North Shore Magazine

February 2008

Cooking Your Heart Out


Valentine’s Day tip #624

Not all personal chefs are created equal. If you’re going to hire someone who needs to cook in your kitchen, serve you edible aphrodisiacs in your dining room and then leave the scene sparkling like Mr. Clean just made a house call. So you’d better make sure your chef-for-hire has cooked some high-end meals for some high-end clients in some high-end restaurants.

You may need a traveling professional like Christopher Tong, who not only opened the Walt Disney Swan in Orlando but spent years catering to the “special needs” of celebrities at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We’re talking Michael J. Fox’s wedding. Visits from Cher and Nancy Reagan. And even a party right here in 1995 at Riva restaurant that honored the 10-year anniversary of the 1995 Chicago Bears.

But since he was sponsored to come to America in 1982 by Chicago’s Mayfair Regent Hotel, he’s got a soft spot in his heart for Midwesterners and for having direct contact with his clients from Lake Forest to Highland Park.

“I like that I see my clients and my clients see me,” says Tong, who frequently collaborates with Paterno Wines in Lake Bluff. “I like that people can actually see and talk to me while I’m cooking the food.”

His menu is primarily French continental cuisine with a twist—the staples being foie gras and sautéed pheasant breast stuffed with brie, the twists being Caribbean numbers like crab, coconut and coriander soup with fresh lime and chili oil.

And as for Tong’s idea of romance? Strawberries and champagne on a balcony with a trio of musicians fiddling music over a lavish spread of china and French delicacies, capped by a dessert of hand-painted truffles.

Not bad, huh? Which leads us to Valentine’s Day tip #1714: Always trust a chef who paints his own truffles.