Living Well

Living-Well-South of BostonEat to Live

FINISH-LINE FOODIE Chef up to speed with cooking, triathlons

Sole and fresh vegetables wrapped in parchment. Honey lavender grilled salmon. Chicken with low-fat sun-dried tomato and mushroom gravy.

These are just a few examples of gourmet meals that personal chef Darlene Calcagno of Hanover prepares for her local clients when she’s not exercising or participating in sprint triathlons.

This South Shore chef is a fitness enthusiast who is just as comfortable working with a personal fitness trainer or taking a hip-hop dance class as she does whipping up custom-made dinners for local clients.

If her customers want something different – perhaps ethnic or vegetarian dishes and a special Valentine’s Day dinner for two – Calcagno can make that, too. And when she’s done cooking, she stocks their freezer with meal-sized portions.

Here’s how it works. Calcagno inquires about her clients’ dietary requirements, favorite foods and seasonings and then comes up with a menu of entrees and side dishes. Once the menu is approved, she buys enough groceries to prepare 10 meals for two people, brings her own cookware, spices and storage containers and then gets cooking in her client’s kitchen. She’s done in 6 or 7 hours.

“I package the food and leave reheating instructions so when they come home late from work, all they have to do is pop it in the oven or microwave,” said Calcagno.

Calcagno, 45, became interested in gourmet cuisine when she was director of human resources for a healthcare company back in the 1980s.

“I interviewed physicians at restaurants and found that I really liked fine dining. I took a lot of cooking classes at Boston University,” she said.

Her friends urged her to open a restaurant, but Calcagno, a mother of a 9-year-old son, prefers the flexible schedule of a personal chef. She’s owned Cuisine by Darlene for 3 years now and cooks for 10 regular clients about once a month.

She gets menu ideas from the cookbooks of well-known local chefs including Julia Child, Jody Adams, Chris Schlesinger, Ming Tsai and Jasper White.

“Food is my passion; I love trying new recipes,” she said. “I take a lot of techniques of higher fat cooking, add just a little bit of something to get the flavor without the calories and fat.”

To stay in shape, Calcagno works out with a personal trainer, skis and takes a hip-hop dance class. In the summer, she’s a sprint triathlete, swimming a 1/4 to a 1/2-mile, biking 10 to 12 miles and running 3 to 4 miles.

“The really fast people finish in less than an hour,” she said. “It takes me at least 25 minutes longer. But I don’t care – I do it for fun.”

For more information about Cuisine by Darlene, call her at 781-878-9700 or visit

– Valerie Russo
For Living Well