Executive Chef Sara Black-Charm is ready and able to provide enjoyable meals to those of us for whom joy and eating don’t belong on the same planet.
Many of us who have struggled with food – because of a health condition and allergies, or because life is hard and we’ve used food as a source of comfort – have developed a tortured relationship with this most basic aspect of human survival.
We work with food plans, adhere to lists of accepted and verboten ingredients, weigh and measure, and we’re always doing battle with demons – physical, emotional, and spiritual. The lifers among us may know everything about food – I for one can tell you the caloric value of everything – but the food is rarely if ever a fun experience for us. Some of us can’t even conceive of food not as solace, not as the inevitable nourishment for our bodies, but as a guilt-free pleasure, a safe delight, an adventure that won’t threaten the proper functioning of our pancreas.
As I said, Executive Chef Sara Black-Charm is perfectly capable of altering our food from a permanent source of anguish, trepidation, and shame, to the way food is for “normal” men and women around us, who enjoy a good meal and move on.
She’s not working alone. The former head chef of a five-star hotel in Jerusalem, Sara has aligned with nutritionist and wellness adviser Judy Kizer, and dieting coach and professional therapist Josh Rubin, to forge highly-individual diet management plans with a huge twist: Sara prepares your food which is delivered to your door. And the food is just wonderful. On her Facebook page, Asparagus Catering & Private Chef Services, Sara records her creations, accompanied by mouth-watering images, each one created for a specific client.
And it’s as kosher as they come, supervised by Kosher L’mehadrin in Efrat.
Sara Black-Charm is the eldest child (out of ten) of a Haredi family in Jerusalem. Her father is English, her mother American, and she married her high school sweetheart (separate high schools, obviously) when they were both 19. In retrospect, she understands it was a hasty move, under pressure from her family who wouldn’t accept the notion of just going out with a boyfriend. The couple had a lovely daughter together and separated after five years, give or take. At which point Sara became a single parent and broke. She has since been remarried and given birth to two more—as she put it—amazing but devilish young children.
She turned to professional cooking – graduated culinary school and hit the job market running, and became a success, taking over the top chef position at a five-star hotel, and in 2007 founded the Asparagus Catering and Private Chef Services, the leader in the creative kosher cuisine in Israel and New York City. And then she embarked on the idea of an individually catered meal service.
“I started HealthEat with a very low marketing budget but a very clear idea of what I wanted to do,” Sara says. “I didn’t want to jump the gun, spend a lot of money on a website, etc. before I knew if it was a winning idea. There’s still a lot of work to be done, which we do as we go.”
I asked her to describe the process of getting to know her client. Her response was extremely detailed:
“As soon as a client contacts me, I send them an email, along with a PDF brochure with our menu ideas which could vary according to their needs and expectations. I ask them to tell me about themselves and what they’re are looking for.”
These are the basics Sara wants to learn from a new client:
- Where do you live?
- How many meals are you looking forward to per delivery and for how many people (it could be one meal a week too)
- What is your HealthEat goal (Losing weight, food sensitivities, getting healthier)?
- Are you looking for a long term service package?
- Would you need to include the nutritionist and diet coach in your package?
The program’s pricing is around NIS 165 ($49) plus a 17% VAT per person per dinner-size meal, and NIS 105 ($31) plus 17% VAT per lunch-size meal, delivered twice a week. This is an average price and could change depending on the number of meals and the weekly package that you will require.
The price includes a monthly meeting with Judy, the nutritionist, and Josh, the diet coach for an hour, either in-person or virtually depending on the circumstances.
Delivery price depends on your location.
“The process of introduction is very fast with serious clients,” Sara says. “This service is pricey and not for everyone, and these are people who know what they want, need, and can afford. They also know that if they go into this deal, it’s a financial and emotional commitment. So they take it seriously.”
I asked Sara what’s the average time of a client’s stay with her service.
“I recommend a one-month trial so that we could get to learn the client properly in terms of their pallet, feeling, and reaching their goals,” she says, adding: “Your question is tricky because I have different clients. I’ve been working with one client for a year already and it’s something she is interested in for the rest of her life. She suffers from severe food allergies. Three clients have remained with us for four months and are probably here to stay. The rest are pretty much within their first month, trial working together with us on reaching their goals.”
