PARIS Are ‘uber-chefs’ the key to getting under the skin of a new city?

What do you get if you mix talented home-chefs with diners looking for a more dynamic culinary experience? Spearheaded by the success of Airbnb for hotels and Uber for taxis, “meal-sharing” is the latest innovation when it comes to the way we dine and discover cities.

PARIS

Are ‘uber-chefs’ the key to getting under the skin of a new city?

What do you get if you mix talented home-chefs with diners looking for a more dynamic culinary experience? Spearheaded by the success of Airbnb for hotels and Uber for taxis, “meal-sharing” is the latest innovation when it comes to the way we dine and discover cities.

Meal sharing trends in Paris

The “sharing economy” trend is one of the lasting innovations to rise out of the economic turbulence experienced globally over the last decade. Born out of the naughties, innovative entrepreneurs have opened up an entirely new market of “peer-to-peer” consumerism trading under-used assets and now it has found its next evolution: “The table is a meeting point or a social network, the perfect moment to share food with strangers and discover new cultures,” explains Parisian co-founder of VizEat, Camille Rumani.

Whether you’re a culinary wizard or a passionate novice, new foodie platforms such as EatWith and VizEat are pioneering the expansion of sharing meals with strangers beyond the ‘closed-door’ restaurant trend. The idea is simple: chefs, both professional (EatWith) and amateur (VizEat), invite strangers into their home for a dinner party with a set price, that can be reserved via the site’s apps. Camille explains that, “sharing a meal with strangers changes the way you travel. You unlock the secrets to a city that normally only locals are privy to or experience the city through someone else’s eyes while making new friends and exploring new cultures”.

Primarily popular thanks to tourists seeking the authentic experience of home-cooking rather than the tedium of guidebook restaurants, this trend is also changing the way business travellers and local residents dine in the city. Tired of bouncing between soulless airports, hotels and restaurants, or simply looking to meet new friends on your doorstep, meal-sharing has the potential to open doors to an undiscovered stratum of some of the world’s most vibrant, and often complicated, cities. 

However, just because someone fancies themselves a hotshot in the kitchen, does it mean they are? In France, tightly regulated local restauranteurs argue that these home-restaurants are flouting rules that govern health and hygiene, alcohol licensing and food allergies. Judging also by the disruptive growth of Airbnb and Uber, there is the fear that this emerging economy risks jeopardising businesses, already challenged by taxes, high rents and bureaucracy.  Camille argues "It is not competition for restaurants. It is a new market we are opening up." Hosts cook one meal per day and invite only as many guests that will fit around their table. It’s hard to imagine this posing a serious threat to the established restaurant trade - especially if you imagine the size of a typical Paris flat.

The european appetite for meal-sharing has surpassed all VizEat’s expectations. By August 2014, one month after launch, they had 15,000 hosts in 60 countries, positioning them as the European leader in the  “meal-sharing” trend.  They anticipate to take on 100,000 hosts by end of 2016. In addition, cross-pollination throughout the sharing economy industry means room for growth is exponential. Earlier this year VizEat’s home-chefs and Airbnb’s super-hosts joined forces to host “the world's biggest meal-sharing event” in Paris. For travelers, long-term residents and new arrivals, the sharing economy holds the key to discovering a city like never before - meeting new friends, exchanging cultures and making a little extra money to boot.

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