Holiday time means party time—which can also mean lots of grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. This year, why not give a gift to yourself by hiring a personal chef? You’ll not only enjoy your get-together (more time for socializing and mingling when you’re not in the kitchen), you’ll also get a meal that will no doubt impress your guests. Most chefs can work within your budget and can accommodate parties as small as two or as large as 200. Prices vary depending on the type of soiree you’re hosting; generally, though, expect to pay $50 to $80 a head for a party or, for other services, $65 to $85 an hour, plus groceries. Book as far in advance as possible; most chefs prefer three to six weeks.
Your wish is The Runcible Spoon’s Jennifer Urda’s command (917-648-7013; myhousechef.com). Though the White Plains resident has some perennial favorites (among them a killer Peruvian chicken, mashed sweet potatoes with smoked paprika, and crab cakes with red-chili mayo), her ultimate goal is pleasing the client. That means tweaking the menu and paying attention to every ingredient. Unlike a caterer, Urda is only doing one party a day—yours. And that includes leaving your kitchen cleaner than when she started.
Want to dine like royalty? British-born (and now North Salem-based) Antony Ballard (914-316-0258; chefantonyjballard.com) creates as heavenly an epicurean feast as you can imagine with dishes like English sherry trifle, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, roasted beet and goat-cheese gateau, and roasted mahogany duck. His cooking philosophy takes traditional foods and moves them forward; his style and recipes have been honed over years catering to a number of high-profile celebrities (Paul McCartney, Chevy Chase, Keith Richards, Liza Minnelli). He’s also involved with a line of olive oil (Villa Cypress) and is working on his own line of salad dressings, so you know that from a Cobb to a Niçoise, a Ballard salad will be delicious!
Danielle Fragala-Harper, owner of Your Culinary Experience, Inc. (914-261-4121; yourculinaryexp.com), prides herself on extremely personalized menus and interesting food combinations like pumpkin soup with chili cran-apple relish; harvest stuffed chicken breasts with au jus; and caramelized root vegetables with carrots, butternut squash, turnips, and rutabaga. A Culinary Institute of America graduate whose past experience includes stints at Peter Pratt’s Inn in Yorktown and Orienta Beach Club in Mamaroneck, she specializes in cooking for clients with food allergies and special dietary needs.
Vickie Kirlick of Traveling Gourmet (201-741-3971; tgpersonalchefs.com) says her boneless breast of duck with pomegranate chili sauce, apple-glazed Cornish hens, and beef tenderloin with port wine reduction are among some of the holiday meals most requested for parties. She’s been a personal chef since 1996, and says her specialty is “whatever the client wants.” And yes, that includes gluten-free, kosher, low-salt, or low-calorie options.
When it comes to holiday parties, Stewart Goodwin of Dinner by Design (914-231-6028; dinnerbydesignonline.com) is a master brainstormer in pursuit of the right feel for the food (formal or casual) and any particular theme. An alum of The Box Tree in New York City and Sweet Waters in White Plains, he has been cooking and catering for more than 20 years, with Christmas Eve’s seven fishes among his timeworn favorites. Expect to see him the morning of your party with bags full of groceries as he cooks his heart out until the last dessert plate is clean.
Pan-seared filet mignon, rack of lamb, and a gourmet sundae bar complete with fresh chocolate, raspberry, and butterscotch sauces are just some of the items offered by Sarah L. Copeland of Sarah Copeland Cuisine (914-582-7689, copelandcuisine.com), who always offers dessert as part of her package. She’s also excited to make events fun and casual for hosts and their guests. “I love having people come into the kitchen and ask me questions while I’m cooking,” she says. Copeland’s motto is “clean cooking”—you can really taste the ingredients.
Sue Fay, owner/chef of Rye-based Your Personal Sous Chef (914-548-3768), likes to call herself “an affordable luxury” and is available for personal in-home cooking, private dinner parties, holiday-cooking demos, cocktail parties, private cooking classes, and more. Her specialty is making heart-healthy meals and “sneaking” in ingredients (like soy milk, tofu, gluten-free oatmeal) to boost the nutritional value.
Jonathan Taube of Rocky Rill Foods (845-216-4535; rockyrillfoods.com) believes in customization and does it all, from cocktail parties with passed and stationary hors d’oeuvres to formal sit-downs and casual buffets. Sample dishes include puff pastry pizza with figs, goat cheese, prosciutto and walnuts, pomegranate-glazed salmon, and roast pork tenderloin with caramelized onions.