Is That You at the Chopping Block? Or Is That Your Personal Chef?

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Having a personal chef sounds as extravagant as owning a private jet. Someone in your kitchen to whip up filet mignon and beignets while you lounge on the couch? Great. Once Loot has a functional kitchen, or a couch, send him over.

Some personal chefs want to change that perception (as you might imagine). "I've got a handful of very wealthy clients, but it's certainly not the default," says Uri Attia, who runs a company called Portable Chef in New York. "They're working professionals, the New York middle class."

A personal chef used to be someone who lived in your house and made you three meals a day. Now, "I'll e-mail a client menu options for one or two weeks, they pick what they want, we set up a day and I'll do everything in that one day -- shopping, prepping, and cooking," says Tina Malonis, who runs a personal chef service called the Tasteful Table in New York.

Piper Wilder, a personal chef in New York, says she'll usually go to a client's house once a week. "You do menu planning, then cook about four dinners for the week," she says. "It's about six to seven hours of work."

Attia, who does his cooking off-site in a commercial kitchen, operates on the same model. "The food comes fully cooked, and the intent is that it's heated up," he says.

Prices vary. "A lot of us developed a flat fee for our professional services, and then the cost of the food is separate," says Candy Wallace, founder and executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association. "So if the client wants foie gras or spring lamb, they're more than welcome, but then they won't be surprised by the cost." Wilder says her flat fee ranges from $275 to $325 for a day's cooking. Malonis says she usually charges no less than $300 a day. Attia, whose model of a commercial kitchen means less travel time and other expenses, says he charges around $30 a head, which includes food.

"In this economy, we have to be much more flexible and affordable," says Wilder, who works with each family's budget. Even so, having someone cook for you is exponentially more expensive than doing it yourself. The real comparison is to ordering in.

"There's a big difference between takeout food and hiring a personal chef," Wilder says. "Takeout has tons of sodium. You don't know how much sugar and fat is in it, etc."

"When you're ordering in, the food is prepared for a broad-based palate, where they try not to offend anyone," Wallace says. "And they end up offending everyone."

Certainly everyone who's a personal chef.

James Tarmy writes the Loot blog for Bloomberg.com's Good Life channel.

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