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How to set up a personal chef website

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Why do you need a personal chef website?

When you’ve decided to start on a personal chef business, it’s critical to establish a presence online so that customers can find you and get to know you. Some personal chefs delay setting up a personal chef website because they don’t want to put themselves out in the public sphere and frankly, it takes some effort and time to do so. They would rather try to rely on only word-of-mouth, the white pages or respond to requests for personal chefs on places like Craigslist to try to grow their business. But put yourself in a target customer’s shoes. If you are a time-strapped person looking for a knowledgeable and talented chef to help you eat better, how are you going to look for and decide on a personal chef to try?

The Internet is probably the most common place people start their search for nearly everything these days and especially so for busy people who may not have time to ask around for a recommendation. But just putting something online that is poorly designed and incomplete is not enough. Most customers will try to find between 2-5 potential personal chefs that they want to talk to and learn about further before making their final decision, and you probably won’t make even this first list if your competitors are making more information available online like their menus, their pricing, their backgrounds and even customer reviews/ testimonials. If you looked at 10 personal chef websites and five of them only had information about how the chef really loves cooking and has a few poorly taken pictures on the food they’ve made and no other information, while the other five listed comprehensive information about everything their customers should know and expect, which do you think will make the short list? Even if you are attracting customers in other ways (e.g., responding to calls on Craigslist), it’s still very useful to have a robust internet presence so that you don’t have to re-explain everything to each customer – you can just send them the webpage where they can find all the information that they need.

Six steps to establishing yourself online as a personal chef

So now that you’re convinced that you need to do something online, where to get started? Here, we outline five simple steps to establishing your personal chef business online. While it may take some time and effort, these days there are great tools online that allow even very small businesses to effectively establish an online presence with minimal costs.

 

  1. Pick the place where you are going to build your online presence At SomaPersonalChefs.com, we strive to make it easy for personal chefs of all types to start and strengthen their online presence and be found by potential customers. Not only do you not have to deal with purchasing a domain name, getting hosting, designing a website, and maintaining it constantly, it’s completely free for personal chefs to get started and be found by potential clients. We’ve already designed a customer-friendly website that you can use, work all the time to attract more customers to the personal chefs on our platform, and all you need to do is provide the information that you want to share with your potential customers. Fill out this simple form  to get started. If you decide that you also want to build your own website, then check out companies like squarespace.com and wix.com that have easy drag-and-drop tools to allow small businesses and individuals to build professional-looking websites without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a computer programmer. They also have free versions (some only for a trial period) that will allow you to build a very simple website though you might not have access to all the functionality that you would want. Using a service like SquareSpace or Wix can be very convenient because they can act as a one-stop shop for common needs such as getting a domain name and hosting but you will still need to spend time on the design, maintenance, and marketing.
  2. Gather the needed information Whether you decide to create an online presence on SomaPersonalChefs.com, your own website or both, you’ll need to spend some time gathering the information to put in that space. At minimum, you would want to gather the following: a) personal bio covering your cooking experience and training, b) the cities that you serve, c) your pricing, and d) a comprehensive sample menu. Optional but nice-to-have additional information include customer testimonials and some writing for ‘How it works’ and ‘FAQs’ to cover questions you think potential clients might have. You can write this directly online into the place where you are depositing this information or you can write it in a Word document and copy and paste it after you are done.
  3. Take great pictures Great pictures can communicate so much to potential customers about the quality of your food and your professionalism. Even if you swear that your food tastes great, if there are no pictures that customers can look at or the pictures are grainy, poorly lighted, or just not good, your customers are likely to gravitate towards someone else who does present a better picture of their craft. Fortunately, taking high-quality pictures is now easier than ever with advanced cameras being built into many smartphones. Check out this article from SeriousEats for some tips that will make a big difference in the quality of your food photos. As for the quantity of photos, perhaps you don’t need to take photos of every single dish on your menu but you should aspire to start with at least 8-12 photos. You can then build your library over time as you cook additional dishes for yourself and your clients.
  4. Transfer the information onto the internet The next step is to get your writing from step 1 and pictures from step 2 onto the location that you’ve selected – whether that is Soma, your own website or both. If you are using SomaPersonalChefs.com, all you need to do is send us the information through this form and/or email and our team will do the rest. If you are setting up your own website, it will depend on the service that you use.
  5. Share your content throughout your networks Once you’ve set yourself online, email the link to your friends and family and share it on your social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Ongoing work needed to maintaining yourself online

Like any other marketing efforts, using the Internet to grown your business is not a one-time deal. It will need regular attention to continue to give you positive results. The most important thing is consistency and persistence – and here are the things you want to consider over time.

