Business

Just too busy to cook? You’re not alone

Roberta Lang of As You Like It. - RHONDA PARKS MANVILLE/Staff Photo
Roberta Lang of As You Like It.
— image credit: RHONDA PARKS MANVILLE/Staff Photo

‘Personal chefs’ provide delicious meals for families on the go.

Bainbridge is home to accomplished cooks and adventuresome foodies, but when it comes to good eating, many are missing a key ingredient:

Time.

That’s where personal chefs Abra Bennett of Rolling Bay Gourmet and Roberta Lang of As You Like It come in. Both took a passion for cooking and turned it into a home business, planning and preparing custom-tailored dinners for people who love good food.

“People come home after commuting and the phone is ringing, the dog needs to be fed, and everyone’s hungry,” Lang said, describing the lives of some of her clients. “Many of them are good cooks themselves, but without the time to focus, they can’t cook the way they want to. People have all sorts of reasons for choosing the services of a personal chef, but one of the key reasons is time.”

It’s not just busy families that are choosing the service. Bennett’s clients include single women who love eclectic ethnic dishes, young couples with new babies and older couples in retirement.

“Some people have been cooking three meals a day for 20 years, and they

want a break,” Bennett said. “But they still know good food.”

Unlike “private” chefs who are hired to cook just for one family, “personal” chefs provide meals

to a number of households, cooked made-to-order in the client’s home.

After meeting to discuss food favorites and phobias, spicing preferences and dietary considerations, a menu is drawn up. Then the chef does the shopping, preparation, and cooking of five meals for four, packaged and labeled in the freezer and refrigerator, with reheating instructions. The kitchen is cleaned before they pack up their gear and leave.

People with ill-equipped kitchens needn’t

wor­ry: chefs typically bring their own specialty tools and

spices.

Bennett has been delighting her friends with gourmet cooking for decades, but it didn’t become her career until 2001, after she and her husband, a computer engineer, moved to Bainbridge Island from Ohio.

When they decided to come west, they drove up and down the Washington coast in search of the perfect community. When they arrived on Bainbridge, they decided to make it home.

“I didn’t want to commute into Seattle and I wondered if people would pay me to cook,” she said. “And the answer was ‘yes.’ Wow. And is it ever fun.”

Professional cooking is her third career, the first being social work and the second executive work in environmental policy. She stays in touch with her policy-wonk side as a Bainbridge Island Planning Commission member.

Bennett is in demand as a personal chef as well as a caterer and cooking class teacher, who revels in “creative and interesting dishes” from around the world.

Some of her clients don’t choose the menu: they ask Bennett to surprise them. One client selected her meals by pointing to scrumptious pictures and recipes in cooking magazines, and saying “I want that, and that, and that.”

Bennett cooks and bakes from scratch, and is interested in “sophisticated foods,” with “big flavors.” But she’s also adept at Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach and vegetarian diet meals.

An essay she wrote on a recent foray into Spanish cooking with a group of foodie friends was published in the most recent edition of Food and Wine online, www.foodandwine.org.

“I love interesting and new flavors, and I cook from every part of the world,” said Bennett, who uses Asian, Mexican and Spanish flavors in her dishes.

Lang also started her personal chef business on the island in 2001, after she and her husband, a Seattle native, returned to the area from northern Michigan to be closer to family. Before channeling her creative energies into professional cooking, Lang was a struggling novelist.

Becoming a professional personal chef, she said, was based on several desires.

“I wanted to re-engage with the world, I wanted to affect others’ lives, I wanted to have as much control over my own life as possible, and I wanted to make money,” she said.

When she saw an ad about personal chefing in a cooking magazines, and she found the career that met her goals.

“I was a cook all my life, but I decided to go back and get professional training,” said Lang, who entered a culinary arts program at Northern Michigan University, before starting her business.

Living and working on Bainbridge was a conscious choice. With its well-traveled, upper-income population, she predicted there would be a market here for high-quality meals cooked in the clients’ homes.

She was right. Three days a week, Roberts cooks for others. Several of her clients include young couples who receive a week of personal chefing as a baby shower gift, and then find it such a time-saver – and so superior to dining out with a small child – that they continue the service.

Lang’s sample menus contain choices ranging from ethnic favorites to American comfort food. Client favorites include a sweet potato quesadilla, lemon chicken made with lemon curd, crab cakes and moussaka. Choices from the Atkins diet include “Not Your Momma’s Meatloaf,” and pan-glazed balsalmic chicken. The vegetarian menu includes stuffed tamale peppers with jalapeno cornbread, and shepherd’s pie.

“There are so many different entrees, you won’t see the same meal twice in six months – unless you request a repeat of favorites,” and many people do, Lang said. “When you have someone call you after a meal, and say you have outdone yourself, you feel good.

“And you know you have a winner of a recipe.”

* * * * *

Second helpings

Accolades for Abra Bennett’s cooking, her life story, and sample menus can be found on her website, www.rollingbaygourmet.com. A week’s worth of meals (five dinners for four with side dishes, 20 meals in all) costs between $275 and $325, plus the cost of groceries. “My fees are the same, whether I am cooking lentils or lobster, and in that sense, the final cost is up to the client,” she says. Or contact 780-7967 or chef@rollingbaygourmet.com.

Roberta Lang charges $340 for five-days worth of dinner entrees and side dishes, for a family of four, which includes the groceries. Her rate for clients who want all-organic ingredients is $400. Menus and other information are available by request by calling 780-3559 or by emailing robertaslang@qwest.net.

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