"Someone's In The Kitchen"
     by Jane Sears Thompson
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Personal Chef Mario
Chef Bryan Davis

Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinner

by Jane Sears Thompson
(Extracted from Meridian In Flight Magazine, September 2001)

It's 6:30.
Traffic is stalled.
I'm sick of rotisserie chicken
and I'm too tired to cook.

I need a personal chef.

Thirty years ago what every working couple longed to afford, my husband and I included, was a housekeeper. One who comes once a week. Lets herself in. Leaves the house all shiny and smelling great. Our wish list grew to include a lawn service. Then, the quick oil-change car-care service. Finally, we slipped into the habit of eating out and ordering in. Filling up on fast food loaded with salt, fat, preservatives and who-knows-what. But, it's the twenty first century now. It's time to get in shape, eat healthy and spend some quality time. Maybe it's time for a personal chef.

The current great breakthrough in personal services is the personal chef. One who brings all their own pots and pans, spoons and spatulas, fresh fish, meat and vegetables and takes over your kitchen. When they leave about five hours later there are twenty to twenty five servings of great tasting, healthy food in the refrigerator. The kitchen is clean. Directions for heating and eating are posted on the refrigerator door, ready when you are.

Candy Wallace, founder of the American Personal Chef Association, says, "There are currently an estimated 72,000 customers being served by approximately 6,000 personal chefs." Entrepreneur magazine reports that the personal chef industry is one of the twelve fastest growing businesses in the country. Wallace predicts that in the next five years the market will grow to 300,000 customers and nearly 25,000 personal chefs. I don't want to wait five years. I want one tomorrow!

There are several reasons to hire a personal chef, I explain to my husband. One is the need to eat healthier. "I used to think 'stromboli or pizza?'" says Walter Smith, an executive with Geico Insurance near Washington, says "when trying to figure out what to have for dinner after golfing all day. Now I write a check for $295 to The Really Good Food Company every other Friday and eat terrific entrees like Cajun catfish with spring vegetables and curly pasta, low-fat Swiss steak or a healthy soup or stew. As I've gotten older" Smith says, "it has become more important to me to watch the sodium and saturated fat content of my food. You don't always know what's in the food you get at a restaurant. And, forget about fast food. Now I know for sure that I'm eating a healthy diet. And it tastes fabulous."

Dan Neil and his wife Rebecca Schmoor in Raleigh clear the counters every other Wednesday for Chef Mario. "We're eating about a million times healthier now," says Neil. "We used to eat out a lot or graze on crackers, cheese and junk food."

Grace Trombetta, a single mom living in Raleigh, relies on Chef Maureen Murphy-Bangert to fuel her efforts training for a marathon. "I'm very concerned about what goes into the food I eat," explains Trombetta. "I met with a nutritionist to figure out what I need to eat to be in top shape for running. Then I met with Chef Maureen who designs my menus and prepares my meals to meet the nutritionists guidelines."

Healthier eating is a good reason, but I'm also bored with what I know how to cook. Wendy Besch from Needham says her husband was really bored with the Roman Noodles and cooked chicken she kept bringing home from the grocery store. "He read a magazine article about personal chefs," she says. "Now, once a month, Chef Dennis of A Fresh Endeavor prepares six servings of six different menus. The plain cooked chicken I used to buy at the grocery store has turned into orange roasted game hen, or southwest tomatillo chicken in Chef Dennis' hands. He also offers seafood like monkfish with mirin and greens or poached salmon in caper sauce. This concept is brilliant."

"One of the things we like best about the personal chef service," says Neil, "is the incredible variety. This week Chef Mario fixed roasted chicken Provencal, ginger-soy tuna with stir fry, seafood treasures en papillote and his macho gazpacho with mangos, apples, herbs, cucumbers and tomatoes." This sounds like my kind of guy.

Another reason to hire a personal chef, I tell my husband, is quality time. If I could have back the hour each day I spend going to the grocery store, fish market, green grocer or specialty store -- plus the hour and a half to prepare each meal and clean up the mess, I'd have an extra 20 hours each week. Ruby Malley of Los Angeles agrees. "All we have to do," she says, "is to wash a couple of plates after dinner. What a great idea. I could have used Chef Allyson when we were a family of six!"

Say no more. Where can I find one of these? I typed "personalchef.com" into my web browser and up popped the American Personal Chef Association. "When you first contact a personal chef," says Candy Wallace, "they will set up what we call an assessment date. The chef will come to your home and spend about an hour asking you about your likes, your dislikes, sensitivities, health and nutritional desires. Once the chef understands a little about your lifestyle, she or he will give you some menu selections to choose from and set up a 'cook date.' All that's left for you to do is come home from work on the appointed day. Kick off your shoes. Open the 'fridge and enjoy a healthy, beautiful, delicious dinner." I'm liking this.

Expect to pay between $225 and $350 (depending on where you are in the country) for twenty servings - four each of five entrees, plus appropriate side dishes. And, that includes the groceries and the shopping.

"Some of the portions," says Walter Smith, "are larger than one serving, making it an even greater bargain." Dan Neil reports that he and his wife used to eat out three or four times each week before they found Chef Mario. "We're spending a lot less now. Besides, Chef Mario cooks better than most Relais and Chateau chefs."

I'm ready. My husband is convinced. Tomorrow we call Chef Thomas and set up an appointment.

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