Maryam and Sarah Ingar are in many ways typically French - passionate about food and cooking! Maryam explains that her favourite pastime is finding new culinary venues and places to taste new creations and flavours. From this passion has come a desire to bring together other people with similar interests on a Web 2.0 platform. “The idea first came when I tried to organise an evening with some old college friends at home. We all use Facebook and other platforms, but we receive so many e-mails and requests to sign up to things that my invitation would just have been overlooked”. The solution, she decided with her sister, was to set up a social platform that would be open to people who wanted to get together for dinner parties or other culinary events.
The concept is a simple one. Hosts create events which are then opened to anybody who is registered on the platform, and the guests sign up if they want to take part. Of course, the hosts charge a fee for their event, but it becomes a great way for a visitor to try real homecooked food – in somebody’s home! There are no specific rules, and events planned at any particular time might be dinner parties, brunches, wine tastings or cupcake workshops.
The site, available in both French and English, was only launched around two months ago, but the network already includes several hundred people, and over 30 events have already been organised. Are all the hosts amateurs though, or are professionals trying to take advantage of the service to encourage people into their venues? Maryam Ingar agrees that it could be an issue, but has faith in the self-policing policy of the site. “The host is free to create an event and decide their own price. Yes, there are some professionals, for example those who organise wine or cheese tasting and also some restaurants. The principal is to create something convivial and to invite people you don’t know. A professional can still do this by making a private event with a limited number of guests.”
Maryam sees the site more as a way to create a community and believes that it will also lead to friendships developing. Indeed, it is possible to become ‘friends’ with other members and hosts can choose which members they would like to invite. Although a monthly prize is available to the host judged to have organised the most successful event, Maryam does not see the site as a promotion of haute gastronomie. “A nice pasta dish is also very nourishing, and enables people to get together just as successfully!” she smiles.
The idea is an intruiging one, and a genuine way to see behind the closed doors, but will the site not eventually become a kind of private club with a limited number of members? Maryam waves away my concerns. “No" she insists, "we want to see as many people as possible join up. The site is a great way for tourists or people from other countries living in France to eat with French locals very easily and in just one click! What better way to get to know France and her culture than through the 'art de recevoir'!”