Nanci Fair loves to entertain. What the Stratford, Ont. host doesn't love is the shopping, prep, cooking and cleanup involved.
“Now that I'm 60, I really enjoy it (entertaining) but the two days of cooking and then all the cleanup – I really just don't want to do that anymore,” she says.
Over the last couple of years, she's thrown four parties that featured food prepared by a chef in her home; the last one was a raw seafood bar, so she hired Shawn Hartwell, a professional chef who specializes in seafood fare.
Though it may seem extravagant, Hartwell, a 20-year veteran and most recently festival chef for Savour Stratford, says that at $30 to $75 per guest, “it's no more than going to a fine dining restaurant.”
Fair echoes this sentiment: “The chefs are so good at shopping that the food costs less because they know where to shop and they buy exactly the right amount; there's not a crumb left. I would always buy too much, cook too much and end up throwing some away.”
According to Hartwell, private chefs also work with the host on the ideal wine pairings for the menu they've chosen.
Fair's soirees have been small affairs of four to 10 people, but Leanne Perreault hired Hartwell to cater a shower for 30. That's a lot of people to cook for.
“I work full-time and I just felt I didn't have the time to do it,” she explains.
Hartwell says private chefs usually do the menu planning (in consultation with the host), shopping, prep, cooking and cleanup.
Though catering is an option that many hosts use for their holiday parties, hiring a private chef is not the same thing as hiring a caterer.
“Catering companies have bigger overhead and offer set menus. They need volume and usually won't do a party of four or six people; it's just not profitable for them,” Hartwell explains.
Hartwell adds that being able to shop locally ensures fresh, safe ingredients. Sustainable seafood is one of his specialties and sourcing locally grown ingredients is a passion for him and many dedicated chefs.
Tweaking recipes for the host's personal tastes and working around guests' food sensitivities is another advantage.
“I'm also able to change the food service to match the tempo of the party. For instance, if the hostess says that she has a bunch of gifts for people, I can slow it down and let them dictate the pace,” Hartwell says.
“This is a great idea for foodies,” adds Fair. “Having a professional chef come and cook in your kitchen is a great experience. It’s great if you have a group of friends who are really into food.”
One of her four private-chef parties was a vegetarian cooking class with her entire family.
Hartwell often is called upon to teach cooking classes in a client’s kitchen or as part of team-building exercises at the boss’ house.
Perreault says her experience of throwing this type of party was completely positive. “It was good value and the food was beautifully presented.”