We regularly feature member chefs in this blog and when we do, we like to have photos of both them and their magnificent food. But you’d be surprised at how many people don’t have what we consider to be one of the most essential marketing tools for a food business. It made us think that it was time to remind our members that to grow their business there are certain basics they need to invest in–whether it requires time, money, or both. They won’t guarantee that you get new clients, but not having them certainly puts you at a disadvantage.
We asked members via Facebook what their most essential marketing tools were and we got three answers: car magnet, word of mouth, and a great website. We can’t speak to the effectiveness of a car magnet but certainly a good website is a must. As for word of mouth, well, there’s nothing better. But word of mouth is a result of good marketing and great delivery; it’s not something you can generate on your own.
So, here are the five marketing tools we think are essential for personal chefs to employ–and these are just the minimum.
A good photo of yourself and a variety of beautiful photos of your food. If a reporter or blogger gets in touch and wants to do a piece on you, unless they can send over their own photographer you have to have photos available that they can publish. If you’re teaching a cooking class or doing a demo at a store, they’ll want photos for promoting the event. The food photos have to be sharp, well lit, and well composed.
You must have a photo or two of yourself that is also sharp and well lit and shows you off as a professional and who you are. And the photos must be large enough/have high enough resolution so they don’t look fuzzy when enlarged. Need a primer on shooting good photos? We have you covered in this guest post by APPCA member Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food.
Business cards. Attractive, professional-looking business cards must be on you at all times when you’re out and about. Keep them in your wallet, keep them in the pocket of your chef jacket, keep a bunch in your car. Just keep them with you. They must include your name, your business’ name, contact information (including your website URL and Facebook page URL), what you do, and the region you serve. Don’t be shy about using both sides of the card.
A Facebook page. Let us rephrase this, an active Facebook page. We’re all about social media, but we recognize that time can be an issue. If you can, use Twitter, use Instagram, use LinkedIn. But above all, use Facebook and post regularly (at least a couple of times a week) because it’s both a more intimate and expansive way to let potential clients see what you’re doing and learn more about you. It’s an opportunity to reach out to others and show off your talents, brag about your work, and learn how you can help others. Join a group and network. And what do you need for a good Facebook page? See above. Good photos.
Your chef’s coat. We’ve written about this before. Your chef’s coat tells the world who you are. Wear it into a market and people will ask what you do. Wear it on public transportation and it’ll generate conversation. In short, it’s a no brainer to wear it in public when appropriate–and, of course, keep the pocket filled with business cards to hand out to fellow customers or the butcher or fish monger or farmer.
A good website. Yes, we finally got there. But what does “good” mean? According to APPCA member Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor, it’s “Ease of use, key word driven on search engines, no ads, not mucking it up…all info transparent and straightforward….pricing, etc right on there…this may be an East Coast thing, but people don’t want the back and forth…we tend to move quickly and if info is vague, we move on to the next….”
For Carol Borchardt, it means thinking about who the customer is going to be.
“The customer/client of a personal chef is most likely going to be affluent, sophisticated, well-traveled and educated. I cringe every time I see typos on a PC website in addition to incorrect capitalization/lower case usage,” she says. “A website in late 2015-2016 needs to look clean, modern and flow well. Even the colors and fonts have to say 2016! Many of our clients probably have their own business websites, so they know what works, what doesn’t work and what looks good. Music is nice when you’re serving a dinner for two, however, music on a website can be a dead giveaway and startling if someone is doing a little web surfing to find a personal chef while at work. Websites also need to be “mobile-friendly,” as the vast majority of people no longer sit down at a computer to search for something–they do it on their phone or tablet. Google now penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly. My site is not “mobile-friendly” at this point and I’m not worried about it because I stay busy. If a new PC can not afford to have a website professionally built, there are simple platforms such as WordPress or SquareSpace to put together a nice-looking website.”
We actually have even more basic requirements–because, surprisingly, they are often missing. They include your name, where you are located geographically, what services you provide, a simple way to contact you, and the mention that you are an APPCA member and inclusion of the logo (to give you credibility). You are asking people to invite you into their home. They must know who you are and have confidence that you are legit.
These five marketing tools are the building blocks for getting attention and getting hired. Do a great job and at that point, you gain good word of mouth from clients. And get featured in media. And asked to do cooking classes or demos. And all the other things that make up your own aspirations. It’s all about being the quintessential professional who takes pride in his/her skills and accomplishments.
What are your essential marketing tools? How are you promoting yourself and your business?
Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.
Sacha Quernheim is a personal chef and APPCA member in St. Louis. She runs Red Zucchini Personal Chef Service, which is an umbrella for, yes, regular home clients–but also cooking classes and, get this, omelet breakfasts at luxury apartment buildings.
Sacha has operated Red Zucchini since 2012. For 17 years she had worked at law firms but over the years had been teaching kids cooking classes, starting with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. When she was let go from her law firm job in 2013, she did what many members do who love to cook but don’t know which avenue to take. She went online. Initially she was trying to get into incubator kitchens, but she didn’t know if she wanted to do just cooking classes. As she searched she found APPCA online.
“I thought this would be perfect,” she recalls. “I didn’t know if I wanted to work for someone again or have my own business. So I did the training and it worked out great.”
Sacha began adding clients–she currently has four monthly clients and three every other week. And she started teaching adult cooking classes. Then in Christmas of 2013, she was approached by an insurance company to do an omelet breakfast for their holiday party.
“It was for about 30 people. I did some research online to figure out how to do it and it went great,” she says. “Then I got the idea to start contacting luxury apartment complexes in the downtown area to see if I could do an omelet breakfast for residents–mostly for marketing purposes. Most do a monthly breakfast anyway. They pay for all the food plus a small fee. I’m up front about my interest in marketing to clients.”
It took awhile for it to click. Sacha tried to get in touch with one of the most well known in the city for a year and couldn’t get anyone to get back to her. But she persisted and fortunately got a person at the front desk to give her the manager’s name. This time she got a response. “You have to be persistent if you want clients,” Sacha says. And now most invite her back month after month.
