Personal chefs help others


Weve all heard the excuses people use to avoid the kitchen during the holidays: I work a lot, I want to lose weight, I have a food allergy, or I just dont want to cook.

In response, personal chefs around Alexandria say use us. Personal che

fs are part of a small but growing industry that aims to take the annoyances out of dinner.

Lots of people enjoy cooking, but just as many dont. And todays stress long workdays, small kitchens can make cooking unpleasant or impossible.

Thats where personal chefs literally come in. They bring all the equipment and groceries they will need to your kitchen. In the space of an afternoon, chefs cook up a storm, portion meals a week to a months worth of food into storage containers, and leave them in the fridge or freezer.

As time becomes scarce, personal chefs have become more popular. In 2003, there were 6,000 personal chefs nationwide. In 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available, that number had climbed to 9,200.

I dont have a lot of extra time to cook for myself [and] I was tired of eating pre-prepared food from the grocery store, said P. Ivy, 53, a client of Kent McDonald, an Alexandria-based personal chef. I dont waste food like I did before, when Id buy things and then not have the time to cook them.

McDonald owns Kent Cooks!, an 8-year-old personal chef service. He specializes in low-carb, low-fat cooking, but he and all the other chefs emphasize that they cook to client specifications. Like spicy food? Lighter fare? Comfort food, like macaroni and cheese or spaghetti with big, juicy meatballs? Theyll cook all that, too.

The chefs themselves can wax pretty passionate about food.

My favorite place in the world is the farmers market, said Danette Segroves, 28, owner of Dinner Matters. Shes been full time since May, previously working in political advertising and decided to take the plunge because I was cooking all the time and I thought it was the best thing I did every day.

McDonald is no less passionate. He brags that hes the best homemade-pizza maker that youll ever meet. I love homemade pizza. He, too, spent years in the advertising industry before switching to cooking.

This switch seems to be another common thread among personal chefs. Desiree Jessimy, 60, is a former World Bank employee. The list of countries shes visited and whose menus shes absorbed is longer than your arm. Keith Steury, 33, basically burned out in the corporate world after nine years.

Perhaps surprisingly, its not the cooking itself thats most interesting, but fitting the client with the perfect menu.

Its a give and take, Steury said. You work with them … but everybodys different, and no matter how many questions you ask, you cant get everything.

One doesnt like baked potatoes. Another wont eat fish. The next has a peanut allergy. Maybe Mom and Dad like spicy Thai food, but Junior only eats turkey sandwiches. Jessimy said that one of the nicest things a client can say to her is, My son and daughter really enjoyed that meal you prepared.

The biggest drawback to working with a personal chef is the cost. The per-meal cost is close to the cost of eating in an upscale restaurant, so switching from do-it-yourself cooking or cheap takeout will lighten your wallet significantly. But you do get a lot of bang for your buck: more time and less worry about what youre putting into your body.

Its fresh, healthy food, Ivy said, [and] its helpful to have someone who is that responsible.