My Weekend with the Chef

Our dining editor experiences the delights of having a pro in the kitchen.

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Story by Marti Rosenquist | Photography by Marti Rosenquist & Martin Wyand

dining-private-chef-Mark-ShimerWhat’s the first thing you would do with newfound riches? In anticipation of life after that book I plan to write sells a million copies, I called upon my favorite caterer, Mark Shimer of Cater2U, and hired him as a personal chef for the weekend.

Having worked with him before, I knew that Mark’s demeanor would fit in well with our household dynamic, and that his tastes and menu choices would appeal to my palate, two very important considerations when choosing a personal chef. With the confidence that comes from experience, I left it up to him to create a menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days, including a Saturday dinner party.

Saturday 8:30 a.m.
I’m still padding around in my PJs when I’m suddenly reminded of a winter morning long ago: I was playing upstairs with my sister in the aftermath of a Midwestern snowfall that had forced school closures, while my mother cooked bacon and French toast in the kitchen. That same familiar scent draws me down the stairs and into my own kitchen today on Maui.

Chef says good morning as he swirls crepe batter across the bottom of a fry pan. It’s been decades since I’ve been summoned to breakfast by the pleasant aroma of someone else cooking in my kitchen, never mind by someone who’s practically beaming. Already I like this very much.

9:00 a.m.
Chef Mark has set up breakfast on the lanai. He invites me and my sweetie to sit. We nibble on dragon fruit, papaya, strawberries and cantaloupe. We share a pecan-twirled pastry served with a cup of cappuccino. The orange juice is freshly squeezed. We laugh and talk. I’m suddenly in no hurry. Whatever is usually pressing on my mind can wait.

Chef brings the main course: chicken-apple sausage, butcher-carved bacon strips, scrambled eggs and an amazing spinach-and-mushroom-stuffed crepe with Gruyere sauce. It would be rude to rush off too soon.

1:30 p.m.
I’ve put in an efficient morning of chores, fueled by such hearty food and the morning’s pleasant conversation. My mood is bright, and although I couldn’t imagine that I’d want to eat this soon after such a big breakfast, the scent of something delicious hits my nostrils as I open the front door. I’m enticed.

1:45 p.m.
Chef is preparing a “simple” lunchtime salad and doesn’t mind that I perch on a stool and observe his work. I’m wondering why a salad would require so many pans. I ask about the mixture Mark is using to coat the ahi, which, once seared, will sit upon my salad. He invites me to dip a finger into the inamona (a mixture of ground kukui nuts, almonds and seasonings). Chef prefers this to panko, which he says can become a little soggy in the fry pan. Plus, the kukui nuts add significant nutritional value to the dish — a priority for a personal chef, since he not only cooks for your taste buds; he’s invested in the food as nourishment for your body. By taking on all the work of food shopping and preparation he’s also soothing my soul.

In return for their skill and high level of malama (care), personal chefs on Maui earn $300/day and up, plus the cost of ingredients. (I’ve gotta write that book. . . !)

5:00 p.m.
Tonight we’ve invited four friends to share in the bounty of our private-chef good fortune. While I’m upstairs, beautifying, Chef is in the kitchen preparing the feast. Since I have full confidence in Mark’s abilities, from menu creation, to shopping, to preparation and cleanup, the only thing I need worry about is curling my eyelashes.

6:00 p.m.
The doorbell rings. I emerge from the boudoir fresh as a flower, for once ready for my guests. There is a platter on the serving table: Humboldt Fog blue cheese bathed in honey and toasted almonds, and room-temperature Brie. An antipasti platter of salumi, prosciutto and roasted peppers appears out of nowhere while I’m greeting guests. Mark’s wife and partner in the catering business, Kitty, has joined us for the evening. She pours champagne and hands me the glass as if I am the guest of honor, then fills the glasses of my friends.

7:00 p.m.
Chef chimes us into the dining room, beckoning us toward a salad of fresh greens, caramelized Maui onions in balsamic vinegar, tomatoes and pancetta graced with a Chef-made vinaigrette. We marvel that so many memorable tastes can be packed into a single salad.

The main course, a crusted filet roasted over the outdoor grill, is fork-tender and melts in my mouth. I motion Chef Mark towards me and ask him for the secret. “Shhhh,” he whispers. “I always marinade the meat.” Ah!

Everyone’s jovial. Conversation and laughter flow. For once, I can concentrate on what’s being said without the usual nagging distractions of hosting (What did I leave in the oven?). Mark and Kitty handle everything busily and smoothly. It could be the wine talking, but I’m tempted to ask them to move in with us.

After dessert — raspberry-mango cobbler with vanilla-bean ice cream and creme brulee — we move into the living room and burn off a few calories by playing Dance Dance Revolution on Kinect. More wine and laughter ensue as Kitty sings a few karaoke anthems before she and Mark bid us good night.

Sunday, 9:00 a.m.
We had all been up late the night before, but that doesn’t stop Chef from arriving at the appointed hour and firing up his traveling saute pans. After seeing him in my kitchen for six hours on Saturday, the routine is becoming familiar. Chef and I launch into a Sunday-morning conversation about quantum physics, religion, the meaning of the cosmos, the deliciousness of last night’s dinner, and the hilarity of Saturday Night Live, while he prepares fried rice, salmon steaks and poached eggs.

“What’s the secret to being a good chef?” I ask him.

“Getting by on very little sleep,” he laughs. “Let’s just say my year on an Alaska fishing boat was good preparation for becoming a chef.”

“So you’ve had two of the world’s deadliest jobs so far!” I remark.

“I’ve worked with some tough task masters, but here it’s not so dangerous,” he chuckles as he wipes down the counter. I follow after him as he brings our plates to the lanai.\

2:00 p.m.
For lunch, Chef prepares one of my favorite dishes of the weekend — a green salad with red rice, red grapes, feta cheese and tomatoes. The red rice is chewy and satisfying; it plays perfectly against the crunchy greens and juicy grapes. What makes the dish outstanding is Chef’s special dressing.

“I make all sauces, dressings, and marinades myself,” Chef explains. “I’m using all these fresh ingredients, so it would be a shame to muck them up with inferior drizzles.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I mumble while stuffing my face with yet another delicious bite.

6:00 p.m.
Chef Mark obliges my request for a light Sunday supper by crafting a repast packed with flavor but low in fat and calories. He had roasted two chicken breasts earlier in the day, shredding the meat once it was chilled. For service he displays the chicken with bowls of roasted yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced cucumbers with daikon, and butter lettuce leaves for wrapping it all together before dipping the “taco” into a sweet mirin sauce. It is the perfect ending to one of the best weekends ever.

Monday, 9:00 a.m.
What do you mean, I have to make my own coffee?

Chef Mark Shimer planned to become a sound engineer, but after taking a job as a prep cook to earn money for school, he moved quickly up the kitchen ranks, becoming head chef at Roy’s Kahana Bar & Grill before founding his own catering business ten years ago.

Music still plays in his head during the long hours spent preparing gorgeous food for weddings, parties, and weekends as a personal chef. Cater2U, 870-6466; cater2umaui.com

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