How in the world do I even begin to describe our wonderful, at-home dinner experience with the, “oh so famous at our Tallahassee Foodies group”, Chef Leon? I texted my friends afterwards and said, “I cannot stop smiling”!!
I’m a newbie to this group of friends. They invited me into their homes recently and suggested that we start getting together once a month. I mentioned that I was happy to host the next at my place and Chef Leon’s name immediately came up in conversation!!! Next thing I know, I reached out to him and we jumped right in on the menu planning!
Our evening was inspired by my visit to James Beard award winner, restauranteur, and cookbook author Norman Van Aken’s restaurant in Key West years ago. I’ve cooked up several recipes from his New World Kitchen cookbook, and I’ve been craving his Caribbean inspired dishes for a while now. I knew Chef Leon could handle a tropical, seafood heavy menu, thanks to all those years he spent mixing up those international dishes at Kool Beanz!
We Go Back Two Years This Month
I met Chef Leon two years ago at Kool Beanz when I sat at that service window watching him serve up magic on a plate! I never introduce myself anywhere I go, so I just enjoyed our conversation, snapped a few discreet pics when no one was looking, and converted all of that into my first ever blog post here at TallahasseeFoodies.com.
The next day, he discovered the post linked at our Tallahassee Foodies group, and from then on, he’s been such a sensation at our group, booking one private chef dinner after another with our members that love him so much. Posts at the group featuring dinner experiences with Chef Leon get massive engagement (here, here, and here, are a few amongst many others).
We’ve also enjoyed hosting FB Watch Parties at our group, streaming his live cooking classes from his home to ours during pandemic.
My Key West Inspired Hostess Extras
Because my friends and I have NEVER EVER had a fancy in-home chef prepared meal, I wanted to up the boujee factor to the next level. Inspired by our Key West theme, I thought it would be fun to have a signature cocktail and some colorful, tropical flowers for decor, one arrangement for each guest to take home as a party favor.
I had the pleasure of taste testing different variations of spicy margarita ingredients all weekend, and I think I got it just right (recipe coming soon)! I made a huge batch ahead of time, so I wouldn’t be squeezing juice all night and could enjoy my company!
To add a little color and tropical flair to our evening, I enlisted the help of Oak Studio Florals. For the most part, I’m usually looking for reasons to purchase flowers from her, always hoping for happy occasions, because her flowers are gorgeous, affordable, last for SO LONG, and are delivered right to your doorstep! I asked if she could do four mini tropical vases that I could use as a centerpiece table-runner and gift to each friend afterwards, and she came through with these gorgeous arrangements.
This chef dinner is something EVERYONE should experience at least once in a lifetime. Or, you may get spoiled and book your next event with him immediately, as we did right there from the dinner table last night LOL.
The price per person varies depending on how many courses you order, as well as menu items requested. We had a seafood heavy meal, and the cost is what we would pay at most restaurants, yet we received a full on, custom experience, right in the comfort and intimate setting of my home.
I knew that Chef Leon would work his magic, but to watch him in action, is such a wonderful, fun, unique moment. We had an exciting front-row view to all of that chopping and plating, and as always, we enjoyed our conversation with him so much!
It’s all about the details!!! He brought everything he needed to prep and cook, found our dishes, immediately started chilling the bowls for the ahi tuna appetizer, lit the candles that I never light, offered up a table side explanation of each dish, removed dishes when we were done with each, found my to-go soup containers and wrapped everyone’s extras up, and popped it in all in the fridge to keep it cool!
My kitchen was spotless when Chef Leon arrived, and I’m pretty sure it sparkled even more upon his departure. I had no idea that he would offer up such a full-service experience. There was absolutely nothing for me to do when everyone left besides finish my glass of wine, and go to sleep a very happy girl!
Our Custom Key West Tasting Menu
You know it’s an amazing experience when I’ve gushed about every moment and saved the best for last… our Key West inspired dinner. I knew exactly what I wanted for appetizer and main, and Chef Leon surprised us with some fun dessert options.
We started with melt in your mouth wild caught tuna and salmon poke topped with Sriracha mayo, benne seed oil, torched nori, and sesame sticky rice, garnished with some of those amazing Legacy Greens (locals supporting locals)! Oh my word, even the rice and cucumber was delicious! Chef Leon says it’s always the best compliment when the little details are worth getting excited about.
Next, we moved on to scratch-made buttermilk biscuits with an amazing, bursting with flavor, tomato jam. I had no idea how I would feel about a tomato jam, even though I picked it because I was intrigued, and wow!!!! His mix of sweet, savory, acidic with strawberry vinegar, and a little kick of spice was so perfectly balanced on top of those flaky buttermilk biscuits. I had to hold back and save room for the next couple of courses!
Pro Tip – I had the leftover biscuits the next morning with some of Marie’s Jam’s and Jellies Blueberry Lavender jam!!!
For our main, we had an incredible Cajun Seafood Pasta, with fresh homemade fettuccini noodles. As you probably already know, there is a massive difference between fresh pasta and store bought, it’s so satisfying and delicious. Our pasta was smothered in a rich cajun cream sauce, large gulf shrimp, mussels, scallops and spinach!!! It was honestly better than any restaurant seafood pasta I’ve ever had, and seafood pasta is my thing!!!
Since we couldn’t decide between the desserts he suggested, we requested both LOL. The blueberry hand pies and Key Lime ice cream were wonderful, and I took a pic too quick before he added on the little bit of biscotti dust for crunch. When we booked the next party, we have no idea what the theme will be, but we let Chef Leon know we’re going to need more of that biscotti dust!!