Chef 4U: Private Dining Perfected
Chef Nicolas Devenelle once showed up to serve a private catered dinner for four at Punta Cacique, between Coco and Hermosa. A huge extranjero answered the door, saw a chef, and happily welcomed him into his home.
Nicolas wondered where the other three people were, but he figured they were in their rooms, perhaps showering and dressing. He started the dinner prep and set the table, obsessing as usual over the perfection that he requires of himself and his staff at Costa Rica’s finest private catering service, Guanacaste Chef4U. Then the wife finished her shower, came out to the kitchen, asked the chef his name, and said, “We never ordered a dinner tonight.”
It turned out Nicolas had the wrong address. D’oh!
It’s all in a night’s work for Monsieur Devenelle, 42, a French-born chef with a lengthy pedigree under Michelin-starred mentors on two or three continents. On any day of the year, anywhere in Guanacaste, Nicolas is prepared to serve up a five-star, four-course dinner at a three-star price for groups as small as two, sometimes with only one cook — usually at the right address.
On the day after Valentine’s, February 2018, Nicolas and his chefs Priscilla and Maykel found their way to our home and served a succulent supper for my girlfriend, Guiselle, and me, and we dined like royalty. For the occasion I had bought a bottle of decent Chilean wine, but it turned out that we didn’t have a corkscrew. Guiselle asked Priscilla if by chance she had one, and Priscilla went downstairs — I thought to look for a corkscrew in her car. Priscilla came back with a brand-new corkscrew she just bought at the Luperón next door. This is not normal, I thought. This is exceptionally excellent service, above and beyond the call of duty.
Once the food started coming out, the service only got better. By now Chef Nicolas had showed up and was regaling us in Spanish and English, with a French accent, about how Chef4U has served more than 7,000 private dinners in 10 years averaging six people each, for a total of something like 42,000 people, including Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Troy Aikman, Kobe Bryant, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and the princess of Morocco, who gave Nicolas a golden pencil.
His largest dinner, he said, was for 250 people at pop star Pink’s 4-day wedding party at the Four Seasons.
Nicolas has worked as a chef at five different Four Seasons — in London; in Sharm-al-Sheikh, Egypt; in Toronto; in West Palm Beach, Florida; and here in Papagayo. Today he operates two outstanding restaurants — Poro Poro on Papagayo and Maracuyá Beach Club at Pez Vela Resort — as well as the Chef4U catering service.
Nicolas came to Costa Rica as a banquet chef, and he says: “There were a lot of people who came to have a dinner for 80 people, and they would say, ‘Nicolas, we want something special.’ So at the Four Seasons, we started to do private dinners on the patios of the villas.”
Later he started working with Exclusive Resorts, a collection of luxury vacation homes on Papagayo.
“About four years ago, someone came to eat at Poro Poro and asked me, ‘Chef, can you come cook at my house on Peninsula Papagayo?’ That’s where Chef4U was born.”
He started his own business offering private dinners anywhere in Guanacaste — in fact, he has catered events as far away as Arenal.
“We are trying to create an experience,” he said. “It’s not just showing up and giving you something to eat and cleaning up afterwards.
“We have a gold chef training program, like how to knock on the door, how to make the first contact with the client, how to arrive at the house, whether they’d like the dinner inside or out … it’s a whole process we do.”
Nicolas asked us to sit down at the elaborately decorated table, and soon we were eating the first course: caramelized pear salad with roasted tomato, arugula, crispy bacon, goat cheese crostini and French vinaigrette. It was luscious, and I ate it all, but Guiselle was trying to save room.
Next course: Ravioli with lobster, tomatoes concasse and a cream sauce with parmesan and truffle oil, olive oil and basil. (Concasse means they cut the skin off the tomato and chop it up.) This dish was complex, rich and fortunately not too large, because Guiselle could only eat half and I had to eat the rest.
Third course: Wagyu short ribs, braised for six hours, with garlic mashed potatoes and a sprig of asparagus. This was succulent, savory, and so soft you could eat it with a spoon.
After a short break, it was time for “Chocolate Lava Flow,” a soft brownie served with vanilla ice cream and passion fruit, a perfect finish that was both sweet and sour, with chocolate syrup artfully drizzled all over the plate. I devoured every bite, though by now Guiselle’s eyes were drooping contentedly to half-mast.
I asked Chef Nicolas how much this service normally costs, and he said $50 to $80 per person, plus the standard 13% tax and 10% service. Worth every dollar, I thought.
A few days later, with a couple of guests visiting, we had the opportunity to eat at Maracuyá Beach Club, a new restaurant at Bahía Pez Vela Resort, on a secluded beachfront near Ocotal. We had New York strip with jumbo prawns and pan-roasted chicken breast with chipotle mashed potatoes, plus some delightful appetizers, salads, wine and desserts. The service was exceptional (as if we were celebrities), and the ambience is one-of-a-kind: cool ocean breezes, the sound of the surf, nice music playing, soft lighting.
I look forward to visiting Poro Poro as well, because by now I know that I can expect the highest standards, the finest food and the best service anywhere from this perfectionist chef.
“When there’s a table of eight people,” Nicolas said, “and when dinner is over everyone applauds, that’s spectacular.”
Guiselle and I are still applauding.
Based in Papagayo, serving the Guanacaste region
Available every day of the year by reservation
Private dinners, events, weddings, culinary workshops, mixology lessons
Guanacaste Chef4U: Simply Superb Private Catering
The acclaimed French chef Nicolas Devenelle and his team of outstanding cooks will create a dinner experience for you, whether you’re a couple, a family or a wedding party. Their unsurpassed culinary innovations and gorgeous presentation will create an unforgettable
dining experience at the place and time of your choosing.
“TURRIALBA” 4-COURSE PLATED DINNER
Organic Green Salad
Fresh asparagus, orange segments, hearts of palm and garden-herb vinaigrette
Homemade Lobster Ravioli
Spinach, lobster, tomato, basil, white truffle parmesan sauce
Wagyu Short Rib
Slowly braised, served with garlic mashed potato and asparagus
With pineapple chips and passion fruit coulis