Recently she prepared a rooftop breakfast for 100 people and donated her services to Pedal the Cause, a popular fundraiser in St. Louis for bike riders raising money for cancer research.
How does the omelet breakfast work?
Usually, says Sacha, she has an omelet station, with choices including ham, bacon, peppers, and mushrooms. She also serves something sweet to accompany the omelets, like her sweet lime fruit salad, chocolate-covered strawberries, or chocolate-covered pretzels with chili and cinnamon sprinkle. The onsite manager will provide drinks, like coffee and juice, mimosas, and bloody Mary’s. She confers with the manager about who is responsible for supplying plates, napkins, utensils, and cups. Sometimes, they have them, Sacha says, but you need to confirm that. And, she says, don’t forget to bring business cards or other marketing materials that guests can take with them. Remember, this is a combination revenue stream and marketing opportunity.
Sacha found that the best way to organize the event is to shop, drop off the food, and prep the day before, then come in early in the morning on the day of the event to get set up. She’ll even crack and mix the eggs in pitchers, then cover them in plastic wrap the day before since they’ll stay fresh in the refrigerator for the next day and it saves a lot of time the morning of the event. She notes that most have kitchens available but she’s done them without a kitchen–and she always brings induction burners so she can prepare the omelets while facing guests.
Sacha is working on getting more breakfast omelet clients in other luxury buildings and other companies–although she points out that companies tend to be resistant because they get solicited a lot.
She’s also teaching classes once or twice a month at her premier luxury building client. These buildings like to engage with residents and have events for them, so Sacha’s classes fit that niche.
Sacha has some tips for those just starting out and trying to figure out how to get clients:
- Market yourself. Do it every week even if you don’t need more clients. This is essential.
- Phone calls are always better than email. People tend to ignore emails now. So I always call to follow up. I also send an email after the call if I get voicemail. But people are more apt to pick up the phone if you call rather than dealing with another email.
- Be persistent! I always follow up if I get voicemail or if I don’t get a response. I have been told by people that they are impressed by this. Some people will call or send an email and never follow up and they lose business this way. If I get voicemail or no response to an email I put a note on my calendar for a week to follow up again. I never pester people and keep calling over and over if they don’t answer but I do call once a week until they answer. If they tell me they are not interested that’s fine; I just need an answer.
What kinds of gigs fall under your personal chef umbrella? What are you trying to pursue to add to your repertoire and client list?
Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.
I first met pastry chef Susanna Brandenburg about seven years ago at a Slow Food Urban San Diego event at the then new Tender Greens in Liberty Station, a restaurant you must visit if you come to San Diego. She was serving the most delightful mini root beer floats and guests were going bananas over them. Brandenburg, whose son Ryan was a chef there at the time, was hired to run the pastry operation and while Ryan has since moved on (and will soon be opening a new restaurant in the San Diego community of North Park), Brandenburg has stayed with Tender Greens as it’s expanded to more locations in the area. The desserts she makes and has trained her staff to make are like crack. From the most seemingly mundane chocolate chip cookies to her carrot cake, fig galettes, and lemon curd tarts, Brandenburg is constantly creating and revising recipes that bring customers to their knees in weak desire. The local, seasonal ethos of Tender Greens is aligned with her own philosophy about food.
“The fun of being here is being able to educate people on the seasons and how that influences what they’re eating during the year,” she says.
One item that’s not limited to the seasons, however, is her classic cinnamon roll. That strolls through the year unhampered by what fruits are available. Brandenburg has amped it up, first with the addition of mashed potatoes to the dough. “I’ve been making cinnamon rolls forever,” she says, “but about a year ago I started adding potatoes to them. I’d been making potato bread and it dawned on me that the potatoes make the bread softer and fluffier, so why not add that to the cinnamon rolls. It doesn’t change the flavor but it creates a much fluffier roll.”
She also decided to periodically add bacon, which she bakes in brown sugar until it’s just cooked. Crispy bacon doesn’t work; you want to retain the luscious fat flavor and have the texture meld, not compete with the soft dough.
Brandenburg invited me into the downtown Tender Greens kitchen to share the recipe with me. One thing I learned, which is great if you’re planning on serving these for a weekend brunch, is that you can make and shape the rolls in advance. Keep the trays of the rolls refrigerated, as well as the cream cheese frosting. Be sure that the frosting comes to room temperature before you use it so that it’s spreadable once the rolls come out of the oven.
Now, I know all of you personal chefs are cooking healthy, nutritious meals for clients. But many of you also cater and do special events, like brunches and breakfast–and, hey, you also have families. If you’re going to splurge, make it a fabulous splurge and treat your people to something beyond special. Now, the yield here is eight to 12, depending on how you cut the rolls. You could make even more, but smaller, rolls by shaping two balls instead of one and rolling the dough balls into smaller rectangles.
Potato Cinnamon Rolls with Bacon
from Susanna Brandenburg of Tender Greens
4 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 cup milk
1 cup mashed potato
1/3 cup butter, cut up
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 slices bacon
1 cup plus 1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened
For Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 pound (8 ounces) cream cheese
3.2 ounces butter, room temperature
3/4 pound (12 ounces) powdered sugar
Mix cream cheese and butter until very creamy. Slowly add the sugar and beat until smooth. You can add more sugar if the mixture is too thin. Refrigerate, but bring to room temperature before using so it’s spreadable.
Directions for Cinnamon Rolls:
1. Preheat oven to 325˚.
2. In a bowl put 1 1/2 cups flour and the yeast. Set aside.
3. In a saucepan, mix together the milk and mashed potato. Heat and stir the mixture with 1/3 cup butter, sugar, and salt just until warm (about 120˚) and the butter almost melts. Add to the flour and yeast mixture, along with the eggs. Beat for 30 seconds, scraping the sides. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Add as much as the remaining flour as you can by hand.
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in any remaining flour. Knead for 3 to 5 minutes until its smooth and elastic.
5. Shape into a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic and let rise until it’s doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.
