Private chefs offer a stress-free way to put healthy and palate-pleasing meals on the table whether it’s dinner on busy weeknights or a holiday gathering.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Perhaps you’re a working professional trying to balance a hectic schedule with time at the office, chores, errands, fitness and fun, plus any youth sports and activities if you have kids, all while providing healthy meals for your family. Maybe you are getting ready to have a holiday gathering with all the fixings and time is getting tight to make it all come together. Hiring a personal chef can eliminate the hassle of planning and preparing quick, healthy meals and remove some or all of the burden of coordinating an event by yourself.
Evan Lewis, owner of Evan’s Gourmet and a personal chef with 40 years of culinary experience under her belt, says people tend to hire personal chefs to take care of the details—whether it be healthy food choices, daily meals or planning an event. When people are busy, nutritious food choices can fall to the wayside.
“As a private chef, I’ve had many clients with unique dietary needs and time constraints, and I’ve worked with [nearly] every kind of special diet. When I first begin working with someone, I have them fill out a client assessment sheet to find out likes, dislikes and allergies,” Lewis says. “In every scenario, business or personal, the goal is to make the menu well-rounded for the masses, so there’s always something for everyone. Plus, hiring a personal chef gives people the time to enjoy an event or meal with family, rather than worrying about what to make and how to coordinate things.”
Lewis, who has worked as a personal chef for two decades and run her catering business for 28 years, has also been the proprietor of one of the main food establishments at the Sawdust Art Festival since 2015. Here, she and her team offer a fresh approach, using organic ingredients whenever possible as well as offering vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
For private special events and daily meals, she offers soup-to-nuts custom catering and food choices, and says if she doesn’t know how to make something, she learns and adapts her skills to fit each client’s needs. Some of her popular dishes include filet mignon stroganoff, salmon Provencal, chicken saltimbocca, Salisbury steak, sole piccata and shrimp scampi.
Maryann Minck, a 20-year culinary veteran and owner of Maryann’s Menu, offers similar services to her clients, including daily meal services and custom catering for special events. Additionally, amid the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, she started a Wednesday dinner delivery service where she would prepare and drop off individual meals each week for her clients.
“During the heart of the pandemic, people were really getting burned out on cooking for themselves and their families every day, so I provided this service to help ease that load,” Minck says. “Food is an important part of the social aspects of life, so this also provided people with human interaction from afar when we weren’t able to see most of our friends and families.”
As a personal chef, Minck offers “anything involving food” to her clients, including food and diet consultations; nightly meals; dinner, specialty and holiday parties; and corporate celebrations. Some of her popular dishes include vegan chili, grilled shrimp lettuce cups, roasted broccoli with tahini and cashews, herb-grilled salmon with crispy skin and zucchini muffins that are both gluten- and dairy-free. Holiday dishes range from Cornish game hens to roasted pear crostini with pomegranate and goat cheese.
She also offers homemade specialty goods under the brand Laguna Love, which includes granola, toffee, seasonal cookies, teriyaki sauce, chimichurri, lavender salt and bone broth. These items are slated to be offered in Laguna Beach stores in the future, and can currently be ordered by filling out the contact form on Minck’s website.
“My forte lies with the hard-to-feed people,” says Minck, who personally experienced a gluten allergy after the birth of her first child. “I started to focus on specialty diets, like gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and keto early on. I tend to be intuitive about nutrition and I work with a few local doctors on more difficult, medically inclined cases.”
Personal chefs like Lewis and Minck provide services geared toward the busy person who doesn’t have time for prep and planning, and have the extra need for an experienced professional to take into consideration their health requirements and execute a plan. In addition to reclaiming time and sanity in a busy world, when hiring a personal chef, you’ll also likely be exposed to new flavors and cuisines you might not have tried when shopping and cooking for yourself.
“Working as a personal chef has been really rewarding and customer service is paramount to me—once I started doing more customized daily meals, it morphed into an overall customer service for my clients,” Lewis says, noting that she makes almost everything from scratch. “The job itself is ever-changing and no day is the same. There’s always something new to cook or organize, which keeps it fresh. And I love to learn new recipes and cuisines to share with my clients … or utilize within an event.”
Minck also enjoys helping people as part of her job and doesn’t take the task lightly.
“What I make and serve to my clients becomes part of people and it’s an incredible responsibility,” Minck says. “There’s a certain level of trust and comfort that someone has to put in you in order to have you in … [their] home or in charge of an event, and that trust has to extend to what you are serving to them based on their likes, dislikes and aversions. It’s an honor to play such a large role in people’s health and wellness.”
While personal chef services are a luxury of sorts, they can also be affordable with the right research and planning. It’s important to have an open conversation about your needs and expectations when hiring someone for the job.
“I like to sit down with the client at the location of the event or in their home to soak in the surroundings and make suggestions based on their vision of the event or meal planning,” Lewis explains. “We come up with a plan that works with their budget and then I execute the details.”
Of course, time is money and the extra you may spend hiring someone to take the stress out of an event or daily meal planning can save you more in the long run.
“It is the ultimate in stress relief to come home to a fully prepared meal, or to arrive to an event you are hosting without the worry of the food and decor details,” Minck says. “Plus, once you have me in your Rolodex for one thing, I’m always available to speak to you about dietary tweaks or additional events you need in the future.”