Monica Shaw

Interview: Tara Hofman

food magazine - December 01, 2010

Pop-up restaurants are sweeping the country, and chef Tara Hofman is riding the wave. Her business, Tara’s Table, takes the restaurant experience into people’s own private homes. Monica Shaw asked Tara about private parties, personal menus, and making her way around other people’s kitchens.

What inspired you to leave the restaurant kitchen and start your own business?

I really wanted to work for myself. In a busy restaurant, little things can sometimes seem like splitting hairs, but I’m very particular and customers appreciate the effort that goes into the details. I learned what I know from brilliant chefs and it’s great to put those skills to use in my own business. Also, the buck really stops with me so there’s no one else to blame if anything goes awry — I like that.

What’s it like going from restaurants into people’s own homes?

In a restaurant, you don’t usually meet the people you cook for. But in a private party, you own the whole process and get to know people. I always talk to customers before the event, show them sample menus, talk about their likes and dislikes, and then tailor things for them. Food is what I most love talking about so it’s a perfect job. Also, with a three-course menu for a dinner party, I can put more love into it because all my attention is on those dishes and on the guests — I can even throw in a few surprises because I know what they like. In a restaurant, this isn’t usually possible.

How do find working in other people’s kitchens?

It certainly prompts a lot of unexpected chatter and challenges, like getting around the dog and finding somewhere to attach the pasta machine!

Lots of chefs are setting up their own businesses — what sets you apart?

I keep things small and personal, sometimes as small as one-on-one cooking lessons (which I love). I used to work in the wine trade and my husband still does, so I’m able to source brilliant wine. Plus, I keep things fresh and constantly changing because no two experiences are ever the same. Flexibility is key in this business so I always keep an open mind.

Your business is pretty new — how is it going?

They say an English man’s home is his castle and it’s so true — private dinner parties are catching on. Many people don’t want the hassle of going out for what might be a disappointing experience. It’s early days but I’ve had a lot of interest, especially coming up to Christmas. Cookery lessons are popular Christmas presents — people love consumable gifts. And canapés are massively popular for Christmas parties, though I’ve had to turn down some requests to host parties on Christmas Day — I have my own Christmas party to worry about!

Future plans for Tara’s Table?

Restaurants will always have their place, but people are changing the way they eat — they want variety. Pop-up restaurants are great because they offer diners a different experience. They’re also a good use of space, ingredients and resources — that’s where I’m headed. I want to keep things interesting, because if I ever got bored, the service would lose its sparkle. Diversity is a fantastic thing. As much as I love private parties, I still love the buzz of a busy restaurant, so maybe I’ll take Tara’s Table “out” every so often. Watch this space!

Early food memories?

Wolfing down a huge plate of Spaghetti Bolognese when I was 6 or 7 years old in an Italian restaurant while the waiters laughed at me. It’s is still one of my favourite foods.

What would you happily never eat again?

Lava bread — I’ve tried to like it but it’s just not happening.

Wednesday evening fail-safe dish?

Spaghetti carbonara. I always have pasta in the house and eggs, bacon and parmesan in the fridge.

Tara’s Table 12 Cranham Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, BS10 5EE Tel. 0117 962 1770 Mob. 07740 683149

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