If you're entertaining at home this summer, there's a way to lighten your workload and wow your guests in a single stroke: Hire a restaurant chef to cook in your backyard.
Of course, most restaurants are happy to deliver cooked food to your home. But having a chef on the premises takes the party to a whole new level.
Besides eating, guests can learn a thing or two about cooking. Kevin Judge, owner of Maple Tree BBQ in Riverhead, put it this way: "Having a chef at the party is entertainment, and it's also educational. When we smoke meat in someone's backyard, everyone wants to know exactly what we're doing and how we're doing it."
Theresa Kane of Manorville hired Maple Tree to cater her daughter's high school graduation party. "I'd done parties with caterers and servers," she said, "but this was a first for me. The chef was so passionate about what he was doing, and having the food being cooked fresh right there in front of you -- even guests who didn't think they liked barbecue loved it."
Having a restaurant set up shop at your home isn't the most economical way to entertain, but it's a reasonable alternative to conventional caterers. According to Derek Kaye, who runs the pizza truck for Eddie's Pizza of New Hyde Park: "People are moving away from traditional parties. For the same price, we can show up and make fresh pizzas in your driveway." (Kaye can serve 50 people for less than $2,000.)
When Hope Duarte of Sands Point threw a party to celebrate her daughter's high school graduation, she hired Shiro of Japan in Carle Place to make sushi and Churrasqueira Bairrada in Mineola to make rodizio, traditional Portuguese grilled meats. "Not only was the food fantastic," she said, "it was basically like hiring a magician for the adults."
Here's a sampling of restaurants that will cook at your house.
401 Old Country Rd., Carle Place, 516-997-4770
DETAILS What could be more opulent than a poolside sushi chef, doling out glistening morsels to guests. Shiro of Japan, one of Long Island's oldest sushi restaurants, regularly dispatches sushi chefs to parties with 40 to 3,000 guests. "We'll set up a miniature sushi bar that looks just like in the restaurant," said partner Peter Faccibene. He said most clients serve sushi during cocktail hour, following it with a main course.
MENU Shiro will provide any variety of sushi, from California rolls and tuna maki to the highest-end fish. Also available: salads and hot dishes such as yakitori, negimaki, katsudon and ramen.
COST If sushi is served during cocktail hour only, Faccibene said, it ranges from $13 to $25 a person, but it's higher if no other food is served. The price includes one sushi chef and one assistant, suitable for up to 50 people. More people would require an extra chef, so figure $150 for each additional 50 guests. Kimono-clad servers also are available for $150 each.
2048 Hillside Ave., New Hyde Park, 917-710-4757 (catering only)
DETAILS Eddie's Pizza has been serving its signature "bar pies" since the 1930s, and now the restaurant has entered the mobile era with its pizza truck and pizza cart. Both the truck and cart are equipped with two deck ovens apiece and have identical pizza-cooking capabilities. Derek Kaye, who runs the mobile operation, said, "We send the cart when the truck won't fit in the driveway."
THE MENU Eddie's mobile units show up with about 30 different toppings. Favorite pies include the Eddie's Special (sausage, meatball, pepperoni, peppers, onions, mushroom) as well as more rarefied varieties such as arugula and ricotta with truffle oil. Along with classic 10-inch bar pies there are 16-inch pies. The truck or cart also can offer salads, antipasto, appetizers and even dessert.
COST Price varies based on menu, time of day, location and number of guests. The average price for a 40- to 70-person party is between $1,200 and $1,500.
820 W. Main St., Riverhead, 631-727-2819
DETAILS Maple Tree BBQ's owner, Kevin Judge, is a passionate smoker with a backyard full of apparatuses, and his crew will actually smoke the meat in your yard. "This works best at all-day parties," he said. "While they're swimming, playing volleyball, people are smelling the smoke, checking on the progress. Then at dinner they say, 'Finally! I've been smelling this all day, now I get to eat it.'"
THE MENU If it's meat, Maple Tree will smoke it, from chicken wings to a whole pig. A recent menu featured North Carolina-style pulled pork, Alabama-style barbecued chicken, smoked wings, St. Louis ribs and smoked pastrami, plus plenty of sides.
COST Most menus range from $30 to $40 a person for food. Labor is extra. For 50 people, figure on paying $360 for a chef and $180 for a server.
CHURRASQUEIRA BAIRRADA 144 Jericho Tpke., Mineola, 516-739-3856
DETAILS Churrasqueira Bairrada specializes in Portuguese rodizio, in which a variety of meats threaded onto skewers are grilled over charcoal, and then delivered tableside until diners cry "não mais!" Lately, the restaurant has been branching out into the home-rodizio market. "We bring our grills and our charcoal," said general manager Hector Fonseca, "and the waiters do the same at your house as they would at our restaurant."
THE MENU The classic rodizio menu includes sausage, turkey wrapped in bacon, chicken drumsticks, pork loin, beef cubes, pork spareribs, beef spareribs and sirloin. Sides include French fries, black beans, rice, bread and olives.
COST Depending on time, location and menu, Fonseca estimated a 40-guest party would run about $2,000, for 70 guests, it would be $3,500.
90A Washington Dr., Centerport, 631-424-4545
DETAILS At her Centerport bakery-café, chef-owner Jess Kennaugh makes treats that are both homey and elegant. And she will pack them into her truck and bring them to your party. "Usually we come stocked with cupcakes, cookies, brownies and bars," Kennaugh said. "But we can also make ice-cream sandwiches to order with our own chocolate-chip cookies, or make fresh waffles right on the truck." The waffles could be the centerpiece of a brunch service with scones and muffins.
COST There's a $30 to $70 fee for travel; other than that, the host pays for what the guests eat, anywhere from $2 to $10 a head. "Or," said Kennaugh, "we can just show up with $400 worth of food."
Besides the food
There's more to a party than the food -- and more to pay for as well. The prices listed reflect the cost of having the food prepared and, where indicated, served in your home. Tables, chairs, plates, glasses, utensils, drinks, desserts, tents and additional servers will cost extra. Most restaurants can supply these extras (for a fee) or can recommend rental agencies that specialize in catering services.