BY NICOLE ALONI
Yearning for more time with your
family? Tired of running your legs off in a restaurant
kitchen? Fantasize about spending New Year's Eve (or even
any old Saturday night) having fun instead of creating
someone else's? Becoming a personal chef may be just the
career opportunity you've been longing for.
What Is a Personal Chef?
First, what a personal chef is not. This is not the private chef model familiar from stories about the glamorous lives of movie stars and socialites. Those chefs work exclusively for one household - full time. A personal chef has much more independence.
On a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, they travel to a client's kitchen where they spend a few hours preparing and packaging up to five homemade suppers for their family. The frequency of their ''cook dates'' at a home is based on each client's schedule, dining out habits, family life, etc. When the client returns home, they find their refrigerator filled with meals planned just for them, carefully labeled with instructions for heating. If a client is interested, a personal chef may also supply all kinds of extras-from homemade, low-fat salad dressing to apple pie made from the client's family recipe.
According to Candy Wallace, President of
the American Personal Chef Association in San Diego (one of
the countries leading professional organizations for
personal chefs) the largest segment of personal chef clients
are two-income families, typically pressed for time
Clients are attracted to the service either because they want help staying on a special diet, be it low-fat or The Zone, or they're excited about the convenience.
People who have used this service are enamored of the process for several reasons. They get home from an exhausting day (at the office or the mommy-chauffeur circuit) to find delicious, homemade meals waiting, which have required no effort from them. Plus these meals reflect the chef's careful analysis of each client's preferences in styles of cooking and ingredients. lf they hate broccoli, it is banished from their kitchen. lf they like spicy food that would incinerate a mere mortal, their chef will cook meals that require an asbestos fork.
The aspect of this service that seems to shock those who investigate is that it's no more expensive than eating in one of the good restaurants in their neighborhood. A personal chef is in the enviable position of providing a reasonably priced service that adds a sense of well-being to the lives of their clients, while making a comfortable living for themselves.
Wallace estimates that there are
currently about 9,000 personal chefs in the country. She
envisions this number jumping to 25,000 within the next five
years. Why? Because this service fills a real need for the
comfort of healthy home-cooked meals in the expanding number
of households where time to cook has become a luxury.
Four successful personal chefs, who are also loyal SAM'S CLUB Members, were interviewed to provide some insider information about this phenomenon: Jim Davis from the DC metro area, Bev Kinnaman from Los Angeles, Judie McClellan from Minneapolis, and Anne Hayward from Columbus, Ohio.
Following is a summary of their responses:
How Many Clients Do You Serve at One Time?
The average is 12 to 15 , on varying schedules.
What training Did You Have?
About half of the chefs have had some professional culinary training, while the other half are enthusiastic and practiced home cooks It turns out these home-trained cooks can do just as well at attracting clients, since most people want simple, healthy food for their everyday family meals. This preference for comfort food is found in the following list of the chefs? most popular winter entrees: Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, French Pork Stew, White Chicken Chili, Chicken Tetrazzini, Sonora Chicken Casserole, and Pasta Marinara with Shrimp and Mushrooms.
What Do Your Clients Say Keeps Them Coming Back?
There was 1 00% agreement that clients rave about the convenience of coming home to find healthy meals ready for the family. There are also stories of the emotional reaction clients have to the personal support their chef may provide. Chef Kinnaman told of a client who had asked if she would be willing to research and re-create a special family recipe. Some time later Kinnaman surprised her by preparing the resurrected recipe; her client burst into tears when she walked into her home and was surrounded by the earthy aroma of her late mother's Osso Buco. There is also a little glamour in chef Kinnaman's career; she has been the chef for American idol for the last three seasons.
Chef Davis tells the story of a woman who scheduled an appointment at her house to set up his personal chef service. Her husband looked puzzled at Jim's arrival until she announced joyously "today is my 65th birthday, and you've just had the last meal I'll ever cook in this house. My career in the kitchen is over. lf you want to eat at home-this man (pointing at Jim) will have prepared it." Four years later Jim still cooks for them every week.
What Do You Charge?
Chefs have two ways to structure their charge to a client depending on the client's tastes. For the average client, who is interested in traditional home cooking, most chefs charge an alI inclusive fee (for the food and all of their labor). For clients who prefer luxury ingredients (caviar on their baked potatoes, say or all organic produce), chefs recommend a fee for their service plus the groceries. Most of the chefs agreed that clients were more concerned with getting meals they really enjoyed than with the price.
And it turns out that personal chefs have a very personal relationship with SAM'S CLUB® Personal chefs from across America expressed that SAM'S CLUB® was essential to their success. Both Chefs Hayward and Davis were quick to rave about the fact that SAM'S CLUB® opens for Business Members at 7:00 a.m. This means that a busy chef, who shops every morning for the food she will cook that day, can get this handled in a flash before the rest of the world has hit the Clubs. This is a tremendous benefit.
They also spoke highly of the quality and great values in the meat and seafood department. Chefs describe this as a key factor in meeting their clients' expectations. Several chefs said they decided what they would cook each day based on what looked best in SAM'S CLUB® meat and produce departments when they got there first thing in the morning.
Several personal chefs also find they utilize the full range of the Member's Mare quality products for their pantry: oils, vinegars, spices? and nuts. Several also mentioned the excellent line of cookware and tools; Chef Davis said he had purchased a set of pans at SAM'S CLUB® when he opened his business that he still uses on every job.
SAM'S CLUB® can make a personal chefs job easier.