Personal Chefs Tell All

Four Bergen pros dish on their signature meals, crazy client requests and what can go wrong in the kitchen.



When you crave a night out or a day off from slaving over the stove, you and your family head to a restaurant, where a professional chef does the hard work. But what if you had your own pro, well-versed in what you’re allergic to—and what you have a secret fondness for? Personal chefs are trained cooks who prepare tasty, nutritionally sound meals in clients’ homes— and do shopping, menu planning and cleanup too. They even cater private dinner parties. BERGEN was curious about these obliging culinary specialists, so we found four of them based in the county and cooked up some questions.

MEIGANNE SERRANO, OWNER OF MEIGANNE SERRANO CATERING & EVENTS, GLEN ROCK

Known for: Catering upscale parties in the tri-state area, creating surprising flavor combinations with fresh, seasonal ingredients. 

What is your culinary background? 

“After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in 2002, I worked as a line cook in New York City, as a food stylist for the Food Network and as a chef at a catering company before opening up my own business as a personal chef and event caterer.”

How did you decide to become a personal chef? 

“While in school and working at restaurants and catering companies, I’ve always had a few private clients whom I worked for as a personal chef. I love this side of the business and getting to work with clients on a more intimate, one-on-one level.”

How would you describe your cooking style? 

“It’s very fresh and seasonal—I believe in using wonderful ingredients at their peak. I love creating little flavor surprises in my dishes—crispy capers, micro croutons, fresh salsas, homemade vinaigrettes, pickled vegetable slaws.”

What’s your inspiration? 

“I am a very visual person, and I don’t really follow recipes (except for when I’m baking!) so I get inspiration visually—for instance, through beautiful food photography in books and magazines, colorful fruit and vegetable displays at farmers’ markets, bottles of olive oil and artisan vinegars at specialty food shops. I actually get butterflies when I walk into certain food stores because the displays are so beautiful.”

Have you ever worked in a commercial kitchen? 

“I did, for a few years. I think it’s an important experience to have, and you learn many things, like how to work efficiently and cleanly in a small space, how to use industrial equipment and how to break down and work with large quantities of food.”

What is the most difficult part of your job? The most rewarding? 

“The most difficult part is the physicality. It takes a lot of stamina to stand on your feet for hours and hours on end. Also, my hands have taken a beating over the years with constant washing, chopping and lifting—they don’t look pretty anymore! The most rewarding part is the intimacy. I love getting to know clients and making them happy through my food and service.”

What local stores do you shop at? 

“Peter’s Fish Market in Midland Park, Waldwick Prime Meats and Goffle Poultry Farm are my go-tos. I also shop at Whole Foods quite often, and I recently discovered H-Mart on Route 17—it has a nice selection of organic produce and lots of other interesting and fun items.”

What are your favorite Bergen restaurants? 

“Soup Dumpling Plus in Fort Lee, Taverna Mykonos in Elmwood Park, Kimchi Mama in Fair Lawn and Saddle River Inn.”

Have you ever had a kitchen disaster? 

“Years ago, during a wedding reception, my assistant put way too many sternos in two large proofer cabinets and within minutes they were both completely on fire—flames were literally shooting out of them. This was in the kitchen of an old, historic mansion with floor-toceiling varnished wood. I think we were seconds away from setting the whole kitchen on fire. Thankfully, the fire was extinguished, dinner was served and the guests had no idea that any of this had happened behind the scenes. But I still get anxiety thinking about it!”

What do you do when you’re not working? 

“I love spending time with my three kids and my husband. We love to be outdoors hiking, biking and taking day trips. And we usually end up having a food adventure along the way.”

ROBERT MAUER, OWNER OF CHEF BOB’S CATERING, CLOSTER 

Known for: Three decades of cooking many different cuisines, being Eddie Murphy’s personal chef for nine years and fashion designer Elie Tahari’s personal chef for two.

What is your culinary background? “I have an associate’s degree in culinary arts and have been cooking professionally for 34 years. I started cooking as a hobby with my grandmother at age 5.”

How did you decide to become a personal chef? 

“I was working as a sous chef at a French restaurant in Tenafly called Le Chateau. The restaurant was sold, and I didn’t want to stay on with the new owner. Directly across the street was a domestic placement office; I stopped in to see what it was all about. They asked me if I would be interested in a private chef position. At the time I didn’t know these jobs even existed. My job was ending, I had just closed on my house and had a second child on the way, so the decision pretty much made itself.”

