For Ken Durbin, the six-hour drive to his grandmother’s tiny apartment in Pennsylvania, was worth it. It was more than a place he called home; it was the first place he learned to love food.

There, he’d watch his grandma use her bare hands, thin from age, work ingredients from a simple grocery list into “sumptuous feasts” that transformed family Sunday dinners into intimate experiences of bonding over memorable food and conversation.

While his culinary school background helped Durbin develop essential skills, the heart of his cooking and business model comes from his grandmother and the time spent in her kitchen.

“From how and where my ingredients grow to the ways they can be meticulously prepared into beautiful plates of food, I wanted to make each dinner I prepared a unique culinary experience,” he adds. It was through this mindset that The At Home Chef was born.

“Even before COVID-19, we were so separated from our friends and families. Between putting off catching up with your best friend to overcommitting to other priorities, it’s easy to accidentally self-isolate. But since the pandemic, we’ve learned so much about the importance of intimate connections, haven’t we? We need those genuinely warm smiles. We need fits of laughter and rounds of champagne while gobbling gouda from gourmet cheese boards. And we need to find togetherness again, even if that means we’re all 6 feet apart,” adds Durbin.

In an era of new dinner parties and a renewed appreciation for in-person gatherings, The At Home Chef continues to achieve what it’s always set out to do—help diners bond over exquisite cuisine in an intimate setting that’s sometimes unattainable in restaurants.

The At Home Chef curates dinner parties designed for small groups of less than 20 guests, though, at the moment, because of COVID-19, parties are being kept to four or less. Once the date is set, a custom menu is designed to the guests’ personal taste and dietary restrictions. The initial meal preparation takes place off-site in a gourmet kitchen equipped with professional-grade culinary tools. Then, the meal is cooked in-home, plated and served from the guests’ kitchen to their table.

The star ingredients in Durbin’s meals are the ingredients and where they’re sourced. He believes local, fresh ingredients can change a meal, and that “the closer the source, the better the food will taste.”

He’s embraced sourcing from local farms and markets while educating clients on where the food he uses comes from and how to avoid ingredients that they don’t want or need (like added hormones that have been injected into meat or pesticides that cover produce).

While the food is a main staple to the dinner, the core of the experience comes from the moments shared with those around the table.

“It was over breaking bread with my grandmother that I learned that no matter what’s on the menu, it’s truly the family and friends that surround you that make the food taste better,” says Durbin.

“Cooking is who I am and there is no better thing than to get up each day and work doing something you enjoy. And if that weren’t enough, I get to watch my clients as they enjoy food and laugh with their friends. Is there anything better than that?”