My good friend Bob recently was married to a wonderful woman, Catherine. As with any remarriage, we grappled with that tough gift question, what shall we get these great people that they don't already have? First, we exhausted the list of gift cards we could purchase -- Home Depot or Loew's, Pier One, Macy's and the list kept growing.

"I know," my wife said, "I'll make them a very special dinner."

"Great idea," I said. "But let's give ourselves enough time to plan."

When Bob and I got together just before New Years for one of our regular coffees, I told him we were planning a very special dinner for him and Catherine, we weren't taking no for an answer and we weren't taking them out. Before we left Barnes & Noble in Westport, I pushed Bob for a date and we settled on the 20th of February.

"Won't this be a hassle for you, Steve?" Bob asked. "I mean, you've got your house on the market. You don't need guests."

"All the more reason," I said. "The house is always clean now and the dining room table is always set."

Meanwhile, in mid-January, I attended my regular business book club at the home of my real estate broker, Bunny, and her son-in-law, Buddy, who happens to be a personal chef, cooked an absolutely exquisite dinner. I couldn't stop raving when I returned home and my wife said, "Well, why don't we just hire Buddy to cook Bob's and Catherine's dinner?"

"Brilliant," I told her with a big hug. And the best part is that, for once, you'll be totally relaxed and you'll be a guest, too.

Buddy was free for Feb. 20, and we met soon after I'd engaged him for the dinner. We discussed the menu, which consisted of three different appetizer choices, three entrée choices: chicken, fish or beef; a wonderful sounding "good-old fashioned garbage" spinach salad with cranberries, nuts and other goodies; cubed potatoes, julienne vegetables, a decadent sounding lava cake and wine. Weighing Buddy's very competitive price against the cost of my wife's potential emotional meltdown to do all this herself, I blurted out, "Let's go for it, man."

I asked if Buddy wanted to see the kitchen before he cooked, and he said it wasn't really necessary. I gave him a deposit to buy the food and wine, we shook hands and he left. His only request was to be sure my wife was comfortable with the menu. Happily, she made just one change. I had selected a rather safe chicken entrée and she opted for Chicken Marsala, which turned out to be superb.

Fast-forward three weeks to Saturday, Feb. 20. I decided to splurge this one time and have someone clean the house so it was "spit spot" ready for company. What a pleasure. I told my lovely wife to relax as much and as long as she wanted since she would be doing absolutely nothing that night except looking beautiful, entertaining and eating. I had even shipped one of our little Jack Russell terriers off to my daughter's to keep things quiet.

The table was already set, but I added charger plates and changed our wider red-wine glasses to narrower goblets for white. I had purchased an array of colorful, spring flowers, which adorned the table. My wife and I sat in the den, feeling like two bumps on a log, not knowing what to do with ourselves.

"Do you realize we haven't argued about anything?" my wife asked. "I don't even know what's going to happen. Think he'll allow me to watch? After all, I am the client ... ha ha ..."

Buddy arrived at 4 for our 6:30 dinner and he brought virtually everything, even his own serving utensils. "The idea," he explained to us, "is to make this a painless, easy and elegant dinner. I prepare it, I cook it, I serve it and I clean up."

He was happy to allow my wife to watch the preparation. So she poured herself a nice glass of red cabernet, sat on her comfortable bar chair at the island in our kitchen and watched our wonderful dinner unfold. I set up coffee and walked away.

Soon our appetizers were ready. Buddy and I had decided on a very simple hummus, which turned out to be delicious to sample; and a tangy olive tapenade, which was equally tasty.

Buddy got a little delayed in his preparation at one point, but that couldn't have worked out any better. Our guests were slightly delayed anyway.

To say that Bob and Catherine were stunned would be an understatement. "What's all this?" Bob asked.

"Please meet our personal chef for the evening. This is Buddy," I said. "Welcome to our home."

From that point on, except for not being able to wash the dessert dishes before he left, Buddy did everything. And the meal -- superb!

From the salad to the Chicken Marsala and its accompaniments of cubed potables with a marvelous cold julienne of snow peas and carrots, the main course delivered and delivered. And the wine, a smooth and delicious Chardonnay, chilled to perfection, complemented this perfect meal. Our guests savored every morsel, gushing and calling for the chef. He appeared. We applauded.

Buddy then disappeared for about 15 minutes to make the Lava Cake, a decadent mix that looked like a little funnel cake with a gooey chocolate center. As we put each sweet spoonful into our mouths, our looks of sheer pleasure said it all. This dessert was to die for. More applause and yells of "Bravo, Buddy! Encore! Encore!"

Once the dessert dishes were cleared, we retired to the living room with our coffee for more lively conversation. We hardly noticed that it was nearly 10:30 p.m. when Bob and Catherine said it really was getting late and they needed to go. "What an evening," they said. "This was something else and what more can we say? We loved it."

Their thank-you note soon after said it all concerning our very different wedding gift. "What a creative, thoughtful, generous and fun gift!" Catherine wrote. "Bob and I enjoyed this new experience very much, especially in the company of such special friends."

We have passed along their note to Buddy, whose business cards I am spreading around quickly. Would I recommend him? You bet! As a matter of fact, I spoke with some other friends of ours and we agreed that as soon as we feel like celebrating something and collectively have the shekels, we're calling Buddy. He truly made this a unique and delicious evening.

Steve Gaynes can be reached at

steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.