Megan Montgomery, arguably New York’s first personal chef for dogs, prepares her haute canine cuisine in Downtown Brooklyn, with an 11-year-old terrier-and-Dachshund taste-tester named Milo and a firm belief that your dog is what he eats.
“The idea is a Dean and DeLuca for dogs,” said Montgomery of her company, Zen Chien Personal Chef Service for Dogs.
She’s not exaggerating. Her dishes seem to have come straight from a Smith Street menu: Mediterranean ground lamb, with whole wheat couscous, blueberries and fresh-grated squash; beefy macaroni with ground sirloin, sweet peas, sardines, and organic tomato sauce; Caribbean chicken, with shredded, free-range meat, jasmine brown rice, finely chopped mango and grated zucchini.
Mouthwatering? Hang on: it’s for dogs! But humans love it, too.
“I do taste the food as I cook it,” said Montgomery, who works out of her Duffield Street home. She adds calcium-rich ground bone-meal, omega-6 and -3, vitamin B-12, and multivitamins to make sure ZenChien food is extra healthy for pups.
“Nothing goes into it that I would not eat myself, with the exception of sardines, and that is just because I don’t like them.”
But Milo does. He’s Montgomery’s official food-taster … and guinea pig.
“I also gave samples to friends and co-workers and asked for feedback,” said Montgomery. “Did they notice a change in their level of enthusiasm after eating? Did it cause an upset stomach? Do they normally leave food in their bowl? Stuff like that. Most of all, I kept a close eye (and still do) on Milo’s coat, muscle definition, weight, stool and teeth. I even sent in a blood sample to test his calcium level.”
Fair enough. But to see whether a pup other than Milo would like the gourmet eats, Montgomery hosted two noted canine gourmands: Agnes, a yellow chow, and Gunnar, a chocolate Lab.
Gunnar’s owner, Corey Szopinski, warned that his dog, like the first President Bush, despises broccoli. “Bananas, though, he will eat them until he explodes.”
Preliminaries aside, Montgomery cut open a vacuum-sealed bag of Caribbean chicken, while the humans closely monitored the dogs’ reactions. They weren’t subtle: All three devoured their portions and pleaded for more.
“I think he liked it,” said Szopinski, of Gunnar.
The next course was macaroni, also, apparently, a rousing success, with the dogs wolfing down the meal like, well, like wolves rather than dogs.
“Gunnar definitely liked it,” Szopinski said. “If I put a bowl of that food next to a bowl of dry food, he’d eat the bowl of wet food. And then he’d eat the bowl of dry food.”
But Szopinski was doubtful Gunnar would become a full-time customer. Depending on dog-size, the service runs between $8 and $18 a day.
“I might do it every once in a while, just to mix things up,” said Szopinski. “But I don’t think I could afford to do it every week.”
Jeff Cretan said Agnes was a fan, too: “She loves fresh food. There’s a noticeable pleasure difference.”
Montgomery concocted the idea for ZenChien after Milo was diagnosed with a lip tumor in 2005.
“When I asked my vet if there was anything I could do, he didn’t have many answers,” recalled Montgomery. “I did an investigation … and I started cooking for Milo in January, 2006. He’s had no tumor re-growth since then.”
And, to those who think the cost is simply too high, Montgomery counters with this: “Dogs love unconditionally, and ZenChien offers a healthy vehicle to return the unconditional love of a dog through exceptional food.”