Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Guest Post: Hiring a Private Chef

*Tap* *Tap* Is this thing on? Wow, it's been two months since I last popped in here. I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels that this pandemic both slows down time and speeds it up at the same time. Well, a LOT has happened in my world since I last posted. The big news? I quit my job of 9.5 years. Yup, in the middle of a pandemic and record unemployment. I must be nuts. The non-profit I worked for was hit hard financially, and 43% of staff were laid off while it took on a reorganization of its structure. I was offered a new national position, and I took the huge (and scary) leap of faith to turn it down. Honestly, it was the kick out the door that I had needed for years. I'll be taking some time to figure out what the next phase in my career will be, but it will certainly be something quite different and that brings me more joy and peace. COVID, and other life events over the last few years, have highlighted for me just how important your health, happiness, and loved ones are. Nothing else really matters.

But, I've still been enjoying some dining adventures the last several weeks, with new blog posts on deck! However, today I'm sharing a guest post from Jeff (Instagram: @schechterj). Jeff reached out to me not long ago for suggestions on a chef to host a private in-home experience. We've had quite a few wonderful experiences ourselves, and several with my buddy Chef Jeff Jarrett, so of course he was one of the first I recommended. Here are Jeff's words sharing his experience (with a few notes of my own):

COVID has really put a damper on foodie nation and anyone who likes to get out for the food and/or experience and have a change of pace. As this has dragged on, we are still strictly following the takeout/home cooking only approach, not ready to dine out just yet. Just like with home cooking, options for takeout are starting to become monotonous and in the same rotation.

With a “big” birthday on the horizon, the idea popped up to bring in a private chef to try to have somewhat of a restaurant experience but with a much more controlled and a lot more intimate (read safe) environment. After many recommendations, we landed on chef Jeff Jarrett. SPOILER ALERT...already looking at dates to book again!

The Process

This was much easier than expected, which was made possible by the knowledge and responsiveness of Jeff. (side thought – Why is it so hard for people to just return a message?  Do they not realize how it makes them look?)

Back to the process. Jeff was very easy to communicate with and quick to respond. Once we locked in a date, I just provided him with a few dislikes from the group (4 adults – our bubble).  With that in mind, Jeff delivered a menu a day or so later and asked for input/feedback, open to changing any course based on personal preference. He nailed the menu on the first go, so we had no changes.

Example: the salad course consisted of basically raw tomatoes, which I have never been a fan of. I expressed this to Jeff as a concern, but he talked me into it and I was willing to give it a go; thus no menu changes.

We also decided to add on a “snack” to eat while Jeff prepped everything and we put all the kids to bed. We were left in the dark as to what he would prepare, but based on the menu, we were happy to be surprised and knew he would deliver.

We only gave Jeff the address and what time we wanted the first course serve. He noted that he would arrive about 90 minutes before the first course.

The Menu

Snack – which was a surprise before it was presented to us, ended up being a beautiful cheeseboard that included some hand-picked cheeses, a fantastic bison sausage (Editor's Note: I've also had this sausage and it's dynamite), smoked salmon wrapped in an onion pancake, and vegetable dumplings with dipping sauce.

This was the perfect start to whet our appetites for the main meal and it included everything a great cheese board should include.

1) Tuna Tartare: avocado mousse, pickled red onion, arugula, yuzu

The Tuna was fresh and cold.  A great way to get you ready for what you know is about to be a great meal. There was great acidity with the yuzu and a hint of spice with togarashi dusted on top. Really opened up the taste buds.

2) Panzanella Salad: summer tomatoes, cucumber, homemade focaccia croutons, basil vinaigrette 

This was the course that I had the most anticipation for. Not because it sounded great, but because I have yet to find a raw tomato that I like. This dish looked beautiful. Jeff talked about where he got the local heirloom tomatoes while presenting the dish. 

On my first bite, I was sold. These tomatoes tasted like candy. In the end, it ended up being one of my favorite dishes. The simplest of dishes are sometimes what wow you the most. It was clean, crisp, refreshing and most importantly fresh. The homemade croutons added the perfect crunch and flavor to counterbalance the acidity from the tomatoes. Arugula added that nice pepper note to really round out the salad. No need for any cheese to hide other flavors in this dish.

3) Pan Roasted Mahi Mahi: Mediterranean farro salad, lemon pesto sauce

The progression of flavors throughout the night were concepted well. As we moved to the next course, we still had the fresh flavors of summer while taking our taste buds to the Mediterranean. The Mahi Mahi was cooked perfectly. While this is a “meaty” fish, it flaked apart perfectly. Simply seasoned, it paired perfectly with the farro salad that was studded with olives. All of the flavors came together to offer a burst of brightness and really set us up nicely for the meat course.

