Title: Isn't there somebody who could come in and cook?

Source: Yankee, Oct98, Vol. 62 Issue 10, p88, 8p

Author: Pierce, Barbara


Focuses on the schedule of Cheryl Mochau, a personal chef, in Salem, Massachusetts. Insight into her daily job; Number of meals per day Mochau cooks for her customers; Comments from Mochau; What Mochau's menu entails; Information on her schedule of each family she cooks for; Highlights of her recipes; Methods used to make the recipes.

AN: 1125420

ISSN: 0044-0191


That somebody is Cheryl Mochau, "personal chef" to people who don't have the time to do it themselves

Salem, Massachusetts, 11:30 A.M. -- It's raining: not a torrential downpour, but hard enough to turn the quickest errand into a major inconvenience, the type of day when Cheryl Mochau's customers appreciate her more than ever. Cheryl is a "personal chef," who comes to her clients' homes, groceries in tow, and cooks five days' worth of low-fat meals at a time.

"Clients particularly like this part," says Cheryl. "They don't have to shop in foul weather. And," she laughs, "they don't have to worry about dodging the cookie aisle."

Cheryl and I hop into her little sports car-- no van, no logo -- and set out for the grocery store. We're shopping for her afternoon client. I missed the part where she's up at 6:30 A.M., reviewing the menus for the day while drinking her morning coffee. "It's a nice, relaxed way to plan," she says.

Relaxed is not a word that would describe her previous life. Cheryl is from Connecticut, where she spent years working six days a week as the cafeteria manager for the University of Hartford, a job that ran from early morning until eight or nine o'clock at night. Her business, called Cheryl Really Cooks!, was born there, not long after she got married, when she dragged herself home from work -- late again -- and found Geoff, her husband, waiting for her, fast asleep in his chair. When she woke him, he looked at her and said, "I thought you would never come."

Starting a personal chef service might sound risky, but Cheryl's confidence has been borne out by seven successful years in business. Today's dual-income families with their snug schedules often find it "too much of a hassle to pull dinner together and have everybody sit down to eat it," she points out. "But if the food is already there, it's easier."

And there's no comparison with ordinary takeout. Cheryl keeps detailed files on each client, listing everything from allergies to the food preferences and appetites of every family member. She also maintains separate inventory sheets for staples; keeping customers' cupboards stocked is part of the service.

Sidestepping puddles, we hurry into the supermarket. Cheryl's list is set up to match the layout of the store, and shopping takes us less than 25 minutes. "Food needs some fat to give it roundness and flavor," she says as she buys some pine nuts, but the emphasis is definitely low fat.

"I've lost a few pounds since she started cooking for us," acknowledges Joanne Campbell, this afternoon's client, who hired Cheryl after reading about her in the local paper. "My husband and I used to ask ourselves: Isn't there somebody who could come in and cook? We were eating out most of the week. It was too much trouble to make meals every night. There's too much else to do with small kids."

When we arrive at the Campbell's, the rain has let up. I help Cheryl carry in the groceries, along with her briefcase -- a slim, black, executive-looking tote and a large gym bag, the contents of both as yet a mystery.

Once inside, I discover that the briefcase contains Cheryl's favorite knives, her own personal "quality control" tools (spoons and forks for taste-testing), and a number of specialty items I have never seen before. I hold up an oddly shaped tool, with a wavy edge.

"What's this?"

"A zucchini/soft vegetable cutter," Cheryl says. "Even when I use the same vegetables over again for several dishes, I'll cut them into different shapes for each one."

From the gym bag, Cheryl pulls pan after pan, intricately stacked to fit just right. She prefers to use her own pans because, she says, "I know how they cook." There' s a large pan for cooking pasta, a few saucepans, baking pans, bowls, two cutting boards ("one for vegetables, one for meat," explains Cheryl), a colander, a hand mixer -- and her radio.

With a light jazz station playing softly in the background, Cheryl waltzes through the simultaneous preparation of several meals. The menu in front of me makes my mouth water: Greek penne with artichokes, tomato-topped chicken with potatoes, boneless pork chops with mushrooms and onion, pasta primavera (a double batch, since it is a Campbell favorite, with bowtie pasta "just for fun," says Cheryl), ramen pilaf, rice pilaf with vegetables, and fruit salad.