  1. Log reviews – As you grow your customer base, make sure that you’re regularly asking them for reviews. One advantage of using SomaPersonalChefs.com is that for any customers that book you through our website, they can leave reviews for your service on our website that we can verify are written by the actual customer which increases trust for future potential customers who read it.
  2. Update content periodically so visitors know you are still active- Whether it’s by generating reviews or writing a blog post, adding new content periodically (with the date shown on when you’ve added or updated that content) will let visitors know that you are still active. There are a lot of defunct websites out there, including for personal chefs and you want to be clear to potential customers that you are still operating and welcome their contact!
  3. Consider making more online connections so that you increase the likelihood that potential customers find you Creating an online presence for your personal chef business is a very important step in growing your customer base but it’s only the first step. There are many further ways to develop your marketing efforts online, including search engine optimization (SEO), paid advertising, content generation, listing and aggregation websites and much more. There are whole blogs dedicated to each one of these topics so I won’t cover it here but if you have the appetite for it, Google is your best friend in learning more. Of course, we do all of these and more for our personal chefs here at Soma, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us today to establish your profile with us.
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Hire personal chef – 6 things to prepare beforehand

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If you’ve decided to hire a personal chef, you’ve probably already thought of all the pros (convenience, added time to your schedule, likely healthier eating for you and your family, enriching the range of your palate, adhering better to dietary requirements) as well as some of the costs (the financial cost of paying someone to do this work for you as well as the small inconvenience of having someone cook in your kitchen). Even after finding your dream chef – for example, on a personal chef booking site like SomaPersonalChefs.com – there are a few additional steps you should remember to take in order to maximize the likelihood of a successful personal chef hire! Here are five you should consider:

  1. Communicate your dietary preferences and requirements- Make sure you’ve had a conversation with your personal chef about any dietary preferences and requirements you and your family might have. Many personal chef hires will know to ask this question themselves, but you should initiate the conversation if they don’t bring it up. Do children not eat meat? Do they eat carrots but never broccoli? Is your husband lactose intolerant? Even if you don’t have strict dietary requirements, if you have strong food preferences – e.g., you usually eat something that is more Asian-inspired at least once a week – it’s critical to communicate it to your personal chef. After all, your personal chef is good at whipping up great meals, not reading minds!
  2. Finalize the menu – At least 2-3 days before the cook date, ensure that you and your personal chef have a clear list of the dishes that the personal chef will make when they visit your home. It should include side dishes and an ingredient list if you require it. Assuming that the chef will make side dishes to go along with an entree when it’s not on the list is a good way to have a sub-optimal experience with your personal chef.
  3. Make arrangements for how the personal chef will get in your home and leave, as well as children and pets – Seems obvious but if you aren’t going to be home when your personal chef will arrive for the cook date, you need to make sure he/ she has a way to get into your home. Avoid wasting the chef’s time by forcing them to call you when they are stuck at your gate. If you have a door that can be opened with a passcode, make sure you send it to them beforehand. If you want them to get in with a spare key, message them the instructions for where they can find it and where they should leave it afterwards. Also, if you have children or pets who will be around while the personal chef is there, make sure they don’t have access to the kitchen while the personal chef will be working. If you think there’s a chance that the personal chef will encounter them, please give them a heads-up beforehand. Expecting personal chefs to do double-duty as babysitters or pet sitters won’t be a good first step to your relationship nor is it fair.
  4. Tidy up your kitchen and make room in the refrigerator – The night before the cook date, take 10 minutes to move the dishes from the sink to the dishwasher and throw away old food in the refrigerator. While the personal chef will clean the kitchen back to its initial state after the cooking session, they aren’t there to do a deep clean. Plus, they need space to put all the delicious foods they’ve made for you!
  5. Prepare containers for the food – If you want the chef to leave the food in the containers they were cooked in (e.g., leave the soups in the pots or casseroles in the pan), communicate that to the personal chef ahead of time. But if you want them to move the food into storage containers, make sure you have storage containers available for them. We suggest Pyrex containers like these because they travel easily between the microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher and even the oven. Plus the glass doesn’t leave any weird residue on the food while reheating, which is always a concern with plastic containers.
  6. Tell the personal chef where things are in the kitchen, where the bathroom is, and go over the ingredients list (especially if you, not the personal chef, did the grocery shopping) – These are the last few critical items you need to tell your personal chef. Take 5 minutes to tell them where they can find the basic stuff around your kitchen – dishes, mixing bowls and colanders, cutting boards, knives and other kitchen utensils, cups, pots and pans. Also, show them which bathroom to use (this is critical!). If you did the grocery shopping and not the personal chef, then quickly go over the list of ingredients so that the chef knows that he/she has all the needed ingredients and whether any substitutions have to be made.

