Dolores Lane is glad to stay out of the kitchen while Leslie Chapman (left) and Christopher Watts of Chefs for Seniors prepare meals she ll enjoy for the next two weeks. Photo: C.W. Cameron
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Atlanta chef service aims to help seniors

“I would have loved to have had this 20 years ago.”

Dolores Lane says this as she and I are sitting in the living room of her Buckhead condo. We’re watching Leslie Chapman and Christopher Watts of Chefs for Seniors prepare the four dinners Lane has chosen: salmon with mustard-dill sauce to be served with rice pilaf and broccoli; mushroom and spinach quiche with sauteed Brussels sprouts; blackened tilapia with roasted sweet potatoes and sauteed spinach; and grilled chicken with sauteed mushrooms and roasted rosemary potatoes.

Leslie Chapman, owner of the Atlanta franchise of Chefs for Seniors, chats with client Dolores Lane. It’s important for the chef and the client to get to know each other, and conversation about food preferences and cooking are part of the service. Photo: C.W. Cameron
Photo: For the AJC

The smells are mouthwatering, the food is fresh and appealing, and Lane hasn’t had to lift a finger. For the two-and-a-half hours Chapman and Watts will work, Lane will read the paper, enjoy a book and listen to music.

When Chapman and Watts leave, Lane will have two to four servings of each of the dishes from her chosen menu, all stashed away in individual servings in her refrigerator or freezer. With meals out and leftovers, she has enough for dinner for the next two weeks. (And, in two weeks, Chefs for Seniors likely will be back to do it all again.)

When Chefs for Seniors arrives at a client’s home, they bring everything that’s needed, from the groceries to pots and pans and knives and seasonings. Here, Christopher Watts unpacks the pans he ll need to prepare salmon with mustard-dill sauce. Photo: C.W. Cameron
Photo: For the AJC

Lane lives independently in her condo, which is not a building designed with senior services in mind. There is no meal plan, no dining room with set times for meals. She doesn’t drive, so she has help in order to go to the grocery store once a week, where she can purchase what she needs for breakfast and lunch.

Chefs for Seniors provides a personal chef who shops for her groceries right before the visit, and comes to her kitchen to prepare her meals. She enjoys the personalized service and having someone “wait” on her. Chefs for Seniors brings everything. The groceries, every pot and pan, every knife, every stirring spoon. They cook, and then they clean up after themselves.

Leslie Chapman of Chefs for Seniors shops for the produce needed to prepare meals that day for Dolores Lane. The cost of the groceries for Chef for Seniors meals is separate from the fee for the preparation of the meals. Photo: Chefs for Seniors
Photo: For the AJC

“Really, they leave the kitchen cleaner than when they came,” Lane said.

Lane downsized to the condo from a large home where she prepared all the meals for a family of six. “I cooked for my family, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. Now, I have no desire to gather the ingredients and make a big stew. I don’t miss it at all.”

It was her daughters who found Chefs for Seniors and signed her up for the service. Chefs for Seniors is designed to help keep seniors in their homes. When someone no longer can, or wants to, cook for themselves, their nutrition often declines. And, with poor eating comes the increased chance the senior will become ill or frail or fall.

Chapman is a franchisee of Chefs for Seniors, opening her business at the end of last year. She had been working in senior housing, and knew there were folks who didn’t want to move into assisted living, but who needed help with eating properly. “When I heard about Chefs for Seniors, it just connected for me. My husband has been an executive chef for several years, and this seemed very much on purpose for us, matching my understanding of seniors with his culinary background. We knew there was a need.”

Clients can pay a set fee that covers preparation of four entrees, including the accompaniments. The chef takes care of the menu planning, grocery shopping and preparation of the meals, and each serving is packaged with instructions for reheating. And, they customize those reheating instructions, since every microwave is different. The only additional charge is for the groceries themselves.

Each week, clients can choose from 12 menu items, selecting the four they’d like prepared. The menu choices are designed to be healthy, but the chefs can customize for client preference and health issues. The price for the standard service, preparing four meals of either two or four servings each, is $129, plus the cost of the groceries.

Other services available include having the chefs prepare the client’s family recipes, or chefs can come to the home to cook a meal for a party, or for visiting family.

“We want our clients to be comfortable with our chefs and make every effort to consistently send the same chef,” Chapman said. “All our chefs have some level of experience in working with seniors.”

She’s found that it’s typically the next generation that signs mom or dad up for the service. “They’re doing everything they can to help their parents stay in their home, whether it be hiring a housekeeper, or a home health aide. A personal chef helps ensure that parent is eating well.”

For Lane, a personal chef service does more than just provide meals. “I wouldn’t want to be in a place where you had to take all your meals with everyone else,” she said. “This helps me keep my independence.”

Chapman said what surprised her was the need. “We think eating poorly is an economic problem, but we can go into million-dollar homes, and the seniors there are malnourished. I will hear, ‘I know mom isn’t really eating. She just nibbles.’ Having us come into their homes, and prepare their meals, they interact with us and they’ve had a say in what they are eating. So they eat better.”

Having the chef come to their home also provides something else some seniors crave. “It’s the interaction,” Chapman said. “We’ve done a lot of research, and when you look, for example, at meal delivery services, what seniors want are engaging experiences. They give them a meal and then they leave. Our chefs are in that kitchen for two or three hours. Our clients look forward to our visits, and they’re getting fresh food, customized to their taste.”