You’ve Been Served
Why cook when you can outsource the prep (and the dishes) to a pro? Here are six private chefs to take home for the holidays
1The chef: Brandon Olsen
The food: Fancy multi-course affairs (or his famous fried chicken)
The price: $250 per person with an eight-person minimum
The past two years have been a lot for Brandon Olsen. In 2020, he was forced to step away from CXBO and La Banane when King Street Restaurant Group filed for bankruptcy. Since then, he’s turned his best dishes and bon-vivant charm into a travelling supper club. Le Melon dinners start with mixing and mingling over oysters and king crab legs washed down with a glass or two of bubbly. Olsen’s wife, Brittany, handles the front of house, ensuring that glasses are filled and vibes are high. As guests settle in, the courses are rolled out: Wagyu steaks, salmon with quenelles of caviar and a disco-hued aji amarillo sauce. Olsen designs the menu close to the evening of, so he has a sense of what’s fresh. That said, clients can ask him to plate his hits: Bar Isabel’s Basque cake or La Banane’s sea bass en croute. They don’t provide alcohol (or stemware) but will suggest pairings or connect guests with wine importers. They do, however, bring the crockery, which they whisk away as soon as it’s been (let’s face it) licked clean.
2The food: Four-course meals, barbecue, pizza
The price: $75 per person for pizza parties, starting at $175 per person for coursed dinners
Pre-pandemic, Joe Friday kept busy as the private chef to a Toronto Raptor. When the NBA bubbled, he pivoted and started his own catering business. Friday’s dinners combine the best of his background: North Carolina born and Okinawa raised, he serves up southern comfort with Japanese technique—like mochi fried chicken or miso barbecue cod. He plays host to guests in their homes, but he’ll also offer up his apartment or set up in a backyard around a portable pizza oven or a campfire (the man can grill). “It’s great for families,” Friday says. “Kids love getting involved in the pizza-making process.” Wherever or whatever he’s cooking, ingredients are guaranteed to be local—Friday is a St. Lawrence Market devotee.
3The chef: Dustin Gallagher (416 Snack Bar) and co-owner Flo Leung
The food: A rotating menu of coursed or family-style meals
The price: Starting at $150 per person, $1,000 minimum
What started as a pandemic meal-delivery service has evolved into an in-home dining experience. “We like to think that we bring the best parts of a great dinner party right to our guests,” says Gallagher. At one event, he turns out a family-style celebration with dishes like sumac chicken, za’atar flatbread, golden rice and citrus-tinged tabbouleh. The next time, it’s carnitas tacos (or roasted hen-of-the-woods mushrooms for the vegetarians) with all the fixings on fresh corn tortillas. Menus range from casual to custom coursed, and other recent offerings have included a saucy Italian supper and a fried chicken feast. The common thread of all the dinners is community: tables taken over by platters of food meant for reaching, nibbling and—this is family, after all—double-dipping.
4The chef: Barbode Soudi
The food: Multi-course meals with a Middle Eastern bent
The price: $300 per person, excluding wine pairings
After four years at Alo, former chef de cuisine Barbode Soudi started a roving supper club named after his mother. Unsurprisingly, the dishes have fine-dining swagger—they’re made with local ingredients, fancily plated, and centred around the cuisine of the Middle East and North Africa. It’s a welcome change for Soudi. “I’m used to being in the kitchen,” he says. “So it’s incredible to be able to interact with my guests.” His affairs kick off with mezze: dips (muhammara with stracciatella, beet labneh with preserved lemon) and flatbread cooked over coal on the spot. Afterward, guests dig into things like tandoori lobster skewers with koshihikari rice and truffle or duck breast with pomegranate molasses—a homage to Soudi’s mom’s fesenjan, an Iranian stew. Dinner ends with tea and baklava, with a to-go box of more for a sweet midnight snack.
5The chefs: Michael Dixon and sommelier Graidhne Lelieveld-Amiro
The food: Seafood spreads
The price: Starting at $750
Even the starter smorgasbord from these under-the-sea experts includes 100 oysters with all kinds of fancy frills, like fermented jalapeno hot sauce, yuzu cucumber jelly—and a dedicated shucker who spends the party busting out bivalves on request. From there, add-ons include a deeper dive into the ocean’s bounty: snow crab from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia lobster, BC spot prawns. Lelieveld-Amiro gets the party going with pairings that span Austrian rosés, Ontario craft beer and magnums of champagne. In summer, they take their briny business outside to docks and backyards. In chillier months, things get cozy when they set up in private foyers or by dining room fireplaces.
6The sommelier: Laura Milnes
The drinks: A selection of all-Canadian wines
The price: Starting at $139 per person
Ontario is ripe with viticulture, but visiting multiple wineries in a day is impractical—and someone’s got to be the designated driver. So Laura Milnes brings Canada’s breadth of bottles to her dining room, serving up cross-country flights. She focuses on wines—from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island—that can’t be found in the LCBO. Parties of 10 or fewer take place in her downtown condo (with a stellar view of the CN Tower), but she’ll also visit clients for larger groups or corporate tastings. Snacks are a must, and Milnes pulls her food pairings from Ontario businesses. “Why would I put pineapple on a charcuterie board when it doesn’t grow here?” Pay a bit more and she’ll throw in some seafood, break out older vintages or dig into desserts and digestifs.