Years ago, in a small home in Sagada, Laurence Espiritu was welcomed by a family of three. However, he wasn’t there for an aunt’s birthday, nor was he greeted with a barrage of facial prods and “Hijo, ang laki mo na!”s. In fact, he didn’t know them at all. They were a family of strangers who opened their doors for other strangers—but this isn’t the plot of a slasher film, either.
While on vacation, Laurence’s mother came across an ad promoting one of the local homes as a restaurant. They immediately booked a dinner where they, as guests, were treated by the host family as one would their own cousin. The hosts served them their own version of Italian dishes, with a side of classic Filipino hospitality. Laurence described it as his ideal meal. “I enter an unknown place, and I get to dine with locals. For me, it’s a thrilling experience,” he shares. Thus began the idea of Plato.
Laurence, the now CEO of the start-up company, got together with some friends and decided to merge their interests and common passion for food, and transform it into a business. “For me, I enjoy cooking at home. I would have friends over during weekends, and we’d prefer eating at home [instead of] going out,” he says. “With that in mind, we thought it would be a cool idea if we came up with a service that promoted the idea of home-cooking while providing a new dining experience.”
Not just glorified lutong-bahay
Much like other start-ups, Plato is built with the simple intent of connecting people. While Uber links passengers to drivers, and Airbnb provides guests with homes, Plato connects chefs to a hungry audience. “Plato revolves around three principles: authenticity, conversation, and convenience. Customers get a chance to dine in a local host’s home, with the promise of a unique meal,” Laurence explains.
The process couldn’t be more straightforward: register online, book a dinner with one of their chefs at their house, and voila. Be sure not to stand up your hot (meal) date. Currently, you can choose from seven different chefs, who are all carefully screened and selected. That’s seven different culinary perspectives—from Japanese and Mediterranean, to Italian, Spanish, and beyond.
A platform for cooking enthusiasts and food lovers
Interestingly, most cooks available are self-taught or in-the-making themselves, and have complete creative freedom with their menu. Add in the fact that diners get to witness them in their personal kitchens, and it makes for getting to know the chefs on an exclusive level. They may say you are what you eat, but perhaps what you cook reveals a lot about you, too.
If you have a dream meal in mind, you can become a host yourself. “Chefs are treated like customers on our platform,” Laurence claims. “This gives them a chance to experiment with their talent and love for food, as well as grant them the exposure they deserve.”
For chef Mil Crespo, his passion for cooking stems from his parents raising him to not conform to the ubiquitous “yaya” culture in the Philippines. Instead, he was taught to grow independently from house-helpers, which included preparing his own food. “I had to learn how to cook rice when I was nine years old because no one else in the house would,” he recalls. “That was the moment I started liking culinary. It fascinated me how cooking can help you transform one thing into another—how you can manipulate [the food’s] texture, color, and taste. The possibilities are endless. Since then, I was hooked.” What was once a chore for nine-year-old Mil developed into a passion, and now continues to flourish as a career.
When he was offered a seat at the Plato family table, Mil had already began his own personal chef service, #MilCooksforCouples. But because he believed in the “interactive environment between chef and diner”, he agreed to partake in fellow Atenean Laurence’s venture instead. Mil, who specializes in Italian, French, and Mexican comfort food, also points out that there is no room for crab mentality or too much heat in the kitchen. “Nobody treats anyone as competition. We want everyone to improve and succeed.”
A new way to meet people
Truth be told, the genuine beauty of Plato lies not in what is served on your table. After all, the budding start-up brand was not founded on the premise of a gastronomical revolution. What it is, however, is a great way to meet new people. “Other than food, we want people to connect over the dinner table,” Laurence states. “Diners engage in conversations with each other, and get a chance to meet various personalities [and] chefs. They all share stories, and leave home with more than just a full stomach.”
Think Tinder, except you can’t exchange glances and questions about the weather with your food. A dinner with Plato can be communal, yet intimate at the same time. As Laurence previously shared, dining in a stranger’s home with other strangers is a thrilling experience. Maybe it will be so awkward, you’ll have dead air for your appetizer—or maybe you’ll end the night with a new best friend. Either way, you already have one thing in common, and that’s a love for food. That alone beats sleazy bars and “So, come here often?” by a landslide.
A banquet for the senses
Mil casually sums up the Plato experience in a single sentence: “More than just your tastebuds, all five senses are put on overdrive to welcome the experience of food.” This is every intricate detail, from the preparation of the aromatic feast up close while basking in the cook’s humble abode, to allowing diners to get to know the chef on a personal level.
No place like home? Think again. With a delectable selection, promising support system, and charming ambiance, Plato will make you and your palates reconsider.
Check out the official website at Plato.PH, and follow chef Mil Crespo at @MilCooks, #MilCooks to see more.