He’s hidden under beds. He’s had to sneak out back doors. He even provides cheat sheets so your secret won’t get out. Forget Iron Chef and Top Chef. Meet the Ghost Chef. That’s what chef Matt Kantor now calls himself, the result of cooking for numerous dinner parties across North America but leaving all the credit to the host. “It started by accident,” Kantor explains. “One of my guy friends wanted to impress his girlfriend, so I helped him out.” Word spread, and now the Ghost Chef has cooked for some of the most famous and wealthiest people in Canada, without, of course, any credit.
Most recently, he was the Ghost Chef at a Toronto party for 18. “These people had a rotating supper club and whoever hosted had to come up with the meal and the theme. This woman picked New Zealand as her theme. She wanted to put together a four-course meal and called me in a panic the day before. One of the rules of their club is they’re not supposed to get any outside help, including buying prepared foods,” explains Kantor.
He headed to her house at noon the next day—the day of the dinner. “I had written down recipes on scrap pieces of paper to make it look like she had written it down. Then I just cranked out the food. While I was doing it, I explained to her why I picked the dishes and how to braise the meat. I needed her to look credible, so I didn’t make the fanciest dishes, because her friends know she’s not the best cook.” He also showed her techniques she could demonstrate.“I told her not to do it until her guests arrived, so they could see that it was her doing it.” Then he scattered dishes and pots and cookbooks around the kitchen to make it look as if she had been slaving away all day. At five o’clock, he left her with instructions and his phone number “so she could text me with an emergency question.”
It was a Saskatoon 60th birthday that had him hiding under a bed. “That was stressful. His wife had arranged for me to fly in. Her husband was supposed to go play golf that afternoon, so I could make the meal. But he came home early. I threw all of the pots into the oven, and his wife was wiping down the counters and told me to run upstairs. I didn’t want to go into their bedroom or the washroom or close a door because maybe he’d think that was strange, so I picked this spare bedroom and crawled under the bed.” The man didn’t leave for almost an hour. “I found a book and read,” says Kantor.
On his website, he shares his Ghost Chef process. Kantor, who charges $80 a person, suggests people at least do the shopping to give themselves some credibility. Five hours before he begins cooking, he scribbles or dictates recipes into the host’s notebook. He explains what the day is going to look like and where the host can benefit from interacting with him. Three hours before, he discusses strategies for making the meal appear to have been cooked by the host, showing the host some chef techniques and instructing them on how to use culinary tools. Two hours before, he discusses the cooking process for each dish, its origins or ingredients and reviews plating and cooking or reheating. One hour before, he lines up all ingredients for plate assembly, scatters cookbooks and makes the kitchen look disorganized. Then Ghost Chef sneaks out or changes into a disguise as a waiter or assistant.
“I did a housewarming party. Those are great because I can just wear normal clothes and fit in like I’m there as a guest.” When he plays the role of server, “I’ll just walk up to the host and say, ‘Should I bring out the whatever now?’ And then the host is supposed to say, ‘No, it needs another 10 minutes and then you can bring it out.’ ”
Isn’t it wrong for someone to go to such lengths to pretend they cooked a dinner they didn’t actually make? “I do not think it’s appropriate to force my morality on others,” he laughs. But doesn’t he ever want to jump out and say, “It’s me! I’m the one who made that!” especially if he’s hearing compliments? “My feelings don’t really get hurt. They are paying me. But, yes, I admit there were a couple times I saw the guest list and I thought, ‘I wish these people knew I did this.’ ”