Imagine the luxury of a well-known and experienced chef coming into your home and preparing a multi-course meal for you and your friends, and then personally serving it right at your dining room table, explaining the inspiration behind each dish as you go along.
Even the term “private chef” seems like something reserved for the rich and famous, so it may come as a surprise to learn that if you can afford dinner in a fine-dining restaurant, you can probably also afford a dinner party provided by a private chef.
“The knowledge isn’t really out there,” says Sheridan McLaren, a private chef based out of Edmonton. “A lot of people don’t know that you can hire a chef and they’ll come out to cook for you and that it can be an all-inclusive thing that isn’t going to be ridiculously expensive.”
A private chef is different than a traditional caterer in that rather than showing up with chafing dishes full of food or 500 pieces of a signature canapé, the cooking happens on-site and the experience is usually smaller scale and more personal.
Generally speaking, private chefs specialize in multi-course dinner parties in people’s homes, most likely for somewhere between two and 20 people. The services may vary (some offer wine pairings, others do not) but for the most part you sit back and are cooked for by a restaurant-quality chef for a similar price that you’d get in a fine-dining restaurant (pricing tends to averages out at $100 per person).
Why do this? There are a few reasons. Most private chefs will bring their own dishes and pack them away (or load the dishwasher if you want to use your own dishes), so it literally is as little work as going to a restaurant, but with some additional perks. Since you’re in your own home the evening can go on as long as you like and you don’t have to worry about driving after imbibing in a few glasses of wine; friends who follow suit can stay over if need be.
More importantly, you get the interaction with the chef, which for true food enthusiasts, can be as interesting as the food itself. Some chefs even offer home cooking classes, either as part of a home dinner party or as a dedicated afternoon event.
“It’s most likely that the chef will be bringing everything in and taking everything out, from ingredients to equipment to plates,” says Pierre Lamielle, a Calgary-based chef who occasionally hires himself as a private chef, depending on what else he has on the go. “At the very least your kitchen is reset for you.”
The benefits aren’t just for the clients though — there are also plenty of reasons why a chef would choose to go the private route rather than taking a job in a restaurant. Private chefs generally have more room to play with seasonal ingredients and go a little further when it comes to creative plating and cooking techniques. If customers are willing to put their trust in the chef, they may end up with an extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime kind of meal.
“You tend to be a lot more creative and cook with the seasons,” Lamielle says. “You’re innovating and creating new dishes constantly. It’s a great creative outlet. As long as you’re working with people who are open to being cooked for seasonally, it can work out better for both the chef and the client.”
There are many private chefs working across the province — some with larger operations like McLaren’s, others doing less frequent gigs like Lamielle. Customers looking to hire a private chef can use Google to see what’s available in their area, but McLaren says that good old word of mouth is sometimes the best way to go if you want to be sure to find a chef that complements with your personality and culinary sensibilities.
“We have a very detailed website and make sure everything is well spelled out so people know what to expect and how it works,” McLaren says. “But a lot of our business is through word of mouth.”
Lamielle agrees that word of mouth is important, since the individual chef is such an important part of the process and no one wants to feel uncomfortable in their own home.
“All of my best jobs have been from word of mouth, either people I’d cooked for before or had friends that I’d cooked for,” he says. “They knew I was the right niche and the right personality for the kinds of events that were too small for a catering company. Plus they knew I could put a lot of heart and passion into a small event.”