By Sarah Griesemer, Posted on app.com 4:23 p.m. EDT July 13, 2016
This article has been modified from the original version for this website.
The Chefs mentioned in this article are not members of The Chef Alliance and we cannot vouch for their professionalism or that they have liability insurance to protect you and your home.
Once upon a time, a home kitchen run by a personal chef was a luxury most people could not imagine.
But things are changing, and more and more families are hiring chefs to take the question of "what's for dinner?" off the table.
And there are a few reasons why.
Today, nearly 75 percent of households with school-age children have both parents working, as compared to 64 percent in 2000, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means busier moms and dads with less time to plan menus, shop for groceries and prepare meals at the end of a long work day.
As for the ones doing the cooking, becoming a personal chef instead of taking a place in a restaurant can be a more tempting choice. The schedule is often much less demanding and the overhead costs are far less than owning a shop or restaurant, and chefs who cook for one or multiple families relish the relationships they build during their time in the kitchen.
Read on to learn more about life as a personal chef and to hear from the leader of a national association that serves them.
A GROWING TREND
[The purpose of Personal Chef organisations] is to represent the interest of personal and private chefs. Our main goal is to help them both sustain and grow their businesses...They are micro businesses, and they are in need of support... students rarely learn the ins and outs of running a successful business while in culinary school... Like many professionals, they are very good at their craft. But they need business help.
As for choosing this line of work over a restaurant position... [the Personal Chef industry has] better hours and the ability to earn a very good living. And some chefs... are just better suited for the one-on-one relationships that come with being a personal chef... For a lot of people that have tremendous personalities and like to be in front of people, being a line cook,behind everybody, may not be where you're going to be real happy... Just know that there are great alternatives.
MAKING LIFE EASIER - AND MORE DELICIOUS
Marcy Ragan of Long Branch is no stranger to the kitchen.
For two years, she has fed families... through her personal chef company... Before that, she spent 20 years in the restaurant business, including time at Mumford's Culinary Center in Tinton Falls and Pascal & Sabine in Asbury Park.
But when children came along, things needed to change.
"Now, instead of working a line 85 hours a week, I'm working for myself 85 hours a week," said Ragan, 42, who cooks both in her clients' homes and in commercial kitchens in Spring Lake and Long Branch.
"After (having) kids, I got back into working in restaurants and realized I was getting paid but not super well," she said."
So, she started her own business.
"I had one client and from there, it just bloomed," Ragan said. "I went to some classes at Monmouth Ocean Small Business Development Center; I needed to actualize how to make it a full-fledged business. I like what I do, because other than the (commercial) kitchens, I don't have that much overhead."
And she clearly has a passion for food, a passion that ignited during a trip to Perugia, Italy. "It was a life-changing experience, to see the pace of how people eat, how they respect their food, and the freshness. Then I came back and went to culinary school."
Now she uses her experience to help families get dinner on the table. She cooks for between six and 12 clients on a rotating basis, usually making three to five meals per week. She credits the uptick in business to the nation's economic turnaround over the past few years and the fact that people are paying more attention to what they eat.
"There are a lot of moms and families that want to eat better but they just don't have the time to figure it out," said Ragan, who meets with potential clients to learn their likes, dislikes and food goals before ever stepping into their kitchen. "A lot of people are super busy and food is not their forte, so they'd rather have me, the expert, take care of it for them. I give them restaurant-quality food at home, and they just love the ease of coming home and knowing that they have a very high-quality meal waiting for them.
"It's about trust, and taking care of people," she said of being welcomed into a client's home. "It's my goal to give them the custom food that they want, and there's nothing that makes me happier then when people are thrilled to eat my food."
For Sea Girt native Amie Valpone, the journey to cooking for others began with learning to cooking to for herself.
The 33-year-old, who lives in Manhattan, lived with chronic illness for a decade before realizing the right foods were the key to reclaiming her health. She went back to school to learn about functional and integrative nutrition, which focuses on food as medicine, and she focused on eating clean, organic and unprocessed foods.
"I just started cooking for myself and different people asked me to start cooking for them," said Valpone, who also works as a recipe developer and culinary nutritionist. "Everybody wanted healthy food, whether they had a health issue or just wanted to start eating clean. And I just kept going with it."
Today, Valpone has more than a dozen clients for whom she cooks. Her job has gotten easier through the years, with the increasing availability of quality food.
"You can get organic groceries delivered in an hour, so I'm not at the food store going food shopping," she said, "and I can order the dry goods on Amazon."
Valpone's work brings her to both coasts; she said some of her clients are celebrities who fly her to their homes to cook for the week. As for what she cooks, it varies, depending on the client's needs.
"Some people just want snacks, just to grab and go. I usually do lunches and dinners and a lot of snacks," she said. "Most people can do breakfast, (though) I will make a bunch of muffins or almond bread. Other people want five dinners, and I will do one or two healthy desserts."
In addition to preparing healthy food, Valpone, like Ragan, enjoys being a part of her clients' lives. Her work this summer will take her to the Hamptons, "and I'll go out there and spend a little bit of time. That's what drew me into it, being a part of the families."
HOW TO CHOOSE A PERSONAL CHEF
You have decided to hire a personal chef - great. Now, how do you choose one?
Selecting the right person to cook for you family can be intim
idating."You need to find someone that you trust, someone that you feel comfortable having in your home," Marcy Ragan said.
The following are her tips for choosing a personal chef.
1) Start with a Google search of personal chefs in your county. A reputable personal chef will have a website and references. Also, culinary schools often track their graduates and may be able to make recommendations.
2) Be sure to hire a personal chef who you find likable. Ragan said. "When you have an amiable relationship with your personal chef, you are on your way to great food."
3) The chef you choose must understand the natural rhythm of your home, from your family's schedule to your dietary needs and restrictions. "Hiring a personal chef is not about ‘one size fits all.’ With my clients, I am able to cook whatever they like; whether it be vegan, homemade classics or a new Asian recipe found in the New York Times. Your personal chef needs to be adaptable to serve you best."
4) Make sure you like the food. Try out the services for a week or two, Ragan recommends, to check how the chef seasons your food, listen to likes and dislikes and follow suggested portion sizes.
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