Paducah Sun Article

‘Desperate’ for dinner
Personal chef helps busy women whip up dinners

By Leigh Landini Wright

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

After a long day as a speech therapist at Lone Oak Elementary School, Kelly Walker doesn’t want to spend her spare time in the kitchen.

She would rather spend her time with her husband, 18-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter and eat at the table, not in the car or on the go. That’s why Walker and a handful of friends have jokingly dubbed themselves the “Desperate Housewives” when they meet once a month with personal chef Holly Heath to prepare five meals they can stash in the freezer.

Heath, a former Enron accountant turned professional chef, runs At Your Table personal chef services in Paducah and Nashville, Tenn.

“I take the meal out of the freezer the night before and then pop it in the oven put a couple of vegetables with it and we have a hot meal,” Walker said. “It’s a wonderful thing, and my kids love it.”

Becky Haus, development director at West Kentucky Community & Technical College, assembled a group of friends, all busy career women, to meet once a month in a home where Heath could demonstrate recipes, offer cooking tips and help the women prepare meals they could later cook at their homes.

The “Desperate Housewives” are Haus, Walker, Gina Leeper, Suzanne Farmer, Whitni Stratemeyer and Melanie McNeill, who met through a charitable organization. All but Leeper have children as well as careers. Farmer is public affairs coordinator at Lourdes hospital. Stratemeyer is a federal court clerk, and McNeill is a vice president at Paducah Bank.

Haus already knew how to cook, but she said the sessions have expanded her ideas. She splits the five meals in half to give her family 10 meals.

“I can make a couple of things over a weekend and put it in the freezer,” Haus said.

For Leeper, it’s the convenience of being able to quickly assemble a meal at home rather than eating out. With her schedule at Talbot’s and husband Bob’s calendar filled with his work as a chiropractor and state senator, she said they often don’t get home until the evening.

“I don’t like to eat out a lot,” she said.

Walker likes the convenience of the monthly meal service plus being able to control the fat and sodium content of her family’s meals. That’s something she can’t do when they eat out.

“I don’t think people realize how many chemicals are in (fast) food,” Heath said. “There are so few options” for eating out healthily.

Heath does all “chopping and shopping,” provides the heat-and-serve containers, plans the menus and provides the women with instructions. On a recent evening, Heath’s menu was brown sugar meatloaf, apricot pork medallions, southwestern chicken lasagna, chicken with artichoke cream sauce and baked ziti.

“These are recipes that I’d cut out of a magazine,” Stratemeyer said. “It’s wonderful that she (Heath) does all the shopping and chopping.”

As the women chatted about their lives, careers and children, they layered tortilla shells in the bottom of a pan and then smothered those with a spicy chicken, tomato, bean and corn mixture and layers of cheese. The lasagna must bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

“By doing this and going into someone’s home, I’m saving them 10 hours a week,” Heath said, estimating the time required for grocery shopping and meal preparation.

The women also have picked up cooking tips. Stratemeyer learned how to make homemade bread crumbs in her food processor rather than buying a box at the store. Heath also showed the women how to make meatloaf without having to mash the meat with their hands. Heath assembles the meatloaf recipe in a zippered plastic bag and rolls the ingredients around inside. No mess. After the women get home, they can place the meatloaf in a pan for freezing.

Heath was trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She has lived in Paducah for about a year. Like the “Desperate Housewives,” her job as a corporate accountant left very little time for cooking. She laughs that she didn’t learn how to cook until she was 32. She’s now 36. Heath also is a member of the Personal Chefs Network.

Holly Heath, At Your Table: 816-4320 or atyourtablepcs@comcast.net.

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