The Personal Chef Industry

Personal Chef Spotlight

Chefs Dennis and Christine

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by By Ezra Dyer

Cooking is a fine idea. In practice, however, it never really works out for me. Consider a recent foray into the world of culinary improvisation, where in I attempted to customize a jar of spaghetti sauce with a dollop of Dave’s Insanity Sauce. The next morning, I put in my first contact lens and my eye began tearing like I was Tammy Faye Bakker. Apparently, there must have been a trace of hot sauce on my finger, because the insanity was in my eye. I went to work looking like I’d be maced, which was preferable to what happened when I tried to make home fries and ended up getting stitches in the emergency room because I inadvertently added my hand to the recipe. I should give up cooking for a less dangerous pastime, like skydive chainsaw juggling.

But a guy’s got to eat. What I need, you’re probably saying, is a personal chef (and a bodyguard and a posse, but let’s take one thing at a time). Luckily, soon after the insanity incident, I got a call from Karen Fabian, proprietor of the Main Dish, a local personal chef service. Fabian’s mission is to take the aggravation out of keeping yourself fed and to do it with stuff that’s tastier and better for you than the grog you’d cook for yourself.

Never one to turn down free food, I signed up for a few meals to try living the PC Life. On the menu: pork and pineapple skewers with peanut sauce over basmati rice, Italian meatloaf with smashed potatoes, Cornish game hens with rosemary roasted potatoes, and chocolate ricotta muffins and blueberry pie.

One morning before I left for work Fabian arrived carrying pots, pans, knives and enough cooking-related hardware to make Williams-Sonoma look like the KFC spork bin. However, my kitchen served up one challenge for which she wasn’t prepared: the jalopy oven. Long ago, our stove’s knobs succumbed too oven leprosy and fell off. Since the temperature scale was on the over knob, you’d need Lorenzo Lamas and a laser pointer to know how hot your turkey is. Fabian looked at the bare metal shafts sticking out of my over and said resignedly, “I guess I just expected there to be knobs.”

I left for work soon after Fabian set up her supplies and began making the pie. When I returned home that night, there was an array of carefully labeled plastic containers in my fridge. On the counter was a printout detailing the nutritional information of each dish, and my stove and counter were also much cleaner than they’d been when she arrived that morning. Fabian left a note explaining that she’s used some downtime while things were cooking to straighten up the work area. I get the idea that if Fabian ran Bechtel, not only would the Big dig be done right now, it would include a North-South rail line, which she would’ve built while she was waiting for some concrete to set in the Central Artery.

I’m not a food writer, but I did find that the meatloaf’s tender nuttiness was an ideal contrast to the creamy texture of the smashed potatoes, while the steamed basil leaf in repose atop the beef’s restrained layer of tangy tomato sauce offered a visual as well as gastronomic garnish not always the case with the latest trompe l’oeil school of culinary embellishment, which often amounts to little more than the illusion of lemon zest. I done ate the whole darn thang faster’n an ornery coon hound treein’ a possum!

The rest of the dishes were also delicious, which is particularly impressive given that they were culled from heath food magazines (Fabian is also a yoga instructor and the food fits in with that whole mind-body-wellness thing). Even better than the food, however, was the fact that I didn’t have to do anything except throw it in the microwave. I didn’t have to shop, cook, clean or go through the drudgery of putting on pants when the delivery guy shows up. This is what I’ve been missing since I moved out of my parent’s house. I don’t really want convenience, I want someone to take care of me.

The cost for a six-serving package (two servings of 3 entrees) is $180, and I’m in danger of becoming a regular. The way I look at it, having a personal chef is more expensive than ordering a pizza, but far cheaper than a trip to the emergency room.

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Reprinted with permission. August 25, 2003

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