Weatherford Democrat

October 28, 2013

Chef plates up California culture

At home on your range


Weatherford Democrat

— BY JUDY SHERIDAN

The City of Aledo may not have the international renown of California’s Napa Valley, but it can now boast a personal chef versed in the region’s food and wine culture.

“Aledo is Napa Valley without the grapes,” new resident Christi Flaherty of TablaVie Personal Chef Service suggests. “It’s the country life, but near the city, much like Napa Valley.”

Flaherty, who spent six years in the nation’s Wine Country, owns a unique business that offers multi-course wine dinners, private cooking classes and custom meals — with a focus on special diets.

The meals are cooked in her customers’ homes and then served with a smile — or stocked in the fridge — according to preference.

Impressively, every single part is made from scratch — the sauces, the breads, even the ice cream.

“I’ve chosen not to do catering,” she said. “You’re stuck with a menu, and you work with food distributors. I want to put my heart and soul into it.”

Flaherty is emphatic about “living in the seasons,” creating original dishes from produce that’s fresh and local, rather than starting with a recipe. In April, a meal might include asparagus. In July, tomatoes.

“I’ve learned what real food grown with care tastes like, and how you don’t have to do anything to manipulate it,” she said. “I’ve had people fight over was a platter of heirloom tomatoes treated with nothing but olive oil, salt, pepper and basil.

“The flavors were so intense, and it looked like a rainbow on a plate.”

Flaherty grew up in the Mid-Cities. She has always loved to cook, but set her sights on a cooking career after having a family.

“I realized cooking was what gave me life,” she said, “but I had to pursue it my own way.”

Flaherty enrolled in The Culinary School of Fort Worth, where she was mentored by co-founder and cookbook author Judie Byrd. In time, she began teaching cooking classes herself.

The year 2004 was pivotal; Flaherty attended the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena — and soon fell in love with picturesque Napa Valley, which she returned to visit.

“In 2007, my husband and I decided to pick up and move without jobs or a house,” she said. “I started pursuing becoming a personal chef in Napa Valley. That’s where I developed my farm-to-table style.”     

While husband Kyle learned about wines as an employee of Whitehall Lane Winery, Flaherty collaborated with other chefs and talked to local farmers.

Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is big there, she said. Customers pay in advance for farm shares, regularly receiving boxes of whatever is harvested 24 hours before.

“I already cooked instinctually,” she said. “I learned how flavors work together with a plethora of fresh foods. I learned how to take food and really showcase it.”

After moving back to Texas to be close to her family, Flaherty now finds herself eager to introduce new produce varieties to Parker County and west Fort Worth, the area she plans to serve.

She hopes to find farmers willing to grow different kinds of greens or items like candy-striped beets — pesticide-free — as well as meat producers who exclude hormones and antibiotics.

“I prefer local over organic because I can talk to the farmers,” she said. “I want to be free to ask questions.”

In Napa, Flaherty said, she and Kyle became known for their wine dinners, with Kyle pairing the wines — often from the private cellars of the hosts — with the dishes she prepared in the host’s kitchen. Kyle also educated guests about the pairings as each wine was introduced.

The couple recently created such a dinner in the Montserrat neighborhood in west Fort Worth, serving seven guests.

The dinner, which included roasted peppers with herbed goat cheese on gluten-free baguettes; endive salad with microgreens, grapes, hazelnuts and gruyere; coffee-crusted tenderloin with mushroom risotto and grilled radicchio; and apple crostata with cinnamon ice cream and salted caramel sauce, took 10 hours to prepare, Flaherty said, and cost about $70 per person.

In accordance with the law, the host provided the wines, Flaherty said, one for each course, with Kyle supervising the pairings.

“We’ve noticed that when people sit around the dinner table, the whole atmosphere is filled with life,” Flaherty said, explaining the name TablaVie, of French origin.

“We love people, and we wanted face time to talk with them about life.”

For more information, contact Christi Flaherty at 707-365-5330 or go to www.tablavie.com.