6. While the dough is rising place the bacon slices on a baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle the bacon with 1/3 cup of brown sugar. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t let it get too crispy or you’ll lose the flavor of the fat. Dice the bacon and set aside.
7. Punch down the dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and let rest for 10 minutes.
8. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.
9. Make the filling by combining 1 cup of brown sugar and the cinnamon.
10. Roll the dough out to 18-by-12 inches. Spread 1/2 cup of butter onto the dough and then sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the butter. Sprinkle the bacon pieces of the cinnamon mixture.
11. Roll up the dough and cut into the number of pieces you want. For large rolls, just cut eight pieces. For smaller, 10 or 12. Place them cut side up into the pan, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight.
12. Preheat oven to 350˚ (325˚ if you have a convection oven). Bake for 35 minutes. Cool slightly and frost with cream cheese frosting.
What is your favorite breakfast/brunch splurge? Have you perfected something you want to share with your personal chef colleagues? Let us know so we can feature you on the blog!
Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.
Lately, we’ve been discussing the option of renting a commercial kitchen to be able to grow your personal chef business. Last week, we focused on the pros and cons of renting space, as well as what to look for. Well, this week we have a completely different and wonderfully original approach to the “kitchen issue.” Welcome APPCA member Adreeanna Black of Bistro from Home in Idaho, who, in a guest post below, will introduce us to her solution: her way cool commercial kitchen trailer.
While trying to search for a commercial kitchen because business has been overwhelmingly busy and cooking for all my clients in one day is much easier then going to each home, I, too, ran into the same issue. We had two incubator kitchens in our city. One unfortunately shut down due to inactivity and the other was so costly I was hardly meeting my profit margins. I thought perhaps we could turn our garage into a commercial kitchen and just choke down the cost and time that would be needed to build it. I knew we needed a kitchen to maintain the business, but at what point does the expense out weigh the need?
While I was crunching numbers and frantically trying to figure this all out, I was approached by a family friend to look into a food trailer. I was rather concerned with the idea and was convinced creating a commercial kitchen in the home was our only option. While I did not think I would have wanted anything mobile or want to deal with all the problems that may come with something like a kitchen trailer, we went ahead and looked at this other option.
Let me tell you, this was the best decision I have made in my entire life! We purchased this trailer which turned out to be almost fully equipped, extremely functional, and with two days work into fixing some plumbing and gas line issues, she was up and running and ready to be thrown into the personal chef grind. The very same week, last week, we had a catering job for 350 people. Even though the work load was much more then preparing meals for my clients, the overall experience was the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. This week meal planning and preparing has been such a difference in comparison to the previous months. Being able to prepare ahead of time, store, and assemble has been the biggest money saver. I am now a proud owner of a commercial kitchen trailer. The best part about having one of these is free advertisement! The kitchen is a licensed mobile commercial kitchen.
You may be wondering what the cost of the trailer has been thus far. It is a 14-foot trailer with five sinks, diamond steel plated floors and back splash, a 24-inch flat top, a 30-inch sandwich station, a 20-pan dual door food warmer, 50-gallon fresh water reserve, 75-gallon gray water reserve, and ample storage space.
Exterior improvements: $60
Interior- plumbing and gas line: $45
We will be needing a small range which is about $1700.
While the numbers may seem steep we’ve made $2318 off this week alone.
If you weigh the costs, the trailer was a “small” fee to pay to be able to free up time and make money through convenience. I understand the need for a commercial kitchen and having something available to be able to keep up with your work load. Maybe something like this would be worth looking into. I can have the trailer parked anywhere. Because we do not use it for resale or retail and only for food production there are really no limitations–also another reason why I can hang a banner on the side. Plus, the previous owners of this trailer had bought it when it was a utility trailer. The cost of mobile commercial kitchens can be very expensive if bought through kitchen companies. Something that is custom built is usually cost effective and will be approved for state licensing if guidelines are followed for a “standard” commercial kitchen.
Prior to becoming an APPCA member I worked in restaurants for years. So having the experience of working “the line” I know how tight yet functional a kitchen can be. This commercial kitchen trailer is no different except it’s way more functional in the aspects of mobility and convenience! Here in Sandpoint, Idaho the market for personal chefs is untouched. Given the reputation and experience I’ve had with the local restaurants, word is getting out and a couple of fantastic sous chefs I’ve had the pleasure of working with are very interested in what I have going on. With that in mind we–my newly appointed general manager Alyssa Lucero and I–have decided that we can make this commercial kitchen trailer a benefit to our community. We’re creating a mobile incubator commercial kitchen. We’ve been able to team up with a lot of other community establishments and have big plans for the future. My biggest goal for this kitchen for the coming months is to be able to share the value and convenience with other personal chefs and collaborate with our local restaurants to do cooking classes and venues.
I truly feel that if personal chefs from all around only knew how simple and efficient this concept is, their profits and convenience would quadruple in a matter of a couple of months. Currently I work at a Starbucks part time (the benefits are great!), am attending Escoffier Online (Thanks, APPCA, for the great discount! ), am a mother of two boys, and am able to run my business (Bistro At Home) efficiently, effectively, and successfully! Having the convenience of a mobile commercial kitchen and being within my reach with hardly any overhead cost is so fantastic.
Are you considering renting space in a commercial or other kitchen? What do you think of this concept? What has your experience been?
You work hard to market your services in your area, and when your efforts begin to pay off and your schedule fills up with regular and casual clients the reality sets in…there are only seven days in a week, and if you want a life, you are probably cooking on the five days most clients request service, Monday – Friday.
You may also choose to add an additional income stream and do some dinner parties or small events on occasional weekends which generates lovely additional income, but it sure does cut into your family and personal life….what is a busy personal chef to do?
Welcome to decision time…Do I hire additional help and do more than one client per day? Do I rent space in a commercial kitchen? Do I attempt to find licensed space in my community that may not be used on a regular basis, such as large community churches, the VFW or Elks Club or other such organizations that might consider allowing me to rent and use the space during the off days?
