What inspired you to start your own personal chef business, and why did you choose the Hamptons as your location?
In early 2020, I was working at Boulud Sud in New York City as the Executive Chef. Everything was going well; I was in an article in The New York Times and receiving chef nominations when the pandemic hit. Within 48 hours, my entire staff and I were out of work and I had to move back home with my family in Stonington, CT, including my three siblings.
One day, some regular customers at Boulud Sud who lived nearby in Greenwich, CT, gave me a call and asked if I was interested in cooking some meals for them in their home. The main reason they reached out was to support me as a chef, knowing I was without work. During this time, one of their friends heard about my cooking and asked them if I knew of any other chefs who are available to cook for them. The answer was an easy ‘yes’ as practically all the chefs in my network were still without work at that time. This quickly became a pattern and I kept receiving this request for high-quality chefs in private residences.
Back at home, I was chatting with my dad about what was happening and we both agreed it felt like there was something here. After hiring a lawyer to help me draft an agreement and registering Executive Chefs at Home, the requests started to come in. The first deal I officially closed as a new business was equal to half my annual salary as an Executive Chef. That was my light bulb moment and everything changed from there.
The Hamptons market was such an organic fit for Executive Chefs at Home. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, for our company – that now operates globally – it’s the most in-demand season for private chefs of the year. There’s so much demand in a densely populated area during those specific summer months.
It works out well as a majority of our clients in the US, many of whom are based in Florida, Massachusetts, California, and New York, own homes in the Hamptons, too. Often we find ourselves working with them at their homes so it naturally transitions into working for them in their Hamptons residences where they mostly reside for the summer.
There are also so many chefs either based out in the Hamptons or who head out east for the summer months for work opportunities. We find there are as many chefs working / available for hire in the Hamptons as there are people visiting or staying in the area.
What types of cuisine do you specialize in, and how do you incorporate local ingredients and flavors into your dishes?
I would say for a majority of my career, I’ve always leaned towards traditional French cooking although I was around a lot of Italian cooking growing up and over the years working in restaurants.
When I was working my way up in the restaurant industry, I spent two years working with a renowned Italian restaurant group. It was interesting as I learned so much about using great products during my time here; it was all about simple food done well. As a result of this, Italian cuisine is a big inspiration for me when cooking for clients in the Hamptons.
The beauty of a place like the Hamptons is that there are so many great farms to choose from that offer a beautiful assortment of produce, from tonnes of different peppers, leafy greens, a variety of root vegetables and more. It’s also important to keep in mind as a chef that, given the season, you’re often working with the same 12-15 products throughout the summer, so you do have to get creative. And while not all chefs get the chance to cook with fresh produce directly from the farm each day, those doing it should always let the quality speak for itself and never over-manicure.
Towards the end of the summer when it gets closer to Labor Day, the Hamptons becomes an amazing place to forage. After a big rainstorm especially, I’ll go hiking through the trails to forage for mushrooms, ramps, wild garlic, and more, clean them up and use them in my cooking. By that point, the crowds start to die down and people are moving back to the city so not many people end up foraging there.
Can you tell us about a particularly memorable meal or event you have catered in the Hamptons?
I prepared a large format seafood dinner for several A-list clientele last year to celebrate the start of summer as well as a return to a sense of normalcy after over two years of the pandemic. An old friend of mine came to help from Le Bernardin and the meal involved a massive paella, tons of seafood hors d’oeuvres, and more. We cooked whole-salt-baked branzino and whole-stuffed golden trout wrapped in pancetta with pine nuts, swiss chard and confit garlic. We also cooked Alaskan salmon on cedar planks. It was so nice to see everybody enjoying themselves!
How do you customize your menus to meet the dietary needs and preferences of your clients?
Unlike other companies that place private chefs, we make it a priority for all our chefs to really get to know the clients. This is a fundamental factor in our offering where communication is absolutely key. By having a deep understanding of what the clients are looking for, and really getting an idea of their needs, we’re able to offer a wide variety of food that meets their preferences. It’s not like we have a standard menu that our clients choose from. Instead, by working closely with the client, we create a completely customized menu that’s tailored to their needs.
A lot of the time, our chefs will base their menus off what’s fresh and available at the farm/market that day. By building these relationships with local Hamptons vendors, our chefs can get great products and often put in special requests with these farmers, for example premature squash blossoms. Having this network amongst all the competitiveness during the Hamptons summer can be both fun and beneficial so our chefs can give clients a unique point of difference in our offering compared to our competitors.
What sets your personal chef services apart from other catering options in the Hamptons?
For a large majority of the time we’ve been operating, Executive Chefs at Home hasn’t had to deal with competitors as we’re always focused on delivering high-quality service for our clients.
