Party yes, panic no
BY NATASHA WASINSKI For Sun-Times Media December 8, 2013 6:38PM
Personal chef Kristin Koury offers cooking classes and catering services on Kitchensurfing.com. | Submitted photo
Updated: January 10, 2014 6:02AM
One surefire way to make entertaining at home more merry is to order a chef.
Internet startup Kitchensurfing connects people hungry for a home-cooked meal with professional cooks who make and serve customized meals.
Co-founded by a New York City home cook in 2012, the site now caters to four U.S. cities, the Hamptons and Berlin. Chicago was added to its plate this past July. The concept is a dream to the perpetual party-thrower as hosts can spend time with guests while someone else worries about the food. Unlike caterers who often prepare off-site, Kitchensurfing puts the cook behind the customer’s stove.
Amber Tillett, the associate general manager for Kitchensurfing in Chicago, likens the Web platform to online matchmaking sites. People with different tastes can find a chef who suits their needs, she said, be it an expert in gluten-free fare or a master of desserts and pastries.
Chefs of varying specialties and skill levels set their own rates, ranging anywhere from $25 to $190 an hour. They work with customers with specific budgets in mind to craft menus at a per-person cost.
Since the visiting chef does all the shopping, cooking and cleaning, dining in can equal time savings. In addition to indulging in restaurant-quality food in the comfort of one’s home, dinner party guests might walk away with new tricks of the trade.
“People are always really curious about asking the chef questions and learning how they do something,” Tillett said. “Dinner is the show.”
Personal chef Kristin Koury said the popularity of cooking shows has helped put culinary arts in the spotlight. Instead of recognizing chefs for laborious work, they’re celebrated experts with whom foodies want to mingle.
“I really like the back-and-forth between the clients, the guests and myself,” Koury said. “Whereas in a restaurant, the line chefs are behind closed doors and there’s very little feedback.”
“You get to see how chefs work, and see their personality, food and real selves in kitchen,” ageed Chef Ervin Guinto. That desire to interact with diners prompted him to leave an executive chef post to focus on personal cooking services.
Transitioning from a fully stocked, industrial kitchen to a stranger’s house presents its own set of challenges.
Guinto has heard tales of colleagues cooking with Sterno stoves and using cabinet shelving as chopping boards. “You have to improvise sometimes,” he said. “You really don’t know what to expect. It’s the luck of the draw.”
The website is an avenue for cooks to showcases their creativity. Guinto’s “A Chinese Christmas Story” menu pays homage to the “Chinese turkey” (aka duck) in the classic holiday comedy “A Christmas Story.”
The meal services don’t have to be limited to special occasions. Koury encourages her customers to stay in their pajamas and let her whip together brunch.
“It can be about getting through your daily life with less stress,” noted Ukrainian Village’s Beth Gomez. The real estate broker and mom of three has used Kitchen Surfing to order meals her whole family could enjoy.
When guests stopped by one Friday night, Gomez popped a premade lasagna in the oven. “It was kind of like having a personal chef in a way on a small scale,” she said.
Websites like Kitchit and Big City Chefs also make bespoke dining experiences available to the masses. Some restaurateurs also offer private cooking services.
Prompted by popular demand, Michelin-starred Shin Thompson recently started offering in-home dinners featuring foods from the former Bonsoiree.
Thompson said private cooking parties are an opportunity to introduce fans of his famed Logan Square eatery to the flavors of Kabocha, where he serves as head chef.
“As a chef, it is a nice change of pace from the restaurant,” Thompson said. “Setting up and planning is intense, but the dinner itself is not as intense and allows me to have a lot of fun.
“Sometimes,” he added, “I’m even asked to join the guests and drink with them.”