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Marketplace for personal chef service heats up

Marketplace for personal chef service heats up

By Sue Pease
The Daily News
Memphis, Tennessee
Monday, September 16, 2002

A year ago, Carol Borchardt was a licensed real estate assistant.

Today she owns her own business, cooking for clients in the Memphis area as a personal chef.

Borchardt left her job March 1 and opened A Thought For Food one month later.

Today she has 10 clients, and every day does exactly what she loves...cooks for people.

"Food has always been my passion. I've always looked for something I've wanted to do in the food business. But the restaurant or catering business, just because of the house and such things, wasn't my style," Borchardt said.

"I really like the personal approach of a personal chef working directly with people."

After only about six months in business, the market has embraced Borchardt's business.

"I'm really booked up," she said.

"People are becoming aware of how a personal chef can really enhance their well being and lifestyle just by taking a lot of stress out of their lives."

Awareness about personal chef services is heating up nationwide, as well.

According to the American Personal Chef Association, 6,000 personal chefs currently serve 72,000 clients, generating more than $300 million annually.

If the market grows in the next five years as the industry predicts, there will be nearly 20,000 operating personal chefs in the United States serving nearly 300,000 clients, according to the association.

Candy Wallace, APCA executive director, said the association has about 2,500 member chefs. She said she believes the industry is growing astonishingly fast because people rely on more services today in response to hectic lives.

"People have finally told themselves the truth. They don't have enough time in their lives to take care of themselves. So, they are starting to turn to personal services to do it for them," Wallace said.

"They don't feel good. They don't look good," she said. "They need someone to prepare food for them, but food that does not come from a jar, can or box."

The typical fee in the Memphis region for a personal chef is $300 for 10 dinners for two people, Wallace said.

That price includes the cost of the food.

Most personal chefs meet with clients to discuss their tastes and preferences, and to discuss any dietary restrictions. Once a menu is determined, a chef does all the shopping, arrives at the client's house with his or her own equipment and starts cooking. He or she may cook once a week, preparing a fresh meal for a family for that evening and then freezing the next four meals. Or, the chef might cook enough of two weeks worth of dinners and freeze them for use later.

Some chefs may cook once a week for clients, every other week or once a month, preparing and freezing meals.

The types of food clients request range from a very comfort in homemade macaroni and cheese to fine dining.

Memphis personal chef Trace Boord, owner of Carefree Cuisine, said she has been operating her business for five years and finds clients' requests are wide and varied.

"It depends on the needs of the clients."

The types of people hiring personal chefs are varied, as well.

Boord has clients ranging from working singles, married couples with no children to large families and seniors.

And, while many think the service would be strictly for the wealthy, many personal chefs say that isn't so.

"It's really for people who don't have the time or inclination to do it (cook)," Boord said.

Personal chef Laura Slavney, owner of What's for Dinner PCS Service, agreed clients come in all types of packages.

She sees clients of all different ages.

Some clients are seniors who hire a personal chef because daily cooking is too difficult, but assisted living is not an option for them.

"They cannot stand for long periods of times to cook, but they don't want to go to assisted living," Slavney said.

Many of her clients fall into the category of dual income families with children, where parents are too busy going to soccer practice, Girl Scouts or other activities and find it hard to spend time in the kitchen.

While the career path is satisfying for personal chefs, it can also be lucrative, although some would advise to beware to economy ups and downs.

Boord advised those new to the industry to not rely solely on their personal chef income, because when the economy takes a plunge, personal chefs often do, too.

"You will be the first one to so," she said.

Currently, however, she has found a renewed interest in her business reminiscent to when she began five years ago, when response to the service was overwhelming.

Slavney, in business for six years, agreed economic ups and downs affect her business.

One of the down sides of the business is not being able to control the monthly income as you would with a typical job.

Slavney said she must take into account people getting sick or going on vacation. Here slow time of the year is between Thanksgiving and Christmas when people attend holiday parties and take vacations.

However, many personal chefs supplement their incomes by giving cooking classes, writing food articles for magazines or catering.

Some personal chefs have been trained formally by going through culinary schools, but most simply seem to have a passion for food and cooking.

Borchardt, in business for six months, has seen business steadily increase, but advises those interested in such a career to be ready to work hard.

"You have to give it everything you," she said.

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