From my perch on a stool behind the Campbell's kitchen island, I watch as Cheryl sets water to boil for the ramen pilaf, then cuts russet potatoes into wafer thin slices. They will be the "nests" upon which the tender, tomato-topped boneless (and skinless) chicken breasts will later be placed. More water is boiling for the Greek penne and the pasta primavera, more vegetables need to be chopped.

The lean, boneless pork chops sizzle in a pan on top of the stove. "You look great," Cheryl tells the chops, which are just beginning to turn a delicious caramel color. She glances at me, then smiles sheepishly. "I usually work alone, so I do talk to my food. Mostly things like, 'Come on, you guys, cook!' or 'Looking good!'"

Cheryl transfers the completed meals into the Campbell's storage containers. While the food cools off (so it won't overwork the refrigerator), she slices fresh fruit for the family's fruit salad, making sure there is plenty of pineapple because Brian, the Campbell's six-year-old, loves it.

Once the fruit salad is finished, it's just past 4:00 P.M.: Time to pack and clean up. Five days' worth of prepared food is in the fridge, some of it already on garnished platters. In the middle of the scrubbed, now-empty kitchen island, Cheryl places the grocery bill, her bill, and menu suggestions for next week. (Joanne will call her later in the day to discuss them.) Before we leave, she gives another quick glance to make sure all is in order: counters gleaming, stovetop shining -- nothing left behind but a well stocked refrigerator and the sweet smell of a job well done.


adapted from those used by Cheryl Mochau

As Cheryl-- who has become an expert in the art of just done -- was quick to point out, meat and fish should be fully cooked, even if you do intend to heat them again later. (Partially cooked protein is an ideal breeding ground for dangerous bacteria.) If you're in a make-ahead mood, be sure to cool the food down as quickly as you can, refrigerate promptly, and reheat thoroughly. For best results, reheat with a microwave, not on the stovetop.

tomato-topped chicken with potatoes

This recipe was originally intended for fish fillets, but "chicken is so versatile, it takes to these flavors beautifully," says Cheryl.

4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed
vegetable cooking spray
pinch of black pepper
2 cups ripe tomato, diced
4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
12 kalamata olives, pitted, sliced
4 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with vegetable cooking spray. Slice potatoes 1/4 inch thick, spread evenly on pan in a single layer. Spray the potatoes briefly. Sprinkle on pepper. Bake until browned on one side, about 20 minutes.

2. In a small bowl combine everything else but the chicken. Set aside.

3. Rinse and dry the chicken, remove any visible fat, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

4. When the potatoes are brown, divide them into 4 portions. Working on the same baking sheet, make each portion into a "nest," overlapping the slices in a circle, browned sides up.

5. Place a chicken breast on each nest and cover the top with tomato mixture. Return to the oven and bake until the chicken is just cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on thickness.

Makes 4 servings.

salmon teriyaki

Fish farming has made salmon one of the most dependable fish in the market. Its (comparatively) high fat content makes it an ideal candidate for the broiler, and this intense sauce is just the right counterpoint.

1 1/2 pounds skinless salmon fillet
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of cayenne
4 sprigs parsley or coriander
4 lemon wedges

1. Rinse and dry the salmon. Heat the broiler.

2. Combine all remaining ingredients except parsley and lemon wedges in a shallow broiler pan. Coat the salmon with the mixture, making sure all surfaces are covered. Spoon most of the ginger and garlic bits on top and place under the broiler.

3. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Watch closely; as soon as it flakes easily to the touch, it's done.

Serve hot, garnished with herb sprigs and lemon wedges

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

north shore scallops

Cheryl depends on the "incredibly fresh fish" she gets on the North Shore of Boston to make this simple dish a standout.