That’s it! In lieu of spending 5-10 hours cooking for a week’s worth of meals for yourself and your family, all you need to do is spend 15-20 minutes making sure these things are in order to your personal chef. It’s really all about good communication to make your personal chef hire successful for your family. Bon Appetit!

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Private chef hire – how it worked out for me

Making the decision to get a private chef hire is not necessarily an easy one – you are picking someone who will cook food for you and your family, work in your kitchen, and get to know your family’s likes and dislikes. On the other hand, making a private chef hire has some incredible benefits, including freeing you up from hours of grocery shopping, washing and chopping, cooking and cleaning responsibilities. In addition, the food is likely to be better than what you can cook, it’s already cooked when you want to eat (saving you from the pain of throwing away those rotting vegetables), and your private chef hire will likely also bring new ideas and knowledge to enrich your palate while keeping in line with your dietary requirements.

I’ve been writing about my experience with several private chef hires (they are more commonly called personal chef hires – see here for a description of what some people see as the difference between personal and private chefs) – the last of the articles in this series can be found here. As I wrote in my previous blog posts, my experience was overall very positive with only one hire that was a little bit iffy. It’s been a few weeks since my last chef hire due to traveling for some family matters and I can tell you that I was missing it as I wandered around my kitchen at noon, wondering what to eat. The nearest place to grab a bit is at least a 15-minute round trip walk from my kitchen and that’s already halfway towards making an easy meal and likely to cost at least $12. So I fished around my freezer to see if there were any slices of frozen tortilla casserole left in my freezer from Chef J’s session (there were not, sadly) and then settled for a double peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and a cup of green tea.

So I’m on the market to find another private chef hire, sometime soon. Based on my experiences from the last four folks, here are some of the things I’ll be looking for, to make sure I’m hiring a great chef (and I would suggest anyone look for):

  • Evidence that the chef is serious and knows what they are doing – I don’t mind if the chef runs a little over the allotted time but I do mind if the food is not good. From my previous experience, the following are good indicators that a chef will actually deliver and they should have one or more of these:
    • A robust website (with a menu, outline of their costs, and something about their background)
    • Listing on a third party website like SomaPersonalChefs.com that gives some assurance of their quality
    • A personal reference from a friend who can vouch for their cooking skills
  • Reasonable cost – Potential private chef hires can quote wildly different prices and sometimes it can be really strange – someone with no references and no professional cooking training can quote a price that is similar to someone else who has worked at a top fine-dining restaurant for several years! I would be looking for someone who has an acceptable base level of cooking skills but is also charging a price commensurate with their experience and track record.
  • A robust menu – I frequently look to the private chef hire to come up with a couple of dishes that I can pick from. For example, if I need 4 meals to be cooked, I would want about 6-8 different options that I can pick from. Some chefs, surprisingly, have trouble coming up with menu choices and lead with ‘I’ll cook whatever you want’, which I find super unhelpful. From cooking myself, I know that there are some dishes that a person cooks better than others. I wouldn’t ask the average American chef to cook a specific Korean dish for example! Moreover, a significant part of the work of preparing meals for a family is thinking about and planning out the food to cook. I expect that the private chef will make this part of it easier for me too, by telling me to pick from a limited set of options (all of which are reasonably good) rather than me having to open a recipe book or search the internet to craft a menu.

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A private chef hire could mean good food at your fingertips all the time!

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Finding a chef

Once you’ve decided that you want to find a chef to provide cooking help for you and your family, the next question is ‘where do I find a chef?’ You might be a working parent who wants to provide healthier, higher-quality meals for your family but just can’t find the time to fit in grocery shopping, washing and prepping, cooking and cleaning into your busy week of work, pick-ups and drop-offs, and everything else that needs to be done. Or you might be a professional who finds himself eating out way too much but doesn’t see too many better options to eat healthily through take-out or restaurants. Or you might find yourself with stricter dietary restrictions because of a new medical condition, that is limiting how much sodium or other ingredients in your food.

Whatever your reason, once you’ve decided you’re interested in finding a chef to cook for you and your family, it’s not always straightforward to know where you can find such a person. Of course, one of the best places to start would be at SomaPersonalChefs.com which we built specifically to make it easy as possible to find and book a chef to help with in-home custom cooking help. We noticed that there just weren’t enough places online to quickly identify what cooks and chefs were available for hire on a private basis in one’s area, and to compare backgrounds, sample menus and prices so we built Soma with that in mind. But here are some other resources that we know people have been using before Soma:

Craigslist – A surprising number of cooks and chefs try to advertise their services on Craigslist. Although it’s not easy to sort through this format, there is the advantage of knowing that there are all kinds of people (and a lot of them) who are both posting their skills on this list and actively hiring people they find in this forum. Downsides include: a lot of cooks and chefs don’t provide enough information so it’s hard to assess how they might perform and how much they cost, there are no reviews so it is difficult to know their past work, and the author’s identities have to be independently checked and verified.

