She was the chef at Lorenzo’s before Debutante was a thing and has worked in the kitchens of Rookie Eatery and Caveau but these days, if you’re after the fine-dining prowess of Wollongong’s Brooke Silk, you need look no further than your own kitchen.
Brooke, 35, has been a chef for 12 years, and a pastry chef for six years before that, but her experience in the kitchen long predates the commercial kitchen.
“I did a lot of cooking with my grandma as a kid and, since the age of 10, I was dead set on being a chef,” she says.
“I told everyone one day I would run my own restaurant.”
In a way, she now runs hundreds, coming into the thousands, through her Illawarra home chef service Dine In.
Dine In is the result of a pivot when Brooke lost her job during the first COVID lockdown. Unlike a traditional catering company, Brooke brings the full restaurant experience to her clients.
From the seasonal, fine-dining menu to the meticulous plating, Brooke has it down to a fine art. Within 40 minutes of arriving, her clients can be enjoying a perfectly plated culinary masterpiece.
The secret is preparation, much of which is done beforehand.
“I also bring everything I need. I have it down to three or four boxes and a small fridge,” she says.
“I’m really passionate about making it a special experience, so I bring my gold cutlery and plates to the client and set up like a restaurant, regardless of whether they’re in an Airbnb or home.”
In the years since starting, Brooke has catered for date nights, dinner parties with friends, family dinners and special occasions all across the Wollongong area.
Along the way, she’s learned the tricks to achieving perfection every time.
“Everyone’s kitchen set-up is different, but you can’t be spending time figuring it out. That’s why you come prepared, and design your menu to be impervious to interruption,” she says.
“I cook most of my meats sous vide, so even if the oven is a bit off, I get consistency.”
Dine In starts at $85 per head for two courses and up to $110 per head for the five-course degustation, which includes Brooke’s bread and whipped butter.
“Everything’s made fresh. I try to keep it simple, hero the produce and honour the season,” she says.
“At the same time, I always try and make sure it’s something they wouldn’t be able to re-create easily themselves.
“I’ll go to the table and talk them through the dishes. That’s the beauty about in-home dining – you get to pay attention to your clients, you get one-on-one time with them.”
It’s a big departure for the chef who has worked in commercial kitchens all around Wollongong and surrounds, including as head chef for Illawarra Performance Arts Centre (IPAC) and at Zweefers Cakes. And it continues to evolve all the time.
Brooke has partnered with Two Figs winery to offer pairing services with her catering and has also branched out into hosting bespoke in-house masterclasses.
It’s not without its challenges. While catering for larger events in domestic kitchens doesn’t faze her, she does admit to occasionally missing the camaraderie of the commercial kitchen.
But not enough to give up the best gig of her life.
“I love being a part of these special moments in people’s lives,” Brooke says. ”I feel very privileged I get to come to their home and use my skills to spark joy.
“Yeah, this is it for me.”
Visit Dine In for more information.