Perhaps your city has licensed, inspected incubator kitchen space available that can be rented on an hourly as needed basis. More of these valuable non traditional kitchen operations are opening each month and seem to book up quickly.
While we have always been proponents of going to our clients’ homes to cook for them in their kitchen, we know that to expand a business you need to be able to handle more clients more efficiently. Some of our members are opting to rent space in a commercial kitchen or are coming up with even more creative ways to be efficient (more on this next week).
For Los Angeles-based APPCA member Beth Volpe of Savory Eats by Beth, the issues were two-fold, “I was getting more requests than I could handle as a one woman show,” she said. “I only wanted to work three days a week doing personal chef business. I could do no more than one client daily which means I maxed out at three. In the kitchen I can do two completely different menus in one day. I now have six clients weekly who I cook for. Two each of the three days I work.”
The other reason was health related. With a bad back, lifting groceries and equipment was taking a physical toll on her.
What Beth did recently was find and rent space in a commercial kitchen, which she uses three days a week. But, she admits, the process of finding one was daunting. “I won’t kid you. Finding a commercial kitchen is no easy task unless you happen to know someone who has connections or you have your own connections,” she said. “I looked for weeks literally and it took a friend who I sit on a board with who saw an email I wrote looking for a kitchen, forwarded it to an organization he is on the board for and they contacted me. Sounds like spaghetti!!!”
Beth suggested trying churches, synagogues, civic organizations, non-profit organizations, and restaurants that only cook at night, such as bars.
An incubator kitchen might also be an option. Check to see if your city has licensed, inspected incubator kitchen space available that can be rented on an hourly as needed basis. More of these valuable non- traditional kitchen operations are opening each month and seem to book up quickly. An incubator kitchen operation serves multiple food service professionals. It may also provide multiple cooking station facilities where more than one chef is operating at the same time. The facility is licensed by the state so you can operate legitimately on commercial equipment with cold and dry storage available which means you can prepare multiple entrees for multiple clients – while still continuing to customize recipes for clients with special needs or requests. If you are looking for incubator kitchen space, google search your area, or contact your local Board of Health and request a list of licensed facilities in your city. If they are inspecting them, they should know where they are.
What should you look for?
Beth had a number of criteria:
- Certified Commercial Kitchen (approved by the Health Department). This requirement varies according to the state you are in.
- STORAGE! If you don’t have places to store your equipment, utensils, and pantry you will be lugging it daily and that takes time away from cooking.
- Refrigeration and Freezer. Most places that prepare food have walk-in refrigerators and freezers. What a dream! No more ice baths. No more ice period! I use the refrigerator for cooling. You really can’t do that in a regular refrigerator. You will need the freezer for extra supplies (I don’t find I have much other than stock frankly). “I use it to freeze my ice packs,” said Beth. “We made the decision to purchase our own new refrigerator with an upper freezer for our grocery storage. That way we don’t worry about anyone getting into it. It’s closer to our work stations. Our foods are unpacked and immediately stored in our fridge.”
- Appliances are key. “We were not too picky when we were looking but you should be,” Beth explained. “You will need a minimum of two ovens to cook for more than one client. Make sure that they work. If they don’t work properly (which tends to be the case where kitchens sit unused for long periods of time) your food will not cook properly. We have this issue now but the equipment is getting replaced. You will need at most four working burners.”
- You need a work station for each prep cook you have.
- Make sure there is adequate ventilation and it works! Kitchens get HOT!!!
- Hopefully you will have space for your small appliances such as blender, rice cooker, pressure cooker, food processor and it does not take space on your work station.
- Check out the trash situation. Do they have adequate trash cans? Who empties them and where do they get emptied. “We are lucky,” Beth said. “We have two huge cans in the kitchen and we don’t have to empty them!”
- A dishwasher is crucial. “I say that because at the moment we don’t have one,” Beth said. “The organization just got approval to put one in. Hand washing dishes can take up to two hours a day in a commercial kitchen. Whatever you do, do not let your dishes pile up. It makes for a messy kitchen and you will be overwhelmed with dishwashing at the end of a hard day of cooking.”
- Make certain everyone understands the hours you are able to get into the kitchen. You will need access (key and/or alarm codes).
In her space, Beth is able to stop in a drop off groceries the day before or pick up foods the day after to deliver. She signs leases at six-month intervals and has access to the kitchen seven days a week if needed–and, she said, “You need that if you are catering.”
One thing Beth suggested is that you need to check your insurance to increase your coverage for cooking in a commercial kitchen and also to cover your supplies in case of a fire, etc. You may also be required to list the facility as an additional insured. Depending on your policy you may or may not have to pay more.
The pluses, she has experienced, are that she can take on more clients daily and increase her income, her employees can unload and unpack groceries, she can cater and not do it from her clients’ home. Everything other than food–other than what she stores in the pantry–is stored in the kitchen. And, with an employee, she doesn’t do dishes anymore.
But there is a cost–beyond the financial. Some drawbacks are that recipes don’t taste the same since you’ve got different cooking conditions. You have to deliver all that prepared food, which can take time. You’re more apt to use more dishes and equipment since you have the space and the supplies.
But most of all, noted Volpe, “The biggest change I notice is that you no longer have that personal relationship with your clients. My long-term clients I know and love and we visit when I deliver. But, the new clients are basically strangers. One I have cooked for since March and I have only seen her one time when I catered a luncheon. I have never even met the other two clients. I deliver and the check is on the counter. I miss that part. The business becomes more like a business and not so much the personal touch. You are simply a food delivery service. They have no clue or empathy for how hard you work unless they see you in their kitchen cooking.”
So you have to weigh your priorities. Using a commercial kitchen space that provides commercial equipment, adequate counter space, and cold and dry storage means the chef can serve multiple clients on the same day while continuing to customize meals for specific client requests, cool, portion, store, label, and deliver with relative ease. It might allow the chef to serve multiple clients two to three days per week, allowing them to serve more clients than classic service allows, while also providing an opportunity to have several days per week in which to provide other services or develop other income streams. But it can be pricey and you may lose the personal touch that makes this career so special.
