When Dave Miller graduated from Naperville Central High School in 1991, Food Network was not on the air. Naperville had a few locally owned restaurants and a limited dining selection. Miller left his hometown to attend Johnson and Wales Culinary University. After he graduated, he founded Chef by Request Catering in 1995 and watched as Naperville began to grow and change.
“As Naperville became more corporate, hospitality became very structured,” Miller says. “There became a much larger range of restaurants making the town like a micro-Chicago where there is a little bit of everything. Instead of having one destination restaurant in town, Naperville became a destination town with many restaurants. People can find a quick pizza one night and enjoy a steak dinner the next.”
Miller found himself in the right place at the right time with a business in a town that understood hospitality.
“Naperville has become known for being a hub for hospitality,” Miller says. “People find consistent quality of service, good variety and fair prices in Naperville.”
Miller also has seen the level of sophistication expand dramatically due in part to the exposure food is given on television shows. People who once ate only Swiss and cheddar cheese are now familiar with manchego and other exotic options. Requests for wine or beer pairing with meals are common.
“When our clients come to us, they have ideas of what they want,” he says. “We take their ideas and show them what we can do.”
As the level of knowledge about hospitality has risen, so have the expectations.
“Entertaining can be as little or as much as the client wants. We may just provide a portion of the meal, or we can provide tables, linens, chairs, china and floral. We partner with our clients to combine our skills with their skills,” Miller says.
Chef by Design does an average of 1,200 full-service events a year. To better serve clients, they have four divisions for weddings, social events, corporate functions and nonprofit partners.
Miller points to Dinner on the Town the annual Naperville Heritage Society fundraiser as proof of Naperville’s high standard of hospitality. Participants in the event meet for cocktails and a silent auction before spinning a Wheel of Dining to determine where they are going to have dinner.
“People are willing to spin the dial and go wherever because they trust the level of hospitality offered in Naperville,” Miller says. “They know they will enjoy a four-course meal paired with wines that will be high quality.”
He also notes that business owners like him are willing to participate in the event because they can meet potential new customers.
“Good hospitality is a draw, and we hope it is also a motivation to buy,” Miller says. “Naperville clients are very loyal. They are also willing to recommend a business to others. One of the most important questions we ask our clients is if they would refer us to others. That is very important to us.”
Entertaining today can be low-key casual or an extravagant event. Miller is always excited to work with clients who have a vision. He shares two of his favorite recipes for entertaining, but he is always ready to offer his services if needed.
Celery Root Au Gratin
3 pounds celery root
3 pounds russet potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2-1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese, divided
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and chop celery root into chunks. Cover with water and boil until tender. Drain and set aside. Peel and chop potato into chunks. Cover with water and boil until tender. Drain and set aside. Place cream, butter, saffron and garlic in a pot. Simmer and reduce over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the celery root. Then add the potatoes and one cup of the cheese. Combine and spread into a buttered 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and parsley. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Makes 12 servings.
Roasted Pumpkin Bisque
1 medium pumpkin (or 6 cups canned pumpkin)
1 cup finely chopped carrots
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped onion
6 tablespoons butter, divided
2 quarts chicken broth
3 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
To roast pumpkin, quarter and remove pulp and seeds. Rub inside of pumpkin with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 90 minutes until flesh is soft. Remove from oven and scrape flesh from skin while still hot. Discard skin. Mash pumpkin. It should make about 6 cups.
Sauté vegetables in 3 tablespoons butter for 10 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add pumpkin and bring to a boil. Then add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and puree with a hand mixer or divide into two batches and puree in a blender. Blend for 3 to 5 minutes. Return mixture to pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add seasonings. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Cut butter into small cubes and add to pot. Stir until all butter is absorbed. Adjust seasonings to taste.