4) Braised Beef Short Rib: brown butter baby gnocchi, summer vegetables, beef sauce

This was the star of the show, and was the perfect crescendo to the journey our taste buds have been on. The short rib was fall-apart tender that you could easily cut with a fork. There were so many textures and flavors happening on this plate that you wanted to jump from one thing to the next and also all at once. The broccolini was still perfectly crisp and the chanterelles, which Jeff mentioned he was able to get from a friend, complimented everything nicely. Now onto those little baby gnocchi. "Little" and "baby" are only words to describe their size because these packed a ton of flavor. Not only was there a pillow-like texture on the inside, but it was the crisp exterior that made these gnocchi so succulent and a great complement to the real star of the plate, the meat. Everything came together so nicely. 

5) Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta: salted caramel, vanilla bean ice cream, toasted peanuts (Editor's Note: There's a reason this is Jeff's signature dessert. I still see people in local foodie groups on Facebook mentioning this panna cotta from his days at AMP 150.)

Yes, there was more. And I always have room for dessert. Snickers anyone? This is what Snickers hopes to grow up to be one day. The silky smooth panna cotta, not overly sweet, with the warmed salted caramel and toasted peanuts with little scoops of vanilla ice cream.  Sign me up any day of the week. What a way to end the meal. Again, all the textures and flavors melding perfectly so a bite that always wanted to keep you coming back for more.

The Night

Jeff arrived promptly at 6:00, as we requested our first course be served at 7:30 PM.  We asked Jeff if he needed anything or any help, and he was quick to assure us that he would handle everything that night. We had great conversation with Jeff throughout the night as he was very personable while never making the night about him.

Jeff then got right to work constructing our “nosh” board. For the most part, everything was served on our dishes, which we discussed beforehand and were more than happy to provide.

Each course was then presented and explained to us throughout the evening including where the ingredients came from (tomatoes from a local farm, chanterelles from a friend, etc.). This just added to the experience.

Everything was timed perfectly. Jeff cleared all of the dishes and gave us time before presenting the next dish. (oh yea, and if you weren’t able to finish a dish, Jeff packed the leftovers and any other leftovers you may have to enjoy the next day)

After the final plates were cleared, we all headed to the kitchen to wrap up the evening. Jeff left the kitchen spotless with the dishwasher fully loaded and not a crumb in sight!

One thing we hadn’t discussed was how he was handling COVID and precautions that he would take. Let me say that Jeff was the utmost professional, arriving in a mask, cooking in gloves and bringing his own bottle of Lysol cleaner.

Final Thoughts

We weren’t sure what to expect heading into the evening, as this was the first time anyone had done anything like this. All of us in the group were blown away not only by the food, but how easy it was to put together from beginning to end.

I can’t recommend chef Jeff Jarrett enough. He over-delivered on every aspect of the evening and we will not hesitate on using him again.

The night gave us a chance to actually forget about COVID and everything that was happening in the world, even if it just was for a couple of hours. The night was not only about the food, but the whole experience. It was better than being in a restaurant.

This reassured me that I was doing the right thing during the pandemic. With young children, a night out quickly became more about the experience than the food as we were getting babysitters and just making it be about the night out. This option allowed us to do both. We were able to play with the kids and put them to bed and then enjoy our dinner while feeling like we were in our own private restaurant.

The calendar is out and we are already trying to figure out the next date to have another meal prepared by Jeff.

And how could I not mention one of the best parts, your “restaurant” = your dress code. For this food, bring your stretchy pants.

Now it's back to the home cooking and takeout rotation, but with a new outlook and new energy (even if it is the same food).

Thank you, Jeff Jarrett, for allowing us to have this night and we can’t wait to do it again!

Thanks for sharing your experience with my readers, Jeff. I'm so glad to hear that it all worked out so well. But I knew that it would! I encourage you all to consider this way of celebrating a special occasion or gathering a small group for dinner, and I'm always happy to make chef recommendations. Now, stay tuned for more posts coming up about my recent dining adventures! 


Anonymous said...

How much does an experience like this cost?

Joe Rybicki said...

This sounds amazing. What’s the rate for a night like this, can you share? Even a ballpark?

Bite Buff said...

It totally depends on the chef, and how many courses or price of ingredients, but roughly between $50-$100 a person. Being up front with any budget or price point in mind can help the chef determine the menu.

Bite Buff said...

Every chef will be different, but in our experience between $50-$100 a person for a 4-5 course dinner. It really depends on the number of courses and whether expensive ingredients are planned. I suggest being up front with any budget, and they’ll work around that when menu planning.

Joe Rybicki said...

I had no idea it was so...not “affordable” but at least attainable! Will definitely be looking into this in the future. And as a Hudsonite who first visited North End when Chef Jarrett was there, he’d absolutely be my first choice. (All his menu stuff was fantastic, but he made a special off-menu vegan meal for my brother once and it was just such an amazing result — and gesture — that my appreciation for his skill turned to something near awe.) Thank you!

LisaS said...

Great topic for Coronavirus time...it is a good alternative to celebrations outside of our own homes.