By Liesel Schmidt
July 5, 2022
While there are a multitude of restaurants throughout South Walton, leaving the house for a restaurant-quality experience isn’t always necessary. But before you go hunting through your phone for takeout, consider the option of hiring a private chef to make your next meal something truly unforgettable.
Surprisingly, there are a number of private chefs in South Walton, many of whom have impressive resumes and a skillset that makes them highly in demand. From regular bookings to special occasions, these talented individuals are culinary masters whose abilities are yours for the asking.
Kyle Swift: Swiftly Catered
“I did my first private dinner in 2015 and immediately fell in love,” said Swift, who worked in the kitchens of such restaurants as Christiano’s, Summer Kitchen, and Acme Ice House before becoming a private chef and launching his own businesses. “Direct interaction with your guests, more attention to detail, less room for error. You can’t send out a general manager from behind the kitchen doors when you make a mistake. The whole restaurant experience is on your shoulders, so you must deliver.
“Building long-lasting relations with our clients has been the best part. We have guests that have now been dining with us for seven years. We’ve had clients that had teenage children turn into young adults and we went from bringing them kid’s meals to cooking for their weddings. Interacting directly with our guests versus being stuck behind kitchen walls at a restaurant is so much more rewarding.”
Dan Vargo: Fine Coastal Cuisine
Making the change to the private sector in 2021, Dan Vargo left a prestigious career that took him all over the country and even across the Atlantic. Having come back to South Walton after years away, Vargo’s skills brought him to Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood before he became the executive chef of the Hilton Sandestin. Still, Vargo realized he needed a change.
“I have done many private dinners over the years, and I really enjoyed the way each meal was custom-made for the guests,” he said. “I loved being able to focus and personalize each culinary experience. After achieving the corporate goals I had set for myself, I decided to make the change to private chef and launched Fine Coastal Cuisine.
“Making custom menus for guests is my favorite part of being a private chef. Every meal is tailor-made and catered to each client. I have menus, but they serve more as an inspiration. In a restaurant, you can run features and change menus a few times a year, but I enjoy how each event as a private chef is unique. I also enjoy how much interaction I have. I get a personal experience at every event.”
Making it in the private realm
Clearly, there’s something to be said for the private experience. There’s a quality to the work and an attention to detail that isn’t always possible in a restaurant environment, where time, volume, and expediency can overrule. Naturally, it takes a skilled chef to make it in the private realm. All eyes are on them, their techniques and ability to create set squarely in the spotlight, with expectations high. Their ability to adapt and pivot when needed is also key, though keeping their clients happy can be a challenge when things don’t go according to plan. In those instances, private chefs show their true acumen, rising to the challenge and creating masterpieces.
Boasting an ability to pair flavors, to bring out the subtleties and nuances of their ingredients, to conceptualize and construct a dish that is both flavorful and beautiful, private chefs take pride in sharing in their guests’ enjoyment of their creations.
“I love getting people together, putting flavors and ingredients from all over the world into a dish and then sharing that experience together,” said Swift. “Once it’s all been cooked and cleaned up, there’s nothing left but the experience. It becomes about more than just the food.”
“Cooking is like an open-ended book,” added Vargo. “There is always so much more to learn and perfect. There are so many cultures, all with foods that tell a unique story and that create an experience.”
Creating an experience is the very thing that drives a true chef. From first bite to last, every dish is a masterpiece to be appreciated and savored. And for private chefs, that masterpiece is personal.