One of the first things that I noticed as I observed Matthew prepare ingredients for the meal that I was to later enjoy, was the engraving on his knife. Any of us who enjoy cooking at any level will have our favourite knife and being a very experienced chef, I was not surprised that his came from Japan – a country famous not only for its tradition of high-quality blade-making but also for its amazing food culture.
Matthew even told me the name of the shop in Kyoto where he bought it and described it as being a great all-rounder and not too heavy. He also liked its wooden handle that makes it comfortable to use. This may sound like a mere detail, but it started to demonstrate the difference between a quality catering service and that of a more comprehensive one, a private chef experience.
I had heard of companies offering this service around the region and now it was my turn to find out the reasons for its appeal. I confess that my anticipation was high when I arrived at the luxury villa where the experience would take place, with a splendid cliff-top location overlooking the sea. Everything that I saw during the afternoon confirmed my expectations as I witnessed both the skills and the passion involved in what Matthew and his team are providing. Whilst there was a lot of activity and preparation going on around me, there was a real sense of calm and everyone was comfortable and in control with what they were doing, even with the intrusion of a photographer and a barrage of questions.
Sometimes, changing words for others is just another way of saying the same thing, but when “cooking” becomes “cheffing it up”, it makes all the difference. I could see this line being crossed in the creativity of the dishes, the personal appearance of the servers and the attention to detail at every level.
As we talked, it became very clear that keeping customers absolutely satisfied is this team’s number one priority and, although that seems an obvious objective, catering to customer expectations in this business requires a lot more than a sharp knife from Japan.
Many visitors who come to stay here have no desire to go anywhere near a kitchen and for them dining out in the amazing variety of restaurants that the Algarve has to offer is a part of the pleasure of being here.
A private chef experience provides an alternative without compromising on the quality of the food or level of service and with the added factor of being in your own space. I found myself reflecting on the occasions when a really good night out in a restaurant was spoiled by the noisy table next to mine, the irritating background music or the length of time waiting for food to arrive. These frustrations can be taken out of the equation with a private chef.
With the sound of the rhythm of Blues gently adding to the relaxed atmosphere, the theme for my experience was Lebanese and prepared as an example of a family’s request later in the month for an evening that required a range of dishes with very specific flavours and ingredients. On another occasion, this could be Italian, Asian, traditional Portuguese, classic French cuisine or even gourmet burgers if that is what you prefer.
Here lies one of the main reasons that the private chef concept is becoming very popular because beyond a simple choice of pre-set menus with a few variations, the customer has a far greater involvement. Not only can they discuss and select what goes into their meals, but they can also be very specific about what cannot be a part of it. Food allergies, strict vegetarian or vegan diets and personal preferences are all taken into account. Imagine being able to ask your chef to make sure that none of the food they buy has any plastic wrapping involved or that your meat or fish must be responsibly sourced.
And here also lies the other side of the concept because for chefs like Matthew, the freedom to create and to experiment with new dishes is a part of their pleasure. Beyond the preparing and serving, this is also an interactive experience by spending time with the couples or families that he is preparing meals for and engaging in conversation.
Here is a man who finds pride in what he is doing, and I am sure that he echoed the voice of many fellow professional chefs when he responded negatively to the obvious question of running his own restaurant. Another line has been crossed here and now that he, and others like him, have discovered an alternative way of making use of their talents and experience, there is no going back.
As my conversations with the team continued, I became curious about the kind of budgets they had to work with and I was not too surprised to hear that whilst limits are normally set, sometimes money is no object. This may seem a little unrealistic in today’s world, but when I asked myself if I had the financial means to indulge in the very best food available and give my chef free rein to create, the answer was simply, “Of course, I would”.
In my mind, this is where a specialised service like this has its deeper value, in providing another level of luxury to time spent in special surroundings and making it all the more comfortable, stress-free and ultimately enjoyable. For those of us who fall into the high-profile category, privacy becomes another important factor when non-disclosure agreements and being off the radar come into play.
Stepping back from the ideal world to perhaps a more realistic position for most of us, the service could be arranged for a single meal at any time of the day, for a one-off occasion or a private party. Drinks for formal receptions, full catering for wedding receptions or business functions can also be catered for.
Another trend that serves as an extension of the concept is to be able to rent a luxury villa run by the same team for the whole live-in experience with every meal served, every day.
Having just enjoyed the softest and tastiest octopus that I have ever enjoyed, alongside some very interesting dishes, I naturally wanted to find out how it was done. Thankfully, private lessons are also available to learn the important techniques that transform good food into excellent food, and this absolutely appealed to me as a great way to make use of some spare time.
As the empty dishes were taken from the table, I asked Matthew what was one of the most stressful situations the team had dealt with in the past. An occasion was recalled when he was preparing a meal for a large family in their small kitchen and there was a power cut. Fortunately, he was able to continue, and the lights came back on in time for the main course and, although this was not a good experience for him, I was quietly amused by the lovely switch from dining by candlelight to cooking by it.
Matthew and his team of family members run the business, Private Chef Algarve, and operate over the whole region.
By BOB TIDY