Is having a private chef the height of luxury or the busy Londoner’s solution to hosting dinner parties? My husband and I often dream about having people over to dinner but each time we argue about who’s going to cook (the rule is whoever is better friends with the guests has to organise the food) and inevitably we’re never as organised as we’d like to be, with a mad rush to tidy, clean and rustle up something edible. So is La Belle Assiette, a company providing private chefs for dinner parties, the answer?
Boasting over 3,000 ‘menus’, La Belle Assiette provides a wide range of chefs across the talent spectrum to cook for you in your own home, most commonly for 6 people. Healthy Living London were given the opportunity to road test their latest chef, Robert, who wanted to cook wholesome healthy food for La Belle Assiette clients. Good food is a sure-fire way to our hearts so we jumped at the chance.
Knowing a private chef is going to come and cook for you and friends is a thrilling experience, as well as slightly alarming. All sorts of questions went through my head, “Is my kitchen ok?”, “What if I don’t have the ‘right’ plates?”, “Will the chef be nice?”, “Who do we invite?”, “Does the chef eat with us?”, “If not, what does the chef do whilst we scoff away?”, “Will it be awkward?” There’s something that felt slightly uncomfortable about having someone come to our house for the sole purpose of cooking. At the best of times, I’m not comfortable with having people do things I think I should be able to do (apart from cleaning – I’m terrible at cleaning and it was a relief to us all when my husband insisted we get a cleaner). Why on earth would we, normal everyday people, get an actual chef to cook for us?
As it turns out, we could think of many reasons why a private chef would be pretty awesome. For a start, we’re busy people but we love to see people and having a 15 month old, it’s not often we both get the opportunity to hang out with friends in the evening together. As we don’t have family who are able to help or who live nearby, we would only get a babysitter in for special occasions. Especially as my little one is going through a particularly awkward anti-sleep phase, waking up screaming several times a night (often with one wake-up before midnight) we don’t get a babysitter in lightly as it can be stressful for them and us. Having a private chef could help us remove that logistical challenge and also potentially save us baby-sitting costs. We are also not particularly exciting chefs, opting for what we know how to cook. For me, that’s generally a butternut squash curry and for my husband, either chilli con carne or something involving one pan cooking. And guests are lucky if they get some pre-dinner nibbles and something more than ice cream and fruit for dinner (maybe some profiteroles from M&S if we’re feeling extravagant). Hang on a sec, is this why people say they’re busy whenever we invite people round for dinner…?!
It seems that the norm for La Belle Assiette dinner parties are 6 people. Tom invited his friends, Hazel and Jonny over but at the last minute, my friends unfortunately had to drop out. Ever the optimist, this only meant more food for us! Once La Belle Assiette had confirmed a date, we were put in touch with our chef, who asked if we had any dietary requirements. As a household, we’re trying to eat less meat so requested fish if any meat was going to be served. Robert, our chef, can cater for any dietary requirement (which I can imagine must be a minefield when trying to meal plan) but aside from the meat request, we all ate everything.
I was curious to know the menu but also decided a surprise would be more exciting. On the designated day, Robert arrived approximately 2 hours before dinner (8pm) to set up. I was pleasantly surprised to see that nothing had been pre-cooked; some food prep had taken place but that was it. After introducing Robert to Tom, HB (aka Hungry Bear, the 15 month old) and Doris, the one-eyed cat, and showing him round the kitchen, I continued feeding HB whilst sneaking glances at the chef’s busy fingers. Robert started with the pudding – a lemon torte which I thought was a fairly odd choice considering tonight was supposed to be a healthy meal, but it certainly looked and smelt good in the oven. From here, he moved onto prepping the canapes and starter.
At 7.30pm, Hazel and Jonny arrived and we sat down to eat bang on time at 8pm after dispensing drinks. Robert introduced himself and the canapes; he’s a self-taught chef who currently works at Whole Foods who loves rustling up delicious healthy meals and hopes to start up some of his own supper clubs next year if his creations are well received. Canape-wise, he used ingredients brought over from Georgia (where his girlfriend is from), to make two different types of pesto, one using walnut and the other using beetroot leaves which acted as toppings for crispbread.
Our appetites whet, we waited hungrily for the starter. A beautiful beetroot salad was presented, made from several types of beetroot cooked in different ways, on a variety of salad leaves. It was simply served, letting the natural ingredients enjoy the limelight. Robert explained, that the beetroot were locally sourced and although he wasn’t quite sure of all the types of salad leaves, it certainly tasted good.
There was approximately a 20 minute wait for our mains which was perfect as this gave us a good chance to get some proper conversation going. As we have an open kitchen / dining / lounge, we could also smell the amazing cooking going on. Our main was Cornish Mackerel (Robert likes to choose seasonal, sustainably-sourced ingredients) with a chive pesto (absolutely delicious) and freekah with roast vegetables. Delicate and fragrant, the quality of cooking was fantastic. Our plates were soon licked clean (ok, so mainly my husband is the one with the terrible table manners).
We ended our private chef experience with the tangy, light lemon torte which had teased our olfactory senses at the beginning of the evening. It was so tasty that, rather embarrassingly, Tom spotted there was some left and scrounged the rest of the slices!
Robert provided a 3 course meal, complete with canapes. Having wanted to keep the menu a surprise we weren’t too sure what drinks we should have gotten on-board but we had a selection of beers and white wine which worked out fine. Throughout the meal, Robert worked efficiently and best of all, cleaned up after himself! Hurrah, no washing up to have to do! The meals were beautifully presented, even if our clunky plates may not have been quite what he’d have chosen, and each one was delicious. At no time, did I feel awkward having him in our house, although one of our guests did wonder what the ‘rules’ were; was he allowed to talk to the chef?
The quality of the meals was delicious, Robert was a delight to have in our kitchen and it was a real treat to be able to have guests over without having to worry about what to cook and to enjoy uninterrupted conversation. Even HB decided to sleep throughout the meal! There are a few tweaks that we felt Robert could implement to make the experience even better, namely increasing portion sizes (we are greedy monkeys) and having a (relatively) healthy pudding. However, as far as the private chef experience went, we all thought it was something we’d definitely consider in future. In fact, we even discussed whether Robert was free on Boxing Day to cook our families a belated Christmas meal…
Who’s it for: Busy Londoners who don’t have time or the inclination to cook, yet want to enjoy hosting a fabulous dinner party without the hassle.
Where: Chefs come to your own home and the service is available throughout the UK.
How much: Prices are tiered per guest, with £39, £59 and £89 options dependant on the chef’s experience and skill.
Photos taken by the talented Mister Levius www.MisterLeviusPhoto.com