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I took a circuitous route to arrive in your home kitchen. My personal interest in cooking came relatively late in life. It is the firing of a mid-life passion, a refusal to “settle for,” a move toward personal fulfillment.

I love to write about food, to savor the nuance of different tastes, to create memories with food. That does not imply extravagance. My mantra is Fresh . . . Healthy . . . Tasty. It is the commitment, respect, and love of food that defines the pleasures of the table.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a master’s in Education, I spent the last two decades as a professional writer and photographer. I began as a sports editor at an award-winning weekly newspaper in East Tennessee and ended as a Communications Specialist with our state university. While in academia, I worked extensively with specialists in food production, food marketing, food technology, food safety, nutrition, and health.

After my resignation from the university, I completed a professional culinary arts program at Cooking School of the Rockies in Boulder, Colorado. As part of the curriculum, we spent a month in Provence, France. The experience reshaped my attitude toward food. I was introduced to the concept of “le goût du terroir,” the unique combination of the taste of the soil, the micro-climate and the quality of ingredients that contribute to the almost inexhaustible culinary wealth of France.

Provençal food is so whole. Chickens come with head, feet and pinfeathers. Lettuce still has soil clinging to it. On my first of six mornings spent working on a goat cheese farm above Forcalquier, I ask if there was any cream for my coffee. My host, Marie Autexier, smiled and said, “Follow me.” We went out to the barn and got milk straight from a goat.

I quickly understood the sanctity of mealtime in Provence. I got a hint of why cheese has been called milk’s leap toward immortality.

  • On the Autexier’s farm, I wrapped Chestnut leaves, softened and sterilized by boiling in water and vinegar, around Banon, a small mountain goat cheese that is a fine, soft white pâte.
  • In Paris, I sampled AOC washed-rind Livarot and artisanal Brie cheese, among others, during a tour of Alléosse, which has centuries of tradition in maturing “exordinary cheese.”
  • In Saint Andiol, I got up close and personal with head cheese at Michael Merletto’s charcuterie.
  • Near the village of Bouzigues, I watched a young, independent fisherman unloading oysters harvested in the Bassin de Thau, a 29-square mile deep lagoon, separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow strip of land.
  • At Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I stepped over large river pebbles to reach camera-shy women tying the shoots of young grapes vines in the fields of the historic winery.
  • In the Camarque, I rode among light grey salt mountains in the largest salt drying fields in France, home of the finest natural sea salts in the world.
  • In Saint-Remy-de-Provence, I met chocolatier Joël Durand and sampled his exquisite varieties of chocolates.
  • In Banon, Elizabeth Habert’s lavender honey instantly become my all-time favorite.

Three years ago, I found my way to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which is perhaps the most diverse agricultural region on earth with more than 170 different crops. The food is fresh, accessible and delicious! I came away with an appreciation for not only where my food is grown, but also how it’s grown or raised

What have been your favorite food moments in life? We’ve all had them. I come from the South where food traditions and storytelling define our heritage. Perhaps that’s why I spent my professional career as a feature writer and photographer and why I now pursue my other passion — food. I can come up with several culinary highlights in the first half century of my life:

  • Granny’s fried chicken and sweet tea after church on Sundays in Knoxville;
  • Lobster and littleneck clams that steamed under wet tarp and seaweed on the beach in front of my other grandparent’s cottage on the Massachusetts coast;
  • Ri-Ri’s chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven;
  • Just-caught red snapper fried up at our beach house in Panama City;
  • Corn straight out of the field and grilled on a small backyard patio in upstate New York, redefining my notion of sweet;
  • Fallin’-off-the-bone pork ribs at a barbeque in Memphis;
  • And, yes, gooey s’mores around a backyard campfire.

A common thread binds these memories. Whether slathering a dip made from baby artichokes on a slice of fresh, crusty bread, while sitting on a stone terrace in the French countryside, or pulling meat out of crab claws on a screened-in porch on the Gulf of Mexico, or soppin’ up the juice of soup beans with a slice of corn bread while listening to my daddy reminisce about Aunt Polly and the governor, each event took place in someone’s home.

I now find myself, once again, in my native East Tennessee. My goal as Adventuress Chef is to put the home back in cooking whether it be meals through the week for your family, a dinner party with close friends, a company barbecue in your back yard or maybe Sunday brunch with the girls. Let me help create your next food adventure.

As a member of the American Personal Chef Association, I have general liability insurance. Local references will be provided upon request.

J. Laurie Byrne, Personal Chef

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