By Jill Fahy
For The Essex Reporter

Lauren Curry says her fear of making homemade pie crusts has crumbled, thanks to Courtney Contos – an executive chef from Essex who now makes house calls to those in need of a little assistance in their own kitchens.

Curry, of Westford, is a serious cook, the kind who bakes her own bread, whips up her own mayonnaise, and produces marshmallows from scratch. So when her umpteenth attempt at duplicating her mother’s flaky pie crust recipe failed, she called Contos for help.

“Courtney came over just the other night and did a ‘pie crust 101’ with me, and I had beautiful pie crusts ready for Thanksgiving,” Curry said.

Contos – a food writer, private chef and executive chef of Cook Academy at Inn At Essex – has distinguished herself in the class setting, teaching culinary enthusiasts how to have fun with all kinds of cooking. Curry said she first met Contos last spring while taking the chef’s ‘Tapas from the Grill class.’

  Now, Contos said, she’ll be taking her show on the road. For between $150 and $225, the chef will spend 2½ hours with her clients – in their homes – tailoring her culinary knowledge to their needs.

“There are still a whole bunch of people I haven’t yet reached that are home and who haven’t come to these classes and maybe are intimidated,” Contos said. “And there are all sorts of people out there with different situations; some people may have had a life-changing experience and want a fresh start; others may just want to learn to cook more.”

The 35-year-old chef said she looks forward to helping clients whose needs might range from organizing recipes, to creating a baking cabinet, to planning quicker meals for families with kids on the run.

Clients need only supply two things during a session with Contos: A wood cutting board and a knife.

“The good news is the knife can be dull because I’ll teach them how to sharpen it,” Contos said.

For clients who don’t cook much but are eager to learn, Contos said, she might create a list of possible dishes based on their favorite foods, favorite restaurant, and what they already know how to make.

“That’s when all these recipes will start popping into my head,” Contos said.  

Contos has an impressive culinary pedigree that is rooted in Chicago’s restaurant business. The Windy City’s famed French restaurant, Chez Paul, was established by her grandfather, Paul Contos, and later run by her father, Bill, until Bill’s death in 1993. Replicas of the restaurant’s elegant dining room can be seen in classic movies, The Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. 

As a child of restaurant entrepreneurs, Contos grew up learning the management-end of the business. A passion for cooking, however, led her to the kitchen, via culinary school, and an internship with Chicago chef and restaurateur, Charlie Trotter. Contos then honed her skills as a private chef for clients in Chicago, Miami and New York City, before settling in Vermont.

Curry, Contos’ client, said her own creativity in the kitchen was reinvigorated by Contos, who taught her new techniques and how to make adjustments to her cooking style.

“She is the gentlest teacher,” Curry said. “She’s so enthusiastic about cooking and loves experiencing food with other people. She’s also a learning chef.”

Contos said she has built a solid client list through her blog, athttp://www.chefcontos.com/. Word of mouth, she said, should also help spread the word about her new culinary coaching endeavor.