Funny, how I invited myself into Philippe Roi’s home for dinner one Friday night. I was in the local police station in Paris’ 5th arrondissement for administrative reasons when one of the police officers tried to attract my attention. He was pointing to his computer screen with an image of himself wearing an apron and holding a rolling pin. Pointing first to the chef and then to himself in the flesh, he shouted out to me across the room, “Does this look familiar to you?”
It was my cue to walk over and study the screen.
Next to the friendly cook a screen grab read: “VizEat: Taste the City with Locals. Enjoy Immersive Food Experiences in 110 countries.”
“Do you know this?” asked Philippe. “Anybody can come to my home for a fabulous authentic French dinner. My husband and I cook. The ambiance and exchanges are so popular we host more dinners for strangers than any other Vizeat household in the world!” When asked how he knew that, he pulled up the reviews on his web page.
“Come next Friday! We have a full table with a tourist, students, expats and French people.” The cop-by-day-chef-by-night was quite the salesman. And that’s how I ended up reserving a dinner for my family chez Philippe and Dzianis for the following Friday evening.
Invite yourself to dinner online
To sign up, I went onto Vizeat’s website. Vizeat is a European startup that operates a “social dining platform’. I selected my city, Paris, and then zeroed in on Philippe and Dzianis’ 30-euro dinner with four courses: apéritifs, starter dish, main course and dessert, including wine. There was a 5 euro registration charge for each person, but Vizeat offered a 10 euro discount for first time users. Total bill: 110 euros for four people.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
I really didn’t know what to expect and neither did my husband, my son or his girlfriend, whom I encouraged to join me for dinner at a stranger’s home. Philippe’s apartment is located in a charming 20th century building in the center of Paris near the Seine River. We were enthusiastically received by Philippe and his dog, Joy, at the door. Behind him, the sitting room was filled with people milling about with wine glasses around a long, dressed table.
Philippe danced us around the room introducing us first to Dzianis Duk, his partner and chef, and then to John, the American tourist, Daisy, the Taiwanese travel agent, Yashu, the Chinese beauty representative, Theo, the out-of-town student, and two young filmmakers. This was John’s second dinner at the home in the past year. A frequent traveler to France and retired businessman, he came for the “lively, warm ambiance” and to practice his French. Daisy has lived in Paris for five years handling Asian tours. To get her French fix, she has signed up for home-cooked meals chez Philippe and Dzianis several times.
Cozy and convivial. For the hosts, the bigger the dinner party in their compact apartment, the better. Philippe loves these cultural exchanges. With his extra earnings, he saves up and travels the world, already having visited 64 countries.
Make yourself at home
After apéritifs and chitchat, we sat down for dinner. First course was heated camembert with fresh herbs, served with the most delicious country nut bread.
Big, wooden bowls of green salad dressed each end of the table and Dzianis proudly announced the vinaigrette was homemade, “whipped for 5 minutes like a real mustard.” Simple, but yummy. For Daisy and Yunis from Asia, the cheese starter was a real dégustation, or tasting.
The night’s main course was four kinds of quiches, which Dzianis replicates from his grandmother’s Bylorussian recipe, with a French touch: Traditional Quiche Lorraine, Tuna, Four Cheeses and Vegetable. To my surprise, my son Jordan – who won’t let me cook quiche at home – wolfed down four helpings because it was “so good.”
The quiches are indeed light, and the crust deliciously flaky. Daisy said she can’t get enough of the homemade quiche each time she comes. “The dinner is very good, everyone is très sympa.”
For dessert, to offset the cheese, cream and egg meal, was a large bowl of fresh fruit salad made from only “fruit in season”. Philippe says they offer three different menus but guests always seem to choose the quiche because it is a real “French” meal.
No need to eat alone
“This is a great idea for out of town students in the city looking for a home-cooked meal,” said Margaux, my son’s girlfriend. “It’s copious, tasty and all you can drink.”
My son thought it was a tad expensive for a student or traveller on a budget, but said it was “definitely a different kind of dining experience you could treat yourself to and should be done with a group of friends.” Everyone talked about the ambiance. There was dinner chatter all evening as everyone tried to find out what the other person was doing in Paris and how they found their way to Philippe and Dzianis’ Parisian home for dinner.
A welcome like no other
It’s true when you are invited into a French home you understand what it means to be embraced by the people. The dinner may not have been the fanciest, but it certainly was the most authentic and generous.
So, the next time you’re visiting Paris or looking for a new venue to entertain friends, consider dropping in on Philippe and Dzianis for dinner or try any one of the many different menus, cooking classes and food tours offered by Parisians on Vizeat. And if you consider yourself a Paris insider who can whip up a few good French dishes, why not become a host and open your own doors and kitchen to strangers. It’s a great way to earn extra income and meet new people.