smart spending

Personal chefs are a real treat

Highlights
  • Leaving preparation and cooking to a professional personal chef can help trim the fat.
  • Culinary convenience costs an average of $20 per person per entree.
  • Chefs generally stick to dinners because it's the most problematic meal of the day.

Personal chefs give new meaning to eating in. They bring the groceries to your kitchen and cook up several dinner dishes right there.

Leaving the monotony of after-work meal planning, preparation and cooking to a professional personal chef can help trim the fat from your food budget. No more impulse buys during a sprint through the supermarket. And if you dine out a lot, a personal chef makes for a delicious substitute.

"It is a cost-effective alternative for eating out," says David MacKay, founder of the United States Personal Chef Association in Rio Rancho, N.M. "For the same money you'd spend at a middle-of-the-road restaurant, a personal chef can prepare you a healthy meal and prepare the style of food you're looking for."

Your taste matters

These chefs strive to accommodate their clients' tastes and eating priorities, whether it is a low-fat, low-carbohydrate, high protein or diabetic menu. A chef meets and interviews potential clients who fill out a questionnaire. The chef then designs a customized menu of dinners and side dishes based on the clients' preferences and reviews the menu with the clients before cooking day.

Using the clients' appliances and kitchen, the chef goes to work. Meals are refrigerated or frozen, and the client reheats them according to the chef's instructions. This culinary convenience costs an average of $20 per person per entree. But the price can vary depending on diet restrictions, the number of servings, location of the home and frequency of service. MacKay says chefs generally stick to dinners because it's the most problematic meal of the day.

Keep 'em comin' back

Ken Hirsch, a doctor in San Diego, received the personal chef service as a birthday gift from his wife.

"We both work, and we put a tremendous value on family time," Hirsch says.

The personal chef came to the Hirschs' home once a month and prepared enough meals for 12 to 14 evenings. He said the chef can cook much more efficiently than either he or his wife, although they still like to cook on their own and eat out.

If you're looking to break away from the ball-and-chain feeling you get from the stove, then a personal chef who will slave away in the kitchen for you might be perfect.

To find a personal chef of your own, try searching by location through free referral databases from the American Personal Chef Association or at Hireachef.com.

Questions to ask a personal chef you are considering hiring:

  • Are you properly licensed and insured for the municipality? (Some municipalities don't require it.)
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Where did you get your training?
  • Are you affiliated with any professional organization?
  • Are you certified by or a member of either the United States Personal Chef Association or the American Personal Chef Institute?

Amy C. Fleitas contributed to this story.

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