Could a personal chef impress your guests and take the stress out of dinner parties?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 April 2016

Yves serves Mary Jane and her guests in the garden

Yves serves Mary Jane and her guests in the garden

not Archant

Asking a chef to cook for you and your family in your own home may not be a ridiculously extravagant idea, as Esther Leach discovers. Photographs by Andy Bulmer

King prawns are readyKing prawns are ready

It was a simple family gathering with no particular reason to come together other than to catch up with each other’s news. But hostess Mary Jane Ogden who had invited eight guests to a dinner party at her North Yorkshire home did have something special up her sleeve…or rather in the kitchen, a French chef.

And she pleasantly discovered that it could be cheaper to ask classically trained Yves Quemerais to prepare, cook and serve at her dinner party than to go out to a restaurant. ‘And this was very, very relaxing for me as the hostess,’ said Mary Jane. ‘It was like being at a restaurant but in the comfort of your own home.’ And it was easier on the pocket, too. ‘If everyone put £40 into the pot for example, which could easily be what you’d pay for a meal out, the cost of asking Yves to cook for you could be covered,’ said Mary Jane. ‘Yves brought all his own cooking equipment and some really lovely plates of different sizes and colours…and he did the washing up.’

The menu was discussed and agreed with Mary Jane and her husband Glen and the date fixed for the dinner party. ‘I will always offer some ideas, I like seasonal dishes but I will always offer a choice and try to be as flexible as possible,’ said Yves. The kitchen was cleared and ready for his arrival in good time to prepare dinner. ‘If necessary I will prepare some of the food in my own kitchen before I arrive but most of the cooking is done at the client’s home,’ said Yves, who is learning English in his spare time. ‘When I go into a kitchen, I never know what I will find so I will bring my own equipment, especially my knives. I will do everything including serve, and then I clean down the kitchen, the client doesn’t have to do anything.’

On the menu for Mary Jane and her guests were king prawns with artichoke, avocado and asparagus, Hollandaise sauce, salad leaves with French crustaceous dressing; red mullet and monkfish duo, mussels with star aniseed sauce, saffron risotto, baby vegetables, followed by raspberry craquant, lime mascarpone and exotic coulis.

The table is setThe table is set

‘It was a real treat,’ said Mary Jane, who does like to cook. Was she happy to share her kitchen with a stranger? ‘It was fine,’ said Mary Jane. ‘All I had to do was clear the space and Yves isn’t exactly a stranger, I had got to know him through my son Robert.’

It was Anne Quemerais, Yves’ wife, who first fell in love with North Yorkshire as a little girl writing to and visiting a pen pal in Harrogate. Years later she shared her passion for Yorkshire with Yves. The beautiful countryside, the Yorkshire people, the way of living, the traditions appealed to both of them. ‘We loved the place so much we even spent our honeymoon in Harrogate during the winter of 1994,’ said Anne who is still in touch with her childhood pen pal, now a dear friend.

But the move to Yorkshire didn’t happen immediately. Yves worked for several years as head chef in Paris restaurants and then as a private chef cooking for chief executives of large companies including founder of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson.

Yves decided to start his own business but he wasn’t giving up cooking. He made a life changing decision to hand in his notice and move to Yorkshire with his wife and two children.

‘We knew the people of Yorkshire were fond of the finer things in life, including food and would appreciate good quality, locally produced ingredients cooked to the highest standard, but with a French touch of course,’ said Anne.

‘It was with these strong convictions and some courage that we created French Chef at Home. We set up a website, offering to cook for private dinner parties that were cooked in people’s homes and finger buffets and hot/cold buffets soon followed. We are a family business which means Yves can be very flexible, adaptable and equally important, affordable,’ added Anne. And their next step? Personal cooking lessons at home. And maybe a cookery book.

Latest from the Yorkshire Life