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