By Analiese Paik
Eating healthy, delicious food is part of the Fairfield County lifestyle, and so are entertaining at home and celebrating special occasions in style with family and friends. Yet all too frequently, we are just too busy to do the requisite planning, shopping, cooking, serving and cleaning up ourselves. It’s easier to book a table at a restaurant instead. But that can be a challenge when dietary concerns need to be considered.
Increasingly, we’re turning to private chefs and caterers who create custom menus that conform to our dietary requirements, including a commitment to eating sustainable food grown close to home. We are fortunate to have many talented and hard-working chefs in our area who provide these services. For those who have never worked with a private chef or caterer, or are looking for new options, Book-a-Cook wants to help.
Ashley Hart and Amy Strife are the founders and owners of Book-a-Cook, a company dedicated to matching client needs with top Fairfield County chefs. The two met while working at an advertising agency in Manhattan and eventually turned their sights toward food. Hart went on to attend the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and Strife worked in restaurants and taught herself to bake. The two were reintroduced at the time Hart hatched the idea of launching the service in Fairfield County, a market she knows well from growing up in Westport. Hart and Strife partnered to launch the business at the end of 2012 and the website, bookacookct.com, in April of 2013.
Book-a-Cook chefs prepare weekly meals or cater dinner and cocktail parties for clients across Fairfield County, with a concentration in Darien, New Canaan, Westport and Fairfield. “Our chefs are required to have a formal culinary education and significant restaurant tor catering experience” said Hart. “One of our chefs worked with Martha Stewart and Jacques Pepin, another worked under Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and another worked at Schoolhouse and leFarm.”
“Eighty-five percent of our weekly meal preparation customers have dietary restrictions, which requires a lot of communication and customer service” said Hart. Take the case of a nursing mom whose baby is allergic to dairy, soy and gluten. The chef purchases organic ingredients from Sport Hill Farm, the Westport Farmers’ Market and Whole Foods, then prepares meals and snacks with great care to make sure no offensive ingredients make their way into the food. “She’s a very happy client” Hart said. “She can’t eat out, so she’s thinking of having a dinner party.”
Even where there are no dietary restrictions, a private chef can be a saving grace when making a break from fast food. “Our chef is in this client’s home five to six hours each Monday, cooking three to four meals and snacks for the family” said Hart. With toddlers at home, this mom enjoys the convenience of receiving a list of local, organic ingredients from the chef each week prior to his shopping trip. How does she feel about kale? Garlic scapes are in season; would she like to try them? When the chef leaves, the refrigerator is stocked for the week, the kitchen is clean, and the client has detailed reheating instructions.
Book-a-Cook’s go-to chef for cooking instruction is a former culinary school instructor. She recently taught eight children between the ages of seven and fifteen to bake and decorate pastries while the adults had cocktails. The children’s creations were served as dessert following the holiday dinner prepared by the chef. “It worked” said Hart. “She is awesome.”
The next time a family member or friend has a baby or is recovering from an illness, consider a care package in the form of a personal chef. Rather than starting a meal train, hiring a chef to cook your friend’s meals allows you to more easily meet any dietary preferences and spend time visiting with her instead.
For those with wine cellars, Book-a-Cook offers a unique service: a Master Sommelier to help you finally open that bottle stashed away for a special event. It’s the coveted bottle you just won’t open until the right occasion comes along and the just the right meal is served to do it justice. The Master Sommelier and chef will work together to do your bottle justice, and if you’d like, you can hire the wine expert to provide wine education at your dinner. For those of you with ample inventory, the Master Sommelier will go through your wine cellar to select wines to pair with the menus you’ve chosen for your event. What a unique and wonderful gift for any oenophile.
Ashley Hart and Amy Strife