In the kitchen with private chefs

Have a knife, will travel

Home chefs live in a world where knives travel, arriving in home kitchens to create gourmet delights for homeowners who lack the skills or time to create on their own.

It looks glamorous. But sometimes the kitchens themselves can be a little tricky. And sometimes chefs are asked to cook something really different, like an alligator.

More on the alligator later, but interviews with several private chefs in Charleston indicate they have no desire to return to the often toxic culture of a restaurant, regardless of the challenges of private cooking. .

Personal chef Emily McClish enjoys the intimacy of dining at home | photo of Ruta Smith

“I worked 11 years in the kitchen before becoming a private chef 10 years ago,” said Emily McClish of Emily-lane Personal Chef Services. “Many things are different. A no-brainer is quantity. You don’t mass produce. You interact with people almost as soon as you walk through the door and that’s what I wanted. You think about these specific people when you prepare their food.

Sarah Adams, who cooked at Bacco, Peninsula Grill and FIG as a sous chef, said her experience in restaurants helped her when she started cooking for small groups as a private chef a year ago. about five years.

“Having a solid work track record is very valuable because in a restaurant kitchen, you perfect dishes over time and build on a skill set,” Adams said. “In private dining, you have to constantly change course, because you’re cooking a lot for the same people versus someone who comes in and orders the gnocchi from the tried-and-tested menu. You have to take all those skills that you have worked for a very long time and are constantly turning them over Often there aren’t a lot of support staff so if you make a mistake you need to know how to fix it as you don’t have access to a pantry with backup or preparation items.

Be ready for anything

This lack of supplies is a critical difference for chefs.

McKee’s 40 years of experience in kitchens helped him develop skills to become a private chef | Provided

Brett McKee, who ran his own business for 10 years and was a chef at several restaurants including Oak and O-Ku, recalled a job at a Kiawah rental where he thought there would be enough glassware for a party golf buddies. One of his associates called: The owner had locked all the cupboards, including those containing glasses and plates. Fortunately, McKee said he had friends in the industry and frantic calls were made to bring glassware and plates.

“There could be a variable thrown at you and you just have to deal with it,” McKee said. “When it’s just you, there’s nowhere to run and there’s nowhere to hide. A f*ck-up may be the Achilles tendon that brings me down.

McKee said his more than 40 years of experience helped him develop a standard checklist of things for a job, including paper towels, spices and seasonings, napkins and his own soap and sponges. . He also brings his personalized knives, like all chefs.

Furey prepares for a private dinner | photo of Ruta Smith

Lauren Furey, a private chef in Charleston since 2019, also has a checklist and schedule that keeps her organized as she unloads supplies, which she says takes about 15 minutes. She also researches the location ahead of time, not only to see if there are any online images of the kitchen, but also because she is aware that she is a woman entering an unfamiliar house.

“When I take a job, I always have a 15-minute discovery call first. It’s a mandatory step and if someone doesn’t want to do it, they’re not my client,” Furey said. “I think it builds confidence. If I ever felt like I was in a dangerous situation, I would just walk away. Also, my mum always has me on her locator app at all times.”

Create memories

However, it is the work in the private kitchens that she appreciates.

“I think being in someone’s kitchen is very private and homes are where people create their memories, so respecting someone’s space when I’m there is my priority,” Furey said.

For all the chefs interviewed, one of the big rewards of the job is interacting directly with customers.

“It’s fun. It’s really a night of memories together,” McKee said. “You don’t have to worry about parking, and you become better than restaurant food in your house. You create stories You can fuck off, and then you can turn around and put on your stretchy pants, and your house is clean. Every night, someone’s going to say, ‘Wow!’ and that’s what we’re looking for.

Adams said any lack of public fame chefs might have as restaurant celebrities is offset by work-life balance.

Adams likes the freedom to make his own schedule | provided

“There’s not as much fame because you’re not in public and you do very private things. I’m not going to be Instagramming from somebody’s house. I can’t talk to people about a lot of my clients, so there’s not a lot of bragging rights involved,” Adams said. “But, at the end of the day, I can still spend time with my family. Loss isn’t glory restaurants, but I prefer going to the Halloween parade at school.

Chefs said flexibility is key for private chefs, and clients may change schedules or suddenly realize their guests have unexpected allergies or dislikes. Chefs must therefore be prepared to improvise using the ingredients they have brought.

The great improvisation

And then there’s the alligator.

McClish said a client early in her career told her he had hunted an alligator and had the meat and wanted her to prepare the alligator five ways.

“It’s easy enough to fry the tail meat, but he didn’t want that. He wanted other things. Now alligator meat doesn’t have much flavor and thigh meat is really tough,” McClish said. “I think I ground it and made fritters, slow roasted it and made a kind of okra, ground it and mixed it with pork, which is fattier, and I made appetizer meatballs, and I pounded the thigh meat with a mallet to make cutlets with some kind of sauce.

“It took a lot of beatings! It was truly something I will never forget.

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About Debra D. Johnson

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