Northern Kentucky chef, Ken Durbin, owns The At Home Chef.
The At Home Chef crafts custom menus for in-home, intimate dining experiences.
Email him at Ken@TheAtHomeChef.com or call 859-640-6958.
by Robin Gee
Traditionally, dinner has been the place where family and friends reconnect, recount their days, share their dreams and enjoy a good meal together. While many of us strive for that, these days all too often dinners are rushed, gobbled down while we’re checking our cell phones, catching up with tv news or worrying about a project due the next day.
Even on special occasions, the cook in the family or the host is rushing around making sure dinner is out on time and often joining mid-meal once everything is laid out and the pots and pans are soaking in the sink.
Chef Ken Durbin wants to change all that. Through his business, The At Home Chef, he offers a personalized, fine in-home dining experience that "helps people create memories that last a lifetime." His service provides personalized and intimate meals taken from menu planning through clean up. While the experience is for one special night, he said it gives people the opportunity to rediscover the art of conversation and of relaxation and to truly appreciate sharing a meal at home.
"I’m not a caterer. I don’t do large events. My events are under 20 people, unique one-of-a-kind in-home dinners that are intimate. It provides us with an opportunity to help people enjoy a fine dining experience in the comfort of their own home."
|Photo: Ben Gastright, FTM.|
Many of his clients have beautiful homes, he said, but they think they need to go out to a restaurant to celebrate a special occasion or enjoy time with friends. He helps people have that fine dining experience at home, with customized menus they help create.
"Every menu I’ve done for seven years now has been unique. I never repeat a menu. I don’t make people select from menus, or anything like that. I make them exactly what they want," he explains.
And after menu selection, most of the client’s work is done. They can relax and enjoy the special evening. Durbin sources all the ingredients, usually local and always the finest, he said, and on the day of the event he prepares the meal in your home, serves it and even cleans up. His last act of the night, he said, is taking out the garbage when he leaves. Without all the worry of preparation, serving and hosting (and tackling a messy kitchen), the night is free for people to talk, laugh, sing — whatever strikes their fancy. (And, yes, it is not all that uncommon for people to break out in song, he said).
|The At Home Chef makes your home the high-end restaurant. Photo: Ben Gastright, FTM.|
It all starts with your menu
Durbin said his first step is to meet with the client, nail down a date and discuss the type of occasion and the goals for the evening. When the conversation turns to food, he asks a series of questions to identify what his client would like. If it’s a birthday or anniversary, he might ask what the special guest or guests like to eat. He’ll ask his client to reach out to guests as well, to make sure there aren’t any allergies or special needs. By providing customized menus, if some of the guests are vegetarian or on a special diet, for example, he can create dishes for just for them.
Some people want ideas and guidance in planning the meal or they just want to be surprised. He said he is happy to provide suggestions and support as they explore the options. Since he works with fresh, local ingredients whenever he can, he will often suggest items that are in-season, but will work with the clients to provide exactly what they want, he added.
|Hand-selected and locally crafted charcuterie board. Photo: Ben Gastright, FTM.|
On the night of the event, Durbin will arrive and set up. He usually works alone for small parties, assisted by his wife, but may bring in another working chef to help if the number of guests pushes the upper ranges of 15-20, he said.
With open kitchens designed with large islands, he might serve right in the kitchen or in a formal dining room or another room his client selects. How much interaction between himself and the guests is also planned out. Some enjoy learning about the food and watching the process unfold, while others want more formal service. That is the beauty of private in-home dining, he said. The experience is designed to fit the home, the hosts and the goals of the occasion.
|Chef Ken Durbin preparing dinner for guests in their own home. Photo: Ben Gastright, FTM.|
An idea that grew
Voted Best Chef in Northern Kentucky the last three years in a row, Durbin didn’t start out to be a chef. He was working in the investment industry when he finally decided to leave to pursue his dreams. He attended the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State, where he worked in the school’s fine dining restaurant, The Summit. From there he worked in a couple of restaurants, he said, before joining the University Club in downtown Cincinnati.
"At the University Club we did everything — private dining, weddings, rehearsal dinners. We did a regular seated dinner every night. We did breakfast, we did lunch, we did events. All kinds of people come through there," he said.
"A couple of people would come in on a snowy day and they’d say, 'Man, I wish you could just bring this to my house' and that always stuck with me. It had always been an idea I had," he said.
|The At Home Chef brings the whole team: logistics to setup, servers to pour wine and of course, his talent to serve your guests. Server Kelly, pictured here. Photo: Ben Gastright, FTM.|
One day, he said, he decided to take the plunge and start his own business. "I just went for it. I just started with a very minor amount of money."
He said he had grand plans for a number of directions for his business, but began to narrow it down as he discovered what he truly enjoyed. "It soon became clear to me that it was more fun and more rewarding to do dinner parties in people’s homes. So, basically, the business kind of found me, I didn’t find it."
In the process of cooking for people in their homes, he learned that people appreciated full service, from preparing the food to serving it and to cleaning up. "We clean everything when we’re done. Your kitchen, everything, put your dishes in the dishwasher. We’ll take out your garbage when we leave. So when you walk back into your kitchen, it’s as though we were never there. The only things that remain are the memories and the good meal you had."
|1st Course: Baby Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Spiced Pecans, and a Banyuls Sherry Vinaigrette. |
Photo: Ben Gastright, FTM.
For many, a rediscovery
Durbin said even though he loves to cook, sometimes having someone else do the heavy lifting in the kitchen is freeing. "I was talking about this with my wife the other day. When I would cook Thanksgiving for the whole family...I’d be cooking all day and by the time I’m ready to relax after cooking dinner, everyone’s ready to leave," he noted.
|2nd Course: Prime Filet with Herb Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, and French Beans. |
Photo: Ben Gastright, FTM.
He understands that for some people having him provide a full in-home meal can be a little bit unsettling at first "because they’re not used to just enjoying themselves in their house. They’re used to running to this kid, to that kid, to this, to that..."
The food is incredible, but it’s only part of the experience, he said. Having the opportunity to relax, truly enjoy oneself and to see their own home in a new way, is a big part of The At Home Chef experience.
"One of my main goals is to make sure that people are having that experience. Truly enjoying each others’ company around the table is very important. It goes around one of the core values of our business is being grateful. I think it’s very fitting right now. People slow down enough to be grateful, to look around and say, 'I’m happy to spend time with these people today.'"
|Third Course: Chocolate Lava Cake with a Grand Marnier Raspberry Sauce. |
Photo: Ben Gastright, FTM.