Neighborhood groups/ email lists – Sometimes looking close by might be your best solution. Many neighborhoods have email lists where active community members send out neighborhood news and post questions. By asking if anyone provides this type of service, you might be able to find someone who lives very close by, making them potentially more reliable because they don’t have to travel as far. Potential downsides include not being able to know background, cost, and sample menu beforehand, as well as potential awkwardness of seeing the person around the neighborhood if you decide to stop hiring them because you didn’t actually like the cooking!

Word of mouth – Another time-tested way of finding help is by word of mouth. Tell your friends and family that this is what you are looking for and they can be an additional set of eyes and ears to help you find someone. The advantages of this approach include the possibility that you may be more likely to find someone who fits your taste since they are likely to know your family and friends. Also they may feel more accountable to you since you know someone in common. The downsides are that this approach may not yield any results (because the network isn’t as wide as the internet for example) and if you hire someone and you have to stop working with them before you didn’t like their food or for some other performance-related reason, it might be kind of awkward.

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Hire a private chef – 8 questions you should ask

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So you’ve decided that you might want to hire a private chef. Before you rush into hiring someone, below are eight questions you should take a couple of minutes to consider. If you’ve already considered them, check out our directory of personal and private chefs around the country to start your search!

  1. Is it a private chef that you want to hire? Or is it a personal chef? Often, the term ‘private chef’ and ‘personal chef’ are used interchangeably but they actually refer to two distinct services (admittedly I also sometimes use the terms interchangeably on this blog…). A private chef is someone who cooks full-time for one client and household while a personal chef generally has more than one client at a time. This means that a private chef can make each meal immediately before it is served and also prepare snacks and food for special occasions in addition to regular weekday meals. In contrast, a personal chef might visit a client’s home only once a week or every other week, making a big batch of multiple meals per visit and storing it in the refrigerator or freezer for later consumption. People might say that they want a “private chef” when they are actually looking for a personal chef service or might be happier with the greater affordability and flexibility of a personal chef service. It’s helpful to note though that it’s not unusual for chefs to alternate between working as a personal chef and a private chef – which might be helpful to know if you want to test out a personal chef service before asking someone if they would consider becoming your private chef.
  2. What kind of background do you expect? Private chefs can come from all types of backgrounds – some with formal culinary education as well as experience working at top-tier restaurants while others might have one or neither of these qualifications. However, it’s generally acknowledged that culinary school or even experience working in a top-tier restaurant – while it can be very helpful in improving culinary skills – are not strictly necessary for someone to be a great cook. Generally speaking, private chefs with more credentials will also be more expensive than those who may have fewer credentials but still might be great cooks.
  3. What will you do about payroll taxes and insurance? One of the benefits of hiring a personal chef vs a private chef is that most personal chefs operate as their own small business and generally work as independent contractors for their clients, meaning that they carry their own liability insurance and do their own taxes, which means you don’t have to worry about those things as much. However, when you hire a private chef on a full-time basis, it’s more likely that this person will be treated as your employee and you will have to withhold payroll taxes and help find insurance. Consult your accountant or lawyer for how this may or may not apply in your specific situation but this can be a big consideration.
  4. Will the private chef need to live on your property? If you expect your private chef to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner, they will need to be around for much of they day. Do you expect them to live on your property or to commute? If they live on your property, how will that be figured into their compensation? If they need to travel with you, what will be the arrangement?
  5. Are you expecting the private chef to do anything else other than cook? Sometimes there are unspoken expectations that the private chef will also watch the children and the pets while they cook. Or that they will clean kitchen, the dining area, and oh the rest of the house. Or sometimes there are other folks helping around the house – what will be the private chef’s relationship to them? Will one of them be managing the private chef or vice versa?
  6. How many meals are you expecting this private chef to provide? For how many people? How often will there also be special occasions? As talented as many private chefs are, they usually can’t cook a dinner for 100 people with a day’s notice. Be transparent about the types of meals that the private chef will be expected to provide during a normal week and for how many people. When there are special occasions or bigger gatherings, how much advance notice will the private chef need? What will be the arrangement if additional help is needed?
  7. Do you or your household members have any dietary restrictions or strong food preferences? Be sure to list any food allergies or dietary restrictions that anyone in your household needs to follow, in addition to any preferences for organic and free-range produce and meats. If there are strong food preferences, try to be as specific as you can so that your private chef can learn quickly about what you and your family will eat vs not (e.g., one of your kids will eat only crispy fruits and vegetables but nothing that is mushy like bananas or potatoes)
  8. What is your expectation on how to manage grocery costs and kitchen supplies? Do you have a target budget that you expect your private chef to meet? If so, make sure you communicate that to your private chef upfront. How and when will the private chef purchase the ingredients and get reimbursed? If the food processor breaks then is there a budget for replacing or upgrading kitchen supplies?

