is hiring cooking help a thing for regular people?
July 30, 2020 2:14 PM   Subscribe

I used to really love to cook, but cooking for my family while everyone is home all the time is a PITA. Can I pay someone to help me?

The thing is that the foods my family likes to eat, while simple, are time intensive and a pain in the ass to prepare. (Low carb, lots of little cubed salads, carefully cooked lean proteins, no easy bulky starches..)

And now that everyone is home all the time, it seems like there's almost no realistic amount of work I can invest in the kitchen that will keep me ahead of the food consumption rates. The second I get done the fridge is empty again. My back hurts. And I know I'm not planning or executing at maximal efficiency. I'm no pro.

I wish I could sit down with an efficient, professional cook, and plan out a week's worth of food that works for my family. She would use some of my own recipes but also help me with ideas I haven't thought of yet. I'd grocery shop for whatever she would tell me to get; and she would come to my house 2-3 times a week to cook, and stock up my fridge with foods that reheat nicely. I would have a schedule that would tell me what meals get served when.

I'm imagining that this could be a good gig for an otherwise underemployed professional cook. I'd supply the cooking space (I have plenty of room and a well stocked kitchen) and the ingredients. She would supply the expertise and the labor. I'd pay appropriately.

Is this arrangement a thing? If it is, how would I find someone? I don't think I'm in the class of people who hire "private chefs" but maybe that's what this is? I really have no idea.
posted by fingersandtoes to Work & Money (7 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yeah, check Craigslist and Yelp and start with "private chef". You'll find just general people cooking for extra money, student dietitians needing to put in so many hours of meal prep, personal trainers offering nutritionally-specific meals.

But asking someone to come to your house is not maybe a great idea right now, or something a person's other customers will be into. There were some offerings like that in The Before Times, but most of them cooked in their own home and did drop-off or pick-ups, so they could streamline their operations. Like you say, there's a limited market for a full-time private chef, most of them are working for multiple customers.

We also just re-subscribed to Freshly, which we've used in the past for work lunches when we got too busy to prep. I can vouch that the food is good, but it is microwave entrees so no salads or anything. They do have a range of nutritional profiles but very few offerings are actually low carb; we decided to not care right now.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:35 PM on July 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Based on your description, private chef is exactly what you're looking for, they come in all sorts of different stripes, and lots and lots of cooks are unemployed right now. This might be an easier time to find someone to do this than it was a few months ago. Just be sure you're willing to pay for it; this is not a cheap service typically. Posting on craigslist or other job sites might get you to where you need to go. In my area lots of restaurant and food related jobs get posted on

An alternative is this was in calmer times, and I'm not sure what this is called, but two of our neighbors and us had a weekly 'family meal' going for a while. Mondays Wednsdays or Friday was your assigned day, and that family made the food for everyone else. It fell apart when some folks went on different diets, but we usually kept it meat-light and usually closer to vegetarian. It was a great way to tighten up the community on our little street. We're still all one big neighborhood lovin family and still cook for each other a bunch, just not on a schedule.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've seen people offer this kind of service on Nextdoor, so you could also try posting on there.
posted by pinochiette at 3:06 PM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A private chef receives wages and benefits as household staff, and you have to pay payroll taxes and file a Schedule H. Conversely, a personal chef is an independent contractor who can have multiple clients as well as set his or her own schedule and fees; you don't have to worry about taxes or forms.

You want a personal chef, and yep, it sounds like you are in that category of people. I was. I hate cooking. I've had diabetes for 11 years, and about a year after I was diagnosed, I found that the combination of being vegetarian, being diabetic, being a picky eater, and despising cooking meant that I suddenly had very little variety in the meals I ate at home. But I'm also frugal. Cheap, even. But this was perfect for me.

I hired a personal chef who shopped and cooked for me (in my home, though that's not necessarily how you'd have it done -- states have individual requirements about this), and provided oodles of little foil-wrapped or plastic-sleaed packages of main courses and side dishes. I rarely had to do more than pre-heat the oven or drop a sealed pouch into boiling water. The food was delicious, nutritious, and shockingly affordable. What I paid the chef for a month's worth of dinners for food plus all of her services ended up being less than what I (even as frugal as I am) was spending just on food because I'd buy things that would go bad (my brain things I'll make and eat veggies. My brain lies.) or get processed junk.

Note: I live alone, so it was only enough for one person, and I'm very low-effort for breakfast/lunch, so this was just a dinner issue. And I don't eat meat, so your grocery cost would be higher than mine. Your mileage may vary.

The chef I picked sat down with me for a consultation that lasted more than an hour so she could get a sense of the flavors and textures I liked, loved, and despised, as well as my tastes for cuisines from various cultures. As a singleton, I started out small, with four servings each of five entrees and 6 (or 8?) side dishes. I usually loved half to 3/4 of the choices and liked the rest. I think the only thing I ended up not liking was tofu in Italian cuisine, so she never did that again. She also created a lot of variety so that over the course of 6 months, I don't think she ever repeated a meal or side unless I requested it.

You want a personal chef with experience and training, not only in cooking, but also in nutrition and food/kitchen hygiene. Once you get to someone's websites, look for some reference to certification in ServSafe, or a similar food safety certification. A friend of mine is a baker, and has owned bakeries; she got her degree from one of the US-based Le Cordon Bleu schools, so her health and training was through there. Other chefs may be self-taught re: cooking, per se, but you want someone with some official safety training. Or, well, I would, at least.

You may find success asking your local friends on social media, but I'd start by looking at the American Personal dn Private Chef Institute and the United States Personal Chef Association's Hire A Chef. With both, you can do zip code searches to find personal chefs near you. Look at their web sites, call a few to get a sense of their styles and prices. I live in a small city and had lots of options; if your MeFi profile is right, your only problem should be narrowing it down. You could, for example, narrow it to three chefs and try each in rotation to figure out who is the best fit for your family.

As a professional organizer, I find that many of my clients have all sorts of reasons to avoid/abhor cooking, and whether it's for an occasional busy month or an all-the-time thing, having access to a personal chef proves affordable and delightful. I thought it was a richie-rich kind of thing, so I was shocked by how much money I saved (and misery I eliminated). When my chef moved states, I put off finding another, and was thinking of hiring anew when COVID came in. Previously, I'd wished my chef would cook at her kitchen (even though she left mine spotless) because it was hard to concentrate on work while someone was making noise and scents in my home; now, I'm not sure which I'd prefer.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 3:13 PM on July 30, 2020 [31 favorites]

Nthing that a private/personal chef is a thing. Although, forgive me for pointing out what may be an obvious alternative option - enlisting various people in your family as sous-chefs. Obviously this isn't a viable option if all your children are under the age of, like, six, but older school-age kids could be into some of the meal prep.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:26 PM on July 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

This is also why people buy, like, prepackaged salads and precut veggies. That does get expensive and for the number of people you're talking about you may well find it cheaper to just hire out the work.

There is also a point where you say to your family, if the previously-cooked grilled chicken breast is just not high-enough *quaaaality* for you, here is the stove.
posted by Lady Li at 3:46 PM on July 30, 2020 [13 favorites]

A lateral option - since you say you love cooking, would getting better equipment (mandolin! Sharper knife! Squishy mat to stand on!) or some professional-grade knife skills / cooking education help? This could conceivably also be a fun family project to set the expectation that your cohabitants will dice things themselves more often.
posted by momus_window at 5:43 PM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

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