How do you stay on top of the different client accounts?
“I always sign a contract. We keep a joint Whatsapp group between the nutritionist, the client, and myself (soon to be joined by the dieting coach, too), where we confirm the menus, deliveries, the food journal, and feedback,” Sara says. “I’m also in touch with the client about our biweekly invoices. Thank God, I’m a very organized person, some even say I’m a little on the OCD side.”
“Later on, as the business grows, I will need logistical and administrative help, and I plan to hire a cook eventually – but with our current seven clients, we’re not there yet,” she says.
The majority of Sara’s clients get deliveries twice a week, with three to five meals per delivery. The food is cooked in the morning, before that day’s delivery, so it is extremely fresh. She packages the dishes separately in plastic containers and wraps up every meal individually according to the menu. Each package is labeled for the client to pull out of the refrigerator, warm up, and eat.
“I follow a lot of what I learned in school but mostly I learn from my own experience,” Sara says. “The fascinating thing is that the more challenging a client’s needs are – requiring cooking without eggs/oil/salt/dairy, etc., the more creative I become and, frankly, I absolutely love it. We build a relationship with each client which is the amazing part of our concept. I communicate with them every few days, depending on how often the client needs the service – but definitely at least once a week.”
So far, Sara says, she hasn’t had a difficult client.
“These are very specific clients who know what they want and need and we are here to help them get what they need. We don’t get offended and we want to hear if the client didn’t like something or it wasn’t enough or maybe put more salt in next time – this is how we grow and maintain our work relationship. This is where Josh fits in – helping the client climb over their difficulties and obstacles, and reach their goals.”
Josh Rubin is there to understand the client’s dieting issues, because he, too, has struggled with yo-yo dieting, until he discovered how to create thoughts and feelings that make weight loss easier, Sara explains, noting: “Now that Josh has joined the HealthEat team, we are giving one another tools to make it even easier.”
Judy Kizer’s work protocol is based on a holistic approach, Sara explains. “Each client is an individual with desired dietary needs. After Judy gathers information about their health as well as their diet history and status, and listens to their food preferences and challenges, she assists in planning meals that are nutritionally balanced and within the requirements and desires of the client.”
“Judy is knowledgeable and experienced in meal planning for many of the formal diets that exist: Ketogenic, Vegan, FODMAP, Paleo, or gluten-free. But she doesn’t subscribe to any particular diet. Her approach is based on getting the most nutrition out of foods that are included in the diet,” Sara explains, adding: “I guess you could call it a whole foods approach.”
I asked Sara to describe her typical day’s work.
“As soon as my darling children are out of the house and in kindergarten, at 7:30 AM, I start cooking. Some of the dishes on the menus are similar and some are not. It takes 2-3 hours of cooking, and by noon the kitchen is spotless and ready for the next workday, and the food is packaged, labeled and in the cooler, ready for delivery.”
“Then, once the delivery guy has gone on his way, I have time to take inventory and write a shopping list, with as many of the items as possible being organic. Toward the end of each week, I send the menus of the next week to Judy for confirmation so I can have a very organized shopping list in advance. But despite my organizational skills, I still find myself out shopping three times a week.”
Sara’s goal is to encourage and teach her clients to eventually start cooking for themselves.
“Let’s take for example a client that we’ve had for the past 4 months,” she says. “Her goal is to lose weight, which she is accomplishing very nicely. She is a very busy person, highly educated, and has tried every diet and app available.”
“When we first started working with her, she had an hour-long zoom meeting with the nutritionist and myself, and the nutritionist went over her medical background, goals, eating and drinking habits, etc. Then I discussed how many meals a week she would want, her likes and dislikes, and what she expected from the service,” Sara continues.
“Then we started with four dinners a week, with a monthly, hour-long, follow-up zoom call with the nutritionist, and with me sharing recipes with her all the time,” Sara relates. “Now the client has decided to cut down to two dinners a week – which is great. She’s doing well, losing weight and reaching her goals slowly, and also adopting a better eating life style.”
“This is what we would call a success story,” Chef Sara Black-Charm says.