You may have already thought through many of these questions but if not, use them as a checklist for making the best hiring decision possible for your private chef position. It will also help whoever you hire get up to speed and meet your needs more quickly and with less risk for miscommunication.

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Personal chef for hire (Part 4)

This blog post on personal chefs for hire is a continuation of a series of posts I’ve written on my experience on having personal chefs cook at my home in the last several weeks. You can find the previous one in the series here. If you want to skip reading about my experience and go directly to our directory of personal chefs, you can click on this link.

Of the personal chefs I’ve hired over the last several weeks, all of them have worked out wonderfully with the exception of one who I will call Chef K. I found Chef K on Craigslist – she responded to an ad that I had placed looking for a personal chef to come cook several days’ worth of meals. You might now think “oh here is the problem – she found this person on Craigslist. No wonder she didn’t have a good experience!”. But the truth is that most of the other personal chefs that I worked with I also found on Craigslist. There are just a lot of talented cooks and chefs out there who either have a website who still have trouble getting found online (because Google is not finding or showing them in the search results) or they don’t have a web presence at all. A lot of those folks I found check Craigslist for the occasional posting of someone like me who wanted help with in-home cooking. So the fact that I found Chef K on Craigslist wasn’t necessarily a red flag.

Neither did the fact that Chef K had no professional cooking experience necessarily bother me. Chef M also had only cooked in her own home before she came to cook in my kitchen and she did a great job. But there were some warning signs in hindsight. One was that I actually had no way to verify that she was actually a good cook before she came to my home. With the other personal chefs, either I could see from their websites that they had been doing this for their work for at least some period of time (which signaled that someone was at least willing to hire them so they probably weren’t terrible) or they could get someone else to vouch for them (as was the case for Chef M – we knew some people in common). With Chef K, all I had was her word that she was a good cook. Another yellow flag was that when I asked for what dishes she could make, her list was pretty short and fairly specific to one type of food, which should have signaled that she didn’t have a lot of experience or range.

Anyhow, I wanted to see a lot of different types of personal chefs and I had such a positive experience with the other personal chefs that I had hired so I went ahead and invited Chef K to come and cook. She made a South American-style chicken, beans and rice dish, mofongo (a dish with mashed plantains, chicken and garlic), and plantain lasagna with beef. I had tried some of these dishes before in restaurants and liked them ok so I chose them (though as I mentioned, the list to choose from was fairly short).

Chef K came at the appointed time for the cook date, we ran through the 5-minute intro of going over the ingredients list, doing a walk-through of the kitchen and the bathroom. Then I went back to my office to work while Chef K started cooking. When I checked back in about 3 and 1/2 hours later, she wasn’t nearly done and even at 4 hours she was still finishing up some dishes. Like Chef M, she finished closer to 5 hours rather than the 4 hours she estimated, when counting the time it took to return the kitchen to the initial state.

I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of the food but they wouldn’t have looked terrible on camera. None of the dishes was so bad that one could absolutely not eat them – for example, none of the meat was undercooked nor were the dishes cooked in an unsanitary way. But the food did not taste good, at least to me. The chicken was very tough and dry somehow, though they were cooked in a broth. The mofongo was extremely garlicky (and this is someone who at least doubles the garlic in each recipe!) – I kept on biting into big chunks of raw garlic which I found unpleasant. The plantain lasagna was the best of the three, though it wasn’t necessarily notable. After trying to pick out the garlic chunks out of the mofongo, I finally gave up and ended up throwing it away. The chicken languished in the refrigerator until half of it went bad and I threw it away too. We finished most of of the plantain lasagna with the help of some hot sauce and froze the rest. I had tasted very good versions of many of these dishes and was sad that so much of it ended up going to waste.

So some lessons I learned from working with Chef K:

  • If you can’t verify in some way that the personal chef is actually a good cook (whether through evidence that they’ve been a personal chef for awhile, references, online reviews, etc), client beware!
  • If the personal chef can’t give you a fairly wide range of selections of dishes they can cook (at least double the number of dishes you are going to select), that might indicate that the chef is not very experienced
  • For newer personal chefs, as with Chef M, they may not have as good of a sense of the time required to cook the dishes (and they may not be as fast). Expect that they might need more time than you originally agreed upon though you should negotiate the total cost upfront.

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It’s always sad to pay for not-tasty food.

