Top Personal Chefs

Top Personal Chefs

At your service

Want restaurant-quality meals at home? The best personal chefs serve it up with a smile.
By Karen Solomon

Eating is a high art in the Bay Area, and people have come to expect a certain level of culinary excitement each time they sit down at the table. But who has the chops to cook fabulous food every day, or the social stamina to go out every time they feel uninspired? That’s why it’s quietly becoming less of a statement in the Bay Area to pony up for personal chefs for a night or a month, or to cook as part of the family. With all the culinary school grads the region produces, the market is ripe on the vine. Those in the know dished on these five, who make eating at home feel like the ultimate luxury.

1
JOEL BAECKER
A Chez Panisse alumnus and recent dad, Baecker offers stress relief on a platter to the new-parent market, cooking for folks who are too busy to even think about putting a real meal on the table. He not only cooks and delivers, he also retrieves last week’s unwashed containers. And for a cool five grand per month, he’ll custom-design a menu with items like poached halibut in coriander broth; red wine risotto; and chicken with saffron, green olives, and mint. 415-238-3291.

2
MARCUS RIOS
This drawling North Carolina native is dazzling San Franciscans with his blackened catfish with succotash and slow-cooked leg of lamb—and unlike many personal chefs, he’ll either drop the food off or cook in your kitchen. A family of four can get three dinners for $225 a week—not bad considering that Rios trained at Boulevard and gets most of his ingredients from the nothing-but-the-best Berkeley Bowl. 415-350-3113, www.chefmarcusrios.com.

3
TRACI HIGGINS
The head chef behind DiningIn wants to do more than just cook you dinner; she wants to make you healthy. “I have a lot of corporate clients who never leave their desks,” Higgins says, which would explain their need for extra-healthy meals. Her menu features lightened staples such as shrimp scampi and chicken enchiladas. She’ll also hook clients up with nutritionists and personal trainers to help them walk the walk between meals. 415-255-2433, www.dininginsf.com.

4
JANE PEAL
Most of Peal’s clients don’t share her philosophy of the flesh: she’s a committed vegetarian who trained at Greens. But they love her anyway, and who can blame them? A near-organic three-course meal for two is delivered to your door for a mere $30. The only catch is the set menu, which means that if Wednesday is Jamaican-squash-bisque-with-jerk-spices day, that’s what you get. But everything she makes is delicious, so it’s worth going with the flow. 415-826-2133, www.pealcuisine.com.

5
KAREN GIOIA
Gary Friedman, CEO of Restoration Hardware and former president of Williams-Sonoma employs Gioia full time, but just because we mortals can’t hire her doesn’t mean we can’t drool with envy. She’s cooked for wine god Kermit Lynch and at Oliveto and Chez Panisse, which still inform her culinary style. Imagine this: Monterey Fish sardines with wild-foraged fennel and Meyer lemon vinaigrette, homegrown vegetables, and a green garlic gratin made with Riverdog farms butterball potatoes. sorry, no dice.