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Westbury caterer cooks with a personal touch

Westbury caterer cooks with a personal touch

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

Magenheim adds time to clients' busy lives by providing meals that are ready to eat

Many people have faced the daily dinner quandary: The family needs to eat, but the parents are too exhausted after a long workday to cook. Takeout and fast-food businesses have thrived for years with this type of situation. Now busy professionals, time-crunched families and active seniors with full schedules have a new option: a personal chef who can prepare a week's worth of healthy meals.

Jeanne Magenheim of Westbury, who has owned and operated Taylor Made Events Catering for eight years, cooked up this new extension of her business after some of her catering clients wanted regular meals prepared. Her new business is "Genie In Your Kitchen," a play on words using the pronunciation of her first name with the motto: "Your food wish is my command." "While researching the personal chef industry, I was excited to learn that hiring pros to cook for busy households was a growing trend that I could easily tap into," Magenheim said.

Personal chefs differ from private cooks. Cooks are usually full-time employees who live with a family and prepare all the day's meals. A personal chef serves several clients and prepares multiple meals that can be packaged, stored and enjoyed at the client's leisure and convenience, she said. After an initial meeting with clients to determine specific dietary needs, preferences and meal choices, Magenheim typically goes to the home one day a week, cooks that day's meal as well as others, freezes extra meals, cleans up, and leaves instructions for easy heating. Clients fill out an assessment form detailing food allergies, tastes for spices and favorite foods. Menus are customized to those choices.

According to the American Personal Chef Association there are roughly 7,000 personal chefs in the United States serving an estimated 72,000 clients. Entrepreneur magazine has listed the personal chef industry as one of the 21 fastest-growing businesses in the country.

Growing up in an Italian family in Brooklyn, N.Y., Magenheim always placed a high importance on food, and this landed her in the food preparation business. "In my household where I grew up, food represented everything. It was the cure for all ailments, and you showed your love by eating well. My mother never let me in her kitchen to cook, but the love of cooking was given to me, and it seemed natural for me to go into the food and catering business," she said. Although she has no formal training in cooking or the chef business, she learned by working for various area caterers on a part-time basis. She also spent a lot of time volunteering to cook in her synagogue, where she learned the art of kosher cooking while serving as director of food services.

Magenheim attends conferences to learn the latest techniques within the industry, and she is always experimenting with new recipes. "I love to cook," she said. "To me, cooking is a fun, creative process and you do not need formal training, just the desire to make great food. I never use a recipe exactly as it is written. I add my own elements to everything I cook."

Many of Magenheim's clients won't see the same menu week after week. "Trying out new menus is how I keep up to date and keep variety in foods I serve. I never want food to be boring," she said. For her personal chef business, the biggest request is to follow a specific diet regimen. Regardless of diet requirements or preferences, she likes preparing foods in a heart-healthy, low-fat manner. For the busy families she cooks for, she finds they want old-fashioned "comfort" foods. "Italian cooking is my favorite to prepare, and gets requested a lot. I also make lots of chicken meals, chicken soup, and meatloaf and mashed potato type meals -- comfort type of foods," she said.

When preparing weekly meals for a family, Magenheim brings a huge duffle bag of her own pots and pans, cooking utensils, spices, and any other cooking essentials she will need to the home. Prior to her arrival, she does all of the grocery shopping necessary to prepare the week's menu. She leaves the kitchen spotless and all her own equipment is packed up for the next client.

Golda Baker of Memorial is one of Magenheim's clients. "I enjoy her food and her company," Baker said. "She is very accommodating, very pleasant and very easy to work with. It is a pleasure to have her around the house when she is preparing food. Her food is great too."

Magenheim also offers gift certificates to give to others. She often prepares food as a gift for people recovering from illnesses or childbirth. Her services are not as costly as some might think. Magenheim charges a household a one-time fee of $80 for storage containers. Her minimum order is for three entrees at $75 per entree for $225. Four entrees are $70 per entree for $280; five entrees are $65 per entree for $325. Each entree serves four people. An extra side dish is $50. Shopping fees are included in these costs. "If you factor in the cost for groceries, grocery shopping time and all the meals you won't eat out for or get take-out for, it ends up being very reasonably priced," Magenheim said. "The extra time it gives people, and the end result of a quality at-home meal is the best reason to employ a personal chef."

"Genie" In Your Kitchen
Your Food Wish Is My Command

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