Her mother wasn’t an adventurous cook, so Tamara Mitchell began preparing her own meals as a way to try new things – and to not have to eat packaged food. Nowadays, the primarily self-taught chef also whips up fabulous meals for clients. Whether it’s for couples with kids and busy work schedules or singles who just don’t feel like cooking, Mitchell buys the groceries, brings her own supplies and equipment into their homes, and prepares 12 to 30 meals for them at a time.
Besides her personal-chef service, Mitchell offers catering and party services, romantic dinners for two and hands-on cooking classes. This fall, she also launched a line of herb and spice mixes – called Season to Savor – just in time for the holidays.
In more late-breaking news, Mitchell recently competed against 48 semi-finalists at the Cleveland-region Aetna Healthy Food Fight – and won! On Nov. 18, she’s flying to Los Angeles for the final cook-off against the other nine regional winners. The grand prize: $10,000 in kitchen appliances. Iron Chef Bobby Flay will judge the final round, where the chefs will be challenged to make a healthy Thanksgiving dinner.
It was a little more than 10 years ago when Mitchell first got the idea to become a personal chef. She was looking for a gift for her in-laws and spotted a magazine ad for the services of a local personal chef (so she bought them a gift certificate). At the time, Mitchell was working a corporate job but was considering a career change. Inspired, she launched Dine-In Diva in 2006.
“I spent 20-some years doing things I didn’t necessarily like to do because it paid the bills,” she says. “But I’m fortunate enough at this point to be doing what I like. So I’m happy and living the American dream.”
Most fulfilling part of the job: making an impact on someone’s health and/or lifestyle
And the hard part: when customers want a recipe. “Recipes are just ideas, and [I] tend to sort of wing it.”
There’s nothing better than: “a delicious meal prepared from the freshest, seasonal ingredients.”
Memorable clients: two different couples who got engaged – over one of her romantic dinners
Typical work day: There isn’t one. “Some days I don’t work at all, and other days I’ll be in my pajamas, working until 11.”
Tips for people who want to start eating healthy: Go to the farmer’s market, and buy local produce. When you go to the grocery store, limit shopping to the outside aisles; inside aisles contain more of the processed, snack foods.
Passions outside of cooking: reading and gardening. “I started a small herb garden, which has grown considerably over the years, and I fell in love with the way fresh herbs transform the simplest of meals into something special.”
Favorite books: Susan Wittig Albert’s “The China Bayles” mystery series – each book title contains the name of an herb.
Favorite movie: Julie & Julia
On meeting Bobby Flay later this month: “It’s always cool to meet chefs in person who’ve you watched on TV.”
Favorite Iron Chef: “Michael Symon. I’ve met him. He does classes at Lolita, and I was fortunate enough to get tickets – they sell out fast!”
Favorite local restaurants: Papa Joe’s and Ken Stewart’s Grille
Favorite ingredient to work with: Figs