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No time to cook? Try a personal chef

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Personal chef Stephanie Podell grills asparagus on her back porch grill.

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Stephanie Podell of Oak Park is at her local supermarket most mornings before 8 a.m. - scouring shelves for the freshest ingredients. The rest of her day is spent in commercial kitchens across the city and suburbs, cleaning, prepping and preparing modern recipes like beet and feta cheese tarts, Cajun-style fish or chicken tikka masala.

But none of the food is for Podell. By mid-afternoon, she packs everything into her car and delivers it to her clients' home or office. Podell is the chef/owner of the personal chef service Let's Eat Home (

"The shopping and packing is sometimes the cruelest part of the day. Once I get down to the cooking, it becomes a little more joyous," Podell said.

At 11, Podell began cooking in her grandmother's kitchen in Westchester, N.Y.

"Like in the Julia Child movie, 'Julie & Julia,' I would try different recipes, making one dish after another," she recalled.

A popular meal this time of year is grilled asparagus with potato-crusted salmon.

"I love crisp," Podell said. "The salmon is encrusted in really nice, crispy potatoes. It's almost like the feel of potato pancakes."

Eighteen months ago, Jean Burow began hiring Podell to cook for her and her husband, Bob, about every three weeks. The Winnetka couple is retired, but Burow searched online for a personal chef to help out with the demanding cooking schedule required to accommodate their special diets. Burow maintains a diet low in salt and fat; her husband avoids gluten.

"Almost every recipe includes flour or dairy," Burow said. "With special dietary needs, you end up having to make everything from scratch."

But Podell works with Burow, planning menus that will fit the couple's diet needs.

"Sometimes we talk over the menu; sometimes Stephanie surprises us," Burow said.

Making room for Podell's services in their budget has not been difficult for the Burows, who eat in restaurants less now since they hired Stephanie.

"If you go out to eat, you spend about the same," Burow said.

Kathy Dederich, chef/owner of personal chef service Chef, Please! (, delivers foods she prepares in commercial kitchens to client homes, catering parties and dinner parties. She has cooked party foods three times for a family in Winnetka. The couple are raising three children and maintaining busy work schedules in the financial industry. But with Dederich planning the menu and making the food, her clients can entertain at home, serving homemade foods.

"Guests come into the kitchen to see what I am doing," Dederich said.

Dederich's Asian meatball recipe is a favorite appetizer. She wraps them with water chestnuts in peapods and serves the meatballs with sauce made with garlic, ginger and sriracha, a hot chili sauce.

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