The World is Their Restaurant: Chefs for Hire

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Sometimes you can take the chef away from the restaurant kitchen, but you can’t take the kitchen away from the chef.

Chefs for hire are becoming increasingly popular these days. It’s no longer a perk for celebrities or the wealthy, it is becoming more accessible than ever and for the skilled chef, quite ideal for those who don’t want to be burdened by restaurant hours. For the customer who can afford it, it provides a much-needed convenience, without all the prep and clean-up.

There’s a difference between a private chef and a personal chef. A private chef works for a singular client, sometimes full-time and sometimes multiple meals a day. Some private chefs are hired for short spurts of time as well. A personal chef may cook for several different clients in their homes, providing fully-cooked meals and meals prepped in advance. All work diligently to provide a service that is as budget-friendly as possible.

Darren Atkins of il Centro Kitchen and Catering in Burlington started his private chef/full-service catering in September 2016 and last year opened a storefront in Burlington to provide daily provisions such as antipasti, salumi, fresh pasta and Italian specialty accouterments with local North Carolina ingredients. “It’s inspired by the alimentari or food stores/farm grocers all throughout Florence and Tuscany,” he said.

Atkins provides a full-service private chef experience to your home or location.

“We definitely want to cater to the foodie,” he said. “I am very hands-on with customers and committed to providing them with themes for dynamic experience.”

The budget depends on the client needs, and Atkins is available to Burlington, Greensboro, High Point, Chapel Hill, Durham and possibly beyond. Since meal prep and meals to go is becoming ever so popular, il Centro provides a Dinner Delivered series where customers can order from a weekly meal plan and have scratch-made dinners for two delivered to their door for $25. The store in Burlington is open Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit the website for more details

Nikki Miller-Ka, of Winston-Salem, has worked in numerous capacities as a chef. She started cooking for a family as a private chef in 2011.

“It was literally a dream come true,” she said. “It combined all my favorite things, planning, cooking, shopping and meeting people. I couldn’t believe my reputation preceded me and that these people wanted to pay me for to cook for them on a regular basis.”

Miller-Ka said now, as a private chef, she enjoys being hired to chef a class or party per week.

“Generally I cater small dinner parties and conduct private cooking classes in people’s homes.”

A fee is set based on the number of guests for a cooking class or party. “I send out a menu of options for their event,” she said. “I meet with the client for kitchen consultation so we can plan logistics and finalize the menu. Day of, I show up with complimentary beer and/or wine, an apron, cutting board and knife for each participant during cooking classes.” And best yet, “I clean up. You get leftovers. I go home.” Miller-Ka also provides a grocery shopping service with 10 plus recipes that clients can cook at home. Visit her website for more information

The newest chef-for-hire is popular chef Dion Sprenkle and his new Table ‘0, which offers a personalized in-home dining experience. “The name comes from our most desired VIP table in the Chef Dion Sprenkle restaurant in Lexington that closed in 2016,” Sprenkle said. From that location, the customer could see him cooking in the kitchen and be close to the staff. “The guest felt like an instant family member and part of the action. The Table would be booked weeks in advance.” Sprenkle said since closing the restaurant, many of his fans missed his cuisine and having access to the table.

“I decided to become a chef for hire with the help of my boss, my wife Jeanette,” Sprenkle said. “She handles all marketing, decorations, set-up, and serves the meal. Together we create a one-of-a-kind, personalized dining experience in our client’s home. It was primarily to connect with our friends, family and former restaurant customers. And now, we create wonderful intimate menus for families, friends and sometimes for corporate gatherings.”

Lynn Warlick-Wells, the owner of Thyme Well Spent Personal Chef Services in Greensboro, is a personal chef. WarlickWells worked for 21 years in the Nutrition Department at Moses Cone Hospital in various culinary management positions. She has multiple clients and travels to their home to prepare their meals.

“Everything is prepared from scratch and cooked in the client’s home,” she said. “Meals are packaged per my client’s request and stored either in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on their schedule, preference, and freshness. I include heating instructions with all meals. I do the grocery shopping the morning of a cook day and often times go to more than one location to shop. I want to get the best and freshest ingredients and always buy local whenever possible.”

Warlick-Wells said she certainly understands that the expense of hiring a personal chef can be a concern but, “Within two weeks, [my first client] noticed a difference in savings. The most important difference was in flavor and how the food was prepared, fresh and made with love.”

