By Bernard Henry

I was contacted in March 2011 by a lady in New York who asked me if I could cater a black-tie dinner for 20 on Christmas Eve, a brunch on Christmas Day for the same people “who will spend the night at the manor in Ellicott City, Md.” (“How big is that place,” was my first thought) and a Christmas party for 100+ in the evening. She loved my website and my French background.

I rapidly got to work, and within a week we had agreed on menus and pricing. I asked for a $5,000 non-refundable deposit in order for me to hold the date, and I got the check in the mail within a week. I also asked to see the place so I could figure out logistics, and the lady told me, “My sister lives at the manor and she’ll be happy to give you a tour.”

I then contacted the sister and we met in August. My jaw dropped when I saw the place. It is an historical monument, and I later found out that they spent between $4 and $5 million to refurbish it. It has a beautiful kitchen with a huge open hearth—I can literally walk into the hearth, and I am 6’3”. Adjacent to the kitchen is the daily dining room with a twin open hearth, a wood oven and an old cast-iron stove table with holes with hanging basket in which to place hot coals and keep food warm.

The owner of the manor and I started talking, and within a few minutes she said, “My dream is to have a chef cooking for us and guests a Colonial dinner using only ingredients and utensils available in 1750. Can you do that?” My answer: “Sure, I would love to.”

Next she asked me if I was available in early September to cook a dinner party at the manor. They loved my food, and the next thing I know, I am catering a dinner or two and some brunches on Sunday morning almost every week. Then, I sold them some weekly services so they have food in the fridge in-between parties.

It is worth mentioning that they also offered me to stay overnight in one of their beautiful guest rooms since my home base is 40 minutes away from the manor. Next thing I know, the husband, who has a construction business, remodeled some space right above the kitchen and gave me full-time access to a lovely small two-bedroom apartment.

One thing leading to another. They let me buy all the equipment that they needed in the fully restored kitchen along with all the cast-iron pots and pans that I needed to cook Colonial dinners out of the open hearth. They also restored the smokehouse, and last winter I cured and smoked two pigs, deer hinds, salmon, ducks and trout. They have friends who are hunters, and I had so much deer meat in the freezers that I made some venison shepherd’s pies.

The next project is starting an organic garden and chicken coop. I almost forgot: I ran out of storage space in the kitchen, and they built a pantry storage room in an old shed next to the kitchen where I can store all my catering equipment. They are also letting me use it for jobs that I cater for other customers.

They are great people to work for. Very friendly, and I feel like I am part of the family. No nouveau-riche attitude and very private. I can even use the pool whenever I want.

For more information on Henry, his business (Chef Bernard serving metro Washington, D.C.) and career, visit www.chef-bernard.com.

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Caron Golden

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Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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