WHEELING – The term “personal chef” might bring to mind celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, but the business model has a low-key side enough that a handful of food entrepreneurs are now getting into it in the Ohio Valley.
Noting that a home cook can cost upwards of $100,000 a year, chef Melissa Rebholz of Wheeling-based Midge’s Kitchen said there are other models that can keep costs down across the family spectrum. middle income.
Sometimes, she says, personal chefs visit customers’ kitchens about once a week and prepare several meals on the spot.
This, she explained, brings skillfully cooked food right to the table at home, but obviates the need for a legally certified and potentially expensive cooking space.
In Rebholz’s case, she’s exploring ways to further cut costs by doing what she calls “batch cooking” for 20-30 families a week in a professional kitchen space she rents in the First State Capitol Building. downtown.
“I put the menu online Thursday night or Friday, early morning,” Rebholz said. Customers have until the end of the weekend to place orders, with the site counting available portions until they run out. “I’m just one person. I set the limits of what I can do.
Trained at the plant-focused Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, Rebholz said she offers between six and eight dishes on her weekly menu. Some are vegan and/or vegetarian.
Others are not.
She said typical weekday selections include breakfast such as chia pudding, French toast, or overnight oats; a large salad that can be eaten in one meal or divided into several sides for a family; a soup; and three to four starters like stir-fry udon noodles.
Customers — several of whom, according to Rebholz, place orders weekly — come to her kitchen door every Wednesday to pick up their orders.
Although the business model is simple, Rebholz said what she cooks in any given week has variability that is often tied to the season. A former head of the public market, she continues to partner with local farmers through Grow Ohio Valley — a relationship she said her customers appreciate.
“I look at the weather and what’s available and what I already have here,” Rebholz said of putting together a menu. “(Maybe) I’m like, ‘I still have half a case of couscous.'”
On the side of what’s available, that sometimes puts items like fresh greens, root vegetables or winter squash on the menu, she said. Other times, it sets limits on portions.
If she can only get 20 pounds of beets, for example, there is only a limited amount of beet salad that can be made that week.
She noted that winter means empty pantry days are coming when it comes to local food and she will have to shop further afield. “February in Mayish is going to be tough.”
Other times, local food tastes influence the menu, Reholz noted.
“I have a farmer who just has hundreds of pounds of mustard greens and I’m like, ‘I just can’t get people to jump on it. “”She noted that local customers also tend to scoff at turnips.
But ethnic foods, especially Indian dishes, as well as dishes rich in tofu tend to sell out.
Demand is also strong among some regular customers, she said, for items that are vegetarian or free from common allergens such as dairy or gluten. She noted that one family only has one vegetarian member, and ordering from a personal chef made that doable.
Rebholz said her customers range from the youngest to the oldest, but all tend to be busy enough that preparing evening meals is a struggle. “They’re counting on it,” she said of their weekly orders.
A GREEN PATH
That kind of consistency makes the green-minded Rebholz ready to tweak things further. Could weekly customers be replaced with reusable glass containers? Could customers bring their own reusable bags or boxes when picking up orders? Maybe. Most likely.
She already likes to know exactly what she needs to cook in a given week.
That means there’s no waste like there can be in a restaurant if something like bad weather keeps people at home, she said.
“It’s good for me at the moment,” she said of her current efficiency scale. “I have no aspiration to have employees or to become big at some point.”
Such thinking comes naturally to Rebholz. Originally from Buffalo, NY and a longtime New York resident, she worked on organic farms in Northern California, Tennessee and Alabama before joining Wheeling for the public market in late 2019.
“I’ve always cooked and grown food,” she said of canning, teaching cooking classes, preparing farm-to-table meals or managing of a wine kitchen in addition to agricultural tasks during this season of his career.
Her diverse career path also led her to plan a food truck as her next goal. She said mobile food is so hot it could have had a place every week of 2021. Rebholz said she’s experimented with that idea before, working a food truck at Nicky’s Garden Center in connection with Avenue Eats on weekend last summer.
“I would love to go out and do festivals,” she said.