She added that the most significant savings clients have noticed is that they no longer have food expiring in the refrigerator. “They would purchase fresh produce, vegetables, and meats from the store or farmer’s market with the best intentions, then they get home and not want to cook it.”

Warlick-Wells’s schedule now includes weekly clients, some once-a-month clients, biweekly, bimonthly, etc. “Everyone is scheduled in advance for the same day during the initial consultation,” she said. “That ensures them consistency, and it helps me plan my schedule.”

For most chefs for hire, it’s the connection with her clients that keeps drives their passion.

“Being in someone’s home is very personal and sacred to me,” Warlick-Wells said. “This profession demands respect, and I consider what I do an honor. It’s very humbling to have a family or individual put their trust in me to prepare fresh meals that will make their lives easier, less stressful and most importantly, provide them more time to spend on more important things other than meal planning, shopping, and cooking. There is a connection that happens where I learn about their lives, their habits, and why they’ve sought someone to cook for them.”

Warlick-Wells added that she hopes the experience for her clients goes beyond the convenience, and hopefully deliciousness, of it all.

“I live, eat, and breathe food,” she said. “Everything I learn, I try to pass on to my clients in some form or fashion. If anything, it recharges my battery to do what I do. I want meal time to be a pleasant experience for my clients, and this career gives me an open canvas for my creativity and enthusiasm with food. This industry is an ever-changing revolving door of opportunities, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!”

Kristi Maier is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.

Addendum: Lynn Warlick-Wells’s photo was taken by Todd Turner

Dear Friends of Thyme Well Spent

Dear Friends of Thyme Well Spent Personal Chef Service,

Three years ago, I decided to take the risk and follow my passion for food and entertaining; Thanks to your support, Thyme Well Spent Personal Chef Service, LLC is celebrating its 3rd birthday!

I like to give the classics a twist, so, here is my take on the annual holiday letter: In addition to cooking for clients in their homes on a weekly and monthly basis, I am creating menus for special events on all scales. Additionally, I am working with “Our State Magazine” as a freelance recipe developer, and as their media representative each month on WFMY. The live food segments typically air at 6:40am and are posted on the Thyme Well Spent Personal Chef Service, LLC Facebook page. I also lead a cooking demonstration each month at the Cone Health Cancer Center. These demonstrations are education based and are for patients and their caregivers of the Cancer Center. It is sincerely an honor to work with this population – helping make food palatable, that provide fuel and comfort for patients and their families is exceptionally rewarding and each class reminds me not to take anything for granted.

In March, I joined International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), which was founded by Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Anne Willan. In February of 2018, I’ll spend 4 days in New York City at the IACP 40th anniversary with the best of the best cookbook authors, chefs, academia, artisan food producers, and food writers. On a local level, I’m taking frequent 1-2 day food tours (i.e., traveling and eating at my favorite restaurants) to meet the chefs, restaurant owners, farmers, and foragers in Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, Asheville, and Charleston. I gain inspiration and immeasurable energy from everyone I meet and every place I visit. The best part is I get to pass on new recipes and ideas to you! I also hope to give back and get involved with the new Triad chapter of Piedmont Culinary Guild, for which I am a new member.

Thank you for inviting me into your home over the years. I hope spending less time at the grocery store and in the kitchen, has awarded you more time to spend in other, more valuable, areas of your life. I also hope you’ve been able to taste the love I put into every meal and know it comes from my heart.

As the fall and holiday seasons draw near, please keep me in mind for dinner parties, family gatherings and celebrations, as well as weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly in-home meal preparation. The possibilities are ENDLESS!

And as always, eat well, love food, live life!

Sweet Potato & Ginger Soup

Lynn Wells is Our State’s recipe developer. Each month, she creates recipes exclusively for Our State magazine. She is a personal chef with more than 20 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry, and a degree in Nutrition Management from UNCG.

Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup Recipe:

Yield: 8 servings.
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups chicken stock
1½ cups heavy cream (or whole milk)
Greek yogurt or sour cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°. Place sweet potatoes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook sweet potatoes for 30 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.

In a stockpot, heat butter and remaining olive oil. Stir in onions. Cook onions for 5 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, nutmeg, cardamom, honey, and ginger. Stir onion-spice mixture and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in sweet potatoes, remaining salt, and chicken stock. Simmer for 20 minutes.

In small batches, blend soup in a blender until smooth. Add soup back to pot and stir in heavy cream. Simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Serve hot and garnish with Greek yogurt or sour cream.


