Can you afford a personal celebrity chef? You might be surprised
A small, but growing, group of people are bringing their dining experiences back home while still enjoying the experience of a professionally prepared meals—with personal chefs. The reasons are diverse: Some need help creating meals that accommodate allergies, weight loss, or other health concerns. Others have busy work lives and don’t have time to cook. And some simply like to entertain friends on a grand scale.
The backgrounds of two local personal chefs in south county are as varied as their clients needs are. LA native Brooke Bridges began acting as a child and is probably best known as the character Lily Winters in The Young and the Restless soap opera. After her parents divorced, Brooke took on the task of cooking for the family and then branched out to cook for friends as well.
She found that the Hollywood obsession with beauty as an end in itself was an unhealthy lifestyle, so she began to take a more holistic view of her body, launching both a recipe blog, “The Babbling Brooke,” and a YouTube channel. Two years later, she posted her personal chef services on Craigslist, got her first client, and her business, Your In-Home Chef, was launched. She subsequently moved to the Berkshires to be close to her mother, keeping on her chosen path of providing personal chef services. In addition to bringing on more chefs to work for her, she is planning to be certified in nutrition, holistic healing, and wellness coaching.
The relationships she builds is the most fulfilling part of her job. “When I was cooking in LA, it would be for vain people who wanted to be skinnier, or people who didn’t work and also didn’t want to cook.”
One of her clients, Katie, was looking to change her lifestyle and lose weight. But with a work schedule that includes traveling through five states, she didn’t have the energy to cook healthful meals for herself and her family.
A fan of the Pittsfield farmers market, Katie was looking at the market’s website when she saw some delicious-looking bagels, traced them back to Brooke and her website. “The dishes she was posting looked interesting and she was writing about having better quality intake through healthier foods. I was looking for a change in my eating habits. I had started reading about the keto diet and I asked her if she knew anything about it. She said she was familiar with it. That’s how we met up.”
Now Brooke provides Katie with three meals and two snacks daily, and the meals run the gamut from Mexican enchiladas with shredded chicken and broccoli to Asian sesame salmon.
While hiring a personal chef to prepare multi-course dinners with wine pairings may be beyond most people’s budgets, what Katie spends works out to no more than $8.50 per day—a lot less than the fast foods and snacks padding her menu prior to signing on with Brooke. And she has lost 15 pounds. “I would recommend it for people trying to change their lifestyles and don’t have the time to cook and prepare.”
Also based in south county is Nicholas Browne, a personal chef who has an equally compelling backstory. He has competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped” reality cooking show and ultimately winner in its “Million Dollar Baskets” competition. Along with cooking for people in their homes, he is the dinner chef at Botanica and teaches Qi Gong.
Because of his parents’ work in show business (his mom, who also lives in the Berkshires, is Karen Allen), Nicholas moved a lot as a young child and then spent a good part of his youth here in the Berkshires. He took jobs at several restaurants and became so captivated that he decided to study at the French Culinary Institute and then worked in restaurants in New York City.
Five years ago, he decided he wanted to come back home. “I heard about this man in Monterey who was looking for a private chef,” says Nicholas. “He hired me for four or five days a week, and from that I got a lot of different people interested in what I do.”
While he works both sides of the industry, Nicholas says, “I know a lot of personal chefs who tried to work in restaurants, but they really didn’t like the environment so they became personal chefs. It’s a great alternative to working in restaurants because it can be pretty stressful for people.”
His range can be anywhere from a 12-course menu with a wine tasting to a simple meal of comfort food. A lot of people also hire him as their personal chef because of health reasons.
“But then there are people who do it for entertaining reasons. Most of the people who hire me are really into wine, so they’ll bring wine up from their cellars to go with the meal. The thing is, I’m more creative in the things I do, so I try to do a little bit of both.”