Parting with the Private Chefs of Paris

The words “get shit done” decorate the main wall in the office of La Belle Assiette, the small Parisian startup where I’ve spent the summer working.

Like any startup, “get shit done” is the mantra that drives the 22 employees at La Belle in a high-risk business. At a vulnerable development stage, the team relies on a strong bond between coworkers to continue working towards a single vision. That vision, however, is unlike the vision of any other startup.

La Belle Assiette wants to make in-home dining the new dining out. They want to show that anyone of any financial background or dietary need can host a dinner at home prepared and served by a private chef. To the young hipsters, mostly recent college grads, working and coding away in a small Parisian office, no longer is dining out the only way the non-aristocratic foodies can experience the creative culinary works of the world’s finest chefs. La Belle currently boasts an impressive network of over 500 chefs across five European countries, with four course meals starting at 35 euro per person, in an effort to make this vision a reality.

We had a validation dinner at my place to judge the quality of a chef. A validated chef receives a seal of approval on their profile page, which attracts more customers. He passed in great style!

We had a validation dinner at my place to judge the quality of a chef. A validated chef receives a seal of approval on their profile page, which attracts more customers. He passed in great style! (Photo Credits to La Belle Assiette)

At the validation dinner, we  took a group picture in my bathroom.

At the validation dinner, we took a group picture in my bathroom.

I first caught whiff of what La Belle was doing while working as Breakfast Chef at the Agrihotel Elisabetta last summer in Tuscany. As soon as I heard about the company, whose private chefs were offering identical services to those I was offering as the sole BenGusto private chef, I knew what I was going to be doing next summer. La Belle Assiette was my ticket to explore another sector of the food industry outside of cooking, and to experience the city of Paris, a place I had always dreamed of spending time in.

The La Bell Assiette office in mid August, when many are on vacation. I made my own standing desk by stacking boxes because sitting for seven hours a day was impossible.

The La Bell Assiette office in mid August, when many are on vacation. I made my own standing desk by stacking boxes because sitting for seven hours a day was impossible.

La Belle Assiette, like many startups, has a flat organization structure. A hierarchy is practically nonexistent and the chain of command is short and informal. Our team is more than a team of coworkers, but a group of friends. We played soccer during our lunch breaks against other companies, went out for beers after work, enjoyed picnics by the Seine river, and always supported one another with great encouragement and enthusiasm. A strict hierarchy wasn’t necessary because we were motivated by ourselves, each other, and the reliance of the entire team on the dedication of the individual.

This is the La Belle Assiette team in its purest form. We entered a contest for a free smoothie delivery by taking a picture of a thirsty group of startup junkies.

This is the La Belle Assiette team in its purest form. We entered a contest for a free smoothie delivery by taking a picture of a thirsty group of startup junkies.

Then we snapped this when we won.

Then we snapped this when we won.

I started my 9 weeks at La Belle Assiette by taking on boring, yet important, tasks, involving a lot of reorganization of the company’s files and spreadsheets. Unlike in the kitchen of the Agrihotel, where one must build his reputation through impressive performances of culinary skill, the team at La Belle trusted me with large responsibilities from the start, which was extremely motivating.

As time went on, I managed to get my hands on some more exciting jobs, such as designing a website and posting recipes on the company blog, until the marketing team director, Sophie, asked me one afternoon to contact an independent film agency. She wanted a quote on a video that would describe the new “split the bill” feature on La Belle Assiette’s website, where customers can share the cost of a dinner with their guests online. Recognizing this as my way out of doing the more boring tasks, I told her I could make her the video for free.

In the back of my mind, I was telling myself, “Shit! I’m no match to these professional agencies with experience at this type of promotional video.” But I was determined to take a shot at what would be the most creative and rewarding project in the office. I titled my project “Project Follywood”, and recruited some coworkers to be a part of my cast. Some of the team started calling me “Spielberg,” as I embarked on a rampage of making ads, promotional videos, and little “office shorts” to give fans on social media a taste of La Belle Assiette’s startup culture. In addition to Sophie’s desired “split the bill” video, I made a total of 10 videos in three different languages (English, French, and German). You can see the first published one on the La Belle Assiette Facebook page, an office short that introduces you to the entire team. The other 9 videos will trickle out in due time.

I filmed every video with my iPhone camera and a selfie-stick. Here I am filing Chef Amit Rahman for Project Follywood.

I filmed every video with my iPhone camera and a selfie-stick. Here I am filming Chef Amit Rahman for Project Follywood. (Photo credits go to Franck Mithieux, in charge of communications at La Belle Assiette.)

There’s a lot to say about La Belle Assiette, startup culture, and (of course) Paris that I’d like to write down here, but I don’t want to bore anyone to tears. I’ll post some short comments on Paris soon, but to finish off my story on La Belle Assiette, I’d like to say one thing: with a touch of color and gusto, it turns out that office life can be as imaginative as the kitchen of any chef.

As a parting gift, they gave me my own La Belle Assiette chef jacket with my name on it! (Photo credits go to my dear Elise.)

As a parting gift, they gave me my own La Belle Assiette chef jacket with my name on it! (Photo credits go to my dear Elise.)

 

 

 

 

 

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