“My job is very rewarding because more often than not we’re cooking for a special occasion and it’s always a great atmosphere,” says chef Gary Ashley. “There’s also immediate reward because we’re delivering a service and seeing the reaction there and then”.
After cutting his teeth in hotels, restaurants and gastro pubs for 25 years, Mr Ashley decided to take his career as a chef in a different direction.
“I went into contract catering, which meant that I had a lot of evenings and weekends off. As such, we had friends over for dinner most weekends and I really enjoyed it. It was really nice eating at home and so different from being in a restaurant. I started to wonder if other people would pay me to cook in their homes as it was quite a new concept then.”
After trialling his idea with friends of friends, Mr Ashley slowly started to build up a following on social media before creating a dedicated website and great reputation. “Our service is for people that like good food and entertaining at home but want to take the stress out of it. It’s high-level fine dining.”
“It’s good fun seeing into so many different homes. At first it was quite daunting as I wasn’t quite sure what we would be stepping into, but it soon became second nature,” he says when asked what it’s like cooking at a different venue each weekend. “People are also generally more comfortable in their home environment, so they’re relaxed and happy.”
Mr Ashley’s ideal party space? “I think open-plan spaces work best for entertaining, and I can see what’s going on,” he says.
“We have an open-plan kitchen and dining room at home, and I like that while I’m cooking I can chat to our guests. This is probably where we spend most of our time. I think it’s also good to have one nice big round table, so the conversation can really flow.”
Mr Ashley also tries to bring a room to life with beautiful presentation and finer touches of details. “It’s quite nice to have a good centrepiece on the table, whether it’s flowers or candles, and even something as simple as the fold of a napkin can really make a difference. People always comment on details such as this and it makes a great impression.”
“When it comes to presenting the food, I like to use different crockery for different dishes. For example, we use olive wood to present our canapés and pre-dinner ‘bites’, bringing a natural and rustic vibe to the presentation.
“Our favourite plates for the main courses are large white rounds as these allow for the colours of the food to shine through, and the shape creates a natural symmetry to the dish. We often serve desserts on black slates; lighter-coloured ingredients stand out really well against the dark plate.”
Mr Ashley also believes that getting the guest list right is integral to a successful dinner party. “You should look at the people you’re inviting and have a plan of what you’d like to get from the evening, then everything else should fall into place,” he says.
“Some of our clients also like to organise fun themes such as murder-mystery nights, or they have a magician going around the table”.
He stresses, however, that the most important thing to remember – whatever kind of party you’re having – is to just relax and enjoy it.
“Make sure you leave parts of the evening to flow naturally and you’re sure to have a good time. Some of the best dinner parties we’ve hosted have just been held up by really good conversation.”
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