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Dine out, while eating in

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Have you ever considered hiring a private chef?
A favorite among Ashland Gourmet Catering's clients is chef/owner Alexandra D. Hannah’s Salata Alexandra, a mix of fresh greens, berries, Rogue Creamery blue cheese, candied pecans and more, dressed in a Champagne raspberry vinaigrette. [Courtesy photo]
Alexandra D. Hannah owns Ashland Gourmet Catering, serving private, corporate and wedding clients. [Courtesy photo]
Noah Wertheiser, chef/owner of Food With Pride, sautes some veggies in his Ashland commercial kitchen. The thrust of his business is meal prep, providing clients with ready-to-heat and serve gourmet dishes. [Courtesy photo]

When it comes to a special event, a celebratory meal, or a dinner party with friends, generally only two options come to mind: cook and prepare the feast yourself or dine out.

A third option is to hire a private chef.

Hiring a private chef allows diners to enjoy a custom-tailored menu, superior levels of quality and service, and a personalization of meals that avoids ingredients that might stir up allergies.

When a personal chef is in charge, clients have more time to spend on themselves and their guests.

Private chef services range from catering and meal prep to dinners cooked and plated at clients’ homes.

There are several traditional catering businesses in the Rogue Valley. Two local private chefs also serve growing lists of clients for more personalized offerings from their Ashland-based kitchens.

Noah Wertheiser, 26, operates Food With Pride, a gourmet meal prep business with a zeal for sus-tainability, organics and specialty menus.

Alexandra D. Hannah, 64, owns Ashland Gourmet Catering, a company that offers a wide range of services to corporate, private and wedding clients.

Both have restaurant backgrounds and started cooking at an early age.

Food With Pride

Wertheiser was exposed to the culinary arts in his family’s kitchens.

“My parents owned and ran a small restaurant on the Oregon Coast,” Wert-heiser said. “I also learned so many reci-pes and skills from my grandmother. All that had a big influence on my decision to pursue a culinary career.”

He received his formal culinary training at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

It was while working in restaurants, in the kitchen and front-of-house, that he came to appreciate the value of the ingredient and recognize the importance of having a passion for food.

“I think I was most drawn to the path of a private chef because of the creativity,” he said. “I liked working in restaurants, but there are inherent limitations when working with a fixed menu.”

Wertheiser likes variety and experimenting with new ingredients as a private chef, and enjoys the personal connections with clients.

Very occasionally, he does private events where he cooks in people’s homes. He also does large-event catering.

But the main thrust of his business these days is a meal prep service he operates out of his commercial kitchen in downtown Ashland.

Each week he offers a unique menu with five dishes available, one for each weekday.

“Each dish is prepared fresh on the indicated day, and we offer free delivery to Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford,” he said. “All of the shopping and chopping is taken care of by us, and customers receive a simple instruction card for how to heat and finish the meal.”

Wertheiser delivers meals in reusable containers which are collected on the next delivery, eliminating takeout waste. He says most of his customers order weekly. Some order a single meal and others order five meals per week.

“We also offer holiday specials when we can,” he said. “For New Year’s, we featured a special ‘fancy’ menu, and for Valentine’s Day we offered a chocolate cake add-on for dinner orders.”

He tries to cater to special diets as well. The weekly menu usually features two to three options that are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian or low-sodium.

He cooks in many styles within many cuisines.

“But I am particularly passionate about making pasta,” he said. “All of my pasta dishes are made fresh, in house.”

Typically, the same dish won’t repeat more frequently than every two to three months, and menus reflect the season.

Clients have their favorites, so they appear on the menu more often.

“Some of our most popular dishes are beef Wellington, Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon, roasted lemon herb salmon, manicotti, and chicken and waffles.”

Whenever possible, he chooses local and organic options.

“I believe in supporting local suppliers whenever I can, and always look for the highest quality products available.”

Sustainability is a priority with Wertheiser.

“We deliver our meals in sanitized, reusable, dish-washer-friendly containers and bakeable dishes,” he said. “And we strive to source our ingredients without heavy waste.”

Two guidelines summarize his approach to food and cooking: “Keep the ego out of the kitchen and the soul in the food.”

He says when it comes to food, there is always more to learn.

The pandemic did not harm his business.

“With so many people staying home to eat, the meal prep program has actually really taken off,” he said.

Clients have told him they like having options that break up the mundane routine of preparing daily meals at home.

“You never know what the future will bring, but I know my love for food will never fade.”

For more information, see foodwithpride.com.

Ashland Gourmet Catering

Hannah has been cooking since she was 4 years old, creating her first batch of cornbread from scratch. Both her parents cooked, and the whole family was involved in the kitchen arts.

Her approach to food is not complicated.

“Fresh is best,” she said. “My plating style is clean and simple, with just the right embellishing garnish.”

That said, there is no denying her creative culinary chops when you sample her popular Salata Alexandra, a mix of organic spring greens, grape tomatoes, Rogue Creamery blue cheese, candied pecans, dried cranberries, fresh raspberries and blackberries, apple, pear and Champagne raspberry vinaigrette.

“All my ingredients are hand-selected, locally sourced and farm raised,” she said, “organic if possible.”

While Hannah customizes every menu to the client’s needs or desires, she offers a tantalizing array of specialties to choose from.

“Some of our clients’ favorite dishes, besides the Salata Alexandra, include our melitzano and our tenderloin of beef served rare with pomegranate steak sauce and crispy leek ribbons,” she said.

Melitzano is a hummus-style spread she makes with smoky, roasted eggplant, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, aged Parmesan cheese, white pepper, salt and cream cheese. She blends it until smooth, then tops it with balsamic molasses and a drizzle of olive oil.

Hannah’s clients range from local couples celebrating a special occasion or throwing a dinner party, to regular weekly customers and big-name corporate clients.

She has worked with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon Wine Experience and the Asante Foundation; and in California, the Los Angeles Urban League, USC, UCLA, Cornerstone Animation, Disney Imagineering, celebrities and entertainers.

“Our private dining experiences that are plated and coursed are for a minimum of 10 guests,” she said.

Hannah launched her business after working in the restaurant industry for many years.

She also was the executive chef at Morrison’s Lodge in Merlin, worked at River’s Edge in Grants Pass, and at Ashland’s Pie and Vine, Sesame Asian Kitchen and Belle Fiore Winery.

The pandemic was a challenge.

“We barely stayed alive,” Hannah said. “Most of our events are on a large scale, and no such events were held in 2020 and 2021.”

Her outlook for the future? “To continue to grow, expand, teach and mentor.”

For more information, see ashlandgourmetcatering.com.