No two personal chef businesses look alike…they all reflect the chef’s level of expertise and also the chef’s personal and professional preferences…That is what makes this career exciting and just plain FUN! Isn’t it great to have options!
Are you considering renting space in a commercial or other kitchen? What have been your experiences so far?
We’re always hawking you about marketing your business and past posts have talked about different ways in which you can strategize. But sometimes an opportunity just falls in your lap. How do you take advantage of it?
Kathy Dederich of ChefPlease in Arkansas is the most perfect example of this. I saw a post she put up on Facebook to a YouTube link that turned out to be a video featuring her at the Bentonville Farmers Market. No, she didn’t create it. it was a man named Rick Patanella, whom she met a couple of years ago when he was doing demos at the local Sam’s Club. Like Kathy and her husband Dan, it turned out he had also lived in Chicago.
So, here’s how this came about, according to Kathy:
“I buy virtually all our produce at the Bentonville Farmers Market, except for what I can get out of my garden. There is a wide array of produce that I had never heard of before, so I love to hear and learn what the vendors are selling and experiment. Anyhow, I ran into Rick at the Farmers Market this summer and found out he has struck out on his own. When Rick mentioned he was planning on doing some videos of different market vendors, he asked me if I’d be interested in being interviewed as well. Naturally, I said yes.”
Patanella filmed Kathy shopping at the market and recorded a voice over of her talking about shopping there and–importantly–about her business. So now she has a terrific vehicle for sharing and promoting her business. So what’s she doing with it?
“I’ve posted it to my Facebook pages, pages I belong to, and LinkedIn. I was just thinking that maybe I can forward it to a few of our local newspapers to see if there is any interest in them doing a piece on this and incorporating some of the other vendors as well. There is a local realtor who saw it. She has a rather extensive page listing vendors/service providers in Bella Vista (where we live). I’m already listed on that, but she wants to incorporate the video on my listing as well.
“At this point, I’m not really sure if this will bring in any business, but it certainly can’t hurt. I subscribe to the Steven Covey philosophy…sew and then ye shall reap. I am always looking for ways to put things into the pipeline.”
And, of course, we at APPCA are promoting here and on social media.
Now don’t you want to see this masterpiece?
How are you marketing your personal chef business? How about trying video?
Who doesn’t love risotto? And how many of you have wanted to but have been reluctant to make it for clients worried that it could go very wrong? I’m hoping that this will inspire you and give you the confidence to create what will be can’t-miss dishes for parties you cater.
Here’s the background. I recently attended a dinner at a San Diego restaurant called Solare that featured prosecco from Villa Sandi, which is located in the heart of the Prosecco region of the Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG hills. Valdobbiadene-Conegliano is Italy’s certified region for making the sparkling wine. The four-course dinner created by executive chef Accursio Lota was stunning, but one dish in particular stood out for me: the risotto with saffron and bay scallops–“Risotto Capesante e Zafferano,” described as risotto carnaroli mantecato with salted butter, Sardinian saffron, and bay scallops. It was lighter than I am used to and beyond creamy. I’d been talking with Accursio about setting up a cook date but we hadn’t settled on what I wanted him to teach me. After just one fragrant bite of the risotto, I knew–especially when he told me that his method of making it required far less butter than more traditional recipes.
Accursio invited me to his kitchen to learn not one, but two ways of making the dish. This was important for him to convey because, as you chefs know, it wasn’t–and never is–about recipes. It’s about technique. When he teaches others–whether it’s his line cooks or students at the classes he offers at the restaurant–he wants them to be able to expand on what they learned and use the techniques as building blocks to create other dishes using other ingredients. For him it all rests on technique and ingredients.
So, the first thing Accursio wanted us to be clear about is that southern Italian risotto is different from northern. Northerners, he said, expect their risotto to be al dente–with bite. Sicilians, and he is Sicilian, like a truly creamy risotto.
The other point Accursio wanted to convey is how important the rice is. In fact, it’s all about the rice. Now that seems obvious, but when it comes to risotto, we have choices. Many of us by habit default to arborio, an Italian short-grain rice named after the town of the same name in the Po valley, where the rice is grown. The problem, Accursio said, is that most of us aren’t buying rice from that region. It’s now grown all over the world–and he can’t be sure of its quality. Instead he uses one of two rices: Carnaroli or Vialone Nano.
Carnaroli is grown in Northwest Italy and it, too, is a short-grain rice, often referred to as the “caviar of rice.” Carnaroli rice is usually pricier than other Italian rices because it’s more difficult to grow and harvest. The plants break easily, they’re more disease prone, and the grains of rice break more during processing. But it’s also more forgiving during cooking; it can absorb large amounts of liquid and creates a very creamy risotto.
Vialone Nano is similar to Carnaroli. It’s very rich in starch and its high amylose content allows it to keep its shape and absorb lots of liquids during cooking. It’s grown in Verona, which specializes in growing rice, said Accursio. You can find both varieties online, but also check with Mona Lisa, Specialty Produce, and other gourmet stores in San Diego to learn if they carry it.
For both these risottos, Accursio uses a vegetable stock made with celery, carrots, onions, and a whole tomato, which he simmers for about 40 minutes. He pointed out that when making risotto it’s important to customize the stock based on the other ingredients you’re going to use. Add lobster, mussel, shrimp, and clam shells to the stock for a seafood risotto, for instance. And he usually uses a three-to-one ratio of stock to rice, although we ended using four to one this day. The rice just kept absorbing the liquid.
Using the two varieties of rice we created two dishes. With the Vialone Nano, we started with toasting the rice gently–not to brown it but to eliminate whatever humidity it was starting with from the packaging. That way, Accursio said, the grain can better hold its shape as it absorbs the liquid. Then he added olive oil to coat the grains, then diced shallots, then the liquid. In the version with the Carnaroli, he added olive oil to pot first, then diced shallots, then the rice, then the liquid.
