It was five years ago that I wrote about Stephanie Mastroianni in this column. She had joined us for a “Meet the Chef” class at Highfield Hall when she was working as the executive chef and general manager at Quicks Hole Tavern in Woods Hole. “Since I left there in 2017, I have worked at a number of different places on the Cape, helping out in restaurants whenever I can,” she told me. “And then, of course, we had the pandemic—which sort of brought everything to a screeching halt.”
We talked in the kitchen of her home on Main Street in Mashpee where she lives with her husband and son, Mitchell. Stephanie is just launching a new food career, that of being a personal chef. “There was an ad in the paper for someone to help out with cooking and child care, just three days a week, not too far from here,” she explained. “So I thought why not try it and see, and it’s really working well. I picked up another family, and then one more, all in the last six months.”
A personal chef is not an extravagance, contrary to the assumption of many people. Usually they are trained chefs who go over menus, choose specific items, shop for them, and then prepare them in your own kitchen. The chefs leave instructions for how they should be served—often in your pots and on your dishes, or in containers that they can supply.
“I missed so much with Mitchell, working when he was little, that I love having a more ‘family-friendly’ schedule,” Stephanie explained. “My husband built us a garden, which kept us busy all summer. We have a grill and a smoker, and we eat tons of vegetables. My time is limited now—really I just have from 9 to 4 free, once I get my kid on the bus, so working as a personal chef fits my schedule perfectly.”
“I like the fact that I can work with families who are looking to eat more organic foods. With my background, I can go from simple dishes to the more elaborate ones, depending on what people want. And I can be kid-friendly, too,” she added with a laugh. “I just made potato leek soup and a tuna niçoise salad for a family with two children—I added a pasta salad with chicken and broccoli for the kids.”
I asked Stephanie about shopping, and how she sources her ingredients. “Sometimes I’m off to the supermarket at 9 PM, after Mitchell is in bed. But I also use Misfits, which is a home delivery service that provides organic produce and sustainably sourced groceries—at up to 40 percent off grocery store prices. They also offer different brands than what is usually available around here,” she declared.
Stephanie is a 1999 graduate of Johnson & Wales. Since culinary school, she has worked in both hotels and restaurant kitchens. “One summer I ran the outside restaurant by the pool at Willowbend—that was really fun! My time in Woods Hole really taught me a lot, and now I get to focus my ideas on my own menu,” she said.
“Seafood and comfort foods, that’s my specialty. I hope to keep working for my families, but I also would like to do events such as parties for birthdays, retirement—and cocktails, of course. I’d like to keep it small-ish (under 20 people), but I think it’s especially nice to be able to serve your guests right from your own kitchen.”
That’s what makes the services of a personal chef so special—they are highly personalized. And, of course, designed in consultation with the client, which makes them completely customized. For this column, I suggested to Stephanie that she come up with a menu of choices for a fall dinner party for 10 people. Her suggestions follow here, along with a couple of recipes that she graciously took the time to prepare for me.
She reminded me that someone can put together a meal of appetizers, according to what they want, or she will prepare a recipe that your family already loves. She intends to change her menu monthly to keep up with the seasons. Also, she wanted to note that she likes to use olive oil instead of butter, and maple syrup, honey, agave, or monkfruit for sweeteners instead of sugar.
On to her fall dinner party menu: “appetizers could be pickled shrimp with spiced popcorn and fried plantains, or maybe Jonah crab cakes with lemon caper aioli,” she offered. “Soup is always good—I think a Blue Hubbard squash soup with coconut milk, miso, apple, and spiced pepitas would be nice at this time of year.”
“Salads might be a roasted red and yellow beet salad with poached pears, whipped herbed goat cheese, toasted pistachios and apple cider vinaigrette; or, a Tuscan kale and red quinoa salad with roasted honeynut squash, pickled red onion, manchego cheese, and a lemon-honey thyme vinaigrette.”
Moving on to entrées, she considered making one of the following dishes: “Pan-seared scallops with bacon lardons, corn succotash, and tomato-ginger jam, or a seafood stew with roasted fennel, leeks, black olives, Romano beans and a tomato crab broth. Or, pan-seared wild salmon with Italian farro, blistered cherry tomatoes, grilled broccolini and lemon sabayon—or perhaps an airline chicken breast with Parmesan Parisian gnocchi, sage brown butter, pumpkin purée, and some garlicky Swiss chard.”
Dessert? “An apple and pear galette with a caramel drizzle and vanilla bean ice cream—or apple crisp mini cheesecakes with Chantilly cream.” All of it sounds delicious, I told her. Hoping that others think so, too, she said that she can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, you might try one of the following recipes yourself!
Jonah Crab Cakes With A Lemon Caper Aioli For 4
½ lb Jonah or rock crab
1 TBSP olive oil
1 cup panko crumbs
Half a bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch chives, chopped
Half a red pepper, chopped small
Half a red onion, chopped small
3 TBSP butter
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard
½ tsp Old Bay seasoning
½ tsp hot sauce
1 egg, beaten
3 TBSP mayonnaise
Lemon for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp lemon juice
Zest from 1 lemon
Half a bunch dill, chopped
1 TBSP each: capers and mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper; cover and chill until ready to serve.
To make crab cakes: Heat a medium-sized skillet to medium-high heat and add butter, onions and chopped red pepper; sauté until lightly cooked through. Place in a mixing bowl and let cool; add all other ingredients except the panko crumbs and combine well. Add the panko a little at a time and mix—you don’t want the mixture to be too wet or too dry—add just enough for it to bind together. Divide into 4 cakes and refrigerate until ready to cook. To serve, heat up the skillet with olive oil and brown the crab cakes on each side about a minute or two; top each crab cake with the lemon aioli and lemon slice and serve immediately.
Pear And Apple Galette With Vanilla Bean Ice Cream And Caramel Sauce
1 cup AP ﬂour
½ cup whole wheat ﬂour
2 TBSP sugar
3⁄4 tsp kosher salt
10 TBSP (one and a half sticks) COLD butter
4 TBSP ice water
1 egg, beaten
Sanding sugar( optional)
2 apples (Pink Lady or Gala)
2 ripe Bartlett pears
1⁄3 cup dark brown sugar
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 TBSP unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
2 cups apple cider
1⁄3 cup dark brown sugar
2 TBSP unsalted butter
½ tsp kosher salt
2 TBSP heavy cream
To make pastry: In the bowl of a food processor, combine ﬂour, sugar and salt. Add cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some larger pieces of butter. Add ice water and vinegar and pulse until it comes together. Place in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400°F and peel and core apples and pears and use a mandolin to cut very thin slices (make the pear slices slightly thicker than the apple slices). In a bowl, toss apples, pears, sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and cinnamon together; place pastry on a lightly ﬂoured piece of parchment paper, and roll into a 12-inch circle. Top with the prepared fruit in concentric circles leaving a 1- to 2-inch border. Lift and press the edges up over the fruit, folding as needed. Place the parchment onto a rimmed baking sheet and chill for 10 minutes. Brush the border with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar, if desired. Dot the fruit with butter and bake until the ﬁling is tender and the crust is deep golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Caramel: Bring apple cider to a boil over medium-high heat in a saucepan; boil until it is reduced to 1 cup, about 13 minutes. Add brown sugar, butter and salt and stir to combine. Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook, whisking often until it starts to thicken, about 10 minutes—the sauce will thicken as it cools. Whisk in the cream and set aside to cool; serve the galette in slices, topped with some ice cream and a dollop (or more!) of the caramel sauce .