Software is Eating the Catering World

FeaturedSoftware is Eating the Catering World

“The key challenge is to adapt our service to local demand. Clients consume catering services in very different ways in each country.”  Stephane Leguillon, Founder of La Belle Assiette

La Belle Assiette, the French startup that brings a chef to the comfort of your home raised another round of seed funding to diversify its product lines.  Starting as a private chef hire, to make entertaining easier for busy urban professionals, it soon discovered that there was huge demand for catering services that married the artisanal aspects of cooking at home, a chef’s creative input, and the need to entertain at a larger scale.

I sat down with Stephen Leguillon, CEO and co-founder of La Belle Assiette to find out more on the latest round, and what is store for the company in the next 18 months.

I love the concept of entertaining at home. I grew up enjoying great enogastronomic cultures within my family (that is a fancy word for combining amazing wine and home-made food with your family and friends around a table, talking for hours on end).

We have French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Swiss, Dutch, Spanish, and German-Jewish blood running in our veins and as diverse culinary tastes.  We entertain regularly at home, for pleasure and business, and no cuisine is out of our reach, plate, glass, and palate.

Entertaining at home was a requirement for my father in his work as editor-in-chief of the financial newspaper Jornal do Comercio, Jornal do Brasil, Globo TV, and founder and executive producer of major television networks.  Political pundits, economists, and a rainbow of philosophers of different persuasions graced our tables, debating current affairs and the global economy, enjoying meals with wines from producers we knew well.

I later did the same in Paris and New York, gathering friends, colleagues, and professional acquaintances to keep a finger in the pulse of the media and the tech industry.

To break bread, to share a meal, that is at the centre of community building in many cultures, and in my book. Nothing like great food and wine to bond with colleagues and friends.  While a student at Columbia University, and at the same time working long hours at Bloomberg TV and at the UN, I was keen on making time to cook and entertain whenever I could, as my son was little and I would rather have him around, instead of dragging him out in the evening or having to hire a baby-sitter.

Thanksgiving dinners and end of year celebrations were always at our home, to enjoy food and wines from different cultures in the company of my lovely, cosmopolitan, well-travelled friends and acquaintances. When I moved to France I discovered that the French love and value entertaining at home as much as our family did.

There is nothing more pleasurable than sharing great food and wine around intelligent conversation. But then the time it requires, add the hours shopping and cleaning, and entertaining at home can fall wayside, if one leads a busy urban lifestyle.

Enters La Belle Assiette.

A private catering service that will cook, serve the food, and clean? Count me in.

If you do not know what to offer your mother this coming Mother’s Day here is a great option. Get her a La Belle Assiette private chef for a day.  She will love it.  What better way to outdo your siblings and ensure your place in her heart and her will? Just kidding. Not.

Interview with Stephen Leguillon, CEO and co-founder of La Belle Assiette

Maya Plentz: What do you know now that you did not know when you launched?

Stephen Leguillon: I didn’t know how large La Belle Assiette could really be when we launched. At the start, La Belle Assiette was focused on the Private Chef Dining service. Our aim was to make entertaining at home simple, enjoyable and delicious. Private Chef Dining seemed to be the most appropriate service to deliver on that mission. However, over the past 2 years, we’ve seen our clients ask for all sorts of catering services including buffets, canapés, and office lunches. This still matches our mission, but on a much larger scale. With time, La Belle Assiette will be expanding from a relatively niche market of Private Chefs to the huge market of Catering.

MP : What are the plans for expansion?

SL: We are currently expanding our service line to enter the events’ catering industry. Over the next 6 months, La Belle Assiette will launch 4 new catering services: Buffets, Canapé Receptions, Office Lunches and Cooking Classes. To execute this service line expansion, we recently announced that we have raised a further €1.3M in funding, bringing our total funding to €3M. This is a huge task and the current focus of the company.

MP : Who are your main competitors in France and the UK?

SL : We consider every player in the catering industry as a competitor, whether online or offline. However, we’ve identified that this industry is very fragmented, with a lack transparency and is ready to go online. Today, we estimate that under 1% of the catering market sales are booked online. We expect this to change fast, which will radically change the industry’s competitive landscape.

MP : What is your competitive advantage?

