We try out Chefxchange.com’s Chef Pascal for a night and feast on Les Parfums de la Mer, his menu of seafood specialties, in the comfortable surroundings of our residence in Jumeirah 3. The recipe is simple. All you need is a kitchen, a computer, a few good friends and a passion for good food.
Residents who’ve spent several years in the UAE will be all too familiar with the country’s decadent and ever-changing culinary landscape. Transient, just like the country’s expat population, new restaurants bang in offering a plethora of contemporary dishes and opulent dining spaces, while those that have made a go at the country’s flashy posh crowd but haven’t quite made it, ween out in favor of other ventures. A few make it, and those that do offer a formula that long-time Dubai residents crave: quality made with passion served in elegant surroundings.
Alas, there aren’t many venues that hang around for years on end that maintain this missive. But there’s something new in town that does: chefxchange.com. This fun and easy to use website launched in the UAE in February 2015 is the brainchild of owners (and foodies) Karl Naim and Marc Washington. The two friends had the idea for the concept two years ago while at a dinner party in the UAE. What is it? ChefXChange.com is an online marketplace that enables foodies to connect with renowned or amateur chefs to devise their own culinary experience taking place at their home or another chosen venue. In so doing, ChefXChange offers a fourth alternative to the traditional three dining options: shopping and cooking at home, ordering in or dining out. It works like this: Chefs sign up into one of three categories: professional, apprentice and amateur. Visitors to the site click on one of these three according to the budget they have to spend. A range of chefs in these categories means that there is someone who can cook for any budget and whatever you have in mind, including romantic dinners, swanky dinner parties, fun birthdays, delicious house warmings, creative baby showers or simply a good hearty meal in the presence of family and friends. It’s an online platform that let’s your culinary creativity soar, while at the same time offering hosts the ability to step away from the actual cooking and mingle with guests.
We tried it for ourselves. I perused the variety of chefs on offer, matched it with our budget, the number of guests we were hosting, and our preferred choice of cuisine, which was, at the time, French. While the process through which we organized our dinner online still had a few tweaks to iron out, namely the way in which we communicated with Chef Pascal (you can only exchange personal numbers and emails once you have paid for the meal – prior to payment you can choose the “discuss more” option to plan your meal), everything else couldn’t have been smoother.
So one Wednesday night we invited another couple to join us for Chef Pascal’s menu Les Parfums de la Mer. We exchanged several messages on whatsapp beforehand. He was incredibly prompt and friendly and arrived a few hours before our scheduled eating time of 8:30pm with his cooking supplies and food to prepare his meal. I remember watching out for him from our balcony; I had never met this chef before and had no idea what he looked like. There is something about inviting a total stranger into your living space to cook for you. It’s an intimate and intriguing experience to share a brief personal moment over food in your private living space. In a way, the chef also becomes a “guest” of the evening. And so Chef Pascal did.
Soft spoken and courteous, with a bit of a French accent, Chef Pascal unpacked his belongings with ease as if he’d already been to our residence a dozen times. We chatted briefly about his past, his culinary adventures in France, South Africa, Italy, and Dubai. He spoke of wine, food and his love of cooking. And this was how our evening began. An entirely new experience, never before had we conversed this closely with a professional chef over our devised menu for the evening, the wine pairing, and food preparation. But the best part was the attention we were able to provide to our guests. Instead of scrambling in the kitchen to prepare something of note, dashing out with our aprons still on to welcome our friends, this time we were able to greet them with ease.
While Chef Pascal prepared our meal, we sat out on the balcony with aperitifs admiring the sunset over Kite Beach. It was a gorgeous spring evening, and as we mingled, we could smell the fragrant scent of our home-cooked meal. We were soon called to the table and were served the first course: Châtelet de homard, mozzarella et soupe froide à la tomato (Poached lobster on mozzarella cheese and cold tomato soup). Hearty and fresh, the soup whetted our palettes for what was to come next: Filet de saumon sauvage sur lit de gros sel, écrasée de pommes de terre, sauce Hollandaise à l’orange (Salmon filet cooked on sea salt, mashed potatoes, and orange flavored Hollandaise sauce). Cooked just right, moist and succulent, it was equivalent to what one would serve at a classy French brasserie.
Each dish was nicely paced and elegantly served. As we conversed, I would often peer back to the kitchen and catch Chef Pascal in deep concentration, preparing his plates with such precision that it recalled the movements of a painter busy at his easel.
There was a pause after our main course. We sipped on wine and prepared ourselves for dessert: a decadent Tarte aux framboises fraîches et chocolate noir (Puff pastry black chocolate tart with fresh raspberry). It was wonderfully gooey, sweet and rich. And then, just like that, he cleaned up our kitchen, packed his supplies and said goodbye. The evening was over and our intimate, home-cooked gourmet meal was complete.
One often spends hours tidying up after a dinner party, but there was nothing left for us to do except to dwell on the simplicity and ease of the experience. Chefxchange.com hit all of our requisites. Without a doubt, there will be many more chefs to come through our doors.
For more information, visit www.chefxchange.com