Tim West is a familiar name in both the food and technology worlds. He moved cross country to cook at Facebook headquarters but then shifted his culinary pursuits to food technology entrepreneurship. West became the Chief Cereal Officer and founder of the startup Cerealize, a customized cereal company. He also became the co-creator of the Food Hackathon. Until recently, West worked on Cosemble, which was an extension of his involvement with Grubly, an AirBNB concept for food. He recently stepped into an advisory role at Cosemble to make more time for The Future of Food Hackathon, happening November 16-17 at the Tagged HQ in San Francisco. Bay Area Bites caught up with West recently and his comments have been edited for brevity.
Bay Area Bites: What is a Food Hackathon? West: A traditional hackathon is an event where people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming (aka: hacking). Tech companies use this model to attract new talent and launch new products internally. I had prepared food for these events while cooking at the Facebook HQ and it occurred to me that we could use this model to address challenges and opportunities in our food system. Food Hackathon was born to provide a place to create, prototype and launch new food related business ideas and products that make the world a happier, healthier and tastier place. The result has become a diverse community of entrepreneurs and investors dedicated to growing food related businesses.
Our video best showcases the energy in the community.
Bay Area Bites: What are the challenges with running Food Hackathon? West: Nobody knows what a food hackathon is! People often think that we are cooking or cutting food so we start by telling them that we’re really more like a business plan competition and show them our video. The rest just works itself out.
Bay Area Bites: And the exciting parts are...? West: We had 250+ people show up to our first event from as far away as Singapore, Poland and India—and that was with just two weeks notice! We’ve been covered on NPR, in the LA Times and received requests for Food Hackathons in Texas, Canada and Rome. We are most excited to take this show on the road and build a global community of entrepreneurs who love food as much as we do here in the SF Bay Area.
Bay Area Bites: What food startups have peaked your interest? West: I really love Feast for their use of technology to teach folks to cook and Good Eggs for taking the farmers' market online. Also, Local Food Lab is launching Start Something Local to help food entrepreneurs and Food Tech Connect is the best place to keep up with food and tech.
Bay Area Bites: Your grandfather created Doritos. What was he like and do you have a go-to Doritos favorite flavor? West: Yes, true story; my grandfather, Arch West, invented Doritos. He was a brilliant man, very driven and hard working. He once told me that the name for Doritos (little gold) came two years before the product. It was while vacationing in San Diego that he first tasted corn chips. He liked them so he took the idea back to Frito but they didn’t think that Americans would buy corn chips. So, in typical entrepreneurial fashion, he started making the product on his own. People love them! And, in typical corporate fashion, Frito promoted him and claimed ownership.
It’s funny, I don’t remember ever seeing my grandfather eat Doritos. I guess that must be why he lived to be 98 years old. They taste great but I don’t care much for them either. Have you ever tried to chew a Dorito 100 times? Maybe it’s time for somebody to reinvent Doritos?
Bay Area Bites: Where do you live? Where are your favorite spots for food and drink? West: I live at the Dead Houses in Palo Alto, CA. They are a bunch of coops near the Stanford Campus and are full of entrepreneurs, artists, musicians and Stanford graduate students. It’s rumored that this is where Sean Parker started Napster (before Facebook). It’s an awesomely kooky spot!
I love the Rose and Crown if I’m looking for a beer. They have an excellent selection and are refreshingly down to earth (Palo Alto can be stuffy sometimes). The Nut House is awesomely funky too!
My favorite eating spots in Palo Alto are Oren’s Hummus Shop (if you’re on a budget) and Bon Vivant Café (if you really want to woo someone cute). Tip: Make sure to stop by Monique's Chocolates and pick up some dark chocolate salted caramels before dinner. They might just make you fall in love. It worked for me!
Bay Area Bites: What are your own cooking and eating habits like and what technology do you use? West: Cooking is my creative release. I love feeding people and I love being well fed. Unless struck by a desire for a specific dish (like paella or lasagna Bolognese), I often let my environment take the lead on deciding what I’m meant to eat. I start by looking at what’s ripe and in season. Then I look at what equipment and tools I have available. These limiting factors often lead me to meals most in line with my food ideology which, is no doubt, most delicious.
Yelp is still my #1 go-to app for locating immediate food options. I used to turn to GrubHub for menus and ordering but their selection is quite small. Seamless is good too. If not in a rush, I like to support startups like Good Eggs and Sprig. When looking for an adventure I trust Feastly.
Bay Area Bites: You went to Burning Man this summer. Any ideas related to food and community from that outing? West: This was my second year organizing the food at Camp IDEATE. Spending a week in the desert with 69,000+ people was honestly the most civilized thing I’ve ever done in my life. People are so generous! There is no money and no advertising. It is pure gift economy and food is not surprisingly one of the most popular gifts.
I hired a group called Krishna Kitchen to cater our camp this year. They produced the most delicious, high vibrational, vegetarian food I’ve ever consumed in my entire life! In fact, it was such an amazing experience that I haven’t had a bite of meat since. This year was truly life changing.