The Personal Chef Industry

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PERSONAL CHEFS TO GO

PERSONAL CHEFS TO GO

by George Hobica

Fine dining for frequent travelers usually means searching out a restaurant and waiting to get in. But after a busy day on the slopes or at the beach, wouldn't it be nice to sit back and have the chef come to you? The price is often more palatable than you'd think.

Unlike restaurant dining, when you hire a personal chef, you know a meal's every ingredient.

Mary Churillo of Chef on the Go says her clients hire her primarily for convenience, but many are also culinary voyeurs.

QUICK, WHAT'S THE DIFFER-ence between a private chef and a personal chef? Most people wouldn't have any idea, says Candy Wallace, executive director and founder of the San Diego-based American Personal Chef Association. But there is indeed a distinction that travelers would do well to learn: A private chef is a full-time employee, while a personal chef cooks for several different clients," she says. More travelers are beginning to sample the services of that latter group, and they're finding that personal chefs can be both a convenient and surprisingly cost-effective way to have a great dining experience without going to a restaurant.

Many travelers today are choosing extended-stay hotels. Others head to the beach or ski slopes and stay in rental homes, condos, apartments, or even hotel suites with fully equipped kitchens. All of these travelers are prime candidates for hiring a personal chef by the meal, day, or week. And with 6,000 personal chefs in the United States alone, it's increasingly easy to do just that.

The trend took root in recent years, as organizations hired personal chefs, frequently to improve their employees' access to healthy foods. The NBA's Chicago Bulls signed on chef Steve Jackson, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, as the team's personal chef to end the players' tendency to "eat fast food if they were in a hurry," Jackson says. Such organizational approaches have now caught on with travelers.

Mary Churillo, proprietor of Niceville, Florida-based Chef on the Go (www.chefonthegoinc.com), has noticed a surge in the number of travelers who engage personal chef services. "In the summer, I'd say 80 percent of my business is tourism," she says. "Many people rent beach houses, which sometimes are far from a good restaurant," she adds, "and you might have to wait an hour to get into a restaurant during peak times." On either count, it's easier for them to just stay put and have the food come to them.

Although Churillo's clients employ her primarily for convenience, many are also culinary voyerurs. "I'd say 90 percent prefer to see the meal prepared in front of them, to watch and learn." Often, clients have special dietary needs, as well. In the four years she's been doing this, Churillo, a registered nurse by training, has seen "every kind of diet there is." Unlike when you dine in a restaurant, when you hire a personal chef, you know (and can dictate) exactly what ingredients go into your food.

The Internet can be a big help in finding a personal chef. Do a geographic search at the American Personal Chef Association's www.personalchef.com or the United States Personal Chef Association's www.hireachef.com. Just enter a ZIP code or city, and a list of professional personal chefs in that area will pop up.

You often can find a personal chef through your resort or vacation apartment rental service. Barclay International Group, which rents apartments in many cities throughout the world, often gets requests for personal chefs, according to President Harry Barclay. "They're very much in demand," he says, "expecially in Italy and France." He advises, though, to make arrangements with plenty of notice.

Costs vary, of course, depending on the services you choose. If money is no object, check into the 1,550-square foot Bulthaup kitchen suite at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. The space is specifically designed for people who travel with or hire their own chefs. This fully equipped, state-of-the-art facility would make a Ming Tsai sigh, with the top-of-the-line equipment like two silent Miele dishwashers, Gaggenau stove, Sharp flat-screen TV (for watching the Food Network, one assumes), Calphalon pots and pans, an Omega 1000 juicer, an automatic oven with electronic probe, and a library of cookbooks to lend inspiration. If you don't travel with your own cook, the hotel's executive chef Conny Anderson is happy to oblige.

But even if you're just staying in a ski-country condo or renting a place at the beach, you can still get personal with a chef. Mary Churillo of Chef on the Go, for example, charges about $65 for a four-course dinner for two, plus a travel fee in some cases. So for about what you'd pay in a restaurant (or perhaps even less), you get to be king or queen for a day or a week, eating exactly what you want, when you want it, in the comfort of your hotel room or condo. And whether you're a seasoned cook yourself or the kind of person who could burn water, you might even pick up some great culinary skills for when you return to reality.END

George Hobica is a New York City-based writer who, when he isn't dreaming of having his own personal chef, finds travel bargains for AOL's "Travel Guy" site at www.digitalcity.com/travel.


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