Even a devoted restaurantgoer likes to dine in once in awhile. The most discriminating palates are sure to be satisfied by Gaela Witter’s Persimmon Personal Chef Service. Chef/owner Witter thrives on culinary challenges; one of her specialities is substituting ingredients. For example, if a kosher client requires dairy-free creations, she might use silken tofu or raw cashew paste in a dish. She explains, “A great way to make a sauce without cream or butter is to take raw cashews and put them in boiling water for 30 or 40 minutes, then put them in a Vita-Prep (blender) – they make a smooth and creamy thickener.”
Witter learned to accommodate special diets while working as an event coordinator. “To this day, as a cook, it’s my responsibility to maintain dietary standards.” The chef experienced the joys of Jewish cuisine while living in New York. During this time she perfected her brisket, tsimmes and matzah ball soup recipes. She says, “One of my favorite dishes to make is latkes – that’s always been fun.”Throughout her career she has been fascinated by Old World and Jewish-German food.
After graduating from Portland’s Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Witter cut her teeth in the kitchens of Philippe Boulot (formerly of The Heathman Hotel) and John Gorham (Tasty & Sons, Tasty & Alder, Toro Bravo), who continue to influence her to this day. “I can never get away from my French roots from working with Philippe,” she explains. “I have a tendency to use the French technique and dishes, although I do try to lighten them up; all the butter and cream, from a personal chef perspective, is not necessarily good for my clients … John’s influence has been absolutely astounding. He has taught me the value of consistency, the highest qual- ity ingredients and a positive attitude.” On her days off, Witter can often be found dining at one of the restaurants in Gorham’s growing empire. She also works with his food photographer David Reamer.
Witter tailors her menus to the needs of each client. “My service really is customized to the size of your family, regardless of whether you’re single, a couple or have three or four children.” On a typical day, she carts her equipment, groceries, menus and heating instructions to a client’s house and then spends five to six hours cooking. After preparing enough food for a week or two, she packs up for the day and carts her pots and pans home.
One of Witter’s most popular dishes is Moroccan chicken. “You get a lot of the Moroccan spice flavors in it, and I make sure it always tastes exactly the same as the last time (clients) had it.” Consistency is of the utmost importance to the chef. She never leaves a client’s kitchen without making sure that he or she has received all ingredients.
In the future Witter plans to roll out her service to different cities. “I would love to expand,” she enthuses. “I really want to make certain that I get this business model to the point where it’s easily replicated.” Here in Portland she’s already at wait-list status. While you’re waiting, you can try Witter’s recipe for Herb Roasted Chicken.