How would you describe your cooking style? 

“It’s an eclectic mix. I’ve worked at different kinds of restaurants including Italian, French, American, Creole, Cajun. My cooking reflects a fusion of different cuisines from these past places of employment.”

What’s your inspiration? 

“Initially it was my grandfather’s reactions to tasting the food I was making when I was a kid. In retrospect I’m sure it was an act, but he always had nice, encouraging things to say about the dishes I was preparing. My grandfather has long passed on, but I think my inspiration has remained the same; it’s just a different audience.”

What is your signature dish? 

“My most requested items are soups and sauces, and if I had to narrow it down to one, it would be lobster bisque.”

What is the most difficult part of your job? The most rewarding? 

“The hardest is coming up with new menu ideas and keeping redundancy to a minimum. At the risk of sounding clichéd, the most rewarding part is making people happy.”

What local stores do you shop at? 

“I shop for food at Restaurant Depot in Hackensack, and I go to Tenafly Farms on occasion too.”

What are your favorite Bergen restaurants? 

“The Hill in Closter, The Greek Village in Northvale and Mt. Kisco in Closter, to name a few.”

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever received from a client? 

“There’s nothing that I can recall food-wise, but one client requested that I wear red chef jackets as often as possible.”

Have you ever had a kitchen disaster or a dish that didn’t come out right? 

“One dish that a client didn’t like was smoked Cornish game hens. The smoker went into storage for many years after that! I only recently started using it again.”

Is it different cooking for an individual celebrity vs. on a network TV show? 

“Yes and no. It depends on the individual and how well I know his or her eating habits. The volume of people eating affects what I make as well. The number of people, budget, likes, dislikes and allergies all have to be taken into consideration when making a menu. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes and an email or two to several hours and 200 emails (that’s my record!) to finalize a menu.”

What do you do when you’re not working? “If the weather is nice I do something motorcycle-related: riding, fixing, admiring. I enjoy spending time outdoors. I eat out a great deal as well.”

ERIN MARRAZZO, PERSONAL CHEF, RIDGEWOOD 

Known for: Cooking healthy, seasonal meals for busy parents and families (many with specific dietary restrictions) who want homecooked food on busy weekdays.

What is your culinary background? 

“I was working a nine-to-five job in publishing, but also doing a parttime program at The Natural Gourmet Institute in New York on nights and weekends. When I graduated from culinary school it was just before 9/11, and restaurants in NYC were closing all over the place. It was not a secure time to leave my full-time job so I kept it, but I did a lot of odd jobs in the industry. In 2007, I moved to North Carolina for my husband’s work, and I started working with a personal chef. After I had my kids and when my youngest was in preschool, I decided that was the right time to go back to work full time.”

How did you decide to become a personal chef? 

“We moved to Bergen County in 2010. Around 2013, I looked on a job board and saw that someone in Wyckoff was looking for a personal chef, and from there my business has grown mostly by word of mouth, one client at a time.”

How would you describe your cooking style? 

“I like to cook healthy family meals that are varied. I have about 10–12 regular clients, and most of the time I’m cooking meals for them once a week that they can reheat. These are families who want something healthy and home-cooked. It’s not super fancy food; it’s more homestyle food that you want to eat every day.”

What is your signature dish? 

“I get a lot of requests for a roasted tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons. I make it for every one of my clients—the people who are dairy-free don’t get the grilled cheese croutons, though.”

Have you ever worked in a commercial kitchen? 

“Yes. I don’t think I’d do it again. It’s fun, but not conducive to a family life, especially if your family is not also in the restaurant business. Lots of long nights and weekends.”

What is the most difficult part of your job? The most rewarding? 

“What I like least is the schlepping! It gets tiring. I go to the grocery store and I load up the car and I go to my client’s house and I unload. Then I cook, and then I pack everything up and bring it into my house. The most rewarding part is that I’ve really gotten to know these families and I feel like I’ve become a part of special occasions. It’s nice to know the food I’m cooking is being eaten at special times.”

What local stores do you shop at? 

“A lot of my clients want me to use organic produce and meats, so I mostly shop at Whole Foods. I find that I can get what I need in one stop. But Bergen County has amazing grocery shopping, so I’m always going to at least one grocery store a day.”

