Article from The Courier – January 25 2023
By Maria Gran
Instead of working in a restaurant every day, Perthshire chef Serena McIvor travels around Scotland to cook for tourists, golfers and everyone in between.
The diary quickly fills up for the private chef from Auchterarder, especially since coming out of lockdown.
Serena started offering a dine-at-home service through her business The Home Menu after Covid hit, but last year saw her return to private dining again.
Having jumped in and out of the kitchen her entire life, she’s now come to terms with her career.
“My earliest memories as a child were cooking, and when I left school I just fell into it,” Serena says.
“I did five years in the wine trade before going back into cooking. It went from there and every now and again I’ve tried to swerve away from it, but it keeps coming back to haunt me.
“It wasn’t what I thought I was going do when I left school, but it’s working out.”
Cooked for the Queen
There aren’t many private chefs in Scotland, meaning there’s never a shortage of work for Serena.
Most of her work includes going away for up to three weeks at a time, hosted by the family or group of people she’s cooking for.
Her clients include American tourists, French families and British staycationers. She’s even cooked for the most famous family in Britain.
“When I lived in Aberdeenshire, near Ballater, I cooked for the late Queen and the late Prince Philip,” she reveals.
“Yes I have cooked for royalty, but it’s mostly golfers, business people and very high-end clients.
“Last year, I cooked at The Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open, for the owner who flies in with the top-level golfers like Sam Burns and Scottie Scheffler.
“I get to meet some very interesting people and fortunately I love golf, so it fits me quite well.”
For each job the chef prepares a menu, buys the ingredients, packs some of her kitchen equipment – just in case – and takes care of cooking and dishes throughout the stay.
Doing such a substantial job doesn’t come cheap. As it slightly depends on numbers, Serena won’t reveal how much she charges.
“It’s not a cheap option,” she confirms.
“But if you’re cooking for 10 to 12 people for seven nights, if they went out to a good dinner every night, plus I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner, it works out financially.”
Perthshire private chef with local ingredients
With her job taking her to lodges and castles all over Scotland, the chef gets to showcase the best of local ingredients.
Serena’s menus are shaped by the seasons, focusing on what meat, fish and vegetables are available. She also grows her own vegetables at home.
She says: “I’m pro sustainability, so I source as much produce as possible locally and use local suppliers like Allan’s butchers and Willie Little Fish among others.
“These clients are coming into the country, they’re spending money, so it needs to go into the local economy if at all possible.
“We have fabulous fish, shellfish, meat and vegetables. We’re incredibly lucky and if the produce is fabulous, you don’t need to fuss over the ingredients on the plate. It should shout for itself.”
While her job means she can be away from home for weeks at a time, she enjoys the work-life balance she achieves.
Instead of doing a dinner party every night, she can be fully booked for two weeks and take one week off. With three children spread out across America, college in Glasgow and boarding school in Edinburgh she can fit time off around their holidays.
This year, she will be going back to The Renaissance Club and other bookings are also pouring in. On top of her private chef work, she is also the secretary to the Master Chefs of Great Britain.
After a “phenomenal” year for her business, she hopes 2023 will continue along the same lines.
She says: “Work keeps coming in and long may it do so. There’s a shortage of us private chefs and we’re getting very busy.
“It’s been an interesting business journey and one I’m very happily jogging along on at the moment.”