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Private cook (Part 3)

Following up on my last two posts (here and here) on what it was like to hire a private cook, let me tell you about the third private cook that I hired, Chef B. Chef B was born and raised in Italy but married an American and moved to the Boston area several years ago and also had a son. She had previously worked as a photojournalist, but cooking had always been a big part of her life (as it seems for many Italians) and so when she became a parent, she started working as a private cook since it was a flexible job that allowed her to be with her family in the mornings and after-school and tapped into her passion for food. I found Chef B online and it was clear that she had more experience doing this type of work. Her website clearly laid out a fairly long list of dishes she could make (mostly delicious sounding Italian meals), she had clear information on pricing, and she even had an option for people to pay her online using PayPal.

When I reached out to her, she was very responsive and we quickly settled on a list of four meals that she would cook over the course of four hours (I would pick up groceries according to her list):

  • Frittata w/ mixed vegetables
  • Beef sliced roll w/ tomato sauce
  • Chicken w/ red pepper
  • Potato soup w/ mushroom and pasta

She sent me a grocery list a few days before our scheduled cook date and she also brought over some spices that she thought I might not have. She also brought her own knives. When she arrived, we went through the same 5-minute procedure that I had gone through with the previous two private cooks: 1) go through the ingredients list so that she knew what I had bought and if I had to make any substitutions, 2) show her where different things were around the kitchen and 3) tell her where the bathroom was. I also asked her to leave the food into the pans and pots since I preferred to transfer them into containers and the refrigerator after they cooled down (but to clean up anything else that was used for cooking). This was primarily because a lot of my containers are made of plastic and I didn’t like the idea of hot food going into them. But in hindsight, maybe it would have been better to have gotten more glassware containers ahead of time and asked her to transfer them and then clean up everything because a few of the dishes were tougher to clean (especially the frittata dish)! But as Chef B cooked, I went into my home office and did not emerge until 3 and 1/2 hours later, when she knocked on the door and told me that she was done.

She had made all the dishes that we had discussed as well as roasted some cauliflower that she found sitting forlornly in our refrigerator, which I was grateful for, because let’s be honest, that cauliflower would have rotted a few days later and then unceremoniously and with some regret tossed into our compost bin (how often does that happen to you?) But cooked, it was transformed into this crunchy, starchy, almost sweet side dish that was gone in a matter of two days. Private cook made Fritta with mixed vegetablesPrivate cook made potato soup with mushroomPrivate cook made chicken with bell peppersPrivate cook made Italian rolled beefPrivate cook made herb roasted cauliflower

Dishes from Chef B (starting from the top left and going clockwise): Frittata with vegetables, potato soup with mushrooms, baked chicken thighs with bell peppers, rolled beef in tomato sauce, roasted cauliflower with herbs

We made short work of her other dishes too – each meal had about 4-6 servings, which meant it lasted me and my husband about a week because we were working from home more during that time and we would often have some of Chef M’s for lunch. Each entree wasn’t quite a full meal, so we supplemented with bread, rice from the rice cooker and salad greens as needed which wasn’t too much work. Everything was delicious – it really felt as if I had a kind Italian aunt who had come to visit and stocked our fridge.

Lessons learned for me:

  • Again, private cooks who had websites with more complete information (such as a comprehensive list of dishes, pricing and background information) were easier to work with, generally faster and reliable
  • I should get those pyrex glass containers – it will save more time on my end and allow me to take fuller advantage of the private cook’s services
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Private chef services – what it’s like (Part 2)

In my last post, I wrote a little bit about my first experience using private chef services and I want to expand on that by telling you about a couple of the other private chef services that I tried. To be honest, I enjoyed all of them with the exception of one. (Note: I am using the terms private and personal chef a bit interchangeably here though technically private chefs work for only one client full-time while personal chefs serve multiple clients at once… however, this distinction doesn’t seem to necessarily be widely known).

The second private chef service that I hired (Chef J) I found through Craigslist though I later learned that she has been running her own private chef service and baked goods delivery service for several years already. In many ways, her experience showed. Chef J already had a website with a fairly long list of dishes she is comfortable preparing so I could just go and look at it and tell her what I was interested in. She sent me a detailed list of ingredients to buy about a week in advance. I decided to go with her barley jambalaya (a 3-in-1 combo of meats, carbs and veggies), a tortilla casserole (also a 3-in-1 combo), chicken marsala with veggie pancakes and seasoned brown rice. She estimated that this could all be cooked within 4 hours, kitchen clean-up included.

When Chef J arrived, we spent 5 minutes doing the same thing that I did with Chef M – go through the ingredients, show her around the kitchen, and tell her where the bathroom was. Then Chef J was off to the races. Though her dishes ran a little bit more on the simpler side than Chef M’s as well as more American mainstream (whereas Chef M cooked food that was more influenced by different ethnic traditions and were a bit more complex), this also meant that Chef J expertly cooked everything in the time allotted and she finished cleaning up just as we were getting to the four hour mark. More likely was that because of her experience, Chef J had a better sense of where steps could be made efficient without sacrificing quality and what was realistic to cook in the time allotted.

