No longer just for the elite, top chefs will cook for you in your own home.
As a nation of foodies, our hunger for gastronomic highs and bespoke
For the food obsessed, it is the equivalent of having Kylie Minogue sing at your birthday party. But you needn’t be a sheik, an oligarch, nor have suitcases filled with cash to have your favourite chef come around to cook you dinner. Welcome to the ‘experience economy,’ where star-powered catering is pitched at mere mortals.
Among the many hats Christine Manfield wears – speaker, cookbook author, television presenter, gastronomic tour host – she’s added a catering chef’s hat to her collection.
Having closed her Sydney restaurant Universal in 2013, the acclaimed chef now consults for Pearl Catering, and along with mentoring staff, guiding menus and generally “putting my signature across their offering,” Manfield will also cook at your event.
“There’s the chance to get up close and personal with me, in a way, more so than in a restaurant,” she says.
From menu creation through to its execution, Manfield says the freedom that one-off occasions afford is one of the biggest drawcards for her as a chef.
“With events, creatively you can really let rip,” she says. “You can have more fun, creating the fantasy around an event and theme through the food and how it’s presented.”
The appeal of a bespoke experience is driving the growth of these private chef dinners. “People want to create a special memory. They’re seeking something that’s not accessible on an everyday level, and want to create something unique,” Manfield says.
There are around 3700 catering companies in Australia and, according to the most recent Restaurant and Catering Australia figures, NSW and Queensland are leading the charge, gaining 3.2 per cent and 3.8 per cent respectively from 2011-2016. And as the industry grows, it is also adapting to customer demands, with boutique catering on the rise.
Pearl Catering general manager, Craig Durston, has seen the expansion of customers wanting to create their own experiences. “People are engaging with food like never before. They have an interest in it, they spend time and money on it,” says Durston. “Having an event at home is part of that.”
Clients wanting the next level for their event have fed the trend towards celebrity chef collaborations. “There are only so many ways to style or dress a room. This led to clients wanting named chefs to cook for them,” he says, adding that hosts pay between $4000 and $10,000 for Manfield to prepare a menu and cook in their homes. “Yes, it used to just be for the rich and famous, but people are now realising they can actually have such an event at home.”
Kylie Pagent is one such host, who commissioned a Christine Manfield menu to be served when she recently threw a 70th birthday party for 22 friends and family at her Sydney home.
“We were fans of Universal, and before that, the Paramount (another Manfield restaurant), which we loved,” she says. “The highlight was being able to watch the chefs in the family kitchen, cooking such an extraordinary meal.”
Colin Fassnidge of Sydney’s 4Fourteen and My Kitchen Rules was tasked with the top-secret gig of catering an intimate dinner party for Adele when she was in the country earlier this year, cooking up a “schmick barbie” for 10 people. But you don’t have to be a global superstar to get him into your kitchen. “It’s not something we advertise, but it’s another aspect to the business,” he says. “When you have a good group of people, having a laugh, chatting in the kitchen with us, probably over a glass of red, it’s fun.”
Having held various catering contracts over the past 20 years, Neil Perry has witnessed the increasing demands placed on the modern caterer first-hand. “There’s a high expectation people have of caterers now, and they have to get it right,” he says.
As one of our most recognisable chefs, Perry is often asked to cook at private events. “People ask, but I don’t think they could afford it,” he says. “But I do a lot of fundraising dinners – dinner for eight or 10 people, when it’s a great cause, like Starlight or Ozharvest.”
At such fundraisers, a Perry-cooked dinner might go for upwards of $30,000. “The highest we raised was $250,000 for a dinner cooked by myself, Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal over in WA.”
You won’t need anywhere near that type of money to have Michael Rantissi from Sydney’s Kepos Street Kitchen come and cook his modern Middle Eastern food at your home. However, many of the events he’s been involved in have spared no expense, at $100,000 or more. “There have been mind-blowing events for people who have no concept of how much money they are spending.” Rantissi is currently planning an event that will transform his client’s backyard into a Middle Eastern bazaar.
Such quests for the experiential don’t come cheap. But for little more than what you’d spend at a restaurant, in Melbourne, Michelin-trained chef Romuald Oudeyer will come and cook for six to 26 of your nearest and dearest. A three-course meal starts at $140 a head through his dinner party service, Romu.
Manfield says an increasingly food-literate clientele means chefs are working harder than ever to deliver meals that are both cutting-edge and delicious. “The bottom line is that the food has to taste bloody brilliant.”