I am fortunate to go to some lovely restaurants for this column, and I love the atmosphere of eating out, but this week was a little different. Chef Theo Michaels, a semi-finalist on Masterchef last year, came to our home to cook dinner for us.
Theo left his city job after Masterchef and now cooks full-time, doing private dining nights and a pop-up restaurant in Southdown, Harpenden, which sells out within minutes. He has also just filmed a six-part series for Simply Good Food TV, which will be out in the autumn. In just a year he has made a real success of his cooking, and I was curious to find out what his food is like.
Now, I can promise you, there is nothing like having a professional chef about to appear in your kitchen to induce a cleaning frenzy! Other than that, you really don’t need to do anything. Theo sent me some menu ideas, which all sounded great, and he was unfazed at making a few adjustments for allergies. He explained that I needed to organise cutlery, glasses and drinks, and he would bring everything he needed to cook dinner, including the plates to serve it on.
Theo arrived an hour before we wanted to eat, and was totally calm and relaxed. He does most of the preparation during the day so he seemed ok with me asking lots of questions as he unpacked, and our youngest wanting to see what a scallop is. Theo told me that he’s very used to guests wandering into the kitchen to chat and watch him cook.
When we left him to get on with it, our first course was pork belly with pomegranate and honey glaze, with seared scallops, fava purée and tiny shreds of apple. It was so beautifully presented that we all laughed when it appeared; it is quite surreal to see such restaurant-quality food emerging from your own kitchen! It was all delicious. Theo removed the plates and after a short break brought in the fish course which he called ‘memoirs of salmon’, as it included salmon caviar, salmon crackling and a perfect piece of sous vide-cooked salmon fillet on spinach. We all wanted to know how he had made the crackling and the amazing basil and dill oil powder served alongside, so we had a quick cookery lesson too.
We had spoonfuls of Ouzo and mint granita next, which was a nod to Theo’s Greek Cypriot background; it was a subtle aniseedy palate-cleanser.
Slow-cooked oxtail open ravioli with quail’s egg came next, and the oxtail was fab; full of flavour and with a touch of star anise. Theo explained that he cooks for his own young family, and he does a lot of slow-cooking. I chose a warm ginger treacle tart for pud for us all, with Matcha green tea ice cream, which we all loved. Each course was spaced well, with time for conversation, and while we were eating Theo washed up everything. He left the kitchen clean and tidy, and like a food magic genii, disappeared into the night, leaving just a leftover slice of pud behind.
Theo is already pretty booked up for the next few months but do get in contact with him (www.theocooks.com) if private dining interests you; I know you will love it too. I think the cost is comparable to eating at good local and London restaurants, and being able to provide your own drinks means that wine-lovers (or beer-lovers, of course) can choose something amazing to serve, without the mark-ups. Having Theo round to cook was very easy and relaxing for us, and I have no doubt this would make an amazing evening for a special occasion.
Look out for Theo at The St Albans and Harpenden Food and Drink Festival this year where he will be doing cooking demos on the kitchen stage.