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Personal Chefs 

When the scheduling demands of everyday life become such a juggling act that even your Palm Pilot can't handle the load, finding time to prepare healthy home-cooked meals often gets pushed to the back burner -- if not off the stove altogether. But with the help of Frank Keller and Deborah Kranz' Dining Right Personal Chef Service (By appointment, 451-2951; www.DiningRightPersonalChefService.com), people can eliminate hours of shopping, cooking and cleaning while still enjoying gourmet meals in the comfort of their own homes every night of the week.

"We both like to cook, and we decided to see if we could make it into a full-time business," Keller says of he and Kranz, both of whom spent 15 years in the regulatory end of the health care industry before making the switch from corporate America to entrepreneurship last April. "We're members of the Personal Chefs Network, and we wanted to pursue the business, so we jumped right in."

Like personal trainers who went from serving the elite to toning an entire nation of time-constrained health-conscious consumers, personal chefs -- once considered a luxury only for the celebrity set -- are marketing themselves to a diverse clientele. Customers range from busy professionals to retirees, singles, families, exercise enthusiasts, individuals following special dietary guidelines (such as low sodium, low fat or vegetarian), and those who just don't like to cook.

"We're becoming a service-oriented society," says Keller. "As working couples' and other people's income allows, they're able to pay someone to do the things they don't want to do."

What sets a personal chef business like Dining Right apart from the gourmet fare available at local specialty shops is the fact that the menus are customized to customers' needs and tastes and prepared in their own kitchens. "We go into each home for an in-depth assessment of their nutritional needs and the full scope of what kinds of things they like and dislike, from foods to spices," says Keller. ("If you don't like the broccoli," vows Dining Right's Web site, "you'll never see it on your plate.") "Then we assess their kitchen and the freezer and storage capacity."

On a designated "cheffing date," Dining Right does all the grocery shopping and prepares fresh foods in the customers' homes. The cheffing team then cleans up and removes all trash, promising that the only evidence of the day's work will be a refrigerator full of ready-to-heat-and-eat foods. Dining Right vacuum packs and labels all foods for freezing so clients have only to re-heat the meals. Many of the storage containers are disposable to make clean-up even easier.

Before each cheffing date, customers choose from an extensive menu of more than 100 dishes from meatloaf to lobster. Included are New Orleans favorites, regional American dishes, vegetarian items, and selections from international cuisines such as Italian, Mediterranean and Mexican. There are even breads and desserts. For those who enjoy grilling, Dining Right will prepare and package certain items such as seafood and steaks in a marinade ready for the grill. Keller and Kranz also will create menus tailored to clients' personal requests.

The basic Dining Right home chef service includes five complete meals consisting of five entrees and five side dishes with four servings each. The cost is $225 plus groceries. Full-time customers sign up for two cheffing dates each month, with meal prices averaging about $12 to $18 a serving, depending on the menu.

"Our food is on a par with the finest restaurants in town," says Keller. But the partners say Dining Right clients spend less money than they would eating out every night by saving on such things as gratuities and expensive wine prices. While the experience of eating out can't be duplicated in the home, customers are able to savor convenience and the comforts of their personal surroundings, along with fine dining.

"I've been cooking since I was nine years old," says Keller. "I lived here in the early '80s, so I got a flavor for the local food, and I've been cooking it ever since. All of our dishes are specialties, but so far, people have wanted a healthy dose of local dishes thrown in."

Even when preparing local cuisine, Dining Right emphasizes the importance of customization. Five different types of gumbo and an equal array of jambalayas are offered, for instance, so there's one for every palate and lifestyle. Keller and Kranz will even provide a nutritional analysis, breaking down the nutrients, fats, carbohydrates and calories for each meal they cook. "Anything the client wants, whether it's on the menu or not, we do," Keller says.

click to enlarge Dining Right Chef/owner Frank Keller prepares a home-cooked gourmet meal for a customer who likes to eat well without cooking and without leaving home.
  • Dining Right Chef/owner Frank Keller prepares a home-cooked gourmet meal for a customer who likes to eat well without cooking and without leaving home.
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