Feb. 23 - Mar. 8, 2007

By TOVA FRUCHTMAN

It's not your typical 9-to-5 job. 

Instead, most personal chefs hit the grocery stores just after they open, around 7 a.m., buying all of the ingredients needed to prepare at least a week's worth of meals.  Then they head over to their client's homes and start unloading pots and pans, knives and spoons, bowls and spices and anything else they may need to prepare the meals and clean up the mess afterwards. 

Uusally, no one is home by the time they arrive, and so they get to work: chopping, dicing, grilling, boiling, and packaging each meal into containers, complete with heating instructions.  Then they load up all of their equipment and leave the kitchen just as they found it - except for the refrigerator and freezer that is now filled with ready-to-eat gourmet meals.

Buckhead resident Bob Brinson of Gourmet Innovations (www.gourmetinnovationsinc.com) and Vinings resident Wendy Sanders fo The Foodie's Chef (www.thefoodieschef.com) both left jobs in the corporate world to become personal chefs and prepare meals for metro-Atlanta families who don't have time to cook for themselves.  "I really like the fact that I get to help my clients do other thingsthat they would rather be doing than worrying about what they are having for dinner," Brinson said.

Brinson and Sanders are part of a growing industry, started by San Diego husband and wife team David MacKay and Susan Titcomb-MacKay.  They started their own personal chef business in 1987 and by 1992 had introduced the United States Personal Chef Association; the first and only trade association for personal chefs.   In 1996, USPCA started an educational division to officially certify personal chefs.  Now there are more than 5,000 personal chefs in the United States and Canada.  With around 60 personal chefs in the USPCA chapter in Atlanta, the industry is growing here as well.

Sanders and Brinson both joined the USPCA when they were looking into moving into the career.  Brinson has been a personal chef for two years and Sanders for one.  "Just recently I was visiting a client for the first time, and I left her house thinking to myself, 'I really love my job,'" Sanders said, "I love going to meet new people and then cooking for them and making a difference in their lives."



And clients say it does make a difference.  Sandy Springs resident Kathy Betty has used Brinson's service for nearly a year.  She and her husband both worked full time, and were looking for an option to eat more healthy meals.  While Betty cooked, she wasn't sure about how to cook healthy food.  So she went online in search of a personal chef and interviewed a few.  After meeting Brinson, Betty said she appreciated his flexibility and willingness to meet her needs and she hired him to cook her family seven dinner entrees and seven lunches each week.  "Every night we would sit down and say, 'Is this not wonderful to eat good healthy food made with fresh ingredients and not have to cook?'" she said.

She's also hired Brinson to cook for special occasions, as have many of his other clients.  Sometimes he said, "the meals are laid back and casual Italian dinners, like the one he recently prepared for Betty, and other times he'll make a fancy five-course dinner he prepared for a couple this past Valentine's Day."

Other personal chefs also offer meals in evenings or for special occasions.  Sanders said she will be teaching guests at a bridal shower how to cook four appetizers, putting a different twist on her job.  But for the most part, being a personal chef is about cooking meals that can be frozen for up to a month and eaten at a client's convenience.

People who use personal chefs also have the convenience of designing their own menus to fit their personal needs.  For example, Brinson has one client who has a variety of allergies, others who are vegetarians, and others who keep kosher.  For each of these clients he has had to adapt the menus to fit their needs.  Before Brinson or Sanders begin cooking for a client, they sit down for a consultation and have the client fill out a food questionnaire.  Then they design a menu and send it to their clients to approve before cooking.  "I cook according to what they want and what they request," Brinson said.

Pricing is determined by each individual chef and usually ranges between $300 and $500 for five entrees and side dishes for four adults (20 meals total). But for many, who are sick of dining out, ordering in or eating sodium- and preservative-filled frozen meals, a personal chef is worth the money.

"Food is a very personal thing," Sanders said. "And it really is about what you like to eat."