Leonardo De Aguiar, a 28-year-old Denver entrepreneur, became interested in creating his own private chef platform after his fiancé (now wife) first moved in with him in late 2018. “I wanted to surprise her with a romantic private meal for two, so I reached out to around 30 chefs,” De Aguiar says. “I think I heard back from two who were actually interested.”

De Aguiar, who previously worked in marketing, attributes the crickets to the fact that professional chefs at the time were only interested in cooking for catered events or working for restaurants. De Aguiar wanted a romantic dinner that went beyond traditional take out: a fine-dining restaurant experience at home. But coordinating an elevated catered meal for two can be complicated and require dozens of phone calls. That’s why in November 2019, he launched Chef Connect, an app designed to connect consumers with caterers who were open to preparing small-scale meals in homes. Unfortunately, just a few months later in March 2020, the pandemic flipped the world—and De Aguiar’s business—upside down.

“My team and I sat down around a table and literally just looked at each other like ‘What do we do now?’” De Aguiar says. “None of us wanted to give up on the project, but we knew it wasn’t safe to go into people’s homes at the time.”

Outside Intueat. Photo by Barbara Urzua

Over the next several months, De Aguiar launched a “buy one, give one” meal program at Chef Connect, where his team would donate a meal to first responders and business owners throughout Denver for every meal purchased through the app. As they donated an eventual 500 meals, he heard from countless chefs who no longer had an outlet for their skills due to restaurant shutdowns. They needed a way to pay the bills.

“That’s when we rebranded Chef Connect to become Intueat,” De Aguiar says. “Intueat is more chef-forward. Our chefs decide on their menus and their prices, and we’re focusing on small dining experiences rather than larger catering events.”

Intueat’s platform—which relaunched under the new name in September 2020—looks kind of like Airbnb but for private dining. As you scroll down the list of 40-some chefs, Intueat displays each person’s specialty cuisine, background, and self-selected price point (from which Intueat takes a small cut). While De Aguiar admits Intueat usually serves “affluent socialites,” some chefs offer affordable alternatives to a typical private dining experience. Chef Kip Siemens, for instance, will gladly plate barbecue, American, or Mexican fare for $60 a head, bringing an approachable-yet-high-end restaurant experience to your dining table. On the other hand, chefs from Denver’s Matsuhisa (a concept from world-renowned celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa) will prepare signature sushi and Japanese cuisine for two to 14 guests at a $5,600 minimum.

“We’ve definitely served clients like professional athletes,” De Aguiar says. “But we’re also trying to reach the general public who might not know that private chefs can be in their price point.”

Culinary pros on the platform also serve a variety of cuisine not often seen in Denver’s brick-and-mortar restaurants, giving diners the opportunity to try fresh flavors. For example, book chef Deshaunte Longley for Jamaican fare, or chef Joanna Stein for West African and Ghanaian bites. De Aguiar insists that what makes Intueat special is the idea that chefs drive their own businesses. From selecting their own price points to putting together their own menus, Intueat gives chefs a flexibility that they may never have had before.

“Working in a restaurant really left me with zero personal time for me and my family. Days off were scarce,” says Michael Sanguinetti, an Intueat chef. “Intueat lets me decide when I work, and I have creative liberty to serve what I want to.”

The Texas-born Sanguinetti has been cooking since he was 15 years old and says his Southern roots heavily influence his fare. His chicken fried quail, a plate served with sweet tea buttermilk, preserved lemon, and locally sourced honey, is topped with homemade sweet pickles, offering an upscale take on classic fried chicken dish. It sits atop a crunchy piece of fresh focaccia from South Broadway’s Rebel Bread, an Intueat partner that chefs can source from. Sanguinetti also produces polished Italian specialties such as the saffron-laced uovo raviolo pasta, which is dotted with spinach and ricotta, tossed in a tomato confit sauce, and crowned with a perfectly runny egg.

While Intueat started in Denver and regularly serves clients in mountain towns, the company has expanded to Florida, Texas, and Georgia, and De Aguiar hopes it won’t stop there. The company also plans to host occasional pop-up events in its South Broadway dining room, which chefs can soon rent to host their own events.

“As we expand, we really want to expand the concept and elevate it beyond that typical private chef experience,” De Aguiar says. “We have nutritionists on call, event planners on call. We’re hoping this is just the beginning.”

Barbara O'Neil
Barbara O'Neil
Barbara is one of 5280's assistant editors and writes stories for 5280 and 5280.com.