On What's Next

I often get asked if I experience food and wine differently after having spent the last year or so completing culinary and then wine school. 

I absolutely do. 

But I think the question is asked expecting me to say that after cooking in a Michelin-starred kitchen or becoming a certified sommelier, new taste buds magically appear and all of a sudden your palette becomes “refined” or “trained” and then nothing is ever the same. In reality, it’s not that I’m tasting anything different than someone who hasn’t chosen to study those subjects, I’m just thinking differently about what I’m tasting. Part of what I love about taste as a sense is that it’s so closely tied to memory. So now, when I taste an omelette I can hear my French chef instructor screaming “NO COLOOORRRRR!!!” as my class attempted to make french omelettes (which, by French standards, should not be browned at all). Or when I drink a glass of Bordeaux I’m reminded of my classmates quizzing each other on the seemingly-endless list of its top chateaus. An analogy I make a lot is to an orchestra. It doesn’t take a degree in musical theory to recognize a harmony as being pleasing (or, in this metaphor, a dish or wine being delicious). The conductor has just put in the time to understand what the individual sounds are and why the combination of them “works.” And when conductors hear music, they hear the thousands of intentional decisions that came together to make the work what it is.

My hypothesis going into culinary school last November was that I’d emerge wanting to do something that mixed my newfound appreciation for food with technology, so once I arrived in NYC I immediately started talking with companies that fit this description. When I finished culinary, I tacked on the wine program, which expanded the realm of possibilities for “what’s next” even further. Training under Master Sommeliers proved be a crucial turning point, because it made me realize that the common thread between culinary, wine, and even Apple was my passion for creating experiences for people. That’s really the job of the sommelier. Though their encyclopedic understanding of wine is often the most celebrated aspect of their role, any good somm understands that their number 1, 2, and 3 priorities are creating a memorable experience for the guest. This is hospitality, rooted in deep understanding and empathy. 

So when I saw a job posting for a startup called Hello Alfred (that I recognized from their 2014 TechCrunch Disrupt win) looking for people passionate about hospitality and technology, I had to learn more. What I found was an amazing group of people determined to create a new category of in-home hospitality powered by highly-trained “Alfred” home managers, supercharged by a sophisticated AI/ML layer.

I was in. 

Alfred new hires showing strong band potential.

Alfred new hires showing strong band potential.

This new category of hospitality is raising eyebrows, which is why CEO Marcela Sapone has been invited to speak at events like WSJ D.Luxe alongside Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park (#1 Restaurant in the world) and Ian Schrager, who is reinventing the hotel industry with his new hotel brand, Public. The Alfred platform aims to create and maintain a home that’s always “ready for you,” which, for example, could mean countertops clean, fresh flowers on the table, and 2 gallons of Califia Farms almond milk in the fridge. Creating a home that’s ready for your routine allows the client to redirect their precious time to what they care most about (this makes the time-obsessed line cook inside of me giddy). 

Ian Schrager, Marcela Sapone, Daniel Humm, Howie Khan at WSJ D.Luxe conference.

Ian Schrager, Marcela Sapone, Daniel Humm, Howie Khan at WSJ D.Luxe conference.

Alfred’s mission is rooted in trust. The home is a sacred place, and Alfred understands it needs to earn the responsibility to help you manage it. It’s why each client knows the name of their Alfred, and receives hand-written notes from them each week they stop by. It’s a very different POV than an Amazon, for example, who seems to believe that the path inside the home is forged through leveraging "cameras that monitor couriers the way a Dropcam watches a dog” as Marcela said in her Recode op-ed last week: “Sorry, Jeff Bezos. Amazon Key won’t get online retailers through the front door.” Permission to enter the home is built through human interaction—the Alfred. The company understands Alfreds are the core of its experience, and make intentional choices that reflect this. Unlike the Ubers of the world who use contracted labor to power their marketplace, Alfred’s are W-2 employees with full benefits, a move that caught the attention of Obama’s Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who, when visiting company “HomeQuarters” last year stated “companies like Hello Alfred recognize the business case for taking the high road by investing in their workers. The Obama administration has worked tirelessly to expand opportunity, but we understand government can’t achieve that goal alone.”

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A year ago, I couldn't have guessed that I'd end up at Hello Alfred. But I can see now how all the pieces of my story fit perfectly into the company’s mission. I’m so excited to embark on this next chapter and honored to join such a stellar team. And… we’re also hiring like crazy. Come work with me?