Many visitors to France never get to experience what it is like to have a real French meal with French locals when dining in France. Although many search for an authentic French food experience when they consider where to eat in Paris, in the home of a local Parisian is rarely considered, but that is all about to change…
French man Renaud Maigne decided to change it – he wanted to bring visitors to France together with people who live and work in France over dinner and he set up a company called VoulezVousDiner to make it happen. He says that “Our ambition is to become the first dinner reservation in the world between individuals”.
It’s a great way for adventurous diners to meet the locals and experience genuine French cuisine since VoulezVousDiner requires hosts to be able to provide food that is local, seasonal and above all authentically French and all hosts must speak reasonable English as a minimum.
Here at The Good Life France we love this idea, we’ve eaten with French friends and neighbours and can tell you it’s not at all like dining at a restaurant in France, we asked Renaud what gave him the idea for VoulezVous Diner?
“I worked for years in the transport & Logistics industry and travelled a lot. I got tired of hotels and restaurants and as I had opportunities to meet the locals and have dinners with them, I discovered the specialities and traditions of each country I visited. When I returned to France I thought it would be a great idea to offer private dinners where foreigners could meet the locals, especially in Paris which has not always had a good reputation for welcoming people! I want VoulezVousDîner to provide a unique way for visitors to get to know French culture”.
Renaud tells me that he and his wife host dinners themselves and loves having visitors from all over the world “ It’s very exciting!” VoulezVousDiner has more than 200 hosts mainly based in Paris, but the concept is extended to other regions of France and ultimately he would like to see an international social network in the main capitals all round the world.
When asked what he thinks attracts guests to book a VoulezVousDiner event he says “Of course it is to make new friends and to experience a real French dinner with your new friends”. He feels that visitors to France seldom get to understand the different habits of French people at the table, the laying out of tableware and serving of dishes and it’s a great way to learn!
We spoke to Paige Standen Burrows, an Australian staying in Paris who booked a VoulezVousDiner and was asked if she’d agree to be filmed for a French TV Programme. She told me “All we knew about our host, Sacha, was that she was an artist. She turned out to be a lovely and very talented lady who welcomed us warmly and showed us around her beautiful, original, Haussmann apartment. The food was delicious. After dinner, our journalists finished their interview and left us with our hosts – of course this meant some time to let our hair down and finish the evening with some girl-talk and a good laugh. We left in the early hours with two new friends and an incredibly interesting night out in Paris to remember. I would definitely recommend VoulezVousDiner to anyone visiting Paris and looking for something a little out of the ordinary to remember”.
We also spoke to Susan Whitbread who was in Paris to study language and booked a dinner with VoulezVousDiner and she told us she had the perfect dinner hosts in Marc and Lyssa in Paris: “the apartment was beautiful, spacious, a fire was lit, and was I made to feel extremely welcome. Within minutes, we were all talking animatedly and finding out heaps about each other’s backgrounds, interests, daily lives and common interests. Turns out Marc is a chef, who loves nothing more than playing out classic dishes in new ways. Had I been presented with these dishes in a top restaurant anywhere in the world, I would not have been disappointed. To find such quality and creativity, together with the relaxed and happy atmosphere of a real home, was truly a Parisian “trésor”. By the end of the evening, we were giving each other advice on this and that – as you do with new best friends”
Renaud tells me that hosts are attracted to VoulezVousDiner because they, like their guests want to discover a new culture, create new friendships and they like to share their French life style with visitors and of course, they all love to cook. He says that many of the hosts and guests keep in contact after the meal and become good friends, visiting each other’s countries and homes.
I spoke to Marc Arnall, a British chef who lives and works in Paris and who has hosted dinners for VoulezVousDiner for two years “I enjoy it immensely. However, I’ve changed my system, as I found it impossible to cook to the standard that I wish to and sit with our guests. So, I remain in the kitchen, moving in and out, explaining the courses and adding anecdotes, while my delightful partner sits, talks about fashion (which is her area of expertise), and eats with our guests”.
I ask him if he has any stories of special dinners he’s cooked and he laughs “All the dinners are memorable – seriously! The guests contact VVD because they know what they want, and one of the things that they want is to have a happy evening in a typically French situation. Therefore, they are in an excellent frame of mind when they arrive. My partner and I are not French, but we live in a Haussmann apartment and we know and love France. Our use of the French language can add to the general amusement. The fact that we enjoy ourselves as well is a huge plus.”
As a Chef I ask him what he would prepare for a typical VoulezVousDiner meal, “I always cook at a certain level, as it’s what I do and I would be unhappy doing otherwise. Also, I try to cook in the French style, as this is what I know, love, and we are in France. A typical meal would be:
Entree: Confit of Salmon with a Cucumber Salad followed by a plate cleanser: Lemon and Vodka Sorbet
Plat: Deconstructed Coq au Vin with a Truffled Mashed Potato and a “fagot” of green beans
Cheese: One soft Cheese, One Hard Cheese, and One Blue Cheese with bread from our award winning baker
Dessert: Tarte Normande (Apple Tarte) with a Calvados Creme Fraiche.
“I’d like to add a personal note. The wonderful thing about VVD is that it caters for all tastes. Guests can have a most enjoyable time eating very simple, but excellent, food. They can also eat something that is slightly more “Haute Gamme”. The important thing is that all of the food is honest and cooked with the intention of giving pleasure. If you were to meet the hosts from VVD you would fully understand what I mean. They all do a wonderful job.”
Renaud advises “We will be launching a new website in April 2013. The aim is to improve the community aspect with more transparency of the members (menu, dinner thematic, photos). We want to implement more communication abilities like messaging where people can interact before the dinner”.
You can find out more and book your real French dining experience on the VoulezVousDiner website.