SL : Our competitive advantage comes from two key concepts that define La Belle Assiette. First, we determine the prices on our site and the expected level of service for each price point. Only then do we let suppliers (chefs and caterers) create menus which deliver on that price/service ratio.

This means that it becomes very easy for clients to select their budget and view hundreds of menus at that price point. This is a huge innovation in a market that lacks transparency. It also requires La Belle Assiette to operate expensive curation, to make sure the price/quality ratio is respected. It is key to our success and challenging to replicate.

Second, La Belle Assiette works with chefs that create their own menus. Even though we define the prices and expected service level, the food you taste is the chefs’, not a standardised menu that you’ll get at a traditional caterer.

MP : What are the challenges to increase market share abroad, in the UK and US in particular?

SL : We have already expanded in the UK, it is our 2nd largest market after France (where we started). We expect the UK to become our largest market over the next 18/24 months. There are no defined plans for the US yet.

The key challenge is to adapt our service to local demand. Clients consume catering services in very different ways in each country. Sometimes even within a country, clients in different regions have different catering needs. This requires a lot of client contact, listening and learning.

MP : Different markets require different approaches, what are your 3 top tips on scaling to the UK and US markets?

SL : Have a team with local knowledge to expand into a new market, you need to understand it and have an extensive local network.

“Start by doing”. This is actually a core value at La Belle Assiette. We believe that planning only gets you so far, and that you should start by trying to pitch/sell/do rather than over-plan. You’ll get market feedback much faster and that will generate much more value than an extensive plan.

Centralize as much of the operations as possible. Working for the local team responsible for the market expansion is tough. It’s a great help if a lot of the operations are handled centrally at HQ. This enables the local team to focus on generating value and not worry about operations.

For example, at La Belle Assiette, our customer support operations are centralized in Paris, where we have English, French and German speaking team members. Same goes for online advertising, finance etc… Try to keep “local” just execution that requires local market knowledge and/or presence.

MP : What about emerging economies? What are the opportunities and risks in Latin America (Brazil and Argentina), India, China?

SL : There are huge market opportunities for La Belle Assiette in emerging economies. Catering services are developing at a rapid pace as the middle classes expand. However, it would be too early for La Belle Assiette to explore those opportunities, but we’ll get there!


Bordeaux 2013 Vintage Tasting

FeaturedBordeaux 2013 Vintage Tasting

As I look back at 2015, I come to the conclusion that it was a good year, indeed a very, very good year for Tech Tastes Wine.  We were invited by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux to their 2013 vintage tasting, at the Royal Opera House in September. Continue reading “Bordeaux 2013 Vintage Tasting”

Entrepreneurship in the Wine Industry

FeaturedEntrepreneurship in the Wine Industry

French entrepreneurs in winetech crossed the Channel for the first edition of Vinocamp in the UK. The French event brings together techies and wine producers to look at new ways of using digital technologies to promote wine, wineries, vine growers, and wine producers.

Organised by l’Express wine blogger Anne-Victoire Monrozier, who also produces wine under her own label Miss Vicky Wines, the event was attended by Telegraph’s wine critic Victoria Moore, and founders of many really, really, cool wine tasting education apps.

Image recognition app, which has 150K active members and has raised $300K USD to date, in seed funding,  is worth checking.  It offers a nice way to manage one’s private cellar.

It is only available in French for now,  but could be a serious contender to similar apps in the market, such as Vivino and Delectable. It has a nicely designed interface and 45.000 wines listed – with price comparison features and reviews by wine experts.

The one-day program included workshops, talks on the latest industry export figures, and brain storming sessions around topics such as marketing French wine abroad, branding French wine in the UK, “Terroir” and exports, consumer-centric marketing campaigns, and blogs and their role attracting a digitally savvy demographic to appreciate wine.

On Saturday we were invited to visit two English vineyards and producers of top sparklings in the Sussex region: Coates and Seely, and Hattingley Valley.

Much to our delight the weather was spectacular. A sunny England?  You might ask.

Sunny indeed. With its new found vocation for producing superb sparkling wines, we are certainly looking at a decade that will define and put to rest the old notion that English wines, were nothing to talk home about, indeed when I mention to wine sector colleagues from abroad, they go: “English wines? Do they make wine in England?”