Again, it was only a pleasure to have Chef J cook in my kitchen. We had unfortunately experienced some water damage in our ceiling the night before and I was able to spend some time calling repairman and the insurance company – only something I could do, while Chef J cooked dinner for that day and the next 3-4 days. When I checked in with her at the four-hour mark, she was nearly done – food was all cooked and the kitchen was clean. She asked me if I wanted the food portioned out into tupperware. I preferred to keep the food in the pots until they cooled down, and then move it into the refrigerator and/or package it myself so I declined her offer.

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Some of the dishes from Chef J – to be honest, the barley jambalaya picture looks so weak because we ate most of it before I remembered to take the picture. You can guess why there’s no photo of the chicken marsala, the veg pancakes or the seasoned brown rice…:)

Lessons learned for me:

  • Going with a more experienced chef can be helpful because they may be able to more reliably predict how long cooking certain dishes will take and also adjust on the fly to make it happen
  • But taste-wise, I would put Chef J and Chef M on a similar level even if Chef M is a lot less experienced
  • For personal chefs out there – it makes it a lot easier when you have an extensive menu of dishes your clients can choose from (pictures would be great too)

Does this experience sound awesome? If so, find a private chef for you to hire in your area by going here.

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Hire a personal chef – what it’s like (Part 1)

When I was first thinking of building Soma, I wanted to get a better sense of the range of personal chef services that were out there so I hired a few personal chefs in my local area. I tried to hire personal chefs who came from different backgrounds and price points so that I could see for myself if there was, for example a big difference between someone who had worked as a personal chef for a long time vs someone who was starting out, someone who had formal culinary training vs someone who did not, and also between chefs coming from different food traditions.

Chef M was the first personal chef that I hired. She came from an unusual background – she had an advanced degree in a scientific field but had always loved cooking and decided that she wanted to spend more time cooking for a living. She was just getting started but I had already heard from mutual friends (that’s how we were connected) that her cooking was phenomenal. We agreed on a menu ahead of time – she would make two meat dishes, one large vegetable briyani dish enough for 8 servings, one large dish of cauliflower rice and an ‘fried’ rice dish that would contain carbs, vegetables and meat. All in all, I anticipated that she would cook enough for us to have 3 unique and complete meals with at least 6 servings each. She estimated that it would take her four hours to make this food, provided that I do the grocery shopping (which I was happy to do).

A few days before the cook date, Chef M sent me the ingredients list. I first ran through the list against the stuff that I already had, crossed those off the list and then went to the grocery store to pick up the rest. I had to make a few substitutions – like one of the dishes required cashews but I could only find an enormous bag, so I picked up a smaller bag of pine nuts instead (I figured both were softer, mild-tasting nuts).

The day after, on the cook date, Chef M arrived at 1pm and I let her in (I was able to work from home that day). She came with a small bag of some spices she figured I may not have on hand or I may have trouble finding at a regular American grocery store and her own knife. Before she got started cooking, we took 5 minutes to review the ingredients list (especially going over any substitutions I had to make), where stuff was in our kitchen and the location of the bathroom. After that, I went to my desk and worked for the next 4 hours while Chef M started cooking and our house just started filling up with all kinds of delicious smells.

I had hired people for a few small catering events previously but frankly, not for regular weekday cooking. Besides liking to cook myself, my mom is a great cook and often stocks our refrigerator with food (which is actually how I was inspired to start Soma – wouldn’t it be great if everyone could have access to someone like my mom? But that’s another story for a different time). I had a little bit of anxiety that it would be awkward – when you are having an event, it’s usually so busy and it seems more normal to have strangers around helping but for a weekday meal, wouldn’t it be weird to have someone just come in and cook? But my worries dissolved minutes after I sat at my desk and started working. Chef M was clearly comfortable in the kitchen and happy to be cooking up a storm. And despite liking to cook myself, I was actually happy to have someone else cooking for me and my family and relieved that I wouldn’t have to turn on the stove for at least a couple of days while we enjoyed some delicious dishes.

