As 2020 comes to a close, it's time to assess which parts of society's "new normal" are here to stay. Personal chef Cameron McClung, 36, thinks folks' dining habits may be altered for good — and he's figuring out how his line of work fits in with his clients' new lifestyles. McClung, who previously cooked for private parties and events, now spends most of his time prepping meals that simply make others' lives easier during this challenging time.
"I think meal prepping was already big, but with people still being somewhat uncertain to dine out, it's something that is [even more appealing]," says McClung, who provides both contentment and routine with his home-delivered, chef-prepared meals. "I cook a combination of healthy and comfort food. During this pandemic, the comfort food provides some warmth, and the healthy food keeps people on track and looking and feeling good." This month, he's offering family-size side dishes to complement any holiday meal, and gearing up for a busy New Year in hopes of expanding his clientele.
From a young age, McClung understood the role of food and cooking as essential in maintaining order through chaos. As both of his parents worked, he would often get dinner ready for his mother before she came home from her job at Merrill Lynch. He recalls watching chefs like Rick Bayless and Martin Yan on PBS from his Jersey Village home, and being inspired by them as early as age 9. But it wasn't until a few years after high school, when his childhood best friend Gabe returned home from the Marines and causally suggested they both attend culinary school that he even considered cooking professionally.
With his quietly confident disposition, McClung enrolled at the Art Institute of Houston, and took a gig at the Little Bitty Burger Barn in Spring Branch. One day, he recognized and introduced himself to Chris Shepherd, whose star was already on the rise. It wasn't long before McClung was cutting his teeth by staging for Shepherd on weekends, and subsequently developing his affinity for preparing Asian cuisine in the kitchens of Catalan, Hay Merchant and Underbelly. "The camaraderie [in the restaurant world] is on a different level. They stick together and take care of their own," says McClung. "I try to emulate that every day."
More recently, McClung has returned to his roots: preparing food in the home. Pre-Covid, he catered events both large and small, in addition to cooking for a handful of clients in their own homes. Now, he's whipping up custom meal plans at his own place and delivering them straight to their doorsteps. Having more autonomy and developing relationships with those he cooks for — whom he calls "family" — is the draw. It's easy to sense his passion and work ethic, to which he credits his late blue-collar father who is memorialized by a portrait tattoo on his bicep.
The chef favors picking up microgreens from Restaurant Depot and fresh seafood from Blue Horizon — while also heaping praise on H-E-B. "I'm there every single day," he says. "They do such a great job."
For McClung, cooking has always been about knowledge and growth, comfort and routine — all values worth cherishing, this year more than ever."I will always cook," he says. "I may not be doing it this way forever, but it is where I want to be right now."
For pricing and information, please email Cameron at firstname.lastname@example.org.