Local Private Chef Takes Your Party from Doldrums to Dazzling
By Nora Heston Tarte
Lauren O’Leary is killing it as a private chef in San Joaquin County. From blind wine tastings to all-out dinner parties, her love of good food and fine wine have kept her private dining business booming. However, if you had told Lauren as a child that she would pursue playing host as a career, she might not have believed you.
Lauren’s event planning roots date back to childhood; she grew up co-hosting dinner parties with her parents and three sisters in the same region she has since made her career. Weekly gatherings were a staple for her Italian/Lebanese family, and she didn’t get away with not helping. Fast-forward several years and the chore she admits was never her favorite has become her livelihood.
“All four of us have grown to be entertainers in our own homes,” Lauren says of herself and her sisters. “I’m very thankful my parents pushed that on us.”
Not long after graduating college in 2011, O’Leary took a job at Madison Wine Company. There she expanded her knowledge of the wine industry and began to take a deeper interest in food and wine pairings.
In order to infuse her dinner party background into her career, the Saint Mary’s alum started hosting wine tasting parties in “an intimate kind of dining experience.” It took off.
“I was brought up in a, I guess you could say, food obsessive home,” she explains. Today Lauren enjoys cooking in other people’s kitchens, and providing an interactive dining experience. “It kind of reminds me of my childhood,” she laughs. Most of her parties involve wine in some capacity, but others are geared toward cocktails. She really does it all.
Lauren offers a variety of in-home services, but the blind tastings are her favorite. During this event, a client will typically request a specific number of courses, which O’Leary will then pair with wines. When she is handed creative control, guests can expect unconventional combinations such as cream of asparagus soup paired with Sauvignon Blanc.
Bottles wrapped in tinfoil disguise the wine’s identity, allowing tasters to forgo varietal and food pairing stereotypes. “It can really kind of open peoples’ eyes to different opportunities,” she says.
The professional wine importer calls upon her world travels to craft unusual, varied meals for her more adventurous clients. One expertise is melding cuisines, bringing in flavor profiles from all over the world, from spice combinations and vegetarian dishes mastered in India, to simple yet delectable Italian meals that boast excellent flavor with just five ingredients. Other influences come from right here in Northern California, including the farm-to-fork movement, seasonal cooking and organic trends that dominate Sacramento.
Her “one woman show” is keeping her busy, but Lauren still makes time for nonprofits, a passion she developed as a dance instructor for the Stockton Kids Club years ago (previously the Stockton Boys & Girls Club). In addition to donating cases of wine to local events, she often pours as well, sharing her knowledge and expertise with guests. She also donates certificates for tasting parties as auction items. The unique opportunity allows O’Leary to give back to her community, while also bolstering her “referral-based” business.
Word of mouth seems to be working for O’Leary, and social media gives her an edge. She posts photos on her Instagram account (@LaurenRoseCooks) that many clients reference upon booking. Despite taking creative control when asked, it’s not strictly necessary.
“I’m really open to the development of the night and the meals,” she says.
So for your next holiday party, set aside your apron and oven mitts and let Lauren cook instead.
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