My background as Founder & CEO comes from 17+ years of restaurant experiences including 5+ years working in high-level management positions where I’ve managed teams of 50 to 200 chefs in key markets like New York City, Miami, Boston and Las Vegas. With this expertise, I’m tuned into the industry and have a great understanding of how chefs operate. I also have an extensive network of chefs that I’ll often pull from when placing in private residences.
We’re competitive with our pricing structure, too, and really tailor each contract to the specific needs of the customer. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and I’m always up for a good negotiation if it comes down to it.
Can you walk us through your process for planning and executing a successful event or dinner party?
The first thing I’ll do is schedule an introductory call with the client to share more about Executive Chefs at Home and what we offer. This usually leads to a second call where we really get to know the client; their likes and dislikes, dietary requirements, etc. Then we’ll find a chef who can meet these needs, get the ideas flowing based on what they’ve told us, and start pulling together and sharing options for food.
We schedule a site visit for the chef next so they can meet the client in-person, familiarize themselves with the residence, specifically the kitchen, so they have a strong understanding of how the dining event can be effectively executed.
In terms of a timeline, we’re usually prepping 1-2 days before the event. When it comes to the day-of, our chefs arrive nice and early so they can unpack and have ample time to prepare, especially if they don’t have access to something like a specific kitchen utensil so have to go back home to pick it up. By arriving nice and early, the chefs also don’t have to feel as if they’re cooking under stress and pressure; it’s key to stay relaxed and comfortable throughout the preparation and during the event while they’re in our clients’ homes. With that, our chefs remain organized.
When it comes time to the event commencing, our chefs will introduce themselves when serving the first meal. It’s a great way to keep the client and their guests feeling relaxed. A recent example was during an elevated dinner party, one of our chefs dropped a fun little side of french fries as a contrast to the coursed-out dinner. It’s light and can often take the edge off (if that’s what the client is looking for).
To close, our chefs will offer a small thank-you, pack everything up and often leave the kitchen clean, if not cleaner, than when they arrived.
How do you stay current with food trends and new techniques, and how do you incorporate them into your menus?
I fortunately have such an extensive network of chefs whom I chat to regularly about the latest trends in food and cooking. As a business owner in this field, I also ensure I’m constantly reading a variety of publications.
Simultaneously, I have close contacts at food purveyors like Brown Trading as I’m always reaching out to them about sourcing produce for our dining parties all over the country. By keeping in close contact with them, I’m able to have my finger on the pulse for what’s trending in food.
After being in the industry for 17+ years, connecting with other chefs and vendors regularly within my network, being across food trends has become second nature.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing personal chefs and caterers in the Hamptons, and how do you overcome them?
I think the biggest challenge in the Hamptons is regarding chefs who offer their services but might not yet have much experience in the private field, especially larger scale parties. I sometimes have clients hesitant to hire a private chef after having some not-so-positive experiences with past chefs unrelated to our company, so it’s my job to ensure that their experience with Executive Chefs at Home turns any perception of this around.
Housing chefs can be another challenge, particularly when chefs don’t have access to cars. This means that transportation can become an issue, whether it’s traveling from the city to the Hamptons or getting around to pick up produce for an event. As a solution, a lot of the clients we work with can provide accommodation and/or a car to be used locally by the chefs. Executive Chefs at Home can also cover some of the travel fees such as a train ticket and/or Ubers within the Hamptons.
How do you balance the demands of running a business with the creative aspects of being a chef?
Throughout my career, I’ve often been someone used to doing everything myself, which is how I first approached being a business owner; something I quickly learned was not feasible. I admittedly tried to take on too much in those early days so the more the company grew, the more things seemed to get out of my control.
Once I identified this, I decided to expand our team and focus on hiring people who could do the things that I wasn’t a specialist in. Once I had the team in place, it gave me the time and confidence to work on expanding the offering of Executive Chefs at Home.
What advice would you give to aspiring personal chefs who are just starting out?
I would encourage any chef looking to get into the private sector to work in restaurants for a few years first so they can get a deep understanding of what it’s like to not only work in a kitchen, but to learn the fundamental skills and techniques of being a chef.
Working in restaurants teaches you how to be creative with your food. Something that it also teaches you, which is especially important when shifting to private, is being presentable in front of certain guests /VIPs.
One of the many things I learned during my time working for Thomas Keller was to live by the saying, “treat it like your own and someday it will be.” It’s a nice reminder to take care of everything around you, treat your work station just as you would something personal like your bedroom.
Learning to be professional, organized with a sense of urgency and priority, is what will most likely separate you from the competition. Without this sort of restaurant experience, it might take breaking into the private world much longer.
You can hire a chef through Brian at https://executivechefsathome.com/