The Personal Chef Industry

Personal Chef Spotlight

Chefs Dennis and Christine

PCs of the Year 2013

APPCA Live Seminars

Busy families, singles, seniors getting a taste for personal chefs

Daily Herald

BY Hilary Shenfeld
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted on October 16, 2002

Recipe Links

  • Baked Tomatoes With Pesto and Chevre
  • Stuffed Pork Loin
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With a baby on the way, Kirsten Krause knew she would need help around the house. She anticipated being exhausted and didn't want to spend precious hours in the kitchen.

Krause decided to hire a personal chef to come to her home and prepare healthy and tasty meals, a move that proved even more fortuitous after a Caesarian section and difficult recovery.

Ten years ago, the only people who used personal chefs were celebrities, socialites and other wealthy types. These days, personal chefs are chopping, mixing and baking for us commoners - busy families with no time to cook, single people who don't know a steamer from a strainer, professional couples working long hours and seniors who can't or don't want to battle grocery store lines and hoist heavy pots anymore.

"People are admitting to themselves that they have absolutely no time," said Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal Chef Association, based in San Diego. "The whole personal services industry is exploding because people are so busy. They're exhausted. They're exasperated. And they're saying, 'I can't do this. Find me someone who can.'"

The demand is fueling an increasing number of personal chefs, an industry Entrepreneur magazine called one of the 12 fastest growing businesses in the country. There are roughly 6,000 of the cooks this year, a figure that is expected to grow to 20,000 by 2006, Wallace said. That compares with five years ago, when there were about 2,000 personal chefs in the country, and just 50 about 10 years ago, she said.

Schaumburg resident Connie Hopkins-Mattlage decided to join the ranks after realizing she didn't have to open a restaurant to make money in the cooking field. She started Custom Cuisine by Connie to serve clients throughout the Northwest suburbs.

The first step is meeting with a prospective customer to find out their likes and dislikes, foods they are allergic to and how often they want to eat a particular entree. If a client hates garlic, for example, Hopkins-Mattlage can take it out of a recipe. If they want low-fat food or only organics, she can do that too.

A typical morning starts with a trip to grocery stores, the butcher, and a farmers market. She loads the groceries into the trunk of her car, along with a suitcase stuffed with pots and pans, bowls, knives, measuring cups and a traveling container of spices, condiments and sauces.

Then she's off to a client's home, where she heads straight for the kitchen and begins preparing anywhere from a day's to a month's worth of meals.

Today Hopkins-Mattlage is at Tania Carrara's Bensenville apartment, sauteing chicken breasts and rinsing mushrooms for a chicken Marsala. Meanwhile, pork cutlets with a tomato-based tonkatsu sauce are cooling while she finishes mixing a homemade C 1/8sar salad dressing. Her chicken tetrazzini, sticky rice, cauliflower au gratin and Thai-style green beans and red pepper are already cooked and in the refrigerator.

As each dish comes out of the oven or off the stove, Hopkins-Mattlage quickly slides it into a container and starts cooling it on iced cookie sheets set under a fan.

Once the food is cool, she wraps it up, sticks on directions for reheating and stacks it neatly in the refrigerator. She washes all the dishes and repacks them into her bag. Before she leaves, she wipes down the counters and stove, and even sponges down the stove hood.

"I think people like coming home to a clean kitchen and a home-cooked meal," Hopkins-Mattlage said.

Carrara says she hired chef Connie because a busy work and social schedule prevent her from taking the time to prepare healthy meals.

"I really have been more health conscious lately, and that means no suppers from a sack," she said.

Costs vary by the number of meals and side dishes, but a typical price range is $325 to $375 for four servings each of five main courses and five side dishes.

Clients say it's worth the cost for the convenience and ability to tailor the menu to their needs. And no take-out food or packaged meal from the store can beat the taste and quality of home-cooked, they say.

"She'll make complicated recipes that will take more than 20 minutes to make. Personally, I wouldn't to that," said new mom Krause, who hired Hopkins-Mattlage to do the shopping and cooking so she could take care of daughter Corinne.

Krause said at first she was concerned about the cost. But then she figured out how much the family was spending on dining out, fast food and prepared meals and realized the costs were comparable to that of a personal chef.

Plus, with someone else doing the cooking, Krause and her husband can limit trips to the grocery store and kitchen to concentrate on their daughter.

"We put a high premium on health, food and exercise," she said. "We want to spend time with the baby and not spend our day racing around."

And even though she had planned to use Chef Connie's service only for a short time, she's hasn't given her up yet.

"Once you've had good quality food, it's hard to go back to frozen food, with all the additives, sugars and preservatives in it that I don't really want to eat," Krause said.

Hopkins-Mattlage says she will tailor any menu to a client's specifications, from low-fat to mildly spicy and even limited sugars and dairy for people like Krause, who prefers to stay away from those items.

Another personal chef, Sandy McManaway of Mundelein, will also cook to any taste, but she specializes in low-calorie and low-fat dishes. The healthy meals work well for people on the Weight Watchers diet plan. On that program, dieters must calculate the number of points - a combination of calories, fat and fiber - each food has.

McManaway prepares a 7-point stuffed, rolled flank steak with tomato sauce, a 5-point chicken in white wine sauce over pasta, and a 5-point penne pasta with spring vegetables.

"People have the misconception that if it's low-fat or low in calories, it doesn't taste good," she said. "That's not true. It can be very delicious."

One client hired McManaway, who works throughout Lake County, to make low-calorie foods just for her. Since her meal is already prepared and ready to eat, the woman isn't tempted to go off her diet when she cooks a regular dinner for the rest of the family.

"That's the whole beauty of a personal chef," McManaway said. "We can cater the recipe and menu specifically to them."

Reprinted with permission.
Copyright © Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.

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