Sit back, relax and leave the cooking to us

November 8, 2011
Essential Chefs Gary and Lorraine Papp make it all look so easy. BY SUBMITED PHOTO

So there you are, at the computer, in your bunny slippers, trying to figure out where to dine for a special occasion. You could visit one of those restaurant review websites, but can you really trust those opinionated rants? And who do those people think they are anyway? Another possibility is to call a restaurant and demand that their chef audition in the privacy of your own kitchen. Let me know how that works out for you.

But there are some chefs out there who’ll be happy to come into your home and whomp up a delicious meal. Credentials would obviously be a factor, so how about Gary Papp, the original chef from none other than the legendary Buttery in Lewes?

Gary is fully armed with a certified and inspected commercial kitchen and a list of references that include Gov. Jack Markell, Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. John Carney.

He even has a live-in baker (who just happens to be his wife, Lorraine). So his credentials are certainly in order.

In the early ‘90s, Gary and Lorraine were the proud owners of the Wycombe Inn, a Victorian country inn just outside of New Hope, Pa. They were expecting the arrival of their second child, and were thinking of relocating to Delaware.

It was around that same time that caterer, hotelier and restaurant manager John Donato and psychologist Twain Gonzales were scouting around Lewes to open their first restaurant. As luck would have it, Donato had helped with the catering for the Papps' wedding, so the connection was immediate.

In 1994, Gary, Twain, John and the eight-month pregnant with a 2-year-old-in-tow Lorraine opened The Buttery in the New Devon Inn (now the Hotel Rodney). But Donato and Gonzales already had their eyes on a run-down Victorian mansion a block away at the corner of Second Street and Savannah Road. To make a long story short (I know, that ship has sailed…), the partners plunked down pretty much everything they had, hit up Wilmington Trust for a little more, and revamped the stately corner that’s been home to The Buttery ever since.

After almost 10 years with the successful eatery, it was time for Gary and Lorraine to build something that was their own, so they created The Essential Chef. “I wanted to share my knowledge and experience on three levels,” Gary says. The first is education. Since February, ’09, he has been teaching culinary arts to disabled and alternative learning students for Now We’re Cooking, a vocational program operated by First State Community Action Agency. The kids develop personal skills, learn nutrition and get job training at the same time.

The second level of The Essential Chef is consulting. In 2008, Gary worked closely with Brick Hotel owners Ed and Lynn Lester to help open The Brick Restaurant and Tavern. Gary assisted in the kitchen layout and design for the historic Georgetown landmark.

Gary and Lorraine are most proud of the third element of The Essential Chef: their long list of satisfied catering clients. That success was jump-started in 2008 with the Return Day luncheon at The Brick that included Gov. Jack Markell and then-Sen. Joe Biden. Since then, the Papps' clients have grown to include the University of Delaware, the governor’s inauguration, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and Delaware’s Tall Ship Kalmar Nyckel.

The Essential Chef is also a value-added to the weekly cost of several luxury beach rentals where Gary and Lorraine cook up dinner for the tenants on one of their evenings at the beach. Before booking their vacations, repeat clients reserve a spot at to secure their personal feast created with hand-selected local Delaware ingredients.

In spite of the potential pitfalls of preparing food in somebody else’s home, their favorite events are still the private chef experiences.  From customizing the menu, to serving and cleanup, Gary and Lorraine make the process totally seamless. And the client gets to pour an extra cocktail or two without risking a sobriety checkpoint in downtown Rehoboth Beach. Sounds like a win-win to me.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.