They were non-existent in the international landscape until recently. But a sip of the Coates and Seely Blanc des Blancs NV, or their Brut Reserve NV will puts them in the map for good. These pale coloured sparklings will make a nice addition to your Christmas gift lists.

Paired with a mild curry dish, and chased by heavenly macaroons, they will make a visit to your in-laws sweet and memorable. So, go on.  Order it now, for yourself and for them. You can thank me later.  There is no mother-in-law or father-in-law who will resist you under the spell of Coates and Seely Brut Reserve NV, with its fresh berries attack lingering in the palate so MiL will think pink , or its Blanc des Blancs NV, with its elegant fine bubbles and hints of fresh green apple  – as the wine should be in family reunions.

We had a taste of the English countryside to make the envy of a  Nouvelle Vague film production designer. The backdrop of French wine techies and the sunny meadows with their sheep were reminiscent of an Eric Rohmer’s film.

It brough to mind Le Genou de Claire, with their scenes of family and friends gathering around good food and good wine.

Is it not what the French are best known for?

Fabulous savoir-vivre, wine is to be enjoyed with food. Always.

Photo credits: Maya Plentz

Vinocamp 617


Tech Tastes Wine with Google DeepMind AI

Event starts promptly at 18:00 hs.

18:00 Registration, sample of wines and networking starts

18:30 Introduction to Tech Tastes Wine evening format by Maya Plentz, founder and CEO Tech Tastes Wine

18:35 Introduction to the wines to be sampled throughout the evening by Michael Wagstaff, CEO of Greyfriars

18:45 Speaker: Trevor Callaghan, General Counsel at Google’s DeepMind, will outline some of the issues and challenges of working on the legal docket for a company focussed on “solving intelligence”.

DeepMind, founded in the UK in 2010, created the first computer program to ever beat a professional at the game of Go (AlphaGo), created a DeepRL system to play Atari games at beyond human level performance (DQN), and is engaged in various research projects with the NHS to apply machine learning to radiotherapy planning for head and neck cancers and identification of conditions like age related macular degeneration in optical coherence tomography scans.

18:55 Q&A

19:00: Short break to change places/tables (while wines are served)

19:10 Michael Wagsatff, CEO of Greyfriars Winery introduces the wines.

19:20 Speaker: Vinaya

Dan Möller is one of the founders of VINAYA, a company creating wearable technology products that enhance modern wellbeing. Known for their first product ALTRUIS, a line of designer wearables promoting digital balance, as well as their next generation product ZENTA, a cutting-edge emotion tracking wearable for both body and mind. Originally from Sweden, Dan holds a Master’s degree in Engineering and has a background in operations a nd product development in the fashion and consumer goods industry.

19:30 Short break to change places/tables

19:45  Speaker: Michael Wagstaff, CEO and founder of Greyfriars Winery

19:55 Q&A

20:05 Networking

20:30 End


Tech Tastes Wine with

Tech Tastes Wine with

Jess Butcher, co-Founder of

Jessica Butcher is the co-founder of, the visual discovery app that is taking by storm the advertising and education worlds. Blippar is the world’s leading mobile visual-browser and one of Britain’s most promising ‘unicorns’ on the global tech scene. Jess managed the commercial, marketing and communication functions of the business earning Blippar 60M+ consumer downloads in 5 years, and a blue-chip client roster.

A Sense of Place. A Taste of Wonder.

A Sense of Place. A Taste of Wonder.

When the invitation arrived to spend a weekend and attend a wine tasting at the Luton Hoo Hotel in Bedfordshire, I was thrilled.  Even more so because I was going to meet the winemaker Milena Pepe, CEO of Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, who flew in for the evening from her Italian estate in Sant’ Angelo all’Esca, near Napoli,  to present the beautiful wines she produces to a wonderful crowd of wine connoisseurs, entrepreneurs, and fine wine investment professionals.  Continue reading “A Sense of Place. A Taste of Wonder.”

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Tech Tastes Wine are tech talks and wine tastings where entrepreneurs and investors have enlightened conversations about the topic they are consumed by: building global companies. To request information about membership please fill the form below.

Tech Tastes Wine with Social Media Week London

Talk with Jules Lamon, Head of Communications for, a French social media platform dedicated to winemakers and wine professionals launched in France in 2014. Continue reading “Tech Tastes Wine with Social Media Week London”