Cook Key

The holidays mean warm family gatherings highlighted by good food. That is, for those who know their way around a stove. But for all the busy people who have helped Arizona's restaurant industry become the nation's second-fastest growing, a stove is simply a place to store pizza boxes.

Yet there's no denying the appeal of a home-cooked meal, and sometimes restaurant takeout just doesn't cut it. The compromise? One of the fastest-growing segments in the food industry: personal chefs. The United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA) has exploded from about 500 people in 1995 to about 5,000 in all 50 states today, including 16 in the Valley. Even during the economic slowdown, diners are indulging, justified by the fact that the price for a heat-and-eat custom meal still costs less than most restaurant tabs. Pricing varies, but local personal chefs have plans ranging from $7 to $9 per plate per person to $15 to $18 per plate per person.

Customers can act like big shots, too, detailing tastes, dietary preferences, special ingredients and whatever whim they choose for a personalized menu. After the menu is approved, the personal culinary slave shows up for a daylong cooking extravaganza. The chef brings most of the equipment, and even cleans the place at the end.

USPCA certification means personal chefs have completed a training program ensuring their cooking skills are professional. Certified chefs in the Valley include:

Affordable Gourmet, Phoenix,

Your Kitchen Angels, Phoenix, Hoyt

Voila! PCS, Phoenix,

Casa Cuisine, Phoenix,

JW Cooks!, Mesa,

Tastefully Yours PCS, Glendale,

Le Chef PCS, Phoenix, La

Elizabeth's PCS, Chandler,

Neighborhood Chef PCS, Mesa,

Fit Foods PCS LLC, Scottsdale,

To Your Taste, Scottsdale,

Classic Home Cuisine, Mesa,

Body Chef, Gilbert,

Chef Chez Vous, Chandler,

Nanny & Poppy's, Surprise,

TLC Personal Chef Service, Surprise, Richard

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