Kitchen Help 

What to do when you want a cooked meal at home, but don't want to fix it

What to do when you want a cooked meal at home, but don't want to fix it

All over America—no, no, all over the world—sometime during the day, millions and millions of moms (and a few dozen dads) ponder that age-old global concern: What nutritious, balanced and delicious meal can I make my family tonight? In a 1,200-square-foot space in Nashville, Tenn., John Goddard is preparing the answer to that question, layering pasta, marinara sauce, béchamel sauce, spinach and cheese in a dozen aluminum pans. He pulls a tray of cooked spinach lasagnas out of his large commercial oven and replaces it with another tray of uncooked ones. Voilà! Nearly as precious as a sparkling piece of jewelry, as coveted as a new pair of shoes, it's a nutritious, balanced, delicious dinner for four, ready to heat and eat.

Take-away meals make up only a portion of business for ChefWorks, the catering company John and Jeannette Goddard started in 1997—but they're the thing that overworked and under-helped Nashville women turn to time and again when the clock and hunger pangs strike 5.

The Goddards met nearly 20 years ago, fell in love and married in 1991. They were both working at Maryland Farms, when they received an inquiry from Anne Clay at Bread & Company. At the time, the artisan bakery was only making breads and pastries, with outside contractors providing prepared foods. Clay was making a change in her food suppliers and asked the Goddards if they'd be interested in the job. They were interested enough to form ChefWorks.

As their food became known through Bread & Company's clientele, customers started asking them to cater private dinners and events. That business grew and grew, until ChefWorks and Bread & Company amicably parted ways in 1999. The Goddards decided to focus on their catering business, taking over a commercial kitchen space in Berry Hill that had formerly been leased by Clean Plate Club.

Ironically, they found that now their catering customers were asking about their take-away food. "Our clients were asking where they could just get some lasagna or chicken salad for their homes," remembers Jeanette, who handles sales and marketing for the business. "So we figured there was probably a niche for that and looked around for a place to sell directly to the customer."

They approached locally owned grocers H.G.Hill, who agreed to devote space to ChefWorks foods in their Belle Meade and Green Hills stores. Several times a week, the caterer delivers take-away portioned casseroles, soups, pasta dishes, pot pies and side salads, all labeled with the distinctive ChefWorks logo; John Goddard, the primary chef, typically makes a quantity of a few different items. He figures he prepares 300 pounds of chicken salad every week. "Probably because of cooking shows and The Food Network, people think being a chef is a glamorous, exciting business. I love my work, but I spend a lot of time during the day chopping chicken."

With the pending closing of the Hill's markets, the Goddards are seeking other retail outlets for their popular line—hopefully before clients have to spend a lot of time seeking them. When the new 12th South Market and Deli started stocking its shelves, consultant Daisy King suggested to owner Will Shuff that he sample some of the line. The specialty market has its own kitchen for sandwiches, salads and a few other items, but ChefWorks take-away meals can be found in the cooler case against the rear wall of the store. Most will feed two to four, with a price range of just under $10 to $14.

12th South Market and Deli is at 2318 12th Ave. S. And for the time being, ChefWorks items can still be found in the H.G. Hill stores on Harding Road and Hillsboro Road.

The Panhandler, at your service

For years, cooking was Keith Anderson's passion. By day, he was an engineer in the aerospace industry. By night, he was a home chef—albeit a highly trained one who had attended the Culinary Academy in Napa, Calif., before taking an engineering job in Decatur, Ala. He and his wife settled in Nashville, so when he tired of the commute, he enrolled in Brain Spa, a program presented by InSight Partners to help people focus on their strengths and find their calling. Many of his fellow enrollees were women, and once they heard of Anderson's kitchen pedigree, they noted time and again their need for home-cooked meals—prepared by someone other than themselves.

Anderson went home, Googled "personal chef" and discovered the American Personal Chef Association, a networking and support group for the field. After passing all the necessary health department certifications, he went into business as The Panhandler.

His service differs from ChefWorks in that he actually comes into the client's kitchen and cooks a meal, selected from a list of soups, casseroles, main dishes and side dishes. Typically, he will prepare three to five meals at a time; any more than four means that at least one has to go in the freezer.

Anderson shops in the mornings for the necessary products, then arrives at the client's home with the ingredients and tools to cook ragu alla Bolognese, campanelle with sausage and leeks, pot-roasted Mediterranean chicken or Alsatian stuffed cabbage. He suggests to clients that they purchase a half-dozen or so Pyrex dishes, as they are adaptable to oven or microwave.

Panhandler cleans up the kitchen before he leaves; many clients swear he leaves the place cleaner than he found it. Soups and casseroles to feed a family of four are $25; main dishes with a side dish for four are $35.

At his Web site, www.panhandlerchef.com, Anderson has posted a customer questionnaire, along with menu suggestions and information about his company. He can be reached by phone at 297-8289.

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