David Lee’s phone has barely stopped ringing since Sydney came out of lockdown, with more people than ever booking a chef to cook in their home.
“Last year business was up by 500 per cent compared to 2019, and now I think we’re going to double that again,” says the founder of Sydney Private Chef. “Requests are off the richter.”
With popular restaurants booked out through to Christmas, and a time limit on seating times due to COVID-restrictions at many venues, private chefs across all of Sydney are reporting a boom in business.
Chef Michele Guarneri cooks for a private dinner booked through online platform Gathar. Photo: James Brickwood
Private cheffing was on the rise before the pandemic, however, and it’s no longer for the super rich only.
“When I started the business 10 years ago, it was usually high-end, wealthy families booking private chefs, but now it’s everyone,” says Lee. “Last week I cooked for a wedding proposal in St Leonards and that was just two guys with no guests.
“On Friday, I cooked dinner for seven people who were all vegan except for one person who wanted to eat fish, and there were kids’ meals on top of that. But it’s that customisation of each menu which sets a private chef apart from a caterer.”
Orazio D’Elia says being invited to someone’s home is a beautiful way of cooking. Photo: Daniel Munoz
30-year-old Iantha Yu hosted her first private chef dinner in her Annandale home this week.
“There are definitely more people my age hosting dinners with a private chef,” she says. “I’ve been to quite a few private chef dinner parties in the past two years. It’s often easier than going out and there’s no snappy service trying to get you out the door after two hours. You can also make as much noise as you like and drink your own wine.”
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Yu booked her dinner through online platform Gathar, which employs 60 private chefs across NSW.
Customers visit the Gathar website, select a menu – four courses of Italian for $82 a head, say, or a $135 per-person Greek feast – and the chef takes care of the rest, usually bringing food to the table on the night too.
“A service waiter might be required for groups larger than 12 people or if it’s a complicated tasting menu, but the chefs will still come out and talk about each dish as it lands,” says Gathar co-founder Jodie Mlikota.
Custom-designed menus are about 35 per cent of Gathar’s business, says Mlikota.
Party host Iantha Yu (centre) says she has definately noticed more young people booking private chef dinners. Photo: James Brickwood
“Sometimes it will be a super specific request, such as a couple who want to recreate a meal they had on their honeymoon in France.
“Other times it will be more broad – ‘German-style cuisine’ for beer matching perhaps, or a host that just wants to add a lobster to one of our set menus.”
Lobster has been a particularly popular request for private chefs in October as Sydneysiders look to celebrate the end of lockdown with luxury ingredients.
“My first private booking this month was for the Monday night lockdown ended,” says former Matteo Double Bay chef Orazio D’Elia.
“It was a large family in Parramatta and they wanted everything – live lobster, wagyu, sashimi, pasta, salt-crusted snapper … they’re still thanking me.”
D’Elia’s private Italian dining experiences start at $300 per person and can be booked through his Instagram account while the chef develops a website.
“We jumped straight into loads of dinner bookings as soon as lockdown ended, so I’m still trying to find time to properly launch the business,” he says.
“For me, being invited to someone’s home is such a beautiful way of cooking. I meet great people and have fun explaining dishes and telling stories throughout the night. I really, really enjoy it.”
With travel set to resume between regional NSW and Sydney from Monday, private chefs expect even more business as people leave the city to visit popular holiday spots.
“Airbnb has really changed private cheffing,” says Lee, who operates satellite businesses in Bowral, Terrigal and the Hunter Valley. “Our biggest areas of demand post-lockdown have been the Central Coast and Southern Highlands.”
Gathar also has chefs based in regional areas to service holiday homes and rentals without extra travel fees.
“If staff need to travel more than 50 kilometres there may be a small charge, but we now have chefs in holiday destinations from Port Douglas down to the Mornington Peninsula,” says Mlikota. “That part of the business is about to really take off.”