Charles Webb has been a private chef for multi-billionaires, lived in nine countries and worked in some of the world's greatest restaurants.
Webb plans to share those experiences — and his food — at periodic private tastings at his Bucktown home starting Dec. 4. Diners will be selected through a social media contest currently underway.
"There's a whole intimate aspect to coming into my house and seeing who I am," said Webb, 43, founder of Avanti Gourmet Catering.
Those who have eaten Webb's colorful and delectable dishes say winners are in for a true treat.
"Charles is the rare and perfect blend of talent and presentation. He is extraordinarily talented in his culinary ability," said Gold Coast resident Jack Berdan, managing broker of Berdan Real Estate. "His attention to detail and creativity in the kitchen is beyond impressive. On top of crafting some of the best bites I've ever taken his ability to educate his clients on what he's crafted creates an amazing experience around the table."
Webb's love for food was forged at a young age. His mother, Rosalie Flores, taught him to cook tacos when he was 8 years old. He was driven to succeed in the kitchen — and for his mom — because his father had left the family a year earlier. Webb, an only child, did not see his dad again until he was 17.
"It was really my whole life that he wasn't there, and I wasn't going to let her down," Webb said during a phone interview from New York, hours before leaving on a flight to Brazil. "No one else was there."
Webb was born in Chicago, moved to San Antonio when he was 3 and returned here in the 1990s to study at DePaul University, where he received degrees in international trade and finance. His culinary studies took him to Gambero Rosso Culinary Academyin Rome, and, after graduating, Webb was employed at some of the planet's most well-known restaurants, like Noma in Copenhagen.
Webb tried to start his own restaurants in Copenhagen and in Brazil, but both ventures failed at the last minute, so he decided to enter the private sector. Without naming names, Webb said he's been the exclusive chef for a Portuguese Contessa, a Lebanese arms dealer, elite private art collectors, British industrialists, Kuwaiti entrepreneurs, Russian oligarchs and Mexican socialites. He's lived in the United States, Mexico, Portugal, Malta, Spain, Italy, France, Denmark and Monaco — and worked in several more countries along the way.
"There are a lot of great cooks out there, but there aren’t a lot of people who can go in a billionaire’s house and provide a great experience," Webb said.
He came back to Chicago about five years ago, and interviewed with two prominent city families to become their private chef. But he said both families asked him to do chores like "picking up their kids from soccer practice and get their dry-cleaning," and Webb became determined to begin his own company.
"I was tired of working for somebody else and never really reaping the benefits of my own self-worth," Webb said.
To solve the dilemma he founded Avanti Gourmet Catering, which caters weddings, private parties and other high-end outings. Webb, who is divorced with no children, still travels around the world — he estimates flying at least 60,000 miles this year alone. But Webb, who speaks English, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese fluently, said "Chicago is the best city in America for me."
"I could live in many parts of the world, but I feel really comfortable in Chicago," Webb said.
He hopes to bring that feeling of comfort to the private dining. He's not sure what he'll be cooking because that will depend on what he brings back from the places he visits beforehand.
But folks can expect vibrant ensembles — Webb likes incorporating edible flowers and microgreens — on white plates.
"His food presentation skills are outstanding; every dish was extremely beautiful and colorful," said Kathleen O'Malley, of Oak Park, who hired Webb for a private party two years ago. "He is unique in the sense that he does an amazing job of explaining food and helping you experience different things in a fun an inventive way."
Bow Truss Coffee founder Philip Tadros, who met Webb at a private dinner a few years ago, said people will find Webb "super outgoing, calm and professional."
"He has a passion for food," said Tadros, of Lakeview East.
And Webb has a simple goal for those coming to his house for his creations.
"We want to roll out a beautiful experience for people," he said.