Snohomish County business
No such thing as holiday for some personal chefs
Times Snohomish County bureau
Bert Blackmore, owner of Dinners by Chef Berttron in Bothell, ate his Thanksgiving dinner weeks ago. He had to: For some personal chefs such as Blackmore, Thanksgiving is a working holiday.
This year, Blackmore, his wife and two daughters will divide the work of cooking turkey plus trimmings for two 20-person gatherings in Snohomish and Bellevue. His family has spent the past three Thanksgivings this way, cooking in clients' kitchens.
His typical holiday menu includes turkey with pine-nut stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, green beans sautéed with maple bacon, two Jell-O salads, and mincemeat, pumpkin and apple pies. (He has, however, made variations. One year, he said, a client wanted prime rib.)
Depending on a client's menu preferences, a single meal costs $20 to $40.
"We get a lot of calls for Thanksgiving dinner," Blackmore said. "November and December are my busiest months of the year."
Blackmore's experience is typical, according to Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal Chef Association in San Diego.
"I'd say about 50 percent of our members are working on Thanksgiving Day," she said, adding that many chefs who aren't preparing meals on the holiday will sell clients ready-to-bake turkeys and side dishes in advance.
"We have such an intimate relationship with our clients," Wallace said. "We know their preferences, their tastes, the textures they like in food, their allergies."
Blackmore is just one of a half-dozen personal chefs in Snohomish County. But if national trends continue, he'll have more company: Wallace said that the personal-chef business has grown dramatically since 1995, when she founded the American Personal Chef Association with 100 members.
The association now has 3,000 members, though Wallace estimates the total number of personal chefs may be double that. They make anywhere from $50,000 to $190,000 annually, depending on cuisine, region, clientele and catering business, she said.
Blackmore became a personal chef five years ago after working his way up from a dishwasher at a Denny's to executive chef at the Everett Pacific Hotel (now a Howard Johnson's).
In that last job, Blackmore picked up the French-sounding nickname "Chef Berttron" when a picky European guest demanded French food that wasn't on the menu. Blackmore said co-workers gave him the nickname while he rushed to assemble pâté and other specialties.
Though his business is down about 30 percent from last year, Blackmore said he's not worried. In addition to running his personal-chef business, he teaches a monthly class to residents of The Jefferson, a Mill Creek apartment complex.
With his wife and daughters involved, he can handle more clients than a solo chef. His daughters, 16 and 20, cook most of his recipes — ranging from smoked-salmon mousse to filet mignon — and have catered hors d'oeuvres parties on their own.
Other personal chefs say that though they're not working Thanksgiving, this season is typically busy, especially among clients who want to stock their refrigerators and freezers in advance so they can spend less time cooking and more time handling other holiday duties.
Craig Mack, owner of Home Plate Personal Chef Service in Everett, said he's surprised more clients don't request a professionally prepared Thanksgiving dinner.
"I would think people would want me to help with the holiday meal," Mack said.
He interviews clients about their food preferences, prepares a menu, and goes to clients' homes and prepares two weeks' worth of dinners for them. When he's finished with cooking, he packages the food with reheating instructions and cleans the kitchen.
"He's marvelous," said Debbie McPherson. McPherson, a county-government employee who is single, said she pays Home Plate $400 per month for 20 dinners.
The price also covers Mack's shopping for the food he turns into dishes such as "beefsteak Madagascar in mild green-peppercorn sauce." She said she enjoys knowing she can come home and have something healthful that she didn't have time to prepare.
In the end, that's also the appeal of a personal chef on Thanksgiving.
"Both of these families want to sit down and enjoy the meal and not have to worry in the kitchen," Blackmore said. "We just leave the leftovers behind."
Jane Hodges: 425-745-7813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.