I don’t know why more people don’t do it. Or maybe I do.
I’m talking about hiring a personal chef for a dinner party in your home. And then charging your guests to attend.
Yes it’s a big hurdle. Asking friends or family to pay for a meal in your home. What nerve! What cheek!
So you have to use a little strategy. You have to use a little salesmanship. Like almost everything in life.
First you have to sell the chef. Make sure your guests know there’s something very special about them. And make sure there’s something very special about what the chef will be serving. And then you have to sell the savings. Especially if you and your friends drink as much as Don Day’s Wife and Don Day drink.
The savings come in glass containers. Because instead of spending 500 pesos for a bottle of restaurant wine, you’re spending 200 pesos for a bottle of liquor store wine. Or, if you’re like Don Day’s Wife and Don Day, and find yourself ordering a second bottle of wine during a long social dinner, you’re saving twice as much.
With 300 pesos saved on the first bottle of wine…and 300 pesos saved on a second…and with the chef charging 600 pesos per person for dinner…it’s like getting one dinner free…or two people getting a gourmet dinner for about 20 bucks a person.
It was Don Day’s Wife who discovered San Miguel chef Julian Garcia. It was at a dinner where some of San Miguel’s best chefs were strutting their stuff by each doing a course. I’m sure Don Day’s Wife must have won every musical chairs game as a kid. Because she always finds a way to end up seated beside one of those guys she affectionately refers to as “hunks”. And before Don Day’s Wife’s dessert was served (a salted caramel chocolate nut torte), and, yes, after I’d checked his creds a little, Julian the hunk was being booked for a personal dinner at our home.
Julian told me, “I’m from Mexico City and started cooking professionally in 2002 in the Mayan Riviera as a private chef; from there I went back to Mexico City and then to San Miguel. I’ve also cooked in Querétaro, Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Puerto Vallarta, San Luis Potosí and in Paris, France.”
“And”, Julian continued, “I also do consulting and menu creation for restaurants.”
Julian emailed a suggested menu for our dinner party, gave me a price per person, and came and checked out our kitchen.
I emailed my list of San Miguel foodies, gave them the date, shared the details of the menu, told them it was 600 pesos per person and to BYOB. By the next day, 15 people were coming for dinner, enough for us to have to put seven in the dining room and eight on the patio.
Julian arrived with his sous chef and a third member of the team to help with service and clean-up. As always, Julian was wearing a cheeky grin that shows off his Crest commercial teeth. His bedroom eyes (yes, Don Day’s Wife’s description) constantly seem to be sparkling. His hair (of which he has way more than any man deserves) is sprinkled with salt and pepper that, instead of adding years, has the nerve to make him look mature.
Our private chef started with a grouper ceviche, one of the easiest dishes to make, but one of the most difficult dishes to make well.
A great ceviche is where the taste of the fresh fish comes first and the taste of the citrus marinade comes a distant second. Julian Garcia obviously understands the priorities in a great ceviche.
Seafood was the star of the second course as well, in a caldo de camaron estila cantina. This shrimp soup, once a late-night tradition at Veracruz cantinas, had a rich taste from the shells that was punctuated but not overpowered by chilis.
“This is quite a broth”, said Sally.
I think chefs shine a lot brighter when they work in your kitchen instead of a restaurant’s. Because they’re no longer a background singer providing the harmony, they’re out at the front of the stage with the spotlight aimed totally in their direction. They have autonomy. They have independence. And they’re not cooking something they tediously cook every day. They’re cooking what they want. And what they do best.
Next up was Julian Garcia’s salad, barely cooked beets paired with Cabrales, Spain’s greatest contribution to the world of blue cheese.
The richest tasting Cabrales is made not just with cow’s milk, but with a mix of cow, goat and sheep’s milk. This Cabrales had a sharp blue bite that would rank right up there with a Gorgonzola, a St. Agur or a Stilton.
“I didn’t think I even liked blue cheese”, one of the guys said, “but I love this”.
Another of the benefits of hiring a personal chef for a lunch or dinner is the interaction between you and them. There are no waiters; the chef is the server. Julian brought each course to the table, told us about each dish, and explained how things were prepared. There are no swinging doors with porthole windows between you and them. You can see what’s happening in the kitchen. You can wander in and watch what’s happening in the kitchen.
Eager to see how Julian was cooking the duck breast for the next course of magret with an hibiscus sauce and wanting to find out exactly what the chile ancho ash was that I’d been told “would be sprinkled over it”, I walked into the kitchen and surprise!
And what a surprise! There on my cutting board was what looked like…but could it really be? There on the red cornered board were what looked like something that is seldom seen in San Miguel de Allende. Only duck breast had been on the menu but the breast had brought one of their neighbors to dinner. Fabulous foie gras. I couldn’t think of a more welcome guest. Chef Julian had added the foie gras as a sorpresa especial.
And the chile ancho ash? It was done by breaking up dried ancho chiles to almost powder sized chunks and then putting them in a very hot frypan for a few seconds.
It was a fire in the kitchen that lured me back a few minutes later. The flames were coming from a blowtorch that Julian was using to put a crispy crust on the pork belly.
The pork, the last thing on Chef Julian’s menu, was served with pulque, guajillo and apple sauce. Breaking through the crust on the exterior led to a melt-in-the-mouth interior.
Now you’re probably thinking, pork belly? Last on the menu? No dessert?
“Well”, Julian Garcia had told me when he presented the initial menu, “I don’t usually do dessert. Because I think there are people who do dessert better than I do. But I’ll gladly pick some up for you.”
No, I thought, I’ll choose one of my own favorite dessert chefs. I’ll choose Don Day’s Wife. And her choice to follow all of the rich and complicated tastes that Julian Garcia had given us? A wonderful contrast. An airy lemon mousse.
“What a perfect ending to a delicious dinner”, said fellow foodie Dick Brinson, one of our paying guests.
Things weren’t quite over though. Because probably the greatest benefit of having a private chef in your home for an upscale formal dinner are the downscale informalities. Things are just more relaxed, more casual, and I’d broken out a dessert wine to wash all of those good times down.
If you’ve never tried a personal chef, do it. Whether you’re generous enough to pick up the price yourself. Or whether you’ve got the cheek to charge like Don Day does. And if you’re going to do it, I can’t think of a better choice in San Miguel than Julian Garcia.
You can contact Julian Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 044 415 100 3691.