Personal Chef David Walesheck caters to working professionals, special dietary needs, events and parties.
After graduating from the California School of Culinary Arts, David Walesheck knew that he didn't want to spend his career working as a chef at a restaurant.
Instead, he opted for the catering route, which allowed him to interact with people who enjoyed his food at social events. When he grew restless with a business setting, the Minnesota native embarked on a path that many culinary professionals are taking. He became a personal chef.
For some people, the thought of a personal chef conjures up images of lifestyles reserved for the rich and famous. Today, though, personal chefs are more commonly seen outside of palatial estates. Clients include families with parents who are busy professionals and still want to serve freshly prepared meals. Others who use personal chefs are high-income individuals who want special menus for events and parties. Also, there are people who have dietary restrictions due to health-related reasons.
After graduating from culinary school, Walesheck worked for a catering company that prepared meals for numerous high-profile events in Beverly Hills before operating a health and wellness business that sold green tea. Longing for a return to the culinary arts, he relocated to the Tampa area to be near family.
"I didn't want to sit behind a line and make hundreds of meals day, day in and day out. I am a social person and prefer interaction with people," Walesheck said. "When you're a personal chef you have the opportunity to communicate directly with the people for whom you are cooking."
Recognizing a need for individuals who need specially prepared menus because of health issues, Walesheck pursued a niche within the personal chef category. His company, Healthy Living 1st (www.healthyliving1st.com) in Largo, provides personal chef services with a defined focus – clients who want healthy meals, people who need a gluten-free diet and individuals who have cancer and diabetes.
"I am lactose intolerant, so I understand the challenge of needing a specialized diet," said Walesheck, who is writing a book filled with lactose-free recipes. "I saw an opportunity to fill a niche since more people are health-conscious and there is growing awareness about conditions like gluten allergies."
Not all of Walesheck's clients have special dietary needs. On a recent Saturday, he prepared a menu for a holiday party at a high-profile client's home. It included seared ahi tuna, calamari filets, hearts of palm and crab soup, beef tenderloin with classic French demi glaze and blueberry crème brulee among other selections.
There was also an event where he made appetizers such as bacon wrapped shrimp and stuffed mushrooms. Yet it is the healthy food options that Walesheck especially favors. For individuals with food-related medical concerns, a personal chef can be a help since he can prepare meals within the required dietary guidelines.
"Whether you are lactose intolerant, are allergic to gluten or have certain dietary restrictions because of a disease, like cancer or diabetes, it can be difficult to know what you can and can't eat, and what ingredients you need to avoid," Walesheck said. "I can customize meals or just consult on how to eat healthy and still have great tasting food."
Walesheck says that a growing number of clients are contacting him about gluten-free meals. Some clients are just interested in removing gluten from their diets. Many, though, have Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition defined by intestinal damage resulting from a toxic reaction to gluten. Gluten is part of the proteins in grains, including all wheat, rye and barley. The Celiac Disease Foundation reports that one in 133 Americans have the disease. Following a gluten-free diet is the lone treatment for the condition, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Among Walesheck's gluten-free dishes that he prepares for clients are Roasted Pork Tenderloin, Steamed Salmon, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Veggies, Quinoa Salad, Shepherds Meatloaf and Stuffed Peppers.
"Since there is more and more awareness of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance, a growing number of gluten-free products are hitting the shelves," Walesheck said. "It takes a lot of research and knowledge about what you can and cannot have at home, and what are ideal restaurants for people who require a gluten-free diet."