By Week 2 of lockdown, Said Dabbagh was over cooking.
“I love good food, but making every meal for myself is a little much,” Dabbagh, the chief marketing officer for haircare brand Fekkai, tells The Post. “And with delivery, I can’t always get exactly what I want, how I want it.”
So when Dabbagh heard that Edouard Massih — an “amazing” caterer who he had once used for a dinner party — was taking custom orders, he pounced.
“He was making home-cooked Lebanese food and putting it in Ubers to deliver to clients,” says Dabbagh, who lives in Chelsea. “I jumped to hire him.”
At a time when most New Yorkers are stocking their pantries with beans and brushing up on their sauteing skills, those with deeper pockets are turning to private chefs to stay nourished. And they’ve never had more to choose from: Across the city, high-end caterers and restaurant chefs are newly unemployed and desperate for work.
“People in the food industry are doing anything to stay afloat,” says Dara Pollak, the food blogger and restaurant consultant behind the Instagram @SkinnyPigNYC.
Massih, for example, went from doing between 16 and 18 catering events a week pre-corona era for clients such as Hermès and Spotify to … crickets.
“I needed to find a way to make a living,” he says. “So I got the idea of offering the services of a private chef, but remotely.”
To drum up business, he sent a newsletter to past clients debuting a “Quarantine Survival” menu, filled with Middle Eastern classics like garlic labneh and chicken tagine with couscous. The idea worked: Massih now has around 25 bulk orders per week, ranging from $100 to $400 each and with varying levels of customization for well-heeled clients like Dabbagh.
Meanwhile, Shay Zach, a real-estate developer from Williamsburg, turned to an app to satisfy his pandemic appetite. Launched in early March, WoodSpoon allows prospective clients to browse from a list of 60 “verified home chefs” who’ve completed a “comprehensive food-safety training program.” Profiles list cooks’ culinary bona fides, what they typically make and their willingness to tailor meals to your tastes. Zach has been ordering dishes — which can cost $40 a plate — three or four times a week.
“I like that I can change the chef depending on what I’m in the mood to eat and have the food customized to me,” says Zach, who’s been requesting vegetable tarts, chicken souvlaki sandwiches and jachnun, a traditional Yemenite breakfast pastry.
Meanwhile, upscale catering company Rapt Hospitality — which employs vets of Manhattan hot spots like Masa and Per Se — has found its coronavirus-era niche by catering to the masses. In February, the company launched its Crave-In menu concept: basically, big, soothing, caloric platters of whatever you’re in the mood for.
“You call us with your comfort-food craving, whether that’s French onion soup, a three-cheese lasagna or chicken tikka masala, and we make and deliver it to you,” says owner Andrew Maturana. It’s been popular, which helps to make up for the price differential for Maturana: Whereas he typically charges up to $250 a head for an event, his Crave-In setup starts at $105 per person for three days’ worth of food.
“People are saying that they want to be stocked with multiple heat-and-eat meals,” says Maturana, who says he’s glad to work at a more accessible price point for now. “Some have been placing multiple orders at once.”
Remote cheffing may be the hot new thing, but traditional, in-house private chefs are still going strong for the uber-wealthy — in some cases, even stronger. The Culinistas, a traditional private chef company with a presence in the city, the Hamptons and Los Angeles, has “gotten new clients” during the pandemic, according to co-founder Tiana Tenet.
“When people thought that this lockdown was going to be a few weeks, they were OK with takeout or cooking,” she says. “Now that they’re realizing that this could go on for a few months, they’re looking to outside help.”
So why haven’t they gone remote?
“We believe it is much more sanitary and safer for a chef to come to your house and cook in your kitchen,” says Tenet, whose chefs charge around $250 before groceries per appointment and hail from top-notch restaurants such as the French Laundry and Carbone. “We’ve told everyone who works for us to wear a mask and gloves when they’re on the job, and we also advise clients to be in another room or leave their home when the chef is there.”
Even with precautionary measures, some are opposed to these new chef setups.
“During this sensitive time, I think it’s selfish to continue with private chefs,” says food Instagrammer Kimia Kalbasi, whose handle is @kimiaskravings. She’s especially disturbed to hear that people are still working with, and even newly hiring, in-home private cooks. “Everyone’s health comes first.”
But as long as you’re taking sensible precautions and you have the cash, it’s well worth it, says Dabbagh. He’s content to live off remote chef Massih’s lemon chicken, dips, tagine and orzo soup until life returns to normal.
“I usually share the food with friends and have enough for three days of meals for myself,” he says. “It hits the spot every time.”
Source: Thanks https://nypost.com/2020/04/14/i-hired-a-private-chef-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/