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The “Comfort” of Food

DSC_4650Casseroles. Fried Chicken. Mac n’ Cheese. Spaghetti. Matzo Ball Soup. Odds are, everyone has their favorite “comfort food”. I grew up in a home where fresh butter was always sitting out on the counter, where gravy was a beverage and Duke’s mayonnaise was one of the four food groups. Where mom always asked my sisters and I “you want to lick the bowl or the spoon”? Between me and my 2 sisters, the 3 of us could “clean” a bowl of cake batter in seconds!

I can still hear the sound of our White Mountain ice cream machine, as we took turns turning the handle, while dad kept it loaded up with rock salt. “Is it ready? Is it ready? My arm is getting sore”. To this day, I’ve not tasted fresh peach ice cream as good as we had it on the front porch of British Woods, in the late summer.

The greatest memory of comfort food, is when we’d drive to Salisbury, NC to visit my dad’s sister, Aunt Addie. She was the definition of comfort, love and food rolled into one tiny kitchen and tight hugs. Even though Addie had prepared enough food to feed all of Salisbury (and maybe half of Charlotte), everyone brought a dish to “accompany” her glazed ham, green beans, cucumber slices in vinegar with black pepper, and homemade yeast rolls. There was mom’s potato salad and brown rice (famously known as “Dottie’s Brown Rice”), Millie’s Squash Casserole (smothered in butter soaked Ritz cracker crumbs), quart size mason jars, full of Uncle Tweet’s slaw (cabbage, fresh tomatoes and green bell pepper, swimming in a sweet apple cider vinegar dressing), and (drum roll …..) congealed salads. Strawberry congealed salad with a pretzel crust and a layer of sweetened sour cream, lime Jell-O salad with cottage cheese and pineapple and the favorite, orange Jell-O with marshmallows, sharp cheddar cheese, mandarin oranges, pecans and coconut. THEN, came dessert.  Most of the adults requested a “sliver” of everything. Pound cake, chocolate pie, chess pie, lemon meringue pie and dad’s favorite, Addie’s Caramel Cake. Looking back, I’m amazed we didn’t veer off the road from a food coma, as we headed back home.

There is comfort food, and then there is the comfort of food. It’s the one thing we go to when a new neighbor moves in or when a friend is in need. Perhaps the act of bringing food makes us feel we can help others in situations we can’t necessarily solve or cure ourselves.

Here’s to cherishing the memories of comfort food and finding comfort, and love, in the food we share.


Dottie’s Brown Rice

(Perfect year round; travels well)

1 cup Uncle Ben’s (or Comet) rice, uncooked
2 cans of beef consommé (or beef stock)
½ stick of butter
1 large onion, quartered, then sliced thin

Preheat oven to 350. In cast iron skilled (preferably), melt butter and sauté sliced onions until lightly browned. Add uncooked rice to onions and butter. Stir. Transfer rice to baking dish. Add beef consommé or stock. Stir. Bake (uncovered) approximately 30-40 minutes or until rice has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from oven and cover until ready to serve.

Addie’s Caramel Cream Cake

Note: Do not make this if the weather is humid!

All ingredients should be at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 3 (9 inch) cake pans.

2 sticks of butter
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
8 ounce container of sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon of good vanilla extract*

Using an electric mixer, whip butter for 5-10 seconds. Add sugar gradually until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add about a quarter of flour mixture, beating until thoroughly mixed. Add a third of sour cream and combine thoroughly. Repeat alternating flour mixture and sour cream. Begin and end with flour. Stir in vanilla.

Pour into cake pans and tap each pan on counter top several times to remove air bubbles.

Place pans in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, or until cake test is done. Remove cake from oven onto cooling racks. Let cake cool completely. Carefully, remove cake from pans. Frost with caramel frosting.

*Splurge and buy a high quality vanilla, found at any local spice shop or gourmet kitchen store.

Caramel Frosting:

½ pound butter
½ tsp. good vanilla extract
2 cups light brown sugar
4 cups 10X confectioners’ sugar
½ cup evaporated milk

Measure confectioner’s sugar and place in large mixing bowl. Melt butter in pot. Add brown sugar and milk. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and stir. Pour over powdered sugar. Beat with electric mixer until cool. Let cool slightly. Frost between each layer and outside of cake.

Lynn Wells is owner of Thyme Well Spent – Personal Chef Services, in Greensboro, NC. Contact Lynn at