Photo by Heather Atkinson
How does a middle-class working mother splurge? Retail therapy? No, not shoes—if I can’t wear them to work or at home then why bother? Not handbags—they will just get Gatorade spilled on them. Concert tickets—nah, too tired to leave the house. No, no, no! What I really want is a personal chef.
I asked around and stumbled across Chef Gaby Weir Vera, who came highly recommended by fans of her “Clandestine Epicurean” dinner events staged in unconventional locations, and her personal chef business which offers made-to-order meal packages, cooking lessons, and private events.
I located her on Facebook and sent her a message: “Dear Chef Gaby, I am not a wildly rich person. I do not like to cook. However, I love to eat and your food looks really good. Even though I am a middle-class mother with a little kitchen, a picky spouse and two kids, can we meet to see if there is a ‘starter-package’ for people in my income range?”
My message was met with a great sense of humor and we arranged a meeting. As for my concern about kitchen size, she assured me that she didn’t only cook in mansions, in fact, she said that personal chefs are extremely adaptable to all situations. From outdoors to compact spaces to commercial residential gourmet kitchens—they can make it work.
Affordability also proved to be an unfounded worry. I chose the 3-meal package and paid less than I have splurging for a day of hair, massage and mani/pedi pampering at a spa. The packages start at three meals prepared in your home kitchen and stored with directions for heating. For a total of $180 I got three generous dinners for four, including an entree, side dish and dessert. There was enough food left over for lunches to take to work, bringing the cost to roughly $12 per person per meal. (Note that the price of the groceries themselves varies, and is not included.)
Chef Gaby mentioned that she loves to cook for all types of people and within many ranges of budget; the packages are totally customizable. She continued our first meeting by asking a detailed set of questions about our family and our dietary preferences: Any vegans or vegetarians? Any allergies? Do I have a preference for markets? Ever the professional, Chef Gaby asked to take a tour of my kitchen. She thought it looked great and showed me her travel luggage that contained her knives, tools and supplies. All I had to do was make sure the place was clean, that there was fridge space and that she could get in the house while I was at work.
The next day, I received an e-mail from Chef Gaby with a menu proposal. She wanted to know if I thought these meals sounded good:
- Boursin-Stuffed Chicken Rolled and Coated with Panko with Sautéed Zucchini & Leeks
- Salmon and Spinach Wrapped in Puff Pastry and Beet Slaw with Peach and Cilantro Vinaigrette
- Garlic-Tarragon Marinated Sirloin Fillets Grill-Ready with Steamed New Potatoes Tossed in Olive Oil and Fresh Rosemary
- Flourless Chocolate Torte
I could not reply “YES” fast enough.
Fast forward to one week later, I come home to a nice breeze flowing through the open windows of the house and immediately detect the smell of something delicious cooking inside—without me doing it! I greeted Chef Gaby as she was just finishing up. She walked me through the menu items and showed me where in the fridge the meal containers—complete with labels detailing easy prep—were located.
Chef Gaby has carved a niche out for herself within our local food culture where her unique talents and gifts can shine. She says that knowing a family is going to meet and sit together for a meal, returning “to the table,” gives her the kind of satisfaction that working behind restaurant walls just couldn’t.
Chef Gaby’s Boursin Stuffed Chicken
Ingredients (Serves 4)
4 Chicken breasts, butterflied
5 oz Boursin, garlic and herb
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Salt and Pepper
1. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
2. Place chicken breast over a piece of plastic wrap. Then cover with another piece of plastic wrap.
3. Pound each breast with a meat mallet until flattened. Remove the top plastic layer.
4. Place roughly 1/4 of the Boursin on each chicken breast.
5. Roll the breasts over the cheese, like a sushi roll.
6. Seal the sides with toothpicks.
7. Soak each roll in the egg and then roll in the panko.
8. Place chicken rolls in baking sheet.
9. Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes, or until light golden brown.
Following one of our delicious home-cooked dinners, I received a call from my sister. I was describing our meal and relating to her my experience hiring a personal chef. Of course, she was green with envy but had a great idea: what about giving this service as a gift? To a new mother, a couple who just moved into a new home or an anniversary-week treat, it would make a luxurious and loving present. I followed up with Chef Gaby who informed me that, indeed, clients often give the home-cooking service as a gift.
As a gift to myself, I will keep Chef Gaby on my list. The food was incredible, the tastes and textures and flavors of late summer: just right. Now I’m on a roll, next stop Personal Trainer? Nah. But maybe it’s time to test out what it feels like to hire a home cleaning professional. I’d really like to know!
Collector of fanny packs, high-top sneakers and cashmere track suits, Tonya Kehoe-Anderson is a local artist, writer, freelance makeup/fashion stylist and wannabe hibernating cave bear. She blogs at www.catalogTKA.blogspot.com.
Photo by Heather Atkinson