Apart from one or two times when I went to the bathroom and checked in with Chef M to see if she had any questions, I had a very productive four hours working on my computer. Around 5pm, I got up and went to the kitchen to see how it was going. When I got there, it was clear that she wasn’t close to finishing yet. We had discussed four hours to cook the three meals and also to return the kitchen to the previous state. Unfortunately, she was still finishing up two of the dishes and the kitchen still had to be cleaned. “Sorry, I’m running a little bit behind!” she said, smiling with a little bit of embarrassment. “I guess I should have maybe baked the chicken rather than pan-frying it one by one.” The food looked amazing and I knew I was one of her first clients, so I said it was fine and asked how much longer she thought she needed. 30-40 minutes? “That’s fine” I said and returned to my desk. About 40 minutes later, I returned and Chef M was just starting to clean up the kitchen and I helped her. All in all, it took Chef M closer to 5 hours to finish the meal and clean up and but she agreed that I would still pay her the original amount since she had estimated the time for the menu. In the future, she said, she thought there were some things she will do differently to make it more time-efficient such as cook the chicken in the oven and start the rice earlier.

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Sampler plate of the delicious dishes Chef M made for us.

Some lessons from my first personal chef hire experience were the following:

  • It can be awesome to have a personal chef, even if you like cooking yourself. It is a great feeling to know that your refrigerator is filled with delicious foods that just need to be heated up and you won’t have to scramble to figure out a meal.
  • Even self-taught home chefs can do a great job. Chef M doesn’t have any formal training and she is entirely self-taught. But her food was amazing!
  • Anticipate that the cooking might take longer than anticipated. This often happens in cooking (not every piece of chicken cooks at the same rate, not every stove gives off the same amount of heat) and this might be especially true for less experienced chefs. If you plan to be home while the personal chef is cooking, expect that cooking and cleaning may run over by at least 1 hour. Because of this, make sure that you agree with the personal chef upfront that you will pay for X hours for the menu that you agreed on even if he/she has to run over.

 

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A Personal Cook – should you hire one?

ready-made-casserole

Sometimes when cooking, we just want to be able to skip to this part (when the food is ready).

If you cook for yourself or your family on a regular basis (which is to say, a lot of us), you may have experienced the feeling of dread and stress that creeps up as you realize that it’s 6:30pm already and the meal that you’re planning will take at least an hour to cook, which means you won’t eat until 7:30 or 8pm at the earliest. You may have had a corresponding thought of “why can’t this be easier/ why can’t someone cook for me/ I need a personal cook!” Even those of us who really like to cook (which includes me), may have experienced that feeling just because when you have to cook often and under time pressure, cooking can morph from a relaxing creative project to… well, work. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to find and book a personal cook and get the help in the kitchen that you need, just as you might hire someone to help watch your kids, groom your pet, or tidy up your house.

What personal cooks are

Personal cooks are people who have a strong passion for cooking great food and typically work for multiple clients in a given week. They might spend anywhere from 3 to 8 hours at a client’s home in a given day and cook multiple meals that they agreed on with the client in advance, portion them out into containers, refrigerate them and clean to restore the kitchen to its beginning state. Personal cooks may also grocery shop for the ingredients needed to make those meals and the most common arrangement is for the personal cook to be reimbursed for the grocery costs by the client after a receipt is presented. Personal cooks are also commonly referred to as “personal chefs” and the two terms are often used interchangeably. While generally the term ‘chef’ tends to be reserved for those who attended culinary school, worked up the ranks at under a notable chef and/or have managerial responsibilities over a team, in the realm of personal cooking the terms are more loosely used. Rarely do those working directly for an individual household oversee a culinary team, for example.

How to find one

Our website is a great place to start looking for a personal cook to help you save time and eat better. Just click on the filters to specify the location you are looking at and any other relevant criteria (e.g., type of cuisine and price range). Then click through the personal cooks and chefs who match your search criteria to browse profiles and sample menu items. When you’ve found a few that you like, message them through our website or go directly to requesting a booking!

Questions to ask before hiring

When evaluating a potential personal cook, there are a couple of questions you may want to consider asking the candidate before booking them. These include:

  • Experience and training – What kind of background does this person bring? Did they go to culinary school or work at a well-regarded restaurant? Is most of their experience home cooking?
  • References – Do they have any reviews online, at SomaPersonalChefs.com or elsewhere that can speak to their past performance? Or phone numbers or letters from past clients?
  • Whether they can meet your dietary requirements and preferences – Can they comply with a gluten-free or lactose-free requirement (or any other requirement that you and your family might need)?
  • Cooking philosophy – What is their cooking philosophy? Do they use any artificial ingredients such as artificial sweeteners or MSG? What are 2-3 of their favorite meals to cook? Do they lean more vegetable-heavy or protein-heavy?
  • Background check – Are they willing to go through a background check?
  • Cost – What is the final estimate of the cost (or the number of hours it will take) to cook a certain menu? What if it ends up taking longer than that estimate?
  • Logistics – Does the chef serve your area? If they are doing grocery shopping for you as well, do they know where you want them to shop? Have you agreed on when grocery costs will be reimbursed?

As you can see, having a personal cook doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. Finding one that fits your needs is easier now than ever – so go to our home page to start seeing what’s available in your area.