Late February in the North-East: winter’s lost its novelty, the holidays are over, and all we have left is mud, bad weather and dirty, used-looking snow. It’s hunker down season, the time for Netflix and take-out way more often than is healthy or even pleasurable. Late winter thinking goes that, while delivery might not be fabulous, the option of trudging out to a restaurant (or even the grocery store) is worse. Mediocre, but convenient—our local, willing-to-deliver joints have a captive customer base.
Or do they? If you find that you’re eating too many take-out meals that you don’t even enjoy, purely because you can’t manage to shop or cook, there is a reasonable option. You can hire a personal chef.
And no, this doesn’t necessarily mean a live-in servant who sits by an intercom waiting for your 3 AM fried banana/peanut butter sandwich order. Like any other service category, personal chefs offer many levels of services, from the Graceland staffer mentioned above to more economical modes of every-day meal preparation. The Runcible Spoon Personal Chef Service, for instance, is an option that’s (almost) affordable to upper middle-class families. It goes like this: The Runcible Spoon will come to your house and cook two weeks’ worth of dinners, leaving your kitchen spotless and your fridge and freezer fully stocked and ready to go. Each night, you just zap up the meal that your family wants and you’re done—no delivery guy, no tipping, no wait.
The Runcible Spoon Personal Chef Service has its pros and cons. On the pro side, the meals are tasty â€“ certainly tastier than anything we could get via delivery. Recently, we sampled a morel-studded venison stew and a lush crab bisque that were delicious and much fancier than pizza or bad, local Chinese– plus, the meals came with a box of delicious, intensely chocolaty brownies. The Runcible Chef meals were certainly a treat. They were also real food, and therefore healthier and more varied than fast-food delivery options like pizza. Also pro, the meals were more convenient than delivery—we just popped the plastic boxes in the microwave, and presto: dinner. The Runcible Chef will also take into account any allergies, likes or dislikes you may have—these are meals cooked to order for you and your family.
The con side is, obviously, cost. The basic work-week package costs $450, which covers five entrees of four servings each. (The price includes all the ingredients, containers and labor.) That works out to $22.50 per serving, or $90 per dinner for a family of four—which is way more than you’d pay for pizza, but not too far off what a family might pay at a mid-priced restaurant, excluding drinks, starters and dessert, but including gas and a 15% tip. Another con (for us): the meals are prepared in your home, in your kitchen. While the Runcible Chef presents this as a pro (you can see what you’re getting and where it’s prepared), we see this as a definite negative. Even if the chef brings her own cookware and leaves our kitchen spotless, it’s still a strange person in our home for a few hours, which we’ll find disruptive and a bit uncomfortable even if we choose not to be at home when she comes. Of course, that’s just us — maybe others feel differently.
Con, too, is the lack of instant plates of attractive, hot, cooked-to-order food â€“the kind you’d get at a restaurant costing the same amount of money. The meals, packed neatly in their plastic containers, feel a bit like frozen entrees (which they essentially are), though The Runcible Spoon does offer a “fresh service” option (where the meals are refrigerated, not frozen) and a â€˜weekly replenishment” option, where fresh sides and salads are provided to compliment your frozen entrees. Breakfast service is another option offered, and The Runcible Spoon provides the usual array of catering services, too — like dinner and cocktail parties and romantic dinners.
Perhaps the best thing offered by The Runcible Spoon is their gift certificates, which strikes us as an amazingly thoughtful present for any family undergoing a period of stress that makes shopping and cooking untenable. It’s like the casserole that keeps on giving for new parents or families undergoing a crisis. Plus, I looked on the Runcible Spoon’s website—there’s no tuna-noodle to be found.