1 1/2 pounds very fresh sea scallops
I large lemon, cut in half
1/4 cup white wine
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon salt pinch of black pepper
4 to 6 parsley sprigs

1. Rinse the scallops under cold running water. Cut them to a uniform thickness, if necessary, and set aside. Cut half the lemon into 6 wedges and set aside.

2. Squeeze the juice of the other lemon half into a large, nonreactive skillet and add wine. Place the scallops in the pan in a single layer and put it over medium heat. Within a minute or so scallops should begin to turn opaque.

3. Sprinkle on minced parsley, salt, and pepper, then turn the scallops (a pair of tongs works well). Let cook another minute or two, just until opaque on the bottom. Do not overcook! Remove scallops and some of the juice to a serving dish and garnish with parsley sprigs and reserved lemon wedges.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

yellow split-pea soup

The old-fashioned favorite, warming and simple. Embellish it, if you like, with a sprinkling of minced chives and parsley or a dollop of salsa.

1 pound yellow split peas
8 cups chicken broth, defatted
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 cup minced onion
1/2 cup finely minced celery
1/2 cup finely minced carrots
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Rinse and pick over peas. Discard any stones or discolored peas.

2. Bring broth to a boil. Add split peas, cover, and boil for 2 minutes, then shut off heat and let stand for 30 minutes.

3. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat and let bubble gently, uncovered, for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time.

4. Remove soup from heat, remove the bay leaf, then puree. Return the soup to the heat and continue to cook, stirring often, until nicely thickened, about 10 minutes.

5. Taste the soup and correct seasonings. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

Note: Split-pea soup thickens as it cools. If the soup needs to be reheated, add broth or water to thin to the correct consistency.

elegant pear saute

These pears are delicious all by themselves, either hot or cold. They also go beautifully with raspberry sherbet -- or ice cream (vanilla is especially nice).

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
4 ripe pears, Bosc or Bartlett
1 tablespoon butter 3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
4 mint sprigs orange zest (optional)

1. Place orange juice in a nonreactive bowl. Peel, core, and slice the pears thin, lengthwise, dropping the slices into the juice as they are prepared. Stir to make sure all the pears are covered with juice.

2. Drain off all pear liquid into a large, nonreactive saute pan, add the butter, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the pear slices and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Turn them and keep simmering until they are cooked through, about 5 minutes more, then, using a slotted spoon, remove them to a deep serving plate.

3. In a small cup, blend the sugar and cornstarch together with I/4 cup of cold water. Whisk the mixture into the juice in the pan and simmer until slightly thickened. Remove from heat, add vanilla and almond extracts, and stir to blend. Pour sauce over pears. Garnish with mint sprigs and orange zest if desired.

Makes 4 servings -- 6 to 8 if served with sherbet.

Variation: Eliminate almond extract, add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and mint sprig.

Makes 4 servings.

PHOTO (COLOR): Ready when you are - and low fat, too: Cheryl's tomato-topped chicken, accented with capers, olives, and herbs.
[Photo by Scott Little, with styling by Janet Pittman]

PHOTO (COLOR): 6:30 sip morning coffee, review the day's menus.
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (COLOR): 6:45 out to garden to pick herbs for garnishes
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (COLOR): 7:00 Load car with tools and supplies
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (COLOR): 7:15 Arrive at grocery store, start shopping
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (COLOR): 7:20 List matches the grocery store layout
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (COLOR): 7:40 Leave grocery store with day's food
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (COLOR): These elegant pears in spiced orange sauce may be garnished with ice cream, if you want to splurge
[Photo by Scott Little, with styling by Janet Pittman]

PHOTO (COLOR): 8:00 Arrive at client's. Call for fish or produce
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (B&W): 8:10 Unpack briefcase with special supplies
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (COLOR): 8:20 Sharpen knives, start preparing the meal
[Photo by Ilene Perlman]

PHOTO (COLOR): Super-quick salmon Japanese-style. (It's good with rice, too.)
[Photo by Scott Little, with styling by Janet Pittman]

By Barbara Pierce

Copyright of Yankee is the property of Yankee Publishing Inc. and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user. Source: Yankee, Oct98, Vol. 62 Issue 10, p88, 8p. Item Number: 1125420

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