A Chef Of Your Own
Serving Central Connecticut
(860) 404-0664


Chef Emily Logo
-Chef Emily Logo
"Chef Emily is dedicated to making your life easier           
by preparing meals in your home          
that are designed just for you." 
Chef Emily Logo
Personal chef helps busy people eat better without the shopping, cooking or clean up
– by Lisa Brisson

Avon Live Magazine ArticleDressed in her white chef’s coat and black and white hounds tooth-check pants, Emily Sondheimer pivots around the Heinlein family kitchen like a symphony conductor directing the sections of her orchestra. She ceases sliding yellow onions over the mandoline blade as a timer alerts her to the pot of pasta that has reached al dente perfection. The noodles are treated to a shocking cold water bath to stop any further cooking, and then she’s off across the kitchen to gather the next set of ingredients from one of her huge portable insulated cooler.

No, the Avon resident isn’t helping out a friend by preparing a few meals while they’re recovering from surgery, rather she’s hired by busy people who prefer to spend their free time eating nutritious meals as opposed to waiting in the checkout line, preparing the food and cleaning up afterward.

In April, Ms. Sondheimer began combining her passion for cooking and developing recipes, together with her background as a nutritionist and formed A Chef of Your Own, a personal chef and catering business. The 55-year-old has worn many hats in the past, including working as a [biochemist]chemist, airline caterer, cooking instructor, food director [nutritionist]for the Los Angeles school district and registered dietitian (she has a master’s degree in nutrition). Now as her own children have grown up, she enjoys working at her own business, which takes her to residential kitchens all over where she shops for groceries, prepares palate-specific meals that are ready to eat in comfort of her clients’ homes. And she leaves the kitchen spotless.

“ Basically, I love to cook and I have an empty nest at home right now with nobody to cook for,” Ms. Sondheimer explained why she went into business for herself. “I really like the challenge of figuring out what people like to eat and matching meals to their taste or dietary needs. With my background in catering and nutrition, this was a good opportunity. Plus, I get to have somebody to cook for.” That is, in addition to her husband Norman, who is a professor [in the School of Management}(of computer science - eliminate) at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “She cooks very well—I’m not a big vegetable eater and she prepares them in such a way that they’re very tasty,” said David Heinlein, whose West Hartford kitchen the personal chef was busily chopping, searing, baking, boiling and slicing in this day. After working at his job as a Hartford attorney, Mr. Heinlein was ready to relax at home while enjoying a gourmet meal customized to his family’s tastes with his teenage son (not a big vegetable eater), college-age daughter (a vegetarian) and his wife Joann, a school social worker who doesn’t like to cook.

“ We have pretty hectic schedules and meals aren’t a huge part of our days, for good or bad,” he said. “We’re more on the go and neither of us are that good in the kitchen. But this way, we have restaurant quality meals without having to go out.”

The week’s meals she was composing for his family included beef fajitas with Spanish rice, pork chops with apple rings teamed up with sautéed summer squash and pasta cooked with caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, chicken cacciatore on polenta and Italian sausage, spinach and white beans served over pasta (recipe is listed below). Each entree is packaged in microwaveable containers with heating instructions. And in order for his vegetarian daughter to eat the same meal as everyone else (except for the meat), each was prepared with the meat separated from the rest of the ingredients.

To keep pace with harried lifestyles many singles, couples and families lead these days, coupled with their desire to eat more nutritious meals, the personal chef sector of the food service industry is experiencing a growth surge. According to the American Personal Chef Association, predictions are within the next five years at the current rate of growth there will be an estimated 25,000 personal chefs working in this country serving about 300,000 clients every year. In addition, “Entrepreneur Magazine” has designated the personal chef industry “one of the 12 fastest growing businesses in the country.” There are different pricing structures for A Chef of Your Own’s meal plans, but a standard five-meal package of four portions apiece costs $325. That breaks down to about $16 per [portion]meal, which she said is not much more than a restaurant meal for a family of four. Plus, the meal prepared by a personal chef has been custom made for the family’s tastes, can be enjoyed in the comfort of their home and they don’t have to worry about parking, waiting for a table, tipping or whether their server is having a good day. And it’s not only busy families who regularly hire a personal chef to simplify their lives. The service can be invaluable for a new mother, someone convalescing from a hospital stay, or as a wedding or anniversary gift. Dieters may find having a personal chef helpful in that they are not thrown in temptation’s way along the supermarket aisles and their portions are already decided for them.

“ One of my friends is a personal chef who has a client on a diet, and they do normal food and just portion it out [for the client in diet portions]and they have lost about 40 pounds],” she said. “The problem with restaurant food today is we’re used to looking at portions that are three or four times larger than what we should eat. “People feel that since they’ve been brought up on ‘Clean Plate Club’ then they should finish it all. People with good discipline usually eat a third or a half, but it’s hard.” This growing business is much more detail-laden than simply asking what someone likes to eat and cooking it in their kitchen. For instance, she is an experienced kosher chef, however in order to cook kosher for a client, she would need to use their own kitchenware or purchase a new set just for them. And when she’s cooking up servings of coq au vin, beef carbonnade or veal marengo, she has to be mindful these culinary sensations have to undergo further reheating.

“You have to make sure all of the micro-organisms are killed but the food isn’t— it’s all going to be reheated in an oven or microwave,” she said. During an initial consultation, Ms. Sondheimer assesses if a client has any food allergies or special dietary requirements such as family members who are lactose intolerant, diabetic, are following low-fat, low-sodium or low-carb diets, or are interested in eating only organics. Recipes that [eliminate]include meat or wheat can be prepared and separated for diners who are vegans, vegetarians or can’t eat gluten. Her assessment form also questions whether anyone she will be preparin meals for has concerns with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiac conditions or has any issues with cooking with alcohol. In order to gain insight into a client’s particular palate, they answer questions regarding which global cuisines they prefer, how spicy the food should be, how many times a week they want to eat meat or seafood, if they like dark or light chicken meat, how their meat and vegetables should be cooked and if there are any foods or spices that should never be prepared. Lastly, the client decides how the meals are packaged: in individual servings, for two or family style. Along with the eating assessment, clients receive an extensive list of menu suggestions they can request her to cook. She said the list is used as a starting point in order to get their taste buds working.

Looking over the list detailing all sorts of soups (hot and cold), salads, and main courses centered around chicken, beef, veal, lamb, pork, fish and vegetarian concoctions is enough to make anyone hungry. Then there are the side dishes and desserts. One of the popular dishes she makes for her clients is Italian sausage with spinach and white beans. The personal chef adapted it from one published in “Cooking Light” magazine. It makes eight servings:

1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage links
cooking spray
1/2 cup red bell pepper (chopped)
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans or white beans (drained)
2 (14.5 ounce) cans Italian-style diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 package baby spinach (washed)
8 ounces cooked pasta

Cut sausage in 1 inch pieces.
Heat a large non-stick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, onion, and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Add sausage, and cook 8 minutes, or until browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in oregano and remaining ingredients; reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Stir in baby spinach until just wilted and serve over pasta.
Serve with warm Italian bread.

Nutritional breakdown per serving (excluding unknown items):
458 Calories; 6 grams of fat (12.5 percent calories from fat); 31 grams of protein; 70 grams of carbohydrates; 13 grams of dietary fiber;
48 milligrams of cholesterol; 642 milligrams of sodium. Exchanges: 4 grain (starch); 2 1/2 lean meat; 1 1/2 vegetable; 0 fat.

Emily Sondheimer can be contacted at 404-0664, or by e-mail at aChefOfYourOwn@gmail.com.


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