The Personal Chef Industry

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Personal Chefs Sing Praises of Independent Culinary Career

Brian Boots and Ira Michaelson, CCC, both personal chefs with businesses in Florida, are convinced that working independently for several clients is preferable to the demands and restrictions of a busy restaurant kitchen. The two chefs demonstrated dishes that appeal to their home-based clients at a personal chef forum July 27 at the national convention in Washington, D.C., and discussed cooking methods and sanitation standards and how to package and store food.

ACFIn her introduction, Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal Chef Association, said personal chefs play many roles with their clients. "They listen, customize, shop, cook in their clients' kitchens, package, label, and clean up, to name a few," she said. "And they leave specific instructions about how to deal with the food when the client is ready to eat it."

Wallace predicts that the personal chef market will be one of the 12 fastest-growing businesses in the country in the next five years. Personal chefs serve many types of clients who have varied reasons for hiring them. Clients might prefer to dine in the comfort of their own homes or have specific nutrition needs or dietary restrictions that are more easily accommodated by a personal chef. Or perhaps they appreciate the time and cost savings of having food prepared and served at home compared with dining out.

Michaelson owns Your Personal Gourmet, a personal chef business serving clients in the Palm Beach area. While he cooked, he talked about how to manage the shopping, preparation, cooking, and packaging of meals to accommodate several clients. He might use a cast-iron grill pan or pressure cooker to expedite the process and incorporate thickening products and bases for convenience. "Mis en place is still vital," he said. "But I often begin to prep before I unload the groceries." After the preparation is complete, he labels meals and includes cooking instructions so that clients can prepare them properly. And an extra touch appreciated by his clients is an attractive display of the day's or week's menus on a stand in the kitchen. "It's the 'wow' effect," Michaelson says. "The idea is to make it as enjoyable for them as possible with as little work on their part as possible. The 'personal' in personal chef means that it's all about the client."

Boots, who is executive chef and owner of Elegance Ala Carte Personal Chef Service in Wilton Manors, FLa., agrees that the client always comes first. "Our job is to give the client the best possible quality that we can, and everything we do is tailored to the client's needs," he said. And those needs include completing a client's meals in a timely manner, so sticking to a schedule is vital. "First, get the water or the stock going, because time is precious," he said. But that doesn't mean clients give up some of the fine-dining dishes found in their favorite restaurants. Boots demonstrated Thai crab cakes with lemon grass mayonnaise arranged on a bed of greens, prawn and tangerine soup, and pan-seared veal chops, all dishes, he assured his audience, that are easily prepared in a variety of kitchens. Not every day is a picnic for personal chefs, however, and things sometimes go awry. "If a meal fails, we find out where the problem is, and if it was on the clients' part, we show them what went wrong." Boots said. "But if we made an error, we make sure it doesn't happen again."

The American Personal Chef Association formed a partnership with ACF at the 2002 national convention in Las Vegas and ACF now offers two levels of certification for personal chefs -- personal certified chef (PCC) and personal certified executive chef (PCEC).

Reprinted with permission. October 15, 2003

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