This past Sunday, April 30th, 2023, I had my first private chef experience with Gradito, and it was magical, to say the least. Gradito’s co-founder Chef Sean invited seven diners and me to enjoy a five-course tasting menu accompanied by canapés created by him, Chef Angela & Chef Quan, and wine pairings courtesy of sommelier Mauro Enfield. The day’s gloomy weather turned into pure bliss with their extraordinary flavor compositions and hospitality.
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in New York, and I was making my way downtown to the very end of Manhattan… Tucked away in some streets near Battery Park was the luxury boutique condominium Jolie @ 77 Greenwich Street - the day’s destination for this private chef dinner party. As soon as I stepped into the lobby, I was greeted by a sleek entrance with modern finishes - an elegant arrival for this tasteful gastronomic experience. I then took the elevator to the 41st floor up to their Cloud Club 77, and yes, it does feel like you're on top of a cloud in heaven once you walk in.
Cloud Club 77 is Jolie’s very own Mount Olympus with its sophisticated indoor design and extravagant views of the New York Harbor, Statue of Liberty, and city skyline. From the giant windows to the contemporary furniture from Industry West, this private event space felt like the perfect dining room for this personal chef dining celebration. One of my favorite details of the space was the stylish fireplace enclosed in the wall separating the dining room from the larger common area. Especially with the fog and gloomy atmosphere that day, you couldn’t help but feel the cozy luxury that Gradito’s private chef experience is all about.
As I kept taking in the gorgeous views, the rest of the diners arrived soon after. A few handshakes later, we gathered around the fireplace and started sharing anecdotes of how we had each met Chef Sean Kommer. After going around the room, I remember one of them said, “So, are we ready for the next 2-3 hours of great food and awkward conversation?” We all burst into laughter, and it seemed as if that was the little thing we needed to finally break the ice for the rest of the afternoon. It certainly did the job, and as the conversations started flowing, so did the champagne and the canapés.
A well-traveled connoisseur of Viticulture and wine, our sommelier for the afternoon, Mauro Enfield, welcomed us with some of the best champagne I have ever had. We knew several bottles of wine awaited us, so I think we were all under the collective mindset to “take it easy”. But as soon as we said cheers and tasted this Jacquart Brut, a second or even third glass for everyone was sure to happen. Driven by white fruits with hints of citrus, this delicate French champagne was the best way to begin the best NYC private chef experience.
A trail of luxury followed as we were greeted by our three Michelin-trained private chefs with their innovatively exquisite canapés. Chef Sean took the stage first with his Beau Soleil oysters with sushi vinegar mignonette ‘air’. If eating an oyster isn’t divine enough, just imagine an oyster topped off with the most flavorful cloud-like foam you’ve ever tasted. This first bite truly set the tone for the rest of this luxurious private chef-tasting menu experience. Minutes later, we met Chef Quan Ngo, a top-tier private chef in New York focused on cooking traditional Vietnamese cuisine with an imaginative twist. You know when something’s so beautiful, you’re afraid to eat it? This is what I felt as soon as I saw the level of precision and detail Chef Quan put into his canapé. At first glance, they seemed to be miniature tomatoes that could easily be part of an art exhibition at the Whitney. We were all itching with curiosity, and Chef Quan soon let us know that these marinated tomatoes were stuffed with Japanese Amberjack and dressed with green shiso and young ginger oil. Absolutely, delicious. Last, but certainly not least, was Chef Angela with her 30-month cave-aged gruyere gougères. The Eleven Madison Park pastry sous chef and former pastry chef at London’s Davies and Brook somehow transformed the classic cheese puff we all know and love, and turned it into the most sophisticated (and addictive) piece of cheesy dough with the specially aged gruyere. We were all trying to save our appetite for the rest of the meal, but it was almost impossible to stop indulging in these NYC private chefs’ canapé creations.
It was more than obvious why Chef Sean invited the eight of us… It was quite easy for us to finish the Jacquart Brut and canapés in no time. We savored our last moments next to the fireplace and were then invited to step into the dining room for the real culinary action to begin. Tucker, Erin, Mike, Asha, Andrea, Isaac, Jeffrey, and I took our seats at the dinner table, and our anticipation-filled smiles couldn’t have been bigger. There’s always something memorable about being fully present with a bunch of people at the dinner table, but being here with people I had just met a few canapés ago seemed oddly extra-special on this day. The attention to detail present in this atmosphere that Mauro and our three polished chefs managed to create was so exceptional that this round table of eight soon became a symphony of conversations and blissful laughter.
