Up close and personal chef

August 13, 2007 (Last Updated: January 11, 2019)
franz-de-waal personal chef

A personal chef. Gwyneth Paltrow has two – one for sweet and one for savoury; Toni Collette has one to cook macrobiotically; and hip-hop star Jay-Z has added one to his entourage just to make chicken wings, The Observer online reports.

But it’s not just in the lives of the rich and famous that personal chefs are becoming de rigueur. In the United States for example, there’s the American Personal and Private Chef Association, and according to www. personalchef.com about 9 000 personal chefs are registered, with over 0 million a year being spent on the service. While the trend is still in its infancy in South Africa, with no dedicated personal chefs’ association yet, it is likely that increasing workloads and time pressures will see a demand.

As the desire for quality and convenience rises, clients might find that the best and easiest tailor-made food comes in the form of a personal chef. Food & Home Entertaining’s deputy editor Tanya Kovarsky and food editor Anna Montali handed over their kitchen reins to well-known chef and restaurateur Franz de Waal who spent a day in each of their homes as a personal chef.

“When Franz arrived on a Saturday morning, he was definitely calmer than I was. I was petrified. Petrified that he wouldn’t like my pots or kitchen, that he wouldn’t find what he needed, and that I’d have to constantly be at his side. But when I got back an hour later from my run, I realised how silly my fears were. Yes, Franz could actually open the fridge and cupboards, and sort things out on his own, which is part of the job of a personal chef, I had just discovered. He even found our Ritzenhoff salt and pepper set tucked behind some ramekins in the cupboard. Plus, he assured me that he doesn’t judge kitchens or pots, that he’s even done cheffing stints in the bush with no electricity and minimal equipment, and that the only tools he truly needs is his knife set, which he brought along.

“Franz has been in the restaurant industry since the age of 15 and has owned and managed several. He now has a catering company, Franz Catering and a personal cheffing company called Personal Power Chefs, which leases out personal chefs short- and long-term (from one night to as long as required). He also owns Destino, a restaurant in Dainfern, Gauteng, and he’s writing a cookbook.

He’s busy, ambitious, committed to his craft and a natural storyteller, and his love of food is infectious. “The experience began when we were led outside to a beautifully set table (who knew my crockery could be put to such creative use?) and it was like being served a hotel breakfast at home. There was a fresh fruit platter, fruit juice, wheat-free crumpets, and plated rye toast with salmon, cottage cheese, avocado and parsley.

The brief to Franz – wheat free, sugar free, reduced fat and no pork or shellfish – might have looked as though it would produce less stellar food, but we were amazed and non-deprived! It was rather bizarre being waited on so professionally in our own home, and I think we stiffened slightly each time Franz presented us with another dish or whisked something away. However, the biggest challenge was ‘renouncing’ our kitchen. “I like my things; I like their order; I like tidying and ensuring that everything is in its place, so each time I entered the kitchen I was more than just itching to clean up and put things away. But the client’s ‘job’ is no job at all. It’s simply to eat and enjoy. “After breakfast, Franz went grocery shopping for lunch while we got on with our day. We returned to a lunch of salad with apple, radish, spring onion and strawberries with a sesame oil and red wine vinegar dressing. Main course was ostrich steaks with black bean hoisin basting on vegetable stir-fry and pumpkin mash. There was also a wheat-free crumpet tower with fresh figs, ricotta, honey, basil and black pepper. The meal was superb and being able to enjoy it in the comfort of our home added to this indulgent experience.

“Franz believes that a good personal chef should combine an ability to please the client with outstanding food and a good personality. It’s also a trust-based relationship – the personal chef is entrusted not only with preparing delicious food for the clients, but is often left to lock up the house or come and go freely between shopping and cooking. “In the evening it was dinner for six at our home. Before our friends arrived, I was a bit restless and bored – usually I’d be setting the table, making the food or having that lastminute adrenaline rush.

