'MasterChef' finalist Cate Meade's income plummeted in the pandemic: Here's how she got back up to $8,000/month

Cate Meade got creative about opportunities during the pandemic: "I just kept saying yes."

Cate Meade.
Courtesy Cate Meade

Personal chef Cate Meade has had a lot on her plate over the last few years: She started her own successful cooking business and was a top four finalist on season eight of the FOX show "MasterChef."

Meade's weekly schedule was packed with doing meal prep for clients in her hometown of Chicago and consulting for various food companies. When the pandemic hit, though, some of her clients pulled back. "That was hard," she says. "Chefs, they rely on people to need them. It's really what feeds our souls."

There was also the financial hit. "Before, my monthly income was probably around $8,000 to $10,000," says Meade. By April and May, she was making closer to $2,000-$2,500 per month.

So Meade decided to rethink her business strategy. She got creative and started taking on new clients and projects and even doing activities she'd previously turned down. "I just kept saying, 'Yes,'" she says. That attitude paid off: In December, Meade's income was back to $8,000.

Here's how she was able to pivot and build her business back up again.

'I was doing their entire family's shopping'

Before the pandemic, Meade was cooking 4 to 5 meals per week for four families. Each family would have a dedicated weekday in which she'd plan out their menu, go grocery shopping, and spend the day cooking in their kitchen. This brought in $500 per day.

When the pandemic hit, each family handled it differently. Two ended their service with her while one tasked her with doing the grocery shopping alone and paid her an hourly rate. "It was like $1,000 worth of shopping," she says.

She's been able to pick up some new clients and anyone can now choose to have her cook at her own home and deliver the meals instead of cooking at theirs. She also took on small dinner parties, charging $100-$250 per person.

"I just did what I needed to do," she says. "I wanted to keep them happy."

This personal chef transformed her business during the pandemic

Video by Mariam Abdallah

Virtual classes have been 'really fun'

Connecting with someone at one of her dinner parties led to a whole new extension of her business: virtual cooking classes.

A woman who attended one of her parties found that during the pandemic, workers at her company had "lost that connection" they had when they were all in the office together, says Meade. When she asked Meade if she had any fun, food-based activities the employees could do to feel that togetherness again, Meade suggested a virtual cooking class to make fajita bowls. And the class was a hit.

"It was really fun," she says. "I did it in my own kitchen and set it up and we cooked a whole meal together." She's since done a handful of virtual cooking classes, charging $1,200-$1,500 for each.

A Cate Meade meal.
Courtesy Cate Meade

'I'm back in the chaos'

Meade reached out to other chefs in her personal network to get ideas about how to expand and rejigger her business in this new normal. "I think it's really important for a personal chef to be connected ― we always just pass on clients, pass on information," she says. "It was really great to see how other people were restrategizing."

Since September 2020, professional life has been pretty busy for Meade. "I still have so many emails coming in and potential new clients," she says. Luckily, "chefs kind of thrive" on that level of activity and even stress. "I am so happy and grateful that I'm back in the chaos," she says.

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