Every day this winter I ate at least one meal prepared by my private chef.
I’m not a millionaire, royalty, or anyone particularly special (though my mom would argue that last point); I’m just a lazy guy who knows the value of eating healthy and doesn’t mind spending a little extra coin.
But I have a little secret: having someone else cook your food doesn’t cost as much as you’d think. In fact, it’s usually cheaper than eating at restaurants, and if you find the right chef like I did, the food tastes better.
This post will show you how I found a private chef, the negotiations we made, and how you can find one, too.
In September of 2010, I was hanging out in Toronto with Phil, the CEO of Precision Nutrition. We were in the middle of a long brainstorming session in his apartment when I suggested we break for lunch.
Phil walked to his kitchen, opened the fridge, and handed me an already-cooked gourmet meal of lemon-pepper salmon, sautéed veggies, and quinoa. I transferred the meal to a plate, re-heated it, and dug in. Delicious.
Phil told me how he had six meals delivered to him every few days from a small company who specializes in preparing healthy meals for busy professionals.
That was all I needed to hear. When I got back home, I began my own hunt for a private chef.
It didn’t take me long to find someone who’d cook for me.
Brian, a guy I knew from my favorite café, was a chef who had worked at a couple of top restaurants in Missoula. Due to the lagging economy, he was in between jobs and looking for something to do.
I told him my idea and he agreed to cook for me if I could enlist another person to make it worth his time.
My friend Jason liked the idea of not having to cook and agreed to join me.
Now all we needed was to negotiate a price with Brian and establish a few “food rules”.
Our food rules were pretty straightforward:
- Organic food when possible
- Grass-fed beef, free range poultry, and wild-caught fish
- At least one serving of high-quality protein per meal
- Vegetables or salad at every meal
- Acceptable carbs: brown rice, quinoa, and some pasta, but only in small servings
- The recipes, combinations, and food pairings were left up to Brian.
We settled on $130 each per week, which would cover the cost of groceries (Brian would do the shopping) and time spent in the kitchen. For that $130 dollars, Jason and I were guaranteed at least 10 healthy meals each every week. That broke down to roughly $13 per meal, about the same price you’d pay for a good sandwich or a salad with chicken.
As long as Brian made us each at least 10 meals and followed the above food rules, he could mix and match as much as he wanted and spend the money however he saw fit. In fact, it was in his best interest to keep his food costs low while still maintaining high-quality ingredients.
Jason and I would swing by Brian’s house twice per week to pick up our next batch of food, pay, and review the food receipts from the previous week to make suggestions.
With the details worked out, Jason and I sat back, let Brian work, and enjoyed great meals.
A few sample meals Brian cooked for us
- Orzo salad with broccoli, carrots, cabbage, asparagus, tomatoes, red peppers, basil, scallions, a special blend of walnut, wok, garlic and olive oil, and tamari soy sauce. Topped with grass-fed sirloin steak.
- Stew made with cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, celery, carrots, onions, jalapeño pepper, chicken, home made veggie stock, a little cinnamon, salt and pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper.
- Chicken seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, basil, chili powder and coriander, and quinoa salad was cooked with onions, tomatoes, currants, dried apricots, and carrots.
With at least one of my daily meals cooked and ready to eat, a few cool things started to happen:
- I lost more fat and looked better.
- I attribute this to not only the ingredients and quality of the food, but to the fact I was actually eating consistently.
- Before my private chef, I’d postpone lunch or skip it altogether if I was “in the flow” while working on a project and didn’t want to cook or go out. But with a ready-to-eat meal, I had no excuse.
- I broadened my tastes.
- Who knew I’d actually like Brussels sprouts or that a little Fat Tire amber ale is a good addition to meaty chili? And I never would have though to put shredded coconut in a fruit salad with pineapple, papaya, and oranges. (Try that, by the way.)
- I saved a little money.
- Before hiring a private chef, I’d eat out at least two meals per day, which usually added up to $15 or more for lunch and $20 or more for dinner.
- I got to brag about having a private chef.
What? You can do it, too.
While it’s certainly not for everyone, having a private chef can make your life easier. If you’re interested in hiring one, here are a few tips:
1. Got a friend who cooks for a living? Ask them if they’d be up for making a little money on the side.
2. Know a stay-at-home-mom or anyone who’s currently in between jobs that can cook? Ask around and see. The prospect of making an extra hundred bucks per week is always a good motivator.
3. Speak with a catering company and see what they’d charge to do your meals. Perhaps they have a few other clients who could benefit from a healthy meal service.
4. Partner up with a friend, like Jason and I did. It makes it more cost-effective for you, and worth the chef’s time if they can cook double the meals in roughly the same time and make more money.
5. Once you find your chef, establish some “food rules” of your own or hand them specific recipes you’d like them to make.
If you have a Whole Foods or Trader Joes near you, start buying a few ready-made meals at the deli. They almost always have good selections of seasoned and cooked chicken and fish, along with vegetable medleys, quinoa-based salads, and beans.
I find this is a great way to buy several lunches for relatively cheap. Just make sure to go a couple of times per week and stock up on the fresher ingredients – most of the ready-made food will deteriorate in quality and taste after a couple of days.
Just because you have someone else preparing and cooking a few meals for you doesn’t mean you get to put away your pots and pans.
Eating ready-made meals from a private chef (or from Whole Foods) is a great way to eat healthy without taking a lot of time to cook or clean up, which is why I eat them for lunch in the middle of the day, when I’m usually working on articles.
Still, I prefer to cook or go out for breakfast and dinner as I don’t want my sautéing skills to get rusty. Plus, cooking and eating with my girlfriend or friends is one of my favorite things to do (and, studies show, can actually lead to more happiness).
But while I still harness my inner-Emeril and bust out the knife every day, I have no problem taking a break from my work and reaching in the fridge for a gourmet meal prepared specifically for me.
NOTE: People mentioned in this article are not affiliated with The Chef Alliance. We cannot vouch for their professionalism and do not recommend their services.
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