|Eatwith host Thomas and one of his dinner guests|
How does a busy journalist with an assignment to cover massive protests in Paris the next day spend his evening? Hosting 9 guests - all strangers - for dinner, of course.
If you haven’t heard of Eatwith.com, a website that follows the Airbnb model of connecting travelers with locals - not with a room but with a shared meal in their home - check it out the next time you're in Paris...or Berlin, Rome, Amsterdam and many other cities including some in the U.S.
Eatwith and a similar site called Mealsharing.com use social media models (profiles and pictures of hosts posted online along with menus and reviews) to link amateur chefs with guests happy to pay modest amounts for the chance to connect with locals and other travelers around the table.
As with Airbnb, no money changes hands. Host post their menus online, along with their prices. You pay on the website with a credit card at the time of booking, and agree to cancellation terms set by the hosts.
Scrolling through the offerings before a recent trip to Paris, I could have selected a "French Quiche" dinner ($42) with Phillipe, a Paris policeman and his partner, Dzianis in their apartment near Notre Dame; a "Parisian" dinner ($63) in Montmartre hosted by world traveler Claudine; or a "French/Asian Fusion dinner" ($56) with Catherine, a therapist, who lives near the Ile Saint Louis.
In the end, a friend and I settled on a "Friendly Parisian" dinner ($49) hosted by French news reporter and amateur chef Thomas Obrador, a journalist and producer in his 40s, whose been traveling around the world since 1996 and living in Paris since 2000.
I choose Thomas because I too am a journalist, and he lives in an area that was new to me, the 16th arrondissement, a chic residential area sometimes compared to the Upper Eastside of New York.
From the menu he posted online - appetizers, a seasonal soup, ratatouille with chicken or fish, a cheese course and crème brûée, - I knew we were in for extended evening. What I didn't expect was that we would spend 5.5 hours laughing, talking, drinking and eating with Thomas and seven strangers until 1 a.m.
The wine helped, of course. Thomas paired each course with a different wine, stating with two rosés he poured around his living room table as we snacked on cured sausages, eggplant pâté and a tomato confit.
|Appetizers and wine with Thomas|
We arrived at 7:30 p.m., but it wasn't until 9:15 p.m. that we gathered around the dining room table for the first course of pumpkin soup with smoked bacon. Thomas said he doesn't normally allot that much time for appetizers, but everyone seemed to be getting along so well, he let us go on talking. By the time we sat down, we felt as if we were dining with a group of long-time friends.
There were Nancy and Steve, a couple who had just flown in from Los Angeles that day; Allison from Pennsylvania who was in Paris on business; Eva (Swedish) and Boriana (Bulgarian), who work together in London; and Bobby and Dionne Duplantier who do Eatwith dinners in their home in New Orleans. Bobby calls himself "Chef Tuck" on Eatwith. When he described his menu (crawfish-pecan salad, red jambalaya, wood-fired dessert pizza), we all decided New Orleans would be our next stop.
Part of the fun of meal-sharing in a foreign city is the opportunity to explore a new neighborhood, often a residential area that tourists rarely visit. Thomas' apartment was about a 40-minute Métro ride from our hotel, and a short walk from the Église d'Auteuil, a station with interesting bits of trivia attached to its name and location. It's the least-used Métro station in Paris, according to Wikipedia. The station was named Wilhem until 1921. Wilhem was the pseudonym of a French musician, Guillaume Louis Bocquillon Wilhem. However, a municipal councillor became convinced that the station was actually named for Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, so it was renamed following World War I after a nearby church, Notre-Dame-d'Auteuil.
|At the table|
|Thomas explaining the wine regions of France|
It was around 1 a.m. when we put on our coats, exchanged e-mail addresses and hurried out the door in time to call Uber or catch the Métro. Chef Tuck summed up our Eatwith evening well when he said "It's not really about the food. It's about the people, making new friends and learning a little about the place you're visiting."