Personal chefs help you eat smart, save time
Mel Ramos, owner
A Healthy Appetite, Tampa, Fla.
Mel Ramos worked for decades as an anthropologist and academic administrator before returning to her home state of Florida in 2005. She decided to expand on a lifelong interest in cooking by becoming United States Personal Chef Association-certified personal chef. She’s been working as a sole proprietor ever since and recently transitioned to a vegetarian menu.
What does a personal chef do?
"The classic personal chef is someone who comes and prepares food in your home. They bring all their own food and equipment, use your stove and sink, and store the prepared food to your specifications. The industry started because there were so many family units with two people working and nobody had time to cook.
"In the busy modern world, people spend more money than they'd like to eating a lot of take-out or at restaurants. I've noticed some people who do catering or prepare food off-site and deliver it to the home that are calling themselves personal chefs. But classically, a personal chef isn't someone who cooks off-site; they come into your home.
"The fee varies by chef. I charge $45 per hour, but people often go with packages instead. I charge between $360 and $400 per visit, depending on how many meals I'm preparing. That's a minimum of five complete meals with at least four servings each.
"Many people split it into two cook days and add more entrees. That means there's more fresh food and it's not frozen or refrigerated as long. A cook day will be five or six hours each. Everything is fresh, and all the shopping is done the day of the cooking. Most people are interested in dinners, but I make the occasional lunch and breakfast.
"It comes down to economies of scale. If you show up every day and cook just a little bit of food, that would be far too expensive for most people. But if you spend several hours cooking several meals, you can offer a cost-effective service and still make a living wage.
"Every chef has their own way of doing things. I don't have any specific menu items that I focus on. I build the menu from the ground up around what people need. Most personal chefs that I've encountered have a set repertoire and models they like to work with, but I'm sure there are others who customize their work as well.
"Anyone employed in the food industry should be certified by the ServSafe food safety program; It covers sanitation and illnesses associated with different types of food.
"When I started out, I thought I'd be hearing from a lot of people who wanted gourmet food. But many people contacted me because they had health issues. I see a huge mismatch between what people eat and what they need to eat.
"I often cook for people with lifestyle-and diet-related medical problems, and that's prompted me to shift to an entirely health-oriented, plant-based menu. Most people are really surprised by how good vegetarian food can be.
"Most people think you need some kind of animal product in the dishes, but I show people how to incorporate more vegetarian dishes into their diet and still enjoy the food and its health benefits."