Most of you are probably familiar with Airbnb or VRBO, but you may not realize the same sort of sharing economy exists with eating dinner. There are a couple of companies that offer meals for a reasonable price that are prepared by home chefs and eaten in their homes.
Sharing a meal is good for the chef and the guests. The chef is able to practice his or her hobby, while increasing cooking skills. The guests have the opportunity to eat a gourmet meal, meet people (other guests) from other countries, and learn about local culture and food from the home chef.
A few years ago, my daughter and I decided to try a meal sharing service. We looked at several that were available at the time before choosing one that seemed to fulfill what we were looking for.
The two main ones that I am aware of now are Vizeat and EatWith. In 2014, there was a start-up company called Cookening that looked interesting to us.
Our Cookening Experience
We booked a table with Cedric and Jennifer, a French couple living in Paris at the time. Cedric was actually one of the founders of Cookening. We especially liked the sound of the meal they were offering and decided to join them.
We paid our fee to Cookening and then received the address and details about how to find the apartment. On the scheduled night, we arrived at 8 pm and were greeted by our hosts.
We had a wonderful meal – an appetizer, main dish, cheese course, and dessert. A couple from China joined us for the meal, and although they left a bit early, we stayed and visited until 11 pm. After that evening, we could say we have friends in Paris.
A few years later, we tried to book with Cedric and Jennifer again. Cookening had sold out to Vizeat, and they were now cooking under the new parent company. Unfortunately, we were not able to set up a time to eat with Cedric and Jennifer, who had moved away from Paris. We decided to pass on it for that trip.
Last fall for the Paris tour, I again tried to book a meal with a home chef. I looked through the offerings from Vizeat and those from their biggest competitor, EatWith. At EatWith, I found what looked like an interesting meal with Claudine – I booked it.
The meal was fantastic. Again, we had an appetizer, main dish, cheese course, and dessert. The main dish was white fish with a delicious sauce, and I’ll never forget the side dish of heirloom tomatoes with olive oil and herbs. I can now, again, say that I have a friend in Paris.
Another EatWith Experience
Not only were we we able to book with Claudine for a second time for our upcoming trip to Paris, but we booked another meal for when we were in Barcelona. We were excited because this meal was going to be a bit different – we were going to share in the preparation.
To begin our meal with Angels, we were supposed to go to the market with her to purchase ingredients. A day or so before our dinner, Angels found out the market would be closed because of a holiday, so we couldn’t do that part of the event.
We still met with Angels to cook the meal and eat it. For the main course, the menu included paella, a traditional Spanish dish. The menu also included Spanish omelettes, tomato bread, sangria, and Catalan creme.
Angels met us as we walked in the door. We introduced ourselves to the others and began to get to know them. Angels finished her last minute preparations and then asked us all to wash our hands. She guided us to the preparation table where we each took a station.
Angels went around the table, assigning jobs to each of us as she told us about why we were preparing the food the way we were. She also shared elements of the culture mixed in with her own personal history. Many of the ingredients we were using came from the farm where she grew up – her parents still live there and supply some of the meat and produce the Angels uses.
As each part of the meal was prepared, Angels continued to share with us. She asked some of us to help with the actual cooking, but when it came time to prepare the paella, Angels took over. She has a large portable gas burner and a paella pan that fits it perfectly.
She sautéed the shrimp first, then removed them to another dish – she added them back at the end. She added onions, garlic, and other vegetables. Then, she added chicken, seafood, and finally, the rice, seasoning as she went along. As the paella simmered, we took a break to eat the Spanish omelette and tomato bread.
The entire meal was delicious, and the company was interesting. In addition to getting to know someone from Barcelona, we met people from London, Belgium, Germany, and Israel. It was a rather large group, but it worked out better than I expected.
Tips for Meal Sharing
First tip – do it! If you ever get a chance to participate in sharing a meal through one of these services, grab the opportunity. We have not regretted any of our experiences. Meal sharing is also available for some cities in the US, so if you aren’t planning a trip abroad, maybe you can try it closer to home.
Be sure you read through the comments and the menu on the website before you book a meal. Make sure you know what to expect. Some meals are just for lunch or an afternoon tea, others are for a several course dinner.
Email the host or hostess about any dietary restrictions you may have. They are usually willing to work around your preferences. Keep track of the address and contact information for the host. Be sure you can contact them if you are lost.
Most of all, have fun! We have thouroughly enjoyed each of our sharing meals and can’t wait to try another one.
If you’ve tried meal sharing, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your experience.