So, two techniques, both concluding with the same approach in creating creaminess–what Accursio told me is called mantecato–which is done by adding butter and cheese and stirring. Altogether it should take about 20 minutes, depending on the rice. There’s a lot of stirring. Yes, you’ll find plenty of recipes these days which dismiss the importance of constantly stirring, but that’s not how Accursio does it. And, he noted, make sure that you keep incorporating wayward grains that end up on the wall of the pot. You don’t want any lingering grains that wind up crunchy at the end.
And, with that, here are the two recipes:
Risotto with Sardinian Saffron
from Accursio Lota
Yield: 2 servings
1 cup short grain rice (Here we used Vialone Nano, but you can use arborio or Carnaroli.)
4 cups vegetable stock
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon diced shallot
A few pinches saffron (Accursio prefers Sardinian saffron.)
2/3 cup Grana Padano cheese, grated (You can use Parmesan.)
1/8 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan, add the rice and toast briefly over medium heat. Do not brown it. Add enough olive oil to coat each grain of rice by stirring. Add the shallot and mix together.
Begin adding the stock, stirring well. As the rice absorbs the stock, add a little more, and continue stirring. After about seven minutes, add a couple of pinches of the saffron. Keep stirring.
Remove from the heat and add the butter and another pinch of saffron. Stir for three to four minutes.
Add 1/3 cup of the cheese and continue stirring. If the mixture is getting too thick, add a bit more stock–and keep stirring. Add the rest of the cheese and stir. Add salt and pepper. Taste, adjust seasonings, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve.
Risotto with Summer Truffles
from Accursio Lota
Yield: 2 servings
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon diced shallots
1 cup short grain rice (Here we used Carnaroli, but you can use Vialone Nano or arborio.)
4 cups vegetable stock
1//8 cup butter
2/3 cup Grana Padano cheese, grated (You can use Parmesan.)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 ounce, thinly sliced summer truffles (Accursio gets his from Umbria.)
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
In a saucepan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add shallots and saute until translucent. Add the rice and stir together.
Begin adding the stock, stirring well. As the rice absorbs the stock, add a little more, and continue stirring.
After about seven minutes, remove from heat and stir in the butter. Add the cheese and stir well for about three to four minutes. Then season with salt and pepper.
Add about 2/3 of the truffles and a teaspoon of white truffle oil and stir. Plate the risotto and top with the rest of the truffles. Serve.
How have you learned to make risotto? Do you have favorite ingredients you like to incorporate with the risotto, like seafood or winter squash?
As we all know, there’s no way to prepare 100 percent for surprises in our businesses or personal lives, but giving some thought to “what if” certainly doesn’t hurt. Things happen. It could be an injury to you or serious family illness. You just never know what may suddenly pull you away from your work.
For Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food, it was getting her foot hooked in the strap of one of her grocery bags that sent her flying to the floor and fracturing her right knee. At the home of a woman who was the recipient of a gift certificate. While Carol didn’t need surgery, she had to stay off her feet for six weeks, using either crutches or a “saddle stool” her hairstylist loaned her. She clearly couldn’t even drive.
How did she handle her client load? “I notified my clients by telephone,” she says. “I didn’t feel e-mail or texting was appropriate. I generally have about 15 to 16 clients and called one or two per day, depending upon when I was scheduled to cook for them. They were all GREAT. Fortunately, this happened at the end of May 2014 so many were taking vacations anyway. The doctor told me I’d be out for six weeks, so most only missed one cook date as most of my clients are monthly.”
To keep on schedule, Carol went back to work while still in a brace, with the help of a friend, but got back to her routine pretty quickly after that. And while on enforced rest, she stayed productive, studying food photography and launching her blog, A Cookbook Obsession.
Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist has had these health surprises happen twice in his career. The first was after emergency surgery in Arizona at the end of a vacation. His wife called all his clients to explain the situation, which turned from one week off to three weeks away. He was able to return in the fourth week with the help of an assistant. “All my clients were happy to wait for me and ate whatever was stored in their freezers, ate out, and cooked some,” he says.
The second time was also for surgery, but this time, Jim had time to plan.
“I approached each client and asked what they would prefer: Me to cook extra and fill their freezers or arrange for another chef to cover,” he explains. “Coincidentally, two clients were traveling for much of the planned time off and two preferred me to fill the freezer and one just cooked or ate out for the duration. All were very happy to have me back to good health. That time my wife was working with me as she was between jobs, so my return to work was smooth.”
Jim has filled in for other chefs on occasion. In these situations, the chefs communicated with their clients regarding menus, payments, and other issues. “This worked well, since the chefs I worked for kept control and I accepted a reduced rate from them as I wasn’t doing the menu planning, etc., and I was helping them in a time of need.”
Kathy Dederich of Chef, Please is dealing with this issue now. In early July, her husband Dan suffered a traumatic brain injury at work. After being airlifted to a nearby hospital for surgery, he is now recovering in a rehab facility four hours from their home. She expects to be there at least another couple of weeks and then Dan will move to a more intensive rehab facility where family members are not allowed to reside–meaning Kathy will return home to work.
“As luck would have it, I received more calls/emails from new/prospective clients than what I had gotten in the last six months,” she says. “Fortunately, two families have indicated they will wait until I am ready to come back to work. They have both expressed their concern for both Dan and me and send their best…mind you, I have yet to meet them.
“My regular clients have been extremely supportive as well,” Kathy adds. “They call on a regular basis to see how we both are. We sort of have an understanding that as soon as I can, I will be back to cook for them. My plan is to ask for a list of their favorites that they’d like me to make my first week back.”
For those potential new clients who had immediate needs for various functions, Kathy referred them to a friend of hers who is a full-time chef at a senior facility. She says there aren’t many legitimate personal chefs in her region so she didn’t have many referral options.
For Kathy, not working has been the right decision for her. But she encourages others to review both their finances and legal documents. “We had these completed when we were still in Illinois, but wanted to make sure we were compliant with the state of Arkansas,” Kathy says. “We finally did this in early spring. It has been a God-send because everything is in place.”
