The Perks of a Personal Chef

iStock_000007239260SmallBy J.F. Pirro~

Center Valley’s Donna Knisley and Larry Knecht both like to cook, but once Donna returned to school for her MBA at DeSales University, the thought of hastily-prepared meals or fast food stops didn’t appeal to either of them, especially with their then-toddler, Alex (now eight), in the mix.

Using Chef Works, Donna Rossini’s personal chef service and catering company in Forks Township, Easton, became the perfect solution. For two years, Rossini delivered the Knechts weekly gourmet meals selected from a customized monthly menu. Each week’s meals arrived in one convenient visit.

“There were unexpected bonuses, too,” Larry says. “We tried foods we hadn’t before. We were introduced to new herbs and spices. In some ways, it was like getting a cooking class along with the food since Donna made the service special. She cooks the food the way you want it to taste, and considers all your dietary needs.”

Increasingly, personal chefs aren’t reserved for the rich and famous. Everyday families are a burgeoning clientele. With two-person working households, lengthier work schedules and busy after-school schedules for the kids, it’s often a challenge to prepare healthy, cost-effective meals. While private chefs are full-time luxuries for the privileged, a personal chef can be a welcome common-man solution just as many have also found the need, and means, to hire housecleaning and landscape services.

“The advantages for the homeowner are the savings in time not spent food shopping, planning meals in the kitchen, cooking, then putting things away and cleaning up,” says Rossini, Chef Works’ owner and executive chef who is a graduate of the culinary arts program at Northampton Community College. “A family is also able to sit down within 10-15 minutes of walking in the door, and enjoy a hot, nutritious and balanced dinner. That leaves more time for the family or for fun activities without the worry of sacrificing nutrition.”

Personal chefs aren’t reserved for the rich and famous. With two-person working households, lengthier work schedules and busy after-school schedules for the kids, it’s often a challenge to prepare healthy, cost-effective meals.

Larry Knecht is a small business co-owner (Top Job Building Services, Inc.). His wife Donna works as a project management consultant in the IT sector for Weidenhammer Systems. Larry knew Rossini through The Executive Forum of the Lehigh Valley, a business owner networking group. At one of those meetings, Rossini discussed her service and its costs.

“Both Donna and I thought that a personal chef service would be prohibitively expensive, but it was more reasonably priced than we thought,” Larry says. “A friend of mine was using Chef Works and he said the food was great. I even had Chef Works cater our office party one year. Again, this isn’t something I would have thought was cost effective. But it isn’t nearly as expensive as you would think — and the food is terrific.”

Chef Ken Bangham’s Savory Kitchen Personal Chef Service in Allentown, which bills itself as a personal chef service that provides “affordable luxury and convenience,” is a cure for take-out food boredom that also solves the need to eat healthier meals and saves time and money. “It’s more affordable than you think,” he says. “You can dine on delicious, healthy food in the comfort of your own home for practically the same cost as takeout.”

Bangham’ss fee is based on a service charge — $225 for an average eight-hour shift — plus the cost of groceries. His service charge includes grocery shopping (about three hours), meal preparation and clean up (another five hours). On average, food costs come to $130. Combined with his flat fee, the total for one visit runs about $355 — but that’s for 20 meals plus side dishes.

“My meal portions are quite generous and many of my clients tell me they get two meals from each single entrée, so this makes the meals more of a bargain,” Bangham says. “The cost of groceries varies on your selection of menu items. Obviously lobster or filet mignon will be more costly than some other menu items.”

The process begins with a no-obligation consultation and assessment in each client’s home. There, he discusses dietary likes, dislikes, restrictions and food allergies. Then, he creates a custom menu. A $100 fee reserves a cooking date. The balance plus the cost of the groceries is due the day he shops and cooks. He doesn’t require a contract or long-term commitment. Clients pay as they go. Most invite him twice a month, others once a month, and some only occasionally.

Bangham has cooked for Dr. Jonathan Munves, a busy general internist in Bethlehem who lives in South Whitehall Township, at times with three adult children. “I like them to have access to good home-cooked food, but I’m very limited time-wise and ability-wise, so I thought a personal chef would be something fun to try,” he says. “Ken was incredibly professional, and with his demeanor I had the distinct sense that Fred Astaire was our personal chef.”

Munves even bought personal chef gift certificates for his four office staff (all excellent cooks). “They were taken with the whole experience of having an expert personal chef come and cook for them,” he says.

Bangham, who graduated at the top of his NCC culinary arts class, prepares all the meals using his own equipment. “I bring everything – from pots and pans to dish soap, sponges and paper towels for clean up,” he says. He then packages and stores the meals in the homeowner’s freezer with simple heating directions. Meals are packaged according to preference: family-style, for two or individually. “I leave your kitchen spotless and filled with the wonderful aromas of home cooked food,” he promises. “All you have to do is heat and eat!”

Bangham’s clients vary. For example, one of his regulars was a 94-year-old woman who lived alone and didn’t enjoy the TV dinners her family dropped off. Another was a college student who couldn’t have wheat gluten in his diet. “His roommates liked the gluten-free meals I prepared so much that they chipped in and shared the meals,” he says. “I was making gluten free meals for the whole house.”

Bangham once lived the life of his typical client. For 20 years, he was an award-winning film and television producer, while his wife Teresa was an emergency room nurse, though she now works at Lehigh Valley Home Care. With their consuming, hectic work schedules, they frequently came home too late and too tired to cook. As a solution, he began making and freezing convenient and wholesome meals they could easily heat and enjoy within minutes.

“The idea worked beautifully, and soon friends and family began asking me to provide the same home-cooked, freezer-friendly meals for them,” Bangham says. “Before I knew it, Savory Kitchen was born.”

Larry Knecht’s devotion remains to Chef Works, which has been in the business since April of 1995: “Donna exposed us to different tastes and foods from the normal everyday varieties we had been using for years,” he says. “She was really the push we needed to add new thoughts into both our regular and special home-dining habits. We’ve had a very nice experience with a lot less effort.”


Chef Works

Donna Rossini

Savory Kitchen

Ken Bangham
(484) 767-2314

J.F. Pirro has been published in more than 75 magazines and dozens of daily and weekly alternative city newspapers.

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