Disney Dining, Private Chef

by Sue Holland, contributing writer

Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort, a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resort in Florida, is home to a very unique dining experience that is sure to be the highlight of any visit — the Private Affair.

The resort is located on Longview Island, a small island within Hilton Head Island. There are no full-service restaurants at the resort because of its small size, lack of parking space for non-guests, and the hundreds of great restaurants nearby already covering all food preferences and budgets. Instead, the resort just has a couple of counter-service outlets at the pools.

Disney eventually established the Longview Cooking Club — a series of food and wine-related events geared towards adults. During any given week, there might be a wine sampling event, hors d'oeuvres or dessert-cooking demonstrations, or a DVC member social. A cast member known as Chef Gordon conducts these popular events, and every one I have attended has been well worth the nominal fee.

One of the most exclusive of Chef Gordon's activities is the Private Affair, a dinner he prepares as your private chef in a location that is off-limits to anyone else for that evening. Currently, these dinners are held at Signals at the Beach House, and Gordon sets a table to make sure that diners have a view of the beach and ocean. By day, Signals is a counter-service place selling chicken fingers and other casual food. During Private Affair, there are candles, soft music, linen tablecloth and napkins, and real dinnerware and glassware.

Signals is transformed into a private restaurant.

From the time our Private Affair was booked (almost 11 months in advance), through all of the planning — to even the day after the dinner when the recipes arrived in my e-mail — Chef Gordon was terrific. He provides a menu he has developed, but makes it clear that guests are not limited to those items. If there is something else you want, simply make the request in advance and Gordon will accommodate your wishes if at all possible. I was part of a party of four doing the Private Affair, two of whom are very picky eaters, and our only challenge was narrowing the menu down to select one item per person for each course — it all sounded wonderful.

The Private Affair is held long after Signals has closed for the day — in our case 6:30 p.m. After introducing the other guests to Gordon, we were seated at our table with a direct view of the ocean and the sunset. Gordon had set his cooking station up within our view, yet far enough away that if we wanted privacy for our conversation we would have it. We enjoyed talking with him throughout the evening, and he freely shared a number of cooking tips and stories.

Cooking is done close to tableside.

Wines come with each course, and although Gordon can choose the “correct” wine for each based upon what a diner orders, he encouraged us to simply drink what we like. He asked a few questions, and was able to select the perfect wine for each person in the party.

A variety of wines are provided.

Throughout the evening, service was excellent. Having a private chef is such a treat, and the meal was timed to our speed rather than some busy restaurant kitchen. By being in the same room as us, Gordon could see when it was time to begin the next step, and he made sure to keep our wine glasses refilled.

The meal consists of an appetizer, entrée and dessert. When we originally booked, I thought we would need to come to agreement on the same appetizer, entrée and dessert. However, it was Gordon who insisted we stick with our original choices even though the four of us had each selected a different one of the four entrees on the sample menu. The appetizer selections (with their recommended and alternate wines) are:

French Onion Soup au Gruyere or Sea Island She Crab Soup
Recommended: Madeira
Alternate: Chardonnay

Lowcountry Barbecued Shrimp Saté
Recommended: Pinot Noir
Alternate: Zinfandel

Daufuskie Island Crab Cakes with Devil's Elbow Dressing
Recommended: Chardonnay
Alternate: Sauvignon Blanc

Baby Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing
Recommended: French Colombard
Alternate: Pinot Grigio

The crab cake is huge, and full of crab rather than filler.

Our group chose the onion soup, she-crab bisque, and crab cakes. The onion soup was the best onion soup I've had anywhere — delicious flavor and not salty at all. The crab bisque and crab cake were also excellent.

A couple of the people in my party are experienced cooks and know a lot more about food than I do, and they were highly impressed by these appetizers. Portions were quite large, and tasted so good we forced ourselves to eat a bit longer than we otherwise would have.

This onion soup could be a satisfying meal by itself.

The entrees were next, each accompanied by rice and green beans. Despite having four different entrees to prepare, Gordon had everything timed perfectly so everyone got their food at the same time without anything getting cold. The entrée selections are:

Filet Mignon with Lemon Butter Brandy Flambé
Recommended: Cabernet Sauvignon
Alternate: Merlot

Tilapia Provencale with Blue Crab Stuffing
Recommended: Chardonnay
Alternate: Sauvignon Blanc

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Vidalia Onion Confit
Recommended: Merlot
Alternate: Cabernet Sauvignon

Herb Crusted Sautéed Grouper
Recommended: Sauvignon Blanc
Alternate: Chardonnay

Tilapia on the left, Grouper on the right.

Once again, everything was unbelievably delicious. Both fish dishes were perfectly prepared, and the filet mignon could almost be cut with a butter knife. The onion confit was a great complement to the pork tenderloin, and everyone enjoyed eating what they could but ended up with some leftovers for the next day.

Left to right: Delicious filet mignon that you can cut with a butter knife, and pork tenderloin that goes well with the onion confit.

At this point had we been in a restaurant, it's doubtful any of us would have ordered dessert. But since it was already included in our meal, we somehow managed to eat part of it. The rest went home in carryout containers and was just as good the next day — in fact, it was a treat to relive the dinner via leftovers. We also enjoyed champagne with our desserts. The dessert selections are:

Vanilla Caramel Flan
Recommended: Champagne
Alternate: Port

Chocolate Pots-de-Cr?me with Grand Marnier Cream
Recommended: Madeira
Alternate: Champagne

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake
Recommended: Port
Alternate: Muscat

Classic Crepes Suzette
Recommended: Champagne
Alternate: Madeira

Nobody in our party tried the Crepes Suzette, but we did order the other three items. The flan was very good, even though I generally am not a fan of flan. The cheesecake was made in-house, as were all of the desserts, and was also excellent.

White chocolate raspberry cheesecake.

The hands-down winner, though, was the chocolate pots-de-cr?me. I had no idea what this was, except that it was chocolate. It turned out to be one of the best things we've ever tasted, and according to Gordon is very easy to make. He sent us the recipe, and one of these days we'll see how “easy” it is for a non-Chef.

Chocolate pots-de-crème, the ultimate dessert for chocolate lovers!

The Private Affair was easily the highlight of our trip, and is something I will look forward to repeating on future trips. I've talked to many people who have also done a Private Affair and have yet to find anyone who did not rave about their wonderful evening with Chef Gordon. Gordon likes to do the Private Affair several times a week, and fills in the other evenings with the other Longview Cooking Club events that are open to larger groups of people.

Private Affair must be booked at least 24 hours in advance, but it's so popular it is best to book as far in advance as possible, even if that means booking it as soon as you make your room reservation. This ensures Gordon that will have the greatest availability for the dates selected. The cost of the dinner is $150 (inclusive) for up to three people, and $50/person for parties of four or more.

In my opinion, the experience will be diminished somewhat once the group gets larger than four to six people. The interaction with your private chef contributes greatly to the meal, and that interaction was much more limited when friends did the Private Affair as a party of nine. It was well worth the $200 for our four dinners, even though I do not usually dine at expensive restaurants with my teenage son. I may have to book another Private Affair during our mother/son trip to Hilton Head next March.

Chef Gordon with author Sue Holland.

To book your own Private Affair call 843-341-4166 or send e-mail to Chef Gordon at ChefLCC@cs.com. He's waiting to hear from you!