Joan Watson’s full-time job prevented her from having time to cook meals every night for her family. So, she would prepare meals every Saturday for the following week and store them. Watson enjoyed working in the kitchen and having healthy ready-to-eat food in the refrigerator.
When she was getting ready to retire from teaching 4th grade at Jonathan Daniels School in Keene, she saw an advertisement in a cooking magazine for a personal chef.
“I thought, ‘I could do that,’ “ she says, and adds that she thought it would also feed her love of spending more time with people and doing something helpful for them. Watson spent three years before her retirement researching what it would take to start what became Joan’s Personal Chef Service, which Watson launched in 2006.
Watson’s clients are in Keene and surrounding towns and include senior citizens, professional couples and singles, people who have recently undergone surgery and others with medical issues and diet restrictions. She will accommodate just about any diet, whether low-sodium, low-fat, gluten-free or diabetic, and she will also work with food allergies.
“The elderly people I cook for want to remain independent and they want good food,” Watson says. “Often, one is caring for a spouse and doesn’t have time to shop or cook. Other times they live by themselves, and they enjoy me being there in their kitchen.”
Watson says she has worked in all kinds of spaces, from kitchens that have allowed her 2 feet of work space to others so large she says she needed roller skates to move from one end to the other.
She always brings her chef’s knife to work, but she’ll bring whatever supplies are needed, determined by an initial meeting she has with her clients. She structured her business this way because it requires no licensing in the state of New Hampshire — if would if she cooked in her kitchen at home.
For most of her clients, she prepares two weeks of packaged meals at a time, freezing about a week’s worth. This schedule translates to her working two to three days a week.
Watson developed her menu first by adding family staple dishes, including Swedish meatballs, turkey pot pie, spicy honey-brushed chicken thighs and her mother’s beef stew.
Other items to-order on the list were inspired by clients themselves to suit special diets. Among those dishes she added to the menu are salmon cake with olives, lemon zest and dill; sweet potatoes with her garden-grown rosemary and thyme; and what she calls “new age” Waldorf salad with pomegranate, poppy seeds, dried apricots, cranberries and cinnamon with vanilla yogurt.
Watson uses local ingredients as much as she can; they include vegetables and herbs from her garden.
“I freeze and can things,” she says, “and if I have a large amount of say, tomatoes or beans, I’ll use them in my dishes.”
Other ingredients come from the Farmers’ Market of Keene and the Monadnock Food Co-Op, where she shops regularly. She is developing a relationship with Edgefield Farm in Westmoreland to supply her with lamb — one of her menu items is lamb and feta patties.
While she knows she is providing a valuable service to people, cooking is always on her mind, she says. In her spare time, Watson watches cooking programs on PBS and pores over cooking magazines.
“It’s truly my passion,” she says.
Learn more: www.chefjoan.com.