01May

What is it like to have a personal chef when you have food limitations?

Four Bunches of Rainbow Swiss Chard Stems at a Farmer's Market with $2.00 Price Tag --- Image by © Foodcollection/the food passionates/Corbis

The other day I was spotted by a cashier at the Mt. Washington Whole Foods in Baltimore, MD. He said, “You’re a personal chef, aren’t you?” I was a little giddy to be singled out because I don’t think this has happened before in the eleven years I’ve been cooking for people. So I said, “Yes, how could you tell?” He then named a few things that made me stand out: I had two separate food orders, I had a detailed printed grocery list, I brought my own shopping bags and I asked to keep the receipt. Why two orders? I almost always buy some food for my family while I’m shopping for clients!

Being a personal chef is a somewhat solitary profession; I create the menus at home, go shopping on my own and then cook by myself in my client’s house. My clients are usually not around because they are working professionals. So it was also a welcome surprise when I had another encounter at the same Whole Foods in Mt. Washington where I met another personal chef. Again, the first one I’ve met in person since I started my business in 2006. It was fun to chat, but as I drove away I reflected on the fact that I spend my work day pretty much by myself.

Honestly, I like this aspect of my work. Being a sensitive person, large groups can overwhelm me and the idea of working in a mall or department store makes me squeamish. I am also an introvert so I am perfectly happy spending the day by myself, musing about my life and food as I cook for clients before picking my son up at school.

Talking to people while I cook is actually a distraction as I can lose my focus and yes, end up making a mistake in cooking. I don’t even talk on the phone while I’m working. Sometimes my clients ask me if I’d like the TV on and I politely decline. This is just me – I enjoy being in the flow of cooking and creating meals for my clients free of as many distractions as possible.

But what is it like for someone to be the beneficiary of my personal chef services?

While I have never had my own personal chef (besides myself!), I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to have one from having cooked for people in Maryland and Washington DC for eleven years.

First of all, the bulk of my clients who I serve have some kind of food limitation, food allergy or limited diet due to an illness or physical issue. I often cook for people who have long lists of foods they cannot eat and I design menus specifically for their diet. Food allergies, arthritis, Lyme’s disease, diverticulitis, Alports Syndrome, Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes, and Crone’s disease are a few of the physical issues that my clients have had. Because of the health issues my clients often have, I offer a range of special diets including an autoimmune protocol, GAPS diet, SCD diet, low-carb, Keto, Paleo, grain and gluten-free and nightshade-free.

Coming home to your dinner already prepared for you is always a wonderful bonus in one’s life. However, if someone has food limitations and they are struggling with finding foods they can eat, my client’s often say that having a personal chef is a life saver. I have often been told this; not only do they really love and enjoy the food, my service helps them solve a big problem in their life.

If you are put on a limited diet by a doctor or nutritionist, it can often feel like the rug is being pulled out underneath you. That is where I come in and look at the foods a client CAN eat and figure out how I can make tasty meals that appeal to their palette. Is it easy? Not always. But I’ve been doing this a long time for people who tell me how grateful they are I came into their lives because I was able to create food they could eat and enjoy.

One story of one of my clients:

I have several clients who appreciate the service I provide for people on limited diets. One of these clients was a young man who has juvenile arthritis and whose mom has Hashimoto’s. Between their complicated diets along with the mom working very long days, they simply didn’t have time to prepare the kinds of meals they needed for their limited diets. I cooked for this family for over a year and a half and it was always a joy to be able to make food they could enjoy on their diet.

The reason I am no longer cooking for them is because the son’s health improved to the point of being able to help cook meals. While I am sure there was a lot that went into his overall healing, he told me that the meals I made free of foods that may cause inflammation was a big part of his recovery. I miss cooking for them but I’m happy that his health has improved to the point of being able to help make meals!

Here are few questions people ask me:

How often do you cook for your clients? I have several different options: Once a week, once every other week, once a month, once every six or eight weeks. Or, as needed!

How long does it take to cook for a client? I am usually in a client’s home between 3.5 and 4.5 hours depending on the size of the meal plan and what I am making.

How long does the food last? Depends on how many people enjoy the food and how often they use it. But if I am cooking for a family of four and they are using the meals for their dinners, I see them once a week. If I am cooking for an individual who only uses the food to supplement, I will see them every 6-8 weeks. Of course, this does mean that much of the food gets frozen in individual containers for when they are ready to enjoy them.

Do you have set menus? No, I create a menu based on people’s “allowed food list” and what they enjoy eating. I have over a thousand personal recipes I can use but I am also always on the look out for new ideas on the internet or in cookbooks.

Do you enjoy your work? Yes! One thing I know about myself is that if I don’t enjoy doing something, I will not stick with it for very long. It’s been twelve years since I started cooking for people…which leads to the next question:

How did you start doing this? It probably all started when I was a kid in the kitchen with my mom. I have always loved to cook and try out new recipes. But I never considered that this could be a career until I started cooking for people at a retreat center in Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania. People from Washington DC would come on retreats and jokingly ask me if I could come and cook for them. At one retreat I met a women who came with some prepared food made by her personal chef. This sparked my interest as I had never heard of a personal chef before. This was the beginning of me researching what it took to become one. I eventually moved forward and completed a training with the APPCA in the Fall of 2006.

Did I go to school to learn to cook? I usually jokingly answer this by saying it is the one thing I didn’t go to school for! So, no, I am a self-taught chef who has learned a tremendous amount simply cooking day in and day out for my family and my clients.

Where do I cook for my clients? Due to a health code regulation, I must either cook in a certified kitchen or the client’s home.

I moved to Baltimore from Frederick, MD about two years ago and primarily see clients in and around the Baltimore area: downtown Baltimore, Rosedale, Pikesville, Sykesville, Ellicott City, as well as Washington DC. Yes, I do travel to see clients, but I try to keep my commute to less than an hour each way.

Do you have questions for me? I’d love to chat if you’d like to learn more about what it’s like to cook for people with limitations and food allergies as a personal chef. You can read more about my personal chef services here.

Thank you for reading and please share with someone you may know who could benefit from having a personal chef in their life!

 

 

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Comments

  1. Eszter Boncz says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I enjoy reading your blog and I adore your recipes.
    We just moved recently to Maryland from Europe and as a trained chef and a passionate cook I was thinking of starting my personal chef business. I think this would give me flexibility to care about my family while doing what I really like.
    To tell you the truth I got lost and a bit confused while searching for business options and reading the regulations. Can you give me some advice how to start the business and what kind of business form is the best to pick. Thanks a lot. Eszter

  2. Hi Eszter,
    I did my training through the APPCA. You can find them at http://www.personalchef.com/ They are great and go through all the business aspects of starting your business. Good luck to you!
    Sarah

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