef and author Chris Wheeler, several former Masterchef contestants, and even the private chef for the owner of Fenerbahce Football Club.

Leo also wants to use the platform to promote unknown chefs who have the talent but lack the opportunities to go and work in Michelin-starred restaurants.

The classes not only help chefs to earn money, with each one-hour session with 10 people earning the chefs around £70, but they also provide good value for money for customers.

Leo explained: “For customers, the live one-hour sessions, with professional chefs delivering personal recipes, cost between £4.99-12.99, when elsewhere you might pay £100 for three pre-recorded videos.”

He is also hoping to double the amount of customers in each session to allow chefs to earn a competitive full time wage from hosting classes with Chefbay.

“What we are offering chefs is free time and good quality of life through their work whilst earning a very good wage from home”, he said.

Following the success of the online platform, Leo decided to launch a kids initiative in the first lockdown last year to engage with young people through cooking and provide a fun activity for children.

Leo confessed: “I actually sold my car in lockdown to fund the initiative, much to my wife’s dismay!”

In the initiative, called Mini Chef Wars, participating children are given recipes to make each week that have war-themed names like ‘Frontline Flapjacks’.

The children are asked to make videos of them cooking which are uploaded to Chefbay’s YouTube channel, with users then voting for the winner of each challenge.

The winners then receive a £20 food-themed prize, and as a welcome to the initiative, each participant receives a cooking kit from Little Cooks Co, containing healthy recipes to make sweet treats at home, as well as fun games to play around the dinner table. “Anything that can get chefs and kids socialising and active, getting them off their gadgets and back into the kitchen is really important,” Leo added.

Last year, despite having only been in business for eight months, Chefbay was nominated for two awards with the HRC, which is part of the Montgomery Group.

The company also won an award for ‘Best Online Cooking Experience’ in the UK Enterprise Awards earlier this year.

Leo commented: “It blew our minds to be nominated alongside the likes of Claridge’s and places like that, especially as we’d only been in business for eight months.”