Busy is how many people describe their lives and it seems that Americans are only getting busier. At the same time individuals and families are trying to eat healthier which has created many business opportunities to help make cooking and eating better, more convenient. For those on the east and west coast, hiring a personal chef has become a popular option. Now a new business owner is bringing this service to Sioux Falls.
“Right now I am chopping up some thyme to go in the pasta sauce just so we have a little bit of fresh herbs. I like the taste of the canned tomatoes in the sauce but I do think the freshness of the herbs helps kind of bring the dish up a little bit.”
Chef Ellen Doerr is making spaghetti and meatballs but she’s giving this classic dish a small twist. Instead of using pasta she is using spaghetti squash.
“So it's a low carb, it's a gluten free dish as well, it can be modified to be dairy free. So it’s just a nice easy dish that kind of the whole family just loves,” says Doerr.
Doerr started cooking as a hobby. At the time she was working in loan processing.
“So I would get bored at work, I would look up recipes and I would spend 3 or 4 hours at night going grocery shopping and cooking to make meals for my roommates and my friends,” says Doerr.
One of those roommates wanted to move to Colorado. Doerr, wasn’t loving her job so she decided to move with her roommate and enroll in the August Escoffier School of Culinary arts in Boulder. After graduating, she moved back to Sioux Falls and worked at various restaurants downtown and around the city.
Doerr says, “As life would happen I met my husband and we had a baby and he had another son, so now we have two boys, and I decided to be a stay at home mom because 80 hours in a kitchen was not going to work with our schedule.”
Although Doerr enjoys taking care of her family, she eventually wanted to go back to cooking professionally in some capacity. At the same time her old culinary school started offering business courses and reached out to Doerr. They offered her online classes for free and she took the opportunity. Many of her professors were personal chefs, so she started to look into the career. As she was researching the personal chef profession she was also reading articles on Sioux Falls and its growing medical industry.
“And you know realizing that with that we have so many people coming here because they do have a lot of special needs. And with these medical treatments a lot of them come with dietary needs that they didn’t have before,” says Doerr, “So whether that's, you know, the weight loss clinics we have in town or whether that’s parents whose kids have food allergies or GI issues, cancer diets, things that, that are all things that as I did more research were kind of getting overlooked. We have a lot of places you can go and people who can tell you what you can and can’t eat but when it comes to actually going out and getting that food, if you don’t want to cook it yourself, you’re kind of at a loss. So then I kind of said ok how can I fill this need? What can I do to make this work?”
Doerr started her personal chef business in January. She is much different from a private chef who usually works for one family or person and makes three meals a day. As a personal chef, Doerr will come to your kitchen and cook several meals at one time. She labels them and puts them in the fridge or freezer with reheating instructions. Doerr does all the grocery shopping, she uses her own pots and pans and she cleans up after herself when she’s done. She even takes out the garbage.
“We came home, the house smelled great, the fridge was stocked up and it was peace of mind and I thought wow this rocks,” says Matthew Luke, “It was a great experience.”
Matthew Luke is one of Doerr’s satisfied customers. His family likes to cook but sometimes they get busy and don’t have time to prepare healthy meals.
“And so it was great for us because the kids, when they woke up in the morning, saw right on the list exactly what was for breakfast, opened up the fridge and had it pretty much prepared and ready go,” says Luke, “And then my wife and I were able to grab lunch and bring it with, which is something that I skip too often. So it was nice to have that available and maybe eat a little healthier that week as well, too.”
Luke is a small business owner. His company helps other small businesses with marketing so he keeps on eye on trends coming to Sioux Falls. He says younger generations value their free time and are more willing to pay for someone to do household tasks.
Luke says, “As the millennials get older, they’re probably going to start looking for those types of services. Outside of maybe hiring someone to mow your lawn or clean your house this is just another one of those areas where you can outsource or automate to help free up your time so you have time to do other things as well too.”
However, Doerr faces a lot of competition in this area. There are subscription boxes that show up at your doorstep, there are places where you can pick up premade healthy meals and there is still simply going out to eat. Luke says a personal chef has advantages over these other services. For one, Luke says, Doerr tailors their meals to exactly what they want instead of picking from preplanned menu options like other services.
“We told her what we wanted, we worked together, figured that out. And then it was ready to go in the fridge, so we didn’t have anything shipped to us or mailed to us. It was all fresh,” says Luke, “And then versus going out to eat, we were able to enjoy the meal at home around the table away from the distractions and the time that it might take to go out to eat. If you’re going out to eat it might take you an hour to two hours by the time you drive there, sit down, get the meal, head back home. And so not only did we get to enjoy a quiet meal and talk about the experiences of the day but we saved a lot of time over going out to eat. And the cost differences really wasn’t anything more expensive than going out to eat.”
A family of four will pay Doerr around $400 for a weeks worth of meals. Doerr charges a set amount for the meals and then adds in the price of groceries so the costs vary depending on the types meals.
Doerr says her main goal is to make it easier for families to sit down and have a meal together.
“I’m hoping that they just get time spent together around the table without the hassle,” says Doerr, “You know, after work when you’re already stressed, if you have to go grocery shopping and cook while everyone is running around it’s difficult. So to be able to say, you know, just take this out, pop it in the oven. You know, relax, wind down, get your kids ready for dinner, get yourself ready for dinner, sit down, enjoy a meal, and go about your night. It’s just a really nice way to give back some time and some peace of mind for the family.”
Doerr says so far she has gotten a great response from the people in Sioux Falls, especially those who are on specialty diets. She says it’s meaningful to provide delicious food for those who don’t have a lot of other options.