Like many high school kids, Ted Hallson got a job in a kitchen. Washing dishes, prepping ingredients and working in the cold room at Blue Point Restaurant in Wayzata did a lot more than fill his gas tank. It also inspired a lifelong love for the restaurant industry.
As soon as he could, he enrolled in the culinary program at Hennepin County Technical College while doing half days at Orono High School. Then it was the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. That landed him a job at Chicago’s Trio, one of the top restaurants in the Midwest in the early 1990s.
“I had an in there with a guy getting in-home dining off the ground. There was a Chicago Tribune article written about him—and then we were suddenly booked up. It instantly became a full-time job,” Hallson says. “I really got to see some beautiful homes and incredible places in the city.”
He also realized how much he loved working with people. So he thought he’d either do custom, in-home cooking in Chicago for the rest of his career, or go home to Minnesota and do something similar. In fall 1996, he launched his Chef De Cuisine business from scratch in Orono, starting with family meal preparation, a relatively new concept at the time. He’d swoop into someone’s kitchen with bags of fresh groceries and prep meals for the week. It was like HelloFresh or Blue Apron, minus the packaging—and with a menu almost entirely completed and tailored to a family’s needs and preferences.
Now with a professional kitchen of his own, he and his sister, chef Melody Hallson, work with a network of professional bartenders, servers and kitchen staff to coordinate highly detailed in-home dining events across the region. They’ve done high-end corporate events “when it’s been a really successful year for the company and everyone’s happy,” says Hallson. There have been engagement parties, groom’s dinners, weddings and anniversaries. He’s consulted with sommeliers at Lakeside Wine and Spirits to design sit-down, intimate meals around wines someone’s been saving for a special occasion.
He’s done dinner for two and 200, working out of gourmet kitchens and garages alike. “Whatever the space can handle, I’ll work around it,” he says. “When I started this business, I’d sometimes lean toward peoples’ worries. Now I know right away what will work and what won’t—and I’m not afraid to tell them. I’m a lot more confident.” He brings his experience into the kitchen with him, helping hosts make the most of their space and coordinate the perfect event.
For instance, if owners hang out next to the front door, everyone will stay there, says Hallson, who has seen huge homes feel cramped or haphazard as a result. “I tell owners to find the best spot in the house: that killer bar downstairs or the patio on a beautiful summer night. Then we’ll give instructions or bring guests to them as they arrive,” he explains.
From there, service and detail are paramount. Servers keep platters and water glasses full. He and his team use only the best ingredients, and they’re never bought in bulk. So appetizers are well-balanced and upscale. Sit-down meal portions are kept on the small side so nobody’s stuffed by the second or third course. Menu items—and corresponding beverages—are intentionally chosen to play off each other and build comfortably through the evening.
Guests are typically on their own for supplying liquor, but Hallson helps them through that task. “Less is more,” he says. “Signature drinks are popular. You can’t please everyone, so decide on one or two special cocktails and just stock the ingredients for those. Select a few wines or beers and do water—still or sparkling—and everyone will be happy.”
He’s also hyper-aware of allergies, due in part to his son’s life-threatening peanut allergy. “If you have an allergy, don’t assume the host or hostess relayed that to the chef,” he says. He’s had guests hand him a business card with the specifics of what they can and can’t eat. Though it means some extra coordinating in the kitchen, he’s grateful for the pointers.
Hallson’s role in the kitchen has come full-circle, his traveling team like a microcosm of what you’d find in a full restaurant. Hallson has a front row seat for the smiles and clinking of glasses. “In the restaurant business, I learned the best place to stand is where the plates come back to the kitchen, because you know instantly whether the portions were the right size, and whether people liked the meal or not,” says Hallson. “Yeah, empty plates are always the goal.”
Chef Ted by the Numbers
The price per serving of individual caviar tins one client requested for a party. “Some of my clients really don’t have a budget in mind—they want what they want, and money isn’t a concern,” says Hallson. “But I’m honest with people about budget early on in the conversation so everyone ends up happy.”
The number of appetizers Hallson suggests for an upscale hors d’oeuvre party. “In general, the more options you give people, like on a buffet, the more leftovers you’ll have,” he says. “The beauty of appetizers is that you don’t have to stick to a theme. And if you get a good variety, it’s laid-back, but people can really fill up.”
Professional chefs on staff. Hallson or his sister, chef Melody Hallson, are present at every meal.
Nine years after launching his brand, Hallson leased a commercial kitchen and changed his business model from entirely in-home meal prep to a hybrid. Some prep now happens remotely, making on-site assembly and presentation more efficient.
The age of Hallson’s twins. As a dad, he’s proactive about making younger guests feel at home at his gatherings. “Some parents request a totally separate menu for the kids, built around what they know the kids will love,” he says. Other times, parents want the opportunity to teach kids how to enjoy an up-scale meal with adults, so they want the kids’ plates to be identical. Sometimes the presence of a professional chef will be enough to get a kid to try something new, he explains. “If you cook with a kid and they get their hands in there, it changes the whole thing,” he says. “They start to take pride in it and get excited about it.”
Take a Bite
Sure, he can handle anything from a romantic night in for two to a plated, five-course dinner for 20. But chef Hallson knocks it out of the park with flexible, appetizer-only gatherings with pairings that can skew as light or heavy as each guest would like. Here he shares one of his go-to plates, a simple-yet-delicious crowd favorite to keep in your back (apron) pocket this holiday season.
- Skewers with Cranberry
- Tarragon Crème Fraîche
- 4 chicken breasts, cut into inch-long, half-inch wide strips
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp. seasoned salt
- 2 cups pistachios
- 1 cup plain panko bread crumbs
Whisk the mayo, egg and seasoned salt together and marinade the chicken in the mixture. Then pulse the pistachios and panko in a food processor until smooth.
Coat the chicken in the panko mix and slide onto six-inch skewers. Line them up on a nonstick foil-lined sheet tray and bake at 375 (convection if it’s available) for 13–15 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
- ½ cup frozen cranberry orange sauce (Look for Indian Trail brand, in the freezer section at the grocery store)
- ½ cup crème fraîche
- 2 Tbsp. chopped tarragon
- ½ packet Hidden Valley Ranch spice
Combine all ingredients and serve in a small sauce bowl—for dipping—or drizzle over the chicken skewers before serving.