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China / Across America

Entrepreneur delivers easy Chinese cuisine

By Hong Xiao in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-01-01 11:22

Ray Wang's home-delivered Chinese meals started with a simple desire to save time in the kitchen.

 Entrepreneur delivers easy Chinese cuisine

Ray Wang (seated), founder and CEO of Cuckoo Kitchen Inc, poses for a group photo with his team members. Right: Screenshot of Cuckoo Kitchen's website. Provided to China Daily

A former actuary, Wang wants to launch a revolution in Chinese cooking. Life's daily demands motivated him to start the company - New York-based Cuckoo Kitchen Inc (www.cuckookitchen.com), which has been in business since May.

"Cooking daily meals has always been a burden on working parents, which is time-consuming. But as parents, we still want to cook delicious and healthy food for kids," said Wang. He and his wife are raising two children.

Chinese food is the second most popular takeout food in the US just after pizza, Wang learned. "It has big potential," he said.

So Wang invited renowned master chefs of Chinese cuisine in New York to impart their regional palate of spices and ingredients for Cuckoo's dishes.

To perfect a fast cooking process but maximum flavor, Wang and his team of chefs run each dish many times before adding it to the menu.

"Based on tests using Cuckoo meal kits, a meal (of two to three servings) can be cooked by one person for a family of three or four in 10 to 15 minutes," Wang said.

Wang said his 13-year-old daughter cooks meals using Cuckoo's kits "and it just tasted like what is made by Chinese cuisine masters", he said.

Some of the dishes on Cuckoo's menu are kung pao chicken and General Tso's chicken, eggplant with chili garlic sauce, braised beef and pork belly, Szechuan sesame cold noodle and fish with Szechuan chili sauce.

By using the company's next-day delivery meal kits, the dish can be made quickly in three steps in three minutes at home: Heat the sauce, add the ingredients and thicken the mix.

Cuckoo provides next-day delivery to eight states - New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia - plus Washington DC. All meal kits stay fresh for three days if refrigerated upon arrival, and the standard delivery charge is $4.95 despite the size of the order.

"It just breaks through the territorial restrictions," said Wang, who graduated from Tsinghua University in China and had lived in Kentucky, where it wasn't easy to find Chinese food. Wang, 43, is originally from Beijing and came to the US in 1999 to pursue an MBA at the University of Louisville.

The idea for Cuckoo naturally started in the kitchen.

To make dinner as quickly as possible after work, the Wangs would always wash and slice the ingredients in advance for the next week's meals and freeze them for later use.

"So every day after work, my wife can just take the prepared ingredients out and directly throw them into the pan and stir-fry, which is really time-saving," Wang said.

Soon, the Wang family's cooking method spread through his circle of friends, and he learned that other families wanted to spend less time in meal prep.

After making the decision to start Cuckoo, Wang quit his job as an actuary and plunged into market research and product development.

For the business' name, Wang said that when he was a student at Tsinghua, when the Grain in Ear festival (ninth solar term) arrived in June, the cuckoo birds on the trees would sing all night, which was a signal that the crops were mature. The cuckoo represents the harvest and a peaceful farming lifestyle, Wang said.

"Cuckoo Kitchen could just liberate people from daily cooking routines," Wang said.

Wang said the kitchen doesn't use monosodium glutamate (MSG), food coloring, preservatives and any artificial additives in all of its ingredients and processes and sources only USDA choice beef, hormone-free chicken and organic tofu.

The kitchen now offers about 15 Chinese dishes online, and that number will be doubled in the future, he said. All the meal kits are prepared at Cuckoo's central kitchen in New Jersey by a handful of workers.

Wang admitted that the business model has some challenges.

"Customers should order at least one day in advance; however, thinking of what to eat is actually a short-term thinking process that always happens just before eating time," Wang said. "It would take some time to see consumption habits changing."

Wang said his goal is to spread the Chinese recipes, ingredients and cooking styles to the Western world. The kitchen will be focusing on product-creation and marketing rather than purely food production.

"Starting up is highly risky," Wang said. He said his own experience shows that a startup should be driven by a good idea rather than just a desire for success or wealth.

"The only way to stick with it is to truly believe in the project," Wang said.

"The modern service industry is becoming the prime choice for the last burst of Chinese entrepreneurs, "said Yuan Yue, president of Horizon Research Consultancy Group and the founder and CEO of Flying Horse Brigade, an entrepreneurship consulting institute in China.

xiaohong@chinadailyusa.com

 

 

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