If you’re lucky enough to plan for enforced time off because you’re pregnant, you can consult with clients to figure out the best approach. That’s how Elizabeth Prewitt of Silver Plum Personal Chef has been handling her future. With a due date of August 23, she scheduled clients through the 12th with the understanding that the last couple of dates might have to be unexpectedly cancelled if he showed up early (he didn’t and as of now, they’re still waiting).
Beth started telling clients in person about three to four months ago. She hired an assistant toward the end of her work period, but it was clear that the assistant was to help her. She wasn’t a Beth clone.
“So as the due date got closer, and I realized that I was simply going to have to take time off with no replacement/contingency plan for my clients, I let them all know, again, in person,” Beth explains. “My plan is to take two to three months off, and start scheduling again when I’m ready. (I have yet to secure child care, which will probably dictate exactly when I can start working again—my next huge stressor!) Since I’ve never done this ‘having a kid’ thing before, I didn’t want to make any promises I couldn’t keep, so I haven’t given anyone a firm return date. As most of my clients are families with young kids, and I primarily communicate with the ladies of the households, they have all been very understanding with this. This doesn’t mean I’m not worried about client retention, though. The longer I’m away from them, the more likely they are to find other solutions that work just fine for them.”
So, what are the takeaways from these chefs’ experiences?
“Kathy Dederich said it when she told us, “I encourage others to do a review of their finances as well as legal documents,” says Candy Wallace, the APPCA‘s founder and executive director. “Knowing where you are can save a lot of time and angst in a crisis.
“Jim Huff and Carol Borchardt turned to family and friends for physical assistance in their abbreviated operation of businesses, and ALL of the chefs did the smart thing in contacting their clients immediately and including them in the decision-making process of keeping their businesses viable during their recuperation processes as well as allowing the clients to take part in the planning process of their return to operations,” Candy observes.
“Carol was able to use much of the enforced time off to learn a new craft, food styling and food photography, which has become an enriching part of her culinary business plan,” adds Candy. “And Beth Prewitt is settling into a new home and getting ready to be a new mom. I think you could say they used ‘down time’ to forward the action for their futures.”
But Candy does emphasize the importance of getting to know and befriend colleagues to get learn one another’s specialties and levels of experience so you can refer business back and forth to each other–and back each other up in case of emergencies like the ones above. And she relates a story that hits close to home.
“Many years ago I was out training two new members in San Diego when I arrived at home to find all of my neighbors standing on my front lawn. When I got out of the van I was told that my husband Dennis had had a heart attack and had been taken to a local hospital. I took off immediately for the hospital and did not return home until around 3 a.m. when the cardiologist told me Dennis was going to live and sent me home. I arrived and found all the lights on in the house and the doors open. I thought, great, Denny is in the hospital, and now it looks as if we have been robbed…I walked in and found a group of local personal chefs I had worked with over the years waiting for me. They had cleaned our house, filled the fridge and freezer with heart-healthy meals, and had gone through my file info and contacted all of my clients to let them know I would not be available for the next three months while I helped Den recuperate, and that they would be providing service on their regular schedule.
“There was nothing I could say. I sat down on the couch and burst into tears. That night the APPCA was officially created to support the chefs we trained through the original Personal Chef Institute. The association was created so that all members could experience the genuine support and respect for one another we experienced as a result of Denny’s heart attack. Talk about a silver lining.
“Please make an effort to get to know your local colleagues. Offer to go along with one another on occasion as an unpaid guest chef so you can know one another’s skill level and get to know one another on a personal as well as a professional level. Refer appropriate business leads back and forth to one another. I say it often, and I’ll say it here again, ‘We are all in this together as personal chefs, and it simply makes sense to take care of one another and take care of the personal chef career path so that we all win at the career and life path we have chosen.'”
What plans have you made for your business in case of a health or other emergency?
I’m not a personal chef or a chef of any kind. I’m a food writer and a home cook–and a daughter who is now helping my elderly parents out with preparing meals. My mom is caring for my dad at home here in San Diego. He suffers from two forms of dementia–Alzheimer’s Disease, a memory loss condition with which you may be familiar, and Lewy Body Disease, which is less common, related to Parkinson’s, and causes him to have hallucinations; in our situation it mostly centers around his not recognizing my mom. As you can imagine, this has put a lot of stress on her, and she isn’t in the best health herself. So, I’m a caregiver, too.
And that includes doing some cooking for them so Mom can catch a break and just enjoy a meal herself. Recently, however, she suffered from a bad bout of reflux. So I needed to make two different dinners for them. I became what she had always dissed being in our household growing up: a short-order cook.
Making her dinner was easy. Plain, stripped-down skinless chicken breast baked with some cut up carrots in a little water with a smidge of salt. But I needed to be more creative for my dad, who may have memory issues but has a healthy appetite.
Recently I’ve been making them mustard chicken baked with panko. It’s easy–just slather the chicken pieces with a great mustard and roll in panko. Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 375˚ for about an hour. My folks both love this dish, as do I. The mustard tenderizes and flavors the meat and the panko and olive oil create a fabulous crust. What’s not to love!
But I don’t want him to get tired of it, so I was thinking about other options. I love chicken flavored with lemon juice but I had one last ripe Meyer lemon on my tree and thought it might be interesting to chop it up and cook it with the chicken. And add artichokes. I knew I couldn’t find baby artichokes right now–this would be great with trimmed fresh baby artichokes–but I could buy frozen artichoke hearts. It all started coming together–add some shallots, fresh herbs, some wine. Find another Meyer lemon at the market. And that was it.
The result was a marvelous tangy, yet rich dish. The roasted Meyer lemon pieces contributed to the juices but were also wonderful bites, drenched in chicken juices and wine, since they don’t have the bitterness of conventional lemons. The chicken practically fell off the bone, yet the skin was crisp. And the mellowness of the artichokes and shallots complemented the bright sweet flavors coming from the lemon and wine.
