January 5, 2012

Personal chef focuses on affordability

Brandon O’Dell is trying to take personal chefs to the masses – or at least to a broader market than the currently famous "one percent."

Brandon O’Dell is trying to take personal chefs to the masses – or at least to a broader market than the currently famous "one percent."

"I think a lot of personal chefs really tailor their service to the top 1 or 2 percent of income earners," said O’Dell, owner of Friend That Cooks. "If they can do that, that’s great. But we’re really trying to target the top 20 to 30 percent of income earners. We want to be affordable."

Using an hourly rate of $31, rather than charging by the meal, O’Dell said his service usually works out to "about half the cost of eating out."

O’Dell, 37, started Friend That Cooks here in 2007, having worked in the food business since he was 14 years old.

"It was the country club business that really fueled my culinary fire," said O’Dell, who worked at Crestview and Wichita country clubs.

O’Dell started his personal-chef business as a sideline to restaurant consulting, but found that the former provided steadier work. He worked by himself for two years, then decided to expand to the Kansas City area when he married a woman from there. Today he has two chefs working for him and is looking to hire two more.

The business works like this: A personal chef meets with a client to discuss food preferences, any special dietary requirements and the number of prepared meals desired. After agreeing on a menu, the chef does the shopping – the client pays for the groceries – and cooking, leaving the client with the agreed number of individually portioned meals.

For most families of four, the entire process takes four to five hours, including cleanup, O’Dell said. He tries to price the service low enough that customers use it on a weekly basis.

O’Dell said people use his service for several reason, including busy schedules, special nutritional restrictions and a desire to eat healthier meals.

"A lot of stuff that’s popular are things that people don’t get to eat made from scratch – tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes, seafood. A lot of people don’t know how to cook fish themselves. And we get a lot of requests for vegetable dishes.

“Our chefs know so many more preparations for dishes than the average home cook does."

Traditional dishes such as meatloaf, pot roast and baked chicken are also in demand, he said.

In addition to requiring culinary knowledge, O’Dell says he is "pretty particular" about the character and backgrounds of chefs he hires because they work in customers’ homes.

Friend That Cooks also offers catering and cooking parties, which O’Dell said have been popular with customers.

"They gather six or eight friends and have some wine and have the chef prepare something, take notes and even hop in to help," he said. "It’s a good three-hour process of eating and having fun."

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