I first met Jillian at a small cafe in Cambridge right near my workplace. She was a student at Harvard Business School, and her teammates had hatched up an interesting business idea that they were considering bringing to market.
It would be a marketplace matching up personal chefs with interested diners.
Personal chefs? Do normal, everyday folks hire personal chefs?
Jillian surprised me with their target price point: $25-$75 per person for a personal chef to come and cook a really nice meal at your home.
I could easily spend that much at a pretty ordinary restaurant.
The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I had recently sampled a phenomenal dinner from Chef Peter Ungár, an amazingly talented chef who has worked as a personal chef for years. I remember thinking, "wow, there are so many really, really good "hidden" chefs that live in Boston, and most of us have no idea who they are."
Jillian's team's business idea seemed to be a great way for this gap to be fixed. Just imagine - you log onto a website and search for personal chefs. They each give their bios, specialties, sample menus and prices. Better yet, there are user reviews associated with the chefs.
About two months after that initial conversation, Jillian contacted me to tell me that they were indeed about the launch the business, called ChefXChange. Would I be interested in trying the service out courtesy of them?
Who would say no to having a personal chef cook for you?
After a few back and forths, we booked Matthew Harker for small dinner at my home for guests.
Matthew Harker graduated from Johnson & Wales University and has been cooking professionally for about eight years. He's passionate about using local and sustainable ingredients. His extensive travels have exposed him to a broad range of flavors - he cooks Mediterranean, French, Southern, and even Asian!
Matthew called me the morning of our dinner just to confirm my address and any last minute details.
He arrived carrying several large insulated bags full of various containers. After just a bit of orientation in my kitchen, he got to work right away.
I'd never had a personal chef in my home before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was surprised how little I had to do. Aside from showing him where I kept some key pots and pans, he pretty much figured out everything else himself.
I guess when your job is to figure out other people's kitchens all the time, you get pretty good at it.
Before he started cooking, Matthew whipped out some Lemon Hummus he had made and a bag of fancy crackers. He wanted the guests to have something to snack on while waiting for their first course.
Soon afterwards, he took out some bread he had been warming up in the oven. We enjoyed this with his homemade Confit Roasted Garlic Butter, which was a hit with all the guests. They just couldn't stop eating it!
Meanwhile, Matthew began preparing some of the initial courses, such as the velvety smooth spring pea and ramp soup . . .
. . . and these lovely pan seared scallops wrapped in peppered bacon.
After about 15 or so minutes, we sat down and began with our first course: Seared Scallops with peppered bacon, minted pea puree, fired roasted pepper puree, and crispy ramps. This little starter was delicious. The scallops were cooked perfectly (nice and soft), and I liked how the bright minted pea puree and roasted red pepper puree balanced out the rich umami from the bacon and the scallops.
Matthew cleared our plates and began serving our next course, the Spring Pea Ramp Soup topped with roasted local oyster mushrooms, sauteed fiddleheads, a splash of creme fraiche. This soup was velvety and super smooth. Matthew said he strained it multiple times to achieve such a fine, creamy consistency. The portion size was quite generous, and I actually ended up saving some for lunch the following day (yum!). Since we were in my own home, it was easy to pack stuff up into my own containers and put it straight into the refrigerator.
For our main course, we had Grass Fed Beef Short Ribs braised in Malbec and served with a Parmesan polenta, asparagus, buttered carrot puree, and a short rib reduction. Chef Matthew had slowly braised these under low heat for 4-5 hours, and it showed. These short ribs were fork-tender, almost melt-in-your-mouth soft. The red-wine based sauce was on the salty side, but richly fragrant, with elements of anise, cinnamon, and beef jus.
The best part was that Matthew had cooked several extra short ribs, and he gave us all the leftovers, which was enough to feed us for at least two more meals!
As a special surprise, Matthew treated us to some of his "Champagne" Grapes. These grapes are carbonated inside, and taste fizzy when you bite into them! It was a great palate cleanser and segue into dessert.
I'm always afraid of fruit-based desserts because they are often too sweet for me. Thankfully, this Strawberry Rhubarb Tartin, which came topped with Tahitian vanilla bean gelato, was not too sweet at all. I really enjoyed the simple, yet well executed dessert.
All in all, we had a really nice dinner. Matthew was courteous, efficient, and cooked us a great, New England seasonally-inspired dinner. We had requested something a bit more custom and special, and he totally delivered. Matthew's cooking is solid, and we enjoyed every dish he made. His recipes are tried-and-true, perfected over years of practice. Don't expect anything super edgy, risky, or unusual. Instead look forward to well-executed crowd pleasers that are safe, established winners.
His menus on ChefXChange range from $38 to $50, though you can custom order whatever you want. This particular menu cost $90 per head (all inclusive).
Although I usually love cooking and hosting at my home, once in awhile it's nice to have someone else take care of everything for you. Bryan and I ended up taking advantage of the gorgeous weather outside that afternoon by walking 10 miles from our church in Lexington back home to Cambridge.
It was a carefree day. Instead of worrying about what to cook, getting everything on the table in time, and cleaning up the huge mess generated by all that cooking, I just made sure my kitchen was clean and ready for Matthew to use.
He took care of everything else, including leaving me with a spotless kitchen when he left about 2 hours after having arrived.
All Rights Reserved