I made basmati rice to accompany the dish, which was perfect because this lemon chicken creates magnificent juices and you want a grain that will sop it all up. And there were plenty of leftovers for a couple of days. My dad loved it. The housekeeper loved it. And my mom was rapturous over the heady aroma it produces. This goes in the rotation, especially so Mom can enjoy it later now that she’s feeling better.
Lemon Chicken with Artichoke Hearts
Serves 5 to 8
5 whole chicken legs, cut into drumsticks and thighs (trim excess fat)
1, 12-ounce bag of frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
2 Meyer lemons, washed, cut into pieces, and seeded
3 shallots, peeled and sliced
About 12 sprigs of fresh oregano and thyme
2/3 cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 300˚F.
Place chicken pieces skin side down in casserole in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn over and season the skin side.
In a large bowl, combine the artichoke hearts, lemon pieces, shallots, and herbs. Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper.
Add to the chicken, tucking into the crevices between the pieces. Keep as much of the chicken uncovered as possible. Pour the wine over the chicken mixture.
Cover with foil and bake for two hours. Then increase the oven temperature to 425˚F. Remove the foil and roast uncovered for half an hour or until the skin is brown and crispy.
Serve with rice or another grain.
What’s your go-to dish to make for a family? Are you adding caregiving activities to your your life and work? Feel free to share the challenges that brings and how you’re managing them.
You’re busy chefs and are probably always looking for great ways to save time, money, and ingredients. I frequently post what I think are marvelously clever and useful kitchen hacks on our Facebook page to give you some ideas to tuck away for your use. Today, I’m writing up half a dozen that I’ve seen and used. Periodically, I’ll post more as I collect them. And if you have any to share, send them along with photos!
1. Preserved lemons: This Moroccan staple is brilliant added to pasta, salads, dressings, and proteins like scallops and poultry. And they’re ridiculously easy to make. All you need is a large glass jar, about 7 or 8 Meyer lemons and sea salt. Slice the lemons down the long end almost half way, turn it a quarter and do it again. Stuff the inside with salt. Grab that end, turn the lemon upside down and repeat so both ends are stuffed with salt. Place the lemon in the impeccably clean jar and repeat with as many lemons as you can fit into the jar and still screw on the lid. A lot of juice will come out. That’s fine. Keep the jar of lemons on the counter for a month, periodically turning it over and back to make sure the juice is covering the top. After a month, you can use the lemons in pasta dishes, in rice, salads, sauces, with fish or with Moroccan-style dishes. Keep the jar in the refrigerator and the lemons will last for months.
2. Freezing ginger: I don’t know about you, but fresh ginger root can be frustrating. You buy a knob to use for a dish and then you still have leftover ginger that, despite your best intentions, doesn’t get used and eventually shrivels up and gets tossed. Enough of that. The Kitchn has a great approach. I learned I could peel a hand of the root, grate it, measure it off in teaspoons, and freeze it. But I changed it up a bit and made it even easier. I didn’t peel the root and instead of grating it, I pulled out my mini food processor, quickly sliced up the large hand, and ground it as fine as I could. Then I used a mini cookie scoop, which measures about a teaspoon, and before I knew it I had more than a dozen scoops of ginger on a parchment-lined pan. I put the pan in the freezer. Two hours or so later when the pieces were hard, I placed those now-frozen ground ginger rounds in a quart freezer bag so I can have what I need when I need it. And sans waste.
3. Dried dill: My mom has a Persian friend who has taught us all sorts of great recipes–and one fabulous trick. She uses a lot of dill so her way to always have what she needs on hand is to slowly dry bunches in the oven and then package it for storage. Wash and dry dill fronds. Cut off the thick stems and place the smaller fronds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in a 225-degree oven. Periodically move the dill around to make sure the air is circulating around all the pieces. Depending on how much you are drying it can take from half an hour to hour until they’re just stiff and crunchy. Remove from the oven and let cool. Then carefully crumble the leaves over a clean sheet of paper so they don’t fly all over your counter. Pull the ends of the paper together so the dill settles into the middle and you can easily direct it into a container, where you can store it in the pantry, or into a freezer bag. This also works for other herbs, like mint and parsley.
4. Vacuum sealing with straws: Unless you have plenty of counter space for large vacuum sealers, this little hack will save you space and money. About $1.50 will buy you a package of straws that can serve a multitude of purposes, including vacuum sealing freezer bag contents. Air is the enemy of freezer storage and as talented as you may be in strategically manipulating bags to push the air out of them, using a straw is way simpler and more effective. Simply fill your freezer bag with what you’re storing, insert the end of a straw and seal the top around it. Then suck in until the plastic tightly encircles the contents. Quickly pull out the straw and finish sealing. Your frozen product will have a much better chance of lasting longer and without freezer burn.
5. Homemade vanilla extract: For years I’ve bought large bottles of vanilla whenever I’ve gone down to Tijuana. It’s inexpensive and very good. But recently a friend of mine gifted me with a beautiful bottle and a long, thick vanilla bean with instructions to fill the bottle–with the bean in it–with vodka, brandy, bourbon, or rum. Vodka, she says, gives the cleanest flavor. Then let it sit in a cool dark cabinet or pantry for six weeks. At that point, your extract is ready to use. And you can keep adding more alcohol to top off your bottle as you use it. She claims the single bean will give pure vanilla extract for 25 years. Mark your calendar.
6. Bacon by the slice: How often do you need just one or two slices of bacon to add to a dish (or make for yourself)? Here’s a great way to access a single slice at a time that I learned from The Kitchn. Buy a package of bacon, separate and roll up each slice individually. Get out a small baking sheet and line it with parchment. Place each little roll on it and put it in the freezer. Once they’re hard (I know; this is like the ginger–but, hey, it’s a great and versatile technique), remove and toss into a freezer bag. Grab that straw from hack 4 and vacuum seal the bag. Next time you want to add a little bacon to a vinaigrette, you’re all set.
Have a great kitchen hack of your own to share? Post it here or send it to email@example.com with a photo so we can use it the next time we post a collection of hacks.