His friends have long known that Mark Newville throws a good party. His boat picnics on the Potomac have become something of a Fourth of July tradition, and at least a few close friends have been the grateful recipients of the chef's elaborate, multi-course rehearsal dinners as their wedding presents.

His at-home style of entertaining is no less original: Newville's idea of a cozy company meal might be to throw a few logs on the fire -- followed by a whole fish, perhaps, or pork loin roast, or lamb -- and serve dinner before the hearth.

Combining his knack for hosting with his culinary talents, Newville turned his freetime fun into a fulltime job last spring when he launched Visiting Chefs (462-8573). The fledgling operation, basically a one-man show, is described by its founder as "a chef service"; unlike a traditional caterer, Newville not only hand selects all his meats, fish and produce, but prefers to cook in the homes of his clients -- he even serves as the waiter for parties of 10 and less. Although he prefers to cook for no more than 30 at a time, Newville can draw from a pool of free-lance waiters and chefs, including local Sicilian authority Mimmetta Lo Monte, for larger functions.

While he's partial to maintaining personalized menus and small guest lists, Newville wouldn't mind adding to his roster of chefs. In fact, the entrepreneur is just as interested in "promoting restaurants in a new way, not through wine dinners and tastings," but by hiring out professional restaurant chefs for a couple of evenings a month. Working in a private home, explains the would-be agent, offers chefs "a lot more direct feedback" than they might typically receive in a restaurant kitchen. Besides that, adds Newville, "it's less taxing" than cooking for the dining public.

The Visiting Chef brings to the table equal parts business experience (Newville managed Restaurant Nora and served as the manager of marketing and sales for Glorious Cafe before it closed last February) and culinary expertise. In addition to studying at the Culinary Institute of America, he served as head chef at New York's Lotos Club. And for Newville, the ubiquitous student's tour abroad consisted of biking through Normandy, Provence, and Brittany, a copy of the Gault-Millau guide in hand, and stopping in various restaurants not just to eat, but to work in the kitchens.

As a result of the time spent in Europe, a lot of the young chef's menus emphasize French techniques. But the foods and wines of the Pacific Northwest have also been incorporated into his repertoire (he's particularly interested in seafood), as have the dishes of India (he considers his breads a specialty) and North Africa, where as a student, Newville sampled the cuisines of Morocco, Algeria and Tunesia while conducting a research assignment.

And in the interests of health and nutrition, Newville cooks with little salt and butter, as evidenced in the following seafood recipe, teaming scallops with roasted red peppers. The dish is designed so that the bulk of the preparation can be done in advance, stored in the refrigerator if desired, and popped into the oven for quick cooking at a moment's notice. Newville suggests serving the scallops with a side of wild rice and wild mushrooms, or saffron-tinged rice.

Express Lane list: bell peppers, scallops, olive oil, cayenne pepper, garlic, fresh tarragon, balsamic vinegar MARK NEWVILLE'S BROCHETTE OF SCALLOPS AND ROASTED PEPPERS WITH RED PEPPER-TARRAGON RELISH (2 servings)

2 red bell peppers

1/2 pound scallops (quarter size)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Cayenne pepper to taste

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced, plus whole sprigs of fresh tarragon for garnish

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Place peppers on a cookie sheet and roast beneath a broiler until charred on all sides, about 15 minutes. Remove to a deep bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool. Remove skins and veins, leaving peppers in as large of pieces as possible.

Cut half the peppers into 1-inch triangles; reserve the rest, including any juices, for the relish.

Alternate pepper triangles with scallops on 5-inch wooden skewers. Place skewers in a shallow baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, some pepper juices, then season with salt, pepper, cayenne, 1 clove minced garlic, and 1/2 tablespoon chopped tarragon.

To make the relish, place remaining peppers, along with their juices, remaining garlic and tarragon in a blender or food processor and process till roughly chopped. Remove mixture to a serving dish, and stir in vinegar to taste.

Note: All of the above may be done a day in advance.

Just before serving, preheat the broiler, place skewers onto a lightly oiled broiler rack, and cook until lightly browned on all sides, about 7 minutes.

Spoon relish onto plates, remove scallops and peppers from the skewers directly on top of relish, and garnish with sprigs of fresh tarragon, if desired.