What are your favorite Bergen restaurants? 

“We’ve got great ones in Ridgewood, so I tend to stick to local places. When we’re going out with my kids we go to Brooklyn’s Pizza, Tori Ramen Chicken or East Coast Burger. We love Stella when we want pasta.” What’s the craziest request you’ve ever received from a client? “I’ve gotten requests that I’ve gone along with despite my better judgment, like almond flour pasta. I was like, ‘I don’t know how this pasta is actually going to hold up.’ The pasta was not the best. But as long as I’m upfront with the clients about how I don’t think it’s going to work, I’m OK with going along with it [laughs].”

What’s the biggest misconception people have about being a personal chef? 

“I think because I have this specific model of ‘I cook for people when they’re not home and leave the food for them to reheat,’ people say ‘Oh, you do meal prep.’ But I’m not prepping things; I’m actually cooking. I think of meal prep as more like a meal kit type of thing; you order it and it’s all ready for you to assemble. But I’m even less work than that. You just take the food I make and plop it in the oven to heat it up.”

What do you do when you’re not working? 

“I have two boys who are 8 and 10, so I spend a lot of my time going to their activities or shuttling them back and forth to their sports. And we like to hang around our house and do things with our neighbors. I feel like I need to venture into the next towns over, but there is so much going on in Ridgewood all the time! We love to go out to dinner and walk to Orange Leaf and get frozen yogurt and run into people we know as we’re walking around. I love the small-town feel.”

RED RAYMUNDO, FORMER OWNER OF HADYN’S KITCHEN, DUMONT

Known for: Instagram-worthy dishes made specifically to the tastes and specifications of all types of clients, from middle-class families to corporations to celebrities including a music mogul, a New York Jets player and a Grammy winner.

What is your culinary background? 

“I grew up in the business—my family owned a restaurant in the Philippines. I worked and trained at local restaurants and hotels and got a bachelor’s degree in the Philippines before moving to the U.S. in 2010. I worked as a chef at a local hotel and hospital before opening my restaurant in Dumont and personal chef/catering business. Since I closed the restaurant, I focus on my private and corporate clients.”

How did you decide to become a personal chef? 

“About five years ago, when we found out we were going to have a baby, I realized I had to find another source of income. I started doing it during the days I wasn’t working, until it became big enough that I had to focus solely on my business.”

How would you describe your cooking style? 

“It’s a mix of traditional and modern. I try to always be up-to-date with the latest trends in cooking, but I make sure to never lose the essence of any dish I am preparing.”

What is your signature dish? 

“My go-to dish is the pan-seared filet mignon and gremolata served with garlic parmesan pureed potatoes.”

What is the most difficult part of your job? The most rewarding? 

“Creating the menu is the most difficult part for me. Cooking and plating the dishes is most rewarding. Seeing how all the components come together to make perfect meals and the look on my clients’ faces when I present the plates makes all the hard work worth it.”

What is your process for coming up with a menu for an event? 

“It usually takes a whole day of back-and-forth conversations. I will start with a menu based on my clients’ preferences and what dishes and ingredients are in season, and then get their opinions and suggestions.”

What are your favorite Bergen restaurants?

“So Moon Nan Jip Korean restaurant in Palisades Park, Il Villaggio in Carlstadt, Johnny and Hanges in Fair Lawn and Café Leah in Palisades Park.”

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever received from a client? 

“One client asked to pre-taste all the food that I was cooking before the guests arrived. It would have been fine, but at that point, all I had ready was my mise en place [a French culinary phrase for putting everything in its place before cooking].”

Have you ever had a kitchen disaster? 

“Recently, a corporate client of mine held a wine pairing event for 200 people. Ten minutes into the festivities, the range, ovens and fryer stopped working. Luckily, we managed to get two of the burners to work. It was a nightmare but we made it through the night and none of the guests knew there was anything wrong. We were prepared for anything!”

What’s the biggest misconception people have about being a personal chef? 

“People often think we get paid a lot considering how long an event lasts. What they don’t take into consideration is the time we spend during the initial interview, the menu-planning process, purchasing, preparation and cleanup.”

What do you do when you’re not working? 

“I’m either playing basketball or with my family thinking about food.”

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