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As Seen in The Daily Item, Wakefield, MA

What's For Dinner? Busy families, singles look to personal chefs for dinner time help.
By Bree Fowler, AP Business Writer, The Daily Item | October 10, 2007

New York (AP) - as lives get increasingly busier with careers, kids, commutes and other chaos, a growing number of people are turning to personal chefs to make sure that there's a hot meal on the table at the end of the day. Hiring a professional to cook for you isn't a whole lot different than hiring someone to clean your house or walk your dog, and it's not just for the wealthy,said John Moore, executive director of the United States Personal Chef Association.
"It's not the 'lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,'" Moore said. "People don't just have personal chefs because they have tons of money, they have them because it solves a problem. It puts dinner on the table."

Personal Chefs typically prepare several days worth of customized meals in advance, potentially for several clients. The meals are prepared and packaged, ready to be popped in the oven or microwave whenever a client wants to eat. Some chefs charge a flat rate, while others are paid by the hour. The chef does the grocery shopping, along with the cleanup, and those costs are added to the client's bill. Total costs usually range between $15 and $20 per meal, depending on the kind of food prepared and other related costs. That's not much different from a meal at a restaurant, Moore said. "Except that people don't have to go out, pay for parking or leave a tip," Moore said. "And they get to eat a meal that was custom made just for them."

Personal chefs have the potential to make more money than their restaurant counterparts, about $25 per hour on average, compared with about $14.75 for a head cook or chef in a restaurant, Moore said. As a result, the personal chef industry has gained numerous "restaurant refugees," who see the profession as a way to both get away from hectic restaurant schedules and make more money, Moore said. The association estimates that there are just over 5,000 personal chef businesses operating in the United States and Canada, up from about1,500 a decade ago. The industry generates about $300 million in revenue per year and that number expected to double in the next 5 years, the association said.

Mark Tafoya, who owns the New York-based ReMARKable Palate personal chef service, cooks for regular weekly clients and also offers one-time meal services, such as romantic dinners for two. Tafoya prepares the meals in the client's home, with dishes ranging from chicken enchiladas with a green tomatillo sauce to crab lasagna with béchamel sauce. For regular clients, the week's meals are discussed in advance and are created in accordance with their dietary needs and personal tastes. Organic, vegetarian and kosher options are available and nothing is repeated for six months unless requested, he said. Tafoya said that by cooking for the same clients over a long time , he's able to develop a kind of intimacy and customization that restaurants just aren't able to do. "I think that when I do hit it off and when they like my food and I understand them and what they like to eat, I can suggest new dishes that they might not have tried before, but I think might be right for them," Tafoya said. Tafoya said he was drawn to the profession after careers in acting and teaching. He saw it as a way to turn his love of food and cooking into a viable business.
Along with the ReMARKable Palate, Tofoya also is the co-owner and executive chef of the Guilded Fork, an online media company featuring recipes, podcasts and articlies and blogs about food. Tafoya said his typical weekly clients are incredibly busy, career-orientated people who don't have time to cook, but still appreciate a quality meal. "They might not be working 12-hour days, they might be working 8-hour days with kids and they still have to take them to band practice, soccer and ballet and they might have elderly parents that they have to take care of too," he said. "You have all these things on your plate and you're working. The last thing you might want to do is cook." Tafoya has cooked for Beth Dominguez's family of five - including three children ages nine to 15 years old - for about a year. Dominguez, a New York homemaker, said that having a personal chef frees up time that she would have otherwise spent at the grocery store or at the stove. "He suggests new ingredients and helps us pick dishes that we haven't had before," she said. "He'll also make suggestions about what's fresh and in season at the market, which I would never have the time to do."

Dominguez said that she and her husband, a banker, and the children all help pick the meals each week. That ensure that everyone gets a favorite dish at some point. Though first popular in major metropolitan areas, the personal chef industry has spread across the country over the 16 years that Moore's Rio Ranchero , N.M.-based association has existed. Now personal chefs can be found in places as far flung as Farmington, N.M. and Iowa City, Iowa, Moore said. "We've found that wherever there's a working professional, there's a need for personal chefs," Moore said.

Gail Kenagy, a personal chef in the San Fransisco Bay area, started her business in June 2000 and about three years later it had grown to the point where she needed to use a commercial kitchen. Kenagy, a former surgical nurse, now has about 35 regular clients and cooks for ten to 15 of them each week. She also cooks for one-time events, such as dinner parties, and teaches cooking classes. The meals are prepared at a kitchen located in a veteran's hall near her home, frozen in oven safe recyclable containers and personally delivered by Kenargy. Kenargy emphasized that personal chefs aren't for the elite and help people eat healthier, as well as save them time and money. "I have court reporters, school teachers, some lawyers and doctors and surgeons, but for the most part, I have regular working people," she said. "They're not high maintenance. They're kick back, middle of the road people."

Dominguez said she was initially surprised at how cost effective it is to have a personal chef. "We'd often order out and that's expensive," she said. "Now, I think we get better quality for the money. I am not saying it's inexpensive, but it's worth it."