Who doesn't love a good surprise?

The average person falls into a couple of categories.

Either you got your Christmas shopping done in October, cards out Dec. 1 and you are just tap, tap, tapping your feet waiting on the bearded guy to get here. Or you are dealing with a job, a child or three, holiday sing-alongs, tree trimming, Grinch watching and, oh yes, shopping for those gifts.

We've all been there. You need a gift now and you won't dare show up Christmas morning with a gift certificate to a chain store. What to do for that special someone who already has everything? This gift idea is a curve ball and a slam dunk at the same time. (No, I'm not paid by the cliche).

This is unique. This is fun. This is different. This is great. GUYS! I'm talking to you. But not exclusively. Ladies, please pay attention.

This is a gift certificate. But not for something you can buy at a store.

Nora Von Duyke is a personal chef. You may know her as the Pantry Elf. She gets special requests all the time. So much so, she has started selling gift certificates as part of her services.

"They are growing in popularity," Nora says. "This year, for some reason, has been slower than last year was for gift certificates, but we are still offering them."

What makes this so different is that, no, you are not having someone in for Christmas dinner. Hardly. The idea here is to have a private chef for your next dinner party. Maybe an in-house romantic dinner for two after the burn of the holidays is over?

"Valentine's Day is obviously another time we do those a lot," she tells me. "We come in with our own pots, pans and cooking utensils, prepare a four-course meal for our clients. We serve each course and do all the clean-up afterward."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Nora has been a private/personal chef for a little more than four years now. A lot of her clients come via word of mouth.

"At first it was slow, until people started to get to know me and my cooking," she says. "Now, I'm staying pretty busy and have even been able to hire an assistant, which allows to me turn a seven-hour day into just four hours."

Ah yes, the pleasures of being self-employed.

"We get people with specific dietary needs all the time," Nora says. "Whether it's vegetarian, gluten-free or anything like that."

She has seen it all and is pretty much prepared for anything.

Where does this type of service come in handy? Well, think about it.

Having people over for the Super Bowl? Let someone else do the heavy lifting.

Planning a dinner party any time soon? Same thing.

"Anniversary dinners are always popular," she says. "Or even a gift for an expectant mom. She's going to get home from the hospital and need some kind of help. We can come in and prepare a week's worth of meals for the new mom."

Call me crazy, but I think that is just a stroke of brilliance - all meals prepared, all clean-up taken care of.

"We come in and do a free assessment," Nora says. "We learn about your likes, dislikes, needs, allergies, what you already have in the cupboard and what you are looking for. Then we go back and draw up a menu that you can approve or change."

Nora is certified, trained, insured and licensed to operate here in the area.

"We even have clients in Claxton that we've done several parties for," she says. "My husband comes along to sous chef those nights. They really are a lot of fun."

Of course, the magic question (as it always is) is cost, right? That's impossible to gauge.

Yes, the Pantry Elf charges for her time, but if you tell her you want a four-course meal with caviar and lobster, then it's going to be more expensive than franks and beans, right?

The best thing you can do is give Nora a call and see if you can't figure out something special that will also fit your budget.

You can find more information about the Pantry Elf here.

Thank me later.

See you on TV.