Last Tuesday night I could barely sleep, and it’s not because I quit my job. I was blown away by our first CHEF.ONE dinner, where I put five random people and one chef together at a table to have dinner at my place. But let’s get the whole story straight!
Most of you are aware of my project. I usually sit 8 to 12 hours a day in my living room trying to figure out how to make our application as easy as possible for a food-driven community. We at CHEF.ONE needed to understand how users will interact with our application and how they get together. To analyse user interaction we needed to run our first dinner besides the app. So I started calling chefs in Hamburg.
I asked friends, strangers, and even stranger strangers until I finally collected some numbers of local chefs. But having numbers alone doesn’t mean they are in, I still needed to explain the purpose of my call and get them interested. I tried to convince them how cool it would be to cook for six different people that don’t know each other. The first chef said: “Who would let strangers into their house?”. Another one said: “I am super busy with the restaurant which is not mine, yet. I like the idea and heard about something like it in London. I would love to attend, but my home is my private space.”
These rejections and bad reactions made me feel pushed back with the whole project. It’s one of those moments when you re-think your idea and ask yourself it was ever good in the first place. I decided to sleep it over.
The next day, one of my friends asked me on Facebook how the project was going, and I remembered that a long time ago he sent me a number of a chef, which got completely lost in the chat history. So there was this one single number to call, that moment where hope is already lost out of space. Marc Wieberneit.
It took me three minutes to get him hooked on the project. He said he really liked the idea, the only issue was that his apartment is too small. I suggested to use my apartment, which will fit for six people. We agreed on Tuesday for our first dinner as a test run. We both didn’t know what would happen and If anybody would come at all.
So how do we get six people (including myself) together for a three-course dinner? That was actually the easiest part of all. I picked some random friends in my Facebook list, people I never met privately alone and asked them. It turned out that telling people you have a three-course menu with a private chef doesn’t take long to convince them. They were all excited and directly committed to the proposed date of Tuesday 7:30 PM. I was a bit nervous because most people are still at work or getting home from work.
We wanted to understand the whole process, so on Tuesday at 2 PM I picked up Marc from his home to go shopping for groceries. He had his list ready and there we were walking through the large jungle called Rindermarkthalle. While we were collecting the ingredients, we must have walked over 5 km and came to the conclusions that grocery shopping in Germany becomes more and more americanized. The selection of products is so large that you get lost and immediately forget what it was you came for.
At the shop, Marc told me how frustrated he currently was. His life and career passed by without a big change and people walked unhappy like dead zombies through his life. Of course, he has a job, nice apartment, and cool friends. But it’s just that people around were totally unhappy. His job turned into a beaten track and nothing really changed. I totally got his point, because it’s what we all go through some time in life.
So there was Marc in my kitchen at 4 PM on Tuesday, a chef I met only a couple of hours ago, not knowing if he is good at what he does. I was a bit scared of his look, you can see why:
But there was no turning back, and I must admit that the minute he entered my kitchen I could see he was prepared. Hanging out with chefs is an amazing experience, since they are crazy. But let’s get professional now:
I told Marc that he should act like it’s his pop-up restaurant, because I wanted to shadow the whole project and act like I am a guest, too. I asked what would he call his restaurant if he had one. He said “Sweet & Salty”. So I told him to go ahead and greet his guests with “Welcome to Sweet & Salty”.
He was nervous and excited at the same time. So was I. It actually felt like the first flight at SpaceX after months of development, although our work wasn’t really rocket science.
The atmosphere was very relaxed and nice, some conversations here, some there. Like hanging out with friends, but these people didn’t know each other. Most of the time I tried to stay out of conversations and keep track of emotions, understand how guests felt about the event.
Marc was mostly in the kitchen preparing everything for the first course. But everyone had access to all areas, so they could easily ask questions about what was coming and how it is made. Besides cooking, Marc also served wine to the guests.
We had a three-course menu, which was so good I still can’t believe that it all happened in my kitchen. Seeing five people discussing everything from yoga to god knows what, gave me a satisfaction I never had before.
Here is the main course:
When it was served, we all tried to figure out how he converted a beef filet mignon into a unicorn filet mignon. It was absolutely delicious and I am happy I shared that moment with five other people. This was the moment when the ice was broken and discussion went to a deeper level of comfortable groove. I am not sure what would happen if that filet was too rare or too well done. It could have easily made people uncomfortable and broke the group mode, especially considering they didn’t know each other.
After that main dish, Torben never left Marc for the rest of the dinner. He wanted to understand how things get done, how he can eat healthier and prepare better dishes. He also mentioned that he will definitely come back again after this amazing experience.
Here is the dessert:
Mia couldn’t get enough of that brownie, but the good thing about dinners like these is that there are always leftovers. Although Aryan was on a gluten-free diet, he was very close to getting stomach problems by tasting the brownie, but Mia didn’t give him a chance to think about it twice. The brownie was gone lightning fast.
When the dinner was finished, everybody was extremely satisfied and happy about the experience they had that night. At the end I told them that I met Marc only a couple of hours ago, and about the whole project and vision my team and I have.
They were absolutely amazed how things change to good again if there is a will to attend such an event. Guests were slowly leaving and we started to clean up.
Audio Message from Marc:
“Eddi, I can’t sleep. That night was such a great power boost to my soul and this is exactly what I was looking for after several years in the kitchen with barely getting feedback from guests. I never got so much good feedback right away, and seeing how people really get happy by the things I have created is why I started this job. It’s ART. Thank you Eddi.”
In the restaurant business, there’s a world of difference between working in the kitchen and dealing with guests. Cooking schools and smart restaurateurs know it’s important for both sides to understand and empathize with each other. That’s why they often have chefs work out front as waiters for some time. That way, the kitchen staff can interact with customers and see what it’s actually like on the front lines.
That experience of bringing random people together at a dinner table and seeing how they exchange phone numbers, instagram and Facebook accounts was a great first CHEF.ONE success.
This event is planned to occur every Tuesday in a secret location near the Atlantic hotel. Everyone is invited! Currently our application is in private alpha, so you can get it through invite. Don’t hesitate to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.