How’s this for pressure: Chef Michael Neylan has cooked for Martha Stewart.
So when we asked him for a couple of tasty recipes for Halloween parties, he was cool and nonchalant about it.
And for the record: Neylan was not stressed-out when he prepared food for Stewart, just one of the many celebrity clients he cooked for when he owned Party Time Catering in Stamford, Conn. The company prepared food for people flying on private jets on the East Coast.
“It wasn’t intimidating,” Neylan says about serving high-profile clients. “But the charter airline business was very demanding.”
So seven years ago, he and his wife closed down the business, packed their pots and pans, and moved west, settling in Oro Valley.
Now Neylan, 45, does restaurant consulting and is a personal chef for about 15 local clients — he prepares and delivers weekly meals for them. This once-busy chef, who wouldn’t blink at whipping up a meal for 1,500, is in a low-key state of mind mixed with some solid bliss.
After all, he’s doing what he loves.
Neylan remembers the first meal he cooked at home — sausage in peppers. He was 14. By 15, he had started cooking professionally. The glamour never attracted him — the cooking did.
“I enjoy the whole aspect of it,” he says. “I love being in the kitchen with the sights and smells and sounds. I enjoy the creating.”
While big parties are behind him, Neylan still has a few tricks and treats up his sleeve.
His biggest trick: “Prepare what you can in advance; otherwise you’ll spend the whole time in the kitchen.”
He also suggests not being too hard on yourself. If you aren’t the artistic type, don’t fret over a dish not looking perfect.
But that’s another trick he has: He knows how even the most unartistic among us can put together a perfect-looking Halloween party dish.
His Creepy Skewered Olive Eyes” (he loves coming up with names for dishes) can be made in advance and served at room temperature. The Jack-O-Lantern Smoked Salmon Canapes are bite-sized treats perfect for a Halloween buffet table. And both the recipes are simple to make.
And a centerpiece? He recommends keeping that simple, too: “A small gourd inside a crystal vase.”
Even Martha Stewart would approve of that.