September 14, 2019

The Personal Chef Who Hustles to Create Healthy Meals

“When you’re in culinary school, there isn’t a night of drinking that doesn’t end in cooking an entire feast,” personal chef Alyssa Samowitz said. 

However, she quickly added that “feast” does not necessarily denote good — or even edible — food. She cited the night she and her inebriated peers at Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales University thought it would be an excellent idea to combine pizza bites, ground beef and chicken nuggets (everything in their freezer), cover it with cheese and sauce and bake it. 

Samowitz, 27, said her mother inspired her love for cooking: “It was a survival skill,” she explained. When she was a teenager, her mother went back to school and her father took over the cooking. For weeks on end, she and her brothers were fed hotdogs on a daily basis until one day she told her father he was fired from the kitchen. By trial and error (mostly error), Samowitz taught herself to cook. Her first recipe was one printed on the back of a packet of chips and her first attempt at sautéed broccoli consisted of boiling three cups of canola oil. “It’s no Jamie Oliver story,” she said, laughing. 

A New York native, Samowitz graduated from Johnson & Wales in 2013 and the following day made aliyah. She began working at Mike’s Place, a restaurant-bar in Tel Aviv and the only place where the tickets are written in English. However, long hours, weekend shifts and poor pay drove Samowitz to quit the restaurant scene a year and a half later. 

“The first thing they tell you [in culinary school] is that if you want a happy life, this is not the career for you,” she said. So Samowitz took a job working in a kindergarten — an experience that would later prove indispensable in her business as a personal chef. 

“I made a rule that at any given time, something should always be in the oven, at least two things on the stovetop and something on the cutting board.”

Figuring she should pursue another career, in 2015 Samowitz enrolled in an online bachelor of arts program in disability education. Needing a side hustle, she advertised homemade meals on a popular local Facebook page and was floored by the sheer volume of responses. That same weekend, she opened a meal delivery business called Gourmet TLV. “I realized there was a huge market for people who were busy but who wanted to eat healthily,” she said. 

One of her regular clients badgered Samowitz to stop the meal deliveries and cook in their home instead. It took a while for her to oblige. “I was anxious about having people watch me cook.” But there were definitely upsides. Because they were the ones paying for the groceries, she had more flexibility and creativity in her cooking. 

Samowitz honed her skills for six months before dropping the meal deliveries altogether and becoming a personal chef, spending three hours in a family’s home and cooking food for the entire week. “The art is knowing how to pace yourself. I made a rule that at any given time, something should always be in the oven, at least two things on the stovetop and something on the cutting board.” 

Samowitz’s new business model has been a boon for parents who are struggling to “do it all.” Still, she said, the choice to hire her comes with a lot of guilt for many mothers. “They tell me, ‘I do know how to cook, you know.’ Like they have to justify themselves. Like, would you ever tell your cleaner, ‘I also know how to clean?’”