With Franz in the kitchen, all I could do was enjoy the unbelievable aromas from the kitchen and reapply my lipstick a few times (while wondering whether the olive oil would be put back in its place). “Everyone arrived and first up was a starter of wheatfree pumpkin toast with ricotta, basil, olive oil and sautéed mushrooms. For mains, it was chicken breasts with chermoula, roasted butternut and pumpkin with honey, cinnamon and cumin, roasted vegetables with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic, and a salad of strawberries, mushrooms, sprouts and olive oil. For dessert – as we were having guests, we decided not to omit sugar or fat – we had a divine wheat-free chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream.

During the evening Franz shared several useful food tips, and was happy to share his knowledge about food and explain the flavour combinations he had used. “It was a wonderful and indulgent experience, and a treat to enjoy tailor-made food that was fresh and delicious. Kitchen control issues aside, it was a relaxing and easy experience, and by the time I was finally comfortable with being waited on in my own home, it was time for Franz to leave. With the olive oil back in its correct spot.”

“Tanya and her husband Jason had many dietary requirements, from low fat and sugar free to no pork or shellfish. It was fun and they gave me the opportunity to use my ingenuity and passion to be creative. Their food was plated and stylised, and each dish had a specific garnish, style and look. The environment was good to work in, offering a true day in the life of a personal chef, and I created the menus while shopping, which made it all the more challenging. “Tanya and Jason were busy with their own weekend routine, which left me with Tanya’s scheduled meal times and quite a bit of time to myself. This is exactly what personal cheffing is like. You get guidelines and preferred meal times and you are then left to produce the goods. I enjoyed this as they let me create what I wanted to, with a great response each time.

“They did seem a little uncomfortable being waited on and having their every need attended to, but that’s what you get when you have a personal chef – or at least that’s what you should get! All in all, it was a great day in the kitchen, where my love for cooking, decorating and serving was fuelled in every respect. My favourite dish was the wheat-free crumpet stack with ricotta, fresh figs, basil, black pepper and honey. I had a great time.”

“I broke the news about a chef spending a day with us to a very enthusiastic and excited family, and my three children could not wait to go to school and tell their friends about the chef who would be making school lunches the following day. I must admit to not being overly enthusiastic as I felt as though this ‘stranger’ would be interfering; I’m quite possessive over my kitchen, to the extent that I don’t even let friends help with the washing up – let alone commandeer the entire kitchen for a day. But I soon decided to step back and let the chef loose without any interruptions, which was quite a challenge.

“On Sunday morning the entire household was up early to welcome Franz. I did not have to show him around as he had clearly done this before, and was quite comfortable finding things himself – if he was nervous it did not show. My kitchen is small but well equipped and Franz had everything at his disposal. I soon found I was quite bored. and out of a ‘job’, not knowing what to do with myself, as cooking is my life and the kitchen is my domain.

I went in and out checking on progress, wanting to ask if he needed some help, but to my disappointment Franz was quite capable and very at home. “I even caught up on some television – a rarity for me – while waiting in anticipation for breakfast to be served.

Delicious aromas and the crackling of bacon wafted from the kitchen, and I was hungry by the time Franz called the family to the patio for a beautifully presented breakfast. My brief to Franz was simply to create relaxed Sunday food. As a family, we love to eat and we enjoy our food. I was hoping Franz would not try to impress us with over-the-top cuisine, but rather keep to good home cooking, which he did. “Breakfast consisted of eggs and bacon, yoghurts and muffins, toast, jams, Franz’s moreish sticky homemade muesli as well as fresh fruit and juices.

“After breakfast Franz went to replenish his shopping basket with the ingredients for our lunch. Normally there are a few of us for Sunday lunch and this one was no exception. Franz presented us with a lovely grilled fillet with mushroom sauce, fresh salad and roasted vegetables. Being a Greek-Italian family we ate, drank and talked for hours, and a dessert of wheat-free torte and ice cream left us lingering around the table for hours.

“Come dinnertime, we were still so full after such a late lunch that Franz opted for bruschetta using the day’s leftovers – delicious! “Finally, with a clean kitchen, a satisfied and impressed family, and all in order, it was time to bid Franz farewell. And reclaim my kitchen.”

