You’ve been there, right? For weeks you ping-pong messages with friends or family to get a date in the diary when you can all meet for dinner. You resort to a doodle poll and finally settle on a weekend when no one has to be at a school concert/basketball game/karate grading. You book a restaurant and pick out a dress. Then you can’t get a babysitter. Do you
- Sigh wearily, and volunteer to cook for 18, dragging out all the chipped and mismatched crockery from the loft? or
- Book a private chef to come to your home, where you can elegantly sip champagne, wow your guests with fine cuisine, and still have energy for tinkly laughter when Uncle John does his man walks into a bar joke? Again.
If you didn’t pick answer number 2, let me tell you why you should have:
- Cost: it’s expensive, right? Well actually, not when you consider what you’d have spent on a night out. Depending on your menu choice you might pay anything from £39 – £89 per person for a private chef. You’d be very likely to spend similar in a decent restaurant. Add in the high cost of wine and drinks in a restaurant, and you’ll start to see why booking a private chef might actually work out cheaper than going out to eat.
- Ease (and cost): when you book a private chef, he or she comes to your house. No taxis, no designated driver arguments, and the TV can babysit. Even more cost saved. I booked chef Karl Tyler through La Belle Assiette to cook for Jason’s 50th birthday dinner. He came to our holiday home in the Peak District, where we sipped champagne in the hot tub while he cooked, then did a quick change into our finery, before sitting down to a gourmet three-course meal.
- Hosting a large party is a doddle: “But all the dishes!” you might wail. No need to worry. Karl brought all his own crockery (that actually matched) and kitchen equipment with him, right down to a mini deep fat fryer. He laid the table, printed menus for every guest, cleaned as he cooked, and washed up and cleaned the kitchen while we ate dessert. He made it look so easy that I started taking mental notes, convinced I must be able to reproduce his calm panache, but I was kidding myself. I’m never going to be a professional chef. That’s why I hired him.
- What if all my guests don’t like the same thing? Before I booked Karl, I went through his sample menus on the La Belle Assiette website. There was lots there that I would love, but that I knew the children wouldn’t go for. There was also lots that all of us would eat, but not on the same menu. Again, this wasn’t a problem. Once the booking was confirmed, Karl called me to go through our preferences, switching out starters from one menu into another, and tweaking his dishes to accommodate specific tastes. We ended up with the perfect menu for all four of us. Speaking of which…
- The quality of the food: This was our starter – Tea Smoked Duck Breast, Raspberry and Sloe Gn Vinaigrette, Crispy Onions, Pea Shoots and Quail Egg. The flavours worked beautifully together, I could really taste the tea, and the sloes, and the eggs were cooked to perfection. Karl left out the parfait he usually serves with this, and the kids easily disassembled it, swapping pea shoots and eggs with each other each to their own tastes. What resonated hugely with us was talking to Karl about where his ingredients came from. My daughter told him that she couldn’t be vegetarian because she likes steak too much, but that she’s keen to eat sustainable, local meat, from animals who’ve had a good life. Karl told us about his suppliers, who he vets thoroughly, and she came away even more firmly convinced of the benefits of organic, free-range produce. You can check this sort of information about your chosen chef before confirming your booking.
- Home cooking, restaurant style: Moving on to our main course (below) this 16 Hour Braised Lamb Shank, Rosemary and Thyme Infused Mash, Carrots, Kale and Baby Onions, Redcurrant and Sloe Gin Jus was exactly the kind of food we’d eat as a family for a special occasion. The portions were huge – they always are with a lamb shank – but everything went from my daughter’s plate, and she declared the kale the best she’d ever eaten. A chef who can get kids to relish their greens can visit every day, as far as I’m concerned. (They were good, though). Again, the flavours were perfection, and the presentation worthy of a top restaurant.
- It’s child-friendly: Of course, you can choose whichever menu takes your fancy from the La Belle Assiette website. Karl has a tapas menu that looked fantastic for an adults celebration, a barbecue option, and a vegetarian three course meal. But the mix and match nature of Karl’s offering meant we could choose something that everyone would enjoy, even the kids. In fact, this dessert was the children’s motivation for the entire booking. White Chocolate Fondant, Dark Chocolate Sorbet, with Summer Berries. Not surprisingly it all disappeared from our plates pretty fast! And if you need to cater for younger kids, most of the chefs have a children’s menu too.
- But isn’t it weird having a stranger in your kitchen? Erm, NO! Admittedly I was a bit nervous that Karl might find our home-from-home lacking in sophisticated kitchen utensils, but I needn’t have been worried at all. As I said, he brought all his own stuff, told a few anecdotes of his cooking history that made us laugh, and just got to work. We had a kitchen diner, so Karl was right there while we ate, but it didn’t feel odd at all. When we asked him to get involved in our conversation, he did so easily, and when we naturally digressed into our own family banter, he blended into the background with his tasks. It couldn’t have been easier. When he retires from cheffing, I want him to write a book – I bet he’s overheard some conversations! Of course, if you have a separate dining room you won’t even have to talk to your La Belle Assiette chef at all, and that’s fine too. Ours became such a part of of our evening that we just had to have a photograph with the birthday boy!
Our meal was courtesy of Karl and La Belle Assiette for the purposes of review, but I was hovering over the ‘Book’ button before I decided to approach them for this collaboration. I wouldn’t hesitate to book a private chef again – it’s such a lovely way to have a restaurant-level meal without the hassle of going out, especially for families with young children. And if you’re in the Nottingham, or Peak District area I’d happily recommend Karl. La Belle Assiette books chefs all over the UK, as well as parts of Europe, and every chef goes through an initial induction placement before they’re made available on the website. After your booking you can upload a review direct to the site, and that’s available for potential customers to see, making it even more reassuring to make your own choice. Take a look now, and see if your next restaurant booing might be better served at home!