Putting on the Ritz in private homes
He’s been private chef to the rich and famous around the world but these days Brendan Downer is happy serving up his culinary class in private Queenstown homes. His Queenstown catering business, ‘Chef Brendan’ (chefbrendan.com), which he runs with wife, Jo, an experienced frontof-house, hospitality event manager, is ‘‘all about sculpting cuisine, to clients’ personal tastes, and seamless events’’. English-born, the 44-yearold’s 28-year cooking career began in a local British seafood restaurant, aged just 14. Since then he’s been private chef to everyone from stars like Elton John and Mick Jagger to presidents on private super-yachts, as well as a stint locally at Glenorchy’s exclusive Blanket Bay. His new business launched last summer now hosts everything from large stylish weddings and events to glamorous cocktail parties and personalised in-home dining, catering for groups from two to 200. ‘‘It’s very attainable. I’m trying to encourage everyone to try having a private chef-prepared dinner in their own home with a nice bottle of wine. It can be better value than paying for cabs and babysitters to go to a restaurant in town.’’ Chef Brendan said if you do the maths a meal out in a nice restaurant with wine could easily cost $150 per head and he and his wife, Jo, serve people at home for anything from $85 up to $180 per head, depending on menu choices. A Melbourne couple recently hired him to cook them a six-course wedding anniversary dinner matched with wine in their rented holiday home. Weddings are a growing market as are corporate parties. ‘‘We do marquees, homes, Everything is attainable.’’ Downer may have looked after celebrities, presidents and super-rich billionaires, but he’s adamant everyone gets the same service and level of attention. The Queenstown, Southern Lakes and Central Otago region has a wealth of amazing quality produce available. ‘‘I’m into preserving my own fruits and chutneys. I served apricot and peach tarts last year all winter long.’’ Chef Brendan, who’s travelled to 40 countries in his career, said the key is knowing where his guests are from and what foods they love. ‘‘Food can get too overly complicated but beautifully prepared, great ingredients speak for themselves.’’ As solo chef for the likes of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, he had to be both resourceful and very organised.
picnics. ‘‘If you’re way out at sea and somebody wants a souffle´ or hand-rolled sushi then you have to deliver.’’ Araxi Restaurant in Whistler, Canada, would be one of ‘‘the most professionally rounded’’ hospitality businesses he has ever worked for. He was executive chef there for four years working in luxury lodges and fine dining restaurants in Canada. The Downers also managed an 8-bedroom villa, Yemanja, on 2-hectares, with 14 staff, four swimming pools, a boat and captain, for a wealthy American family on the exclusive Caribbean island of Mustique. Now settled in Queenstown, Chef Brendan is hoping to expand his cooking classes and demonstrations. He also hopes to do more kitchen design consultancy work locally.
Chef Brendan’s Lemon Tart and Fresh Raspberries
Pastry 500g flour 175g icing sugar 250g butter Zest of 1 lemon 1 eggs Lemon Filling 9 eggs 400g castor sugar 5 lemons (juice of 5, zest of 2) 250ml double cream 1. Sift the flour and icing sugar into a bowl, work in the butter, add lemon zest and the eggs. Knead the mixture to a smooth dough, wrap in plastic and rest in fridge for at least 30 minutes. 2. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. 3. Grease a 20 x 3.75 cm deep flan tin with a removable base. Roll out the pastry and line the tin allowing an overhang of not less than 1 cm. 4. Line the pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and baking paper, trim the pastry and bake for a further 10 minutes. 5. Whisk the eggs with the castor sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, add the cream. Skim any froth from the top. 6. Reduce the oven temperature 120°C. Pour the cold filling into the hot pastry case. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and set for about an hour. 7. Serve with wonderful fresh local raspberries, a drizzle of honey and a spoon of natural yoghurt.
In action: Chef Brendan performing while catering at a 40th birthday party at a Queenstown home last year.