“Anna would make any chef shiver in their boots! She is without a doubt, in my opinion, the most influential foodie in South Africa and knows exactly what she is talking about when it comes to cooking. With this in mind, one would assume that I’d need to create over-the top, mind-blowing cuisine that would make Marco Pierre White want to step up his game. But no. Anna’s Greek origins and Italian influence make her incredibly passionate about food, and this made my job much easier.

Anna and her family adore simple food so a good grilled fillet with some mushroom sauce, a unique, fresh salad and some vegetables and fresh baked breads made them very happy. My meals for Anna and her family consisted of a touch of home with a twist. “The family was great and I was left to my own devices to cook up a storm. Anna’s kitchen is a chef’s dream, with all the utensils, machines and extras you could wish for. It was a true test of my organisational skills as the room is very small with minimal counter space.

However, issues such as these are not the client’s problem and it’s up to the chef to work around things. The constant conversation and interaction from Anna’s family made my nervewracking day an absolute pleasure as their Mediterranean entertaining values coursed through the home. My favourite dish was the sticky homemade muesli, which was part of the breakfast spread. I made this with lots of toasted nuts, sunflower seeds, dried figs, dried mango and poppy seeds. “I have a feeling, however, that there won’t be another personal chef in this kitchen again. With talent like this at home, who needs a chef?”

What is involved in the preparation process?
For a personal chef preparation is mostly done on the spot. Because it is more personal, you’re there to discuss all the client’s needs and specifications. Before I start, I get a rough brief to determine dietary requirements, the equipment that’s available, and the approximate amount of people I’ll be cooking for.

Does a personal chef need to do the shopping and washing up?
Shopping is definitely part of personal cheffing. Washing up rarely becomes the chef’s job as people who have personal chefs usually have an entourage of helpers.

How difficult are clients?
I think once the clients get to know you and you get to know what they like and dislike, it’s pretty easy going. The only time I see the client getting upset is when you begin to neglect what you already know and give them what they dislike.

Is it a personal chef’s responsibility to hang around during the meal? Do most clients want that level of interaction?
Most clients don’t want the chef to hang around. Sometimes the client will insist that you join them, but don’t make a habit of it. You are there to do a job and you must remain professional at all times.

What is the downside to personal cheffing?
I think the time spent at work all day and not getting a break because the client might decide they want a snack and tea. You must be there to produce the goods at all times.

What are the challenges of personal cheffing?
To produce a winning meal every time, from a basic fruit platter for breakfast to an amazing plated dinner, being original and keeping the client happy.

What are the best aspects of personal cheffing?
Doing what you love most and getting paid for it. The travelling is also a bonus.

What does it cost to hire a personal chef?
They usually work according to a monthly salary of between R8 000 and R12 000 nett.

Is personal cheffing set to become a bigger trend?
I think this is going to become a huge trend as the cost of food increases and people spend more on entertaining. This is why catering companies are doing so well. For those who want to enjoy smaller, family functions or even romantic dinners, but don’t want to spend exorbitant amounts on catering, a personal chef is ideal. This is the reason I started my personal chef company. I do think there is a demand for more personal chefs in South Africa.

Describe your best experiences as a personal chef.
My best experience was a recent six-week stint in Plettenberg Bay cooking for my client’s family and friends. It’s always great to work with someone who loves food and entertaining and appreciates what you do. How many people can say they get such satisfaction from their work environment?

How does one become a personal chef?
Attend a good chefs’ school, one with a modern outlook on food that teaches you to cope under pressure by allowing you to work in the industry while studying. How does someone find a personal chef? Contact the chef schools and ask them whether they have final-year students looking for employment after their studies.

• Get to know your personal chef beforehand – remember that they will be spending time in your home, and you need to like and trust them.
• Give the chef a brief – you are paying them to create tailor-made food for you, so you’re allowed to be specific about any culinary dislikes or dietary requirements.
• Give the chef a specific grocery budget to work with. If you don’t, you might be alarmed at the cost of the groceries used.
• Let the chef know whether you’d like them to sit and eat with you – it’s your choice.
• Give positive feedback only if you’d like to.

By Renelle Rampersad

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