Personal Chefs has made-to-order service

Columbia business offers fine cuisine in your home

Small business

Howard Business

December 08, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Joe Tieperman is the chief financial officer of a company in Emmitsburg, and he doesn't walk in the door of his Waverly Woods home until after 7 most nights. His wife, Leslie, uses a wheelchair and can no longer cook their evening meals.

The Tiepermans were getting along OK with takeout food and whatever Joe could toss together after he got home. But they've been eating a lot better in the past few months, ever since they hired Personal Chefs of Columbia.

Karen York-Levine, who founded the company about 18 months ago, buys food and prepares several meals in their kitchen. She then puts the food in containers so it can be reheated later.

"When I come home, all I have to do is bring things out that we're going to have and heat it up, and we have a good meal," Joe Tieperman said.

York-Levine's business, which has two other chefs on staff, can handle assignments both large and small, from catering elaborate parties to buying groceries for new mothers.

"There is a wide range of services that I can provide," she said. "When people hear `personal chef,' they think that's for rich people."

Personal Chefs of Columbia charges $30 per hour, plus the cost of food.

"People assume the only way to get help in the kitchen is to hire a caterer. We want to show the public that if it has anything to do with food, we can help you with it," York-Levine said.

Recently, the company added a delivery service. Customers can go online to www.pcocdeli and order from a set menu that might include chili with beef and beans over rice with a salad, or tilapia with rice pilaf and steamed carrots.

The meals are $12 per adult portion and $6 for a child-size meal, with a $10 charge for delivery throughout Columbia and Ellicott City. So far, the delivery service is available Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

York-Levine said she is looking for pick-up sites that would accommodate a large number of customers, such as an office building or day care center.

Meanwhile, she recently signed on with St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City to use the church's kitchen to prepare delivery meals.

York-Levine said she always liked cooking, but she got a degree in computer science and math and began working in the technical computing field.

Eventually she started her own company, serving as a consultant and teaching "really, really hard technical computer courses" at local colleges.

Then she saw something on television about personal chefs, and decided to change the focus of her business from computers to cooking.

The other two chefs in the company are Casey Pina and James Courtney.

Pina tends to handle events for 20 people or more, while York-Levine prefers cooking for families and small groups, York-Levine said.

Before York-Levine cooks for a family, she meets with its members to discuss food sensitivities, diet concerns and favorite meals. She doesn't have a set menu because her meals are personalized for individual families.

"Part of my goal in launching this company is to show people that it's not that hard to eat to add fruits and vegetables into the diet and to prepare food in a healthy manner," she said.

Joe Tieperman, for example, wanted to try the Atkins diet, while his wife Leslie needed to restrict her sodium intake.

York-Levine was able to accommodate their requests with meals such as pork medallions and meatloaf, Tieperman said.

Every six weeks to two months, she prepares three or four meals that the Tiepermans eat over the course of several weeks.

"It always has a little better taste than we would normally have," Joe Tieperman said.

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