And just like that, our private chef lunch with the Gradito personal chef app commenced… From the beautiful tableware to the soft bluesy music to the great company, every part of this personal chef lunch was feeling just right. In the blink of an eye, our wine glasses were full of a dry white wine from Camin Larreyda, a small estate in Jurançon, a wine appellation in the southwest of France. Mauro explained that he chose this ‘La Part Davant’ 2020 because it paired especially well with shellfish, which was the highlight of our first course. Seconds later, almost in a sort of cinematic unison, the chefs placed these beautiful charcoal dishes in front of us. On the dish was an elevated tartare of “Spot Prawn Goi with Fish Patty Herb, Black Lime, Pickled Agretti, and Black Sesame”. This refreshing dish had some fun textures and held the perfect lightness to begin this culinary journey with Gradito.
After such a great and impressive start, we were more than ready for round two. For our second course, we were served “Fields Edge Asparagus with Karasumi, Koshihikari Rice, and White Asparagus Sabayon” - simply put, it was the arrival of Spring served on a dish. One of Gradito's private chef app’s main focuses is to bring a luxury fine dining experience unique to each client. We felt the VIP treatment and care as Chef Sean went to each of us, and personally poured the sabayon on everyone’s dish. In my opinion, the karasumi was, without a doubt, the star of the dish. Its rich salty flavor was complemented beautifully with the glass of ‘La Justice’ 2021, a buttery Chardonnay from the Bourgogne region in France that Mauro introduced us to.
The third course (and possibly my favorite) exuded Chef Quan’s innovative simplicity with a gorgeous plating of “Northern Vietnamese Squid Sausage with Young Sticky Rice Flakes, Mung Bean Foam, and Garden Chamomile”. Also reminiscent of Spring with its enchanting yellow foam, this squid sausage with the fattiness of the pork mixed in was just superb. As flavors kept blooming in our mouths, Mauro continued to share his incredibly engaging wine insights as he poured us our first red wine of the day - a deep ruby Californian Pinot Noir named Morgan from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Although we were nearing the end of our time together, the magical aromas that kept swimming throughout the room kept us in joyous ignorance for a little while longer.
As we kept enjoying each other’s presence and making connections, we noticed the highly-skilled private chefs kept walking past us with ingredients and equipment. To our surprise, we later learned that they had been using Cloud Club’s outdoor kitchen and grilling stations for our fourth course: “Charcoal Grilled Turbot with Blue Lipper Mussels and Junmai with Russian Oscietra Caviar Sauce”. Wow, just wow. Between the freshness of the mussels to the perfect char on the turbot to the decadence of the caviar sauce, this dish was a dance of flavors on your taste buds. And to top things off, Mauro then switched things up and served us a chilled red wine. Hailing from Sicily, the fresh and fruity notes of this Mortellito Calaniuru Rosso from 2021 couldn’t have paired better with the sophisticated flavors of this dish.
The expectations were high for our last course after such a rollercoaster of flavors and imaginative presentations. Chef Angela hit it out of the park with this “Buckwheat Sable Tart with Mountain Sweet Strawberries and Rose’s Milk Ice Cream”. As soon as the plates were on the table, nothing but silence and admiration were heard. As I looked around the table, each one of us was radiating joy as we indulged in this delicate dessert that looked like it came straight out of a storybook. And, of course, Mauro knew exactly what would elevate this simplicity exceptionally well. He gifted us with an elixir from the gods - a dessert wine known as Vendemiaire (2017) from the Pyrenées region in France. We thought the festivities had ended, but then Chef Angela surprised us with another one of her sweet masterpieces. Her carefully crafted rhubarb macaroons made us end on the sweetest of notes.
The private chef experience with Gradito had reached its conclusion, but we knew that the memories would certainly live on. As we revisited some of the wines with Mauro, we kept cheering to the present and savoring our epicurean afternoon. For a few hours, Chef Sean, Chef Quan, Chef Angela, and Mauro were able to transport us to this culinary haven on Jolie’s Mount Olympus as we feasted and cherished each moment of the courses. After we said our goodbyes and went our ways, it seemed like everyone had needed a rainy Sunday with a private chef… We left feeling grateful for the present moment and reenergized with what our taste buds had the privilege to experience.
I knew Gradito was an unforgettable private chef experience, but that Sunday I witnessed the true luxury behind it. It’s quite inexplicable, but Chef Sean, Chef Quan, Chef Angela, and Mauro’s true desire to bring us together through the healing power of food and wine comes close to it. At the end of the day, we each experienced the meaning of ‘gradito’ in our different ways, and became a group of strangers that left as friends…