Ballpark Estimate: $200 and $360 for a week’s worth of dinners for a family of four
If the thought of cooking dinner after a hard day’s work is enough to lessen your appetite, you may want to call in an expert to lend a hand in your kitchen. While such a specialized service used to be beyond the budget of most average families, a new breed of professional chefs are bringing gourmet cooking into people’s homes at prices that are palatable for most tastes and budgets.
The Growing Field of Personal Chefs
They are called personal chefs, and they come into your home and oversee all of your meal and preparation, including planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning and storing an array of meals you can take out and heat as you need them. There are currently close to 9,000 personal chefs in the United States today and you can find them in big cities and small towns, cooking for busy families, working couples and singles who want to find healthy meals waiting for them when they come home from office without having to go to any trouble.
Most personal chefs bring a range of experience to the kitchen, from a degree in nutrition to experience as a caterer or cook in a restaurant, to extensive time spent cooking for their own families. Regardless of their different backgrounds, though, what most of them share is a real talent and passion for cooking. And unlike private chefs, who are hired as an employee to cook exclusively for one family, personal chefs work for multiple clients at the same time. This allows them to perform their services in a cost-effective way that makes them accessible for people of many income levels.
Benefits of a Personal Chef
If you find yourself eating in restaurants on a regular basis or relying too often on takeout or pre-packaged frozen meals, you may benefit by bringing in an expert to help you break these bad habits and also improve the nutrition value of the meals in the process.
Generally, a personal chef will come into your home once a week (or more of less frequently, depending on your needs) and cook all of your meals for the next few days. The chef typically brings all of his or her own supplies and utensils, so all you need to provide are the basics, such as your stove, refrigerator, freezer and microwave. You can expect that your cook will then make and package your meals and leave them for you with easy directions on how to warm them up so they will taste great whenever you are ready to eat them.
Most personal chefs can work with you to meet your specific dietary needs and to respond to any concerns or preferences you have. For instance, if you need to lower your blood sugar, want to watch your weight or only eat organic food, your personal chef can meet these needs and come up with some tasty, and creative, menus that include entrees, side dishes and even desserts, if desired, that you can enjoy over the coming the week. For more serious health issues, some personal chefs will also consult with your physician or nutritionist when planning your menus.
A Chef for Every Occasion
Personal chefs will often be willing and available to perform in a variety of situations, so it helps to understand your options and then seek out a professional who best meets your tastes, your needs and your schedule.
Family Meal Preparation
Many people hire personal chefs to come in on a pre-arranged basis to cook enough meals to store and/or freeze to carry the family until the next scheduled visit. The cooking is typically done in your own home, but some services also offer the option of preparing the food offsite and transporting it already packaged to you.
Some people hire a personal chef to come in and cook for small dinner parties, brunches or other special occasions. This is a great approach, since it frees you up to socialize with your guests and at the same time, allows you to impress them with a gourmet meal. Some chefs will stay to serve the food as well, while others will prepare it and leave, depending on your preference.
You may also be able to hire a personal chef to give you a group or private cooking lesson. This is a great option particularly if you want to learn to make ethnic food or prepare special, more complicated dishes.
Home-Cooked Meals While Traveling
If you have a trip planned to the beach, to the mountains or even abroad, consider renting a condo, home or extended stay hotel with a kitchen so you can hire a personal chef to come cook for you at your destination. This enables you to avoid the wait at popular restaurants and allows you to eat healthy, fresh food in the comfort of your own room. Some professional sports teams are even taking such an approach, hiring personal chefs to travel with on the road in order to ensure nutritious meals are available for the players no matter where they are.
How to Find a Qualified Personal Chef
If you want to locate a personal chef in your area, try doing a search online. You can also browse the websites of national professional chef associations or look in the online yellow pages and directories under catering and chef services. In addition, resort or vacation rental services may be able to recommend a personal chef either where you live or where you will be traveling.
Realize that some personal chefs go it alone, while others work as a small company or as part of a team. Explore the options that are out there and compare some of the features that the candidates offer to find out who best meets your needs.
When you do find a personal chef you like, be sure to ask what culinary training and experience he or she brings to the job, but don’t let education alone be the deciding factor. Keep in mind that many excellent personal chefs are self-trained or come from an ethnic background where cooking is an important part of their culture.
Further, regardless of how the person learned to cook, it is essential to make sure he or she is trained in safe food handling practices. Most counties offer certifications in this area, so check with your local health department to find out what specific standards are required. It’s also important that a personal chef have liability insurance in case any accidents or injuries happen while he or she is on your premise. In addition, make sure the chef has a business license, since this is a sign of a professional businessperson. And always ask for references, so you can check with other clients and find out the chef’s strengths and weaknesses before you hire him or her.
What It Costs
The cost of hiring a personal chef can vary a great deal, depending on where you live, how experienced the cook is, and what type of service and commitment you desire. Some personal chefs charge per meal, while others charge a set per-week fee. The frequency that you have the chef come to your home also affects the price. Expect to pay more if he or she comes on a weekly basis. Bi-weekly or even a monthly visit, with the prepared food frozen to carry you through, is the most cost-effective choice. It is also important to note that some personal chef include the money spent for groceries in their weekly fee, while others charge a price for the time spent shopping and cooking and then add in the groceries separately, so you need to include this into the overall price.
When deciding if you can afford the expense of a personal chef, it helps to look at your monthly food budget to see how the cost of a chef compares to your typical spending. Be sure to take into account take-out food, pizza and other sit-down restaurant meals as well. You may find when you add it all together that hiring an expert to come into your home costs the same, or even less, than you are currently spending.
Prices for personal chefs start at about $10 a serving with food included, usually with a commitment of 20 servings for the week. This means that for a family of four, it will cost $200 for five nights of dinners. On the higher end, you can expect to pay about $18 a serving, or $360 for five meals to feed two adults and two children.
There are also extras that some chefs offer. In some cases, these are included in the per serving fee, and in other scenarios, these can be small add-on costs. These include using oils, sauces and spices from the chef’s own pantry (which might be an annual $50 fee), vacuum sealing food to last longer (this averages about $1.50 for a meal) and providing storage containers (from $50 to $100 a year or more, depending on what type you prefer).
For chefs that cook for dinner parties, come make a meal at your hotel or give a cooking lesson, an hourly rate is sometimes the most effective way to price these services. One personal chef estimates that the going rate is between $25 and $50 an hour with food often being an additional charge, but this can vary depending on many factors so be sure to find out the appropriate price range for your area.
Finally, if the price of a personal chef still seems out of your budget, don’t forget that in addition to the great food you will receive, you will also be saving a great deal of time and minimizing some of your weekly stresses. Not only will you not have to worry anymore about making dinner, but you can also eliminate grocery shopping, washing pots and pans and cleaning your kitchen from your daily schedule. For some busy families, these advantages are indeed well worth the investment.