Personal chefs, how many of you have actually created a realist retirement program that you can stick with? We know; it’s something we all intend doing but somehow don’t quite get around to it. But, of course, time courses on and before you know it, you’ll be at retirement age!

No one knows this better than Thomas Gipson. Now a financial adviser at Primerica Financial Services, Thomas has long been a personal and private chef. In fact, he still services a handful of private clients. Candy asked him to offer our members some advice on preparing your finances for the future. He has offered these five quick financial tips for you to act on.

ThomasGipson Pro pic

Like many chefs and other industry professionals, the thrill and rush of working in a highly creative, challenging, and high energy environment is at the forefront of your daily thoughts. Planning, shopping, preparing, organizing, client relations, traveling from place to place, and even putting out a fire here and there are usually the theme of the day. I know. Like you, I’ve been a chef.

With all this going on in your life, when do you have the time to think about your personal financial security and prepare for that time down the road when your best days in the business have passed? Don’t think it will ever happen to you? Well, think again! Being self employed as a personal chef can come with some real financial challenges that must be dealt with now to avoid disaster in your later years, when it will count the most.

  • Approximately 1 in 4 employees are in serious financial distress.
  • On average, 80 percent of these individuals spend time at work worrying with their personal financial problems, wasting anywhere from 12 to 20 hours per month.
  • This loss of productivity is estimated to cost you approximately $7,000 a year, per person.

Check out these five quick financial tips you can implement now to ensure all your hard work will pay off when you really need it to.

#1. Pay Yourself FIRST: We’ve all heard this but the important question is do all of us do it? Paying yourself first means putting yourself and your family before any other demands on your money. Paying yourself first can be established as a form of self-respect.

Allocate and deposit a set amount EVERY MONTH, CONSISTENTLY, into an investment program, no matter what other financial obligations you have. See how amazingly fast your money can grow if you invest even a small amount regularly, at a good rate of return. Understanding the power of compound interest and “The Rule of 72” (dividing your interest rate into 72 equals the number of years it takes for your investment to double) is critical for your investing success.

#2. Adjust Your Priorities and/or Lifestyle: If you’re thinking to yourself, “I don’t have enough right now,” then maybe it’s time to evaluate your spending habits and adjust for more important things like, will you have enough at retirement when you may not be able to work? It’s important to understand the difference between a NEED and a WANT. It’s been said:

Make $20, Spend $19 = Happiness

Make $20, Spend $21 = Misery

Remember: It’s not how much you make; it’s how much you keep!

#3. Realign Your Assets – Two GIANT areas where people are not getting their money’s worth are:

  1. Low interest-bearing “savings accounts” with banks: When’s the last time you checked that good ole savings account at the bank? Try taking the balance of an account giving only 1 percent interest in return and invest it in an area that has higher returns potential.
  2. High-cost life insurance: Cash Value (Whole Life) insurance policies are a thing of the past and have proven to be too expensive. You can replace your cash value insurance policy with term insurance and potentially reap thousands of dollars in premium savings over time!

#4. Avoid the Credit Trap: By now, most of us know, too much credit card debt can become the reason we have to work. Don’t become a full-time employee for the banks by owing unmanageable card balances. They can be good to establish necessary credit and used responsibly but that’s it. Be careful to avoid the pitfalls of “borrowed money.” Try paying your balance in full each month. You’ll not only avoid interest charges but you’ll prevent your balance from escalating out of control. Whenever possible, pay with cash to help keep your charges under control. You’ll probably discover that you spend less when you have to use your own money.

#5. Set Financial Goals/Have A Plan: Don’t forget! Goals are for every area of your life. Your financial goals should be at the top of your list. How do you reach a destination without a road map? Chefs HAVE to be good planners to be successful. This means you can apply those same great planning skills you employ in serving your clients and growing your business into your personal finances so you can rest easy down the road. Developing a financial game plan is your road map to guide you to financial success. Remember: You DO have a choice in your financial future.

Thomas Gipson is a licensed, registered representative and financial planner in the state of Florida. After 20+ years experience in the food and beverage industry as a professional chef, Thomas has turned his work to raising a heightened awareness of proper financial education among industry professionals. To connect with him for additional information or questions please email:


Have you started developing a retirement plan? If not, what’s holding you back? What questions do you have for Thomas?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership

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sesame soy wrapper roll2

There are some foods that even the best chefs and home cooks prefer to leave to the experts in that genre. My guess is that sushi is one of them. Anyone who has watched the superb documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi knows how arduous the training can be for a sushi chef.

But like anything, even you aren’t going to be a master, you can still hone your skills and create something pretty delicious–and sushi rolls really are both accessible and delicious.

Making the rolls is relatively easy. You need short grain rice (I cooked up three cups with four cups of water) mixed with seasoned rice vinegar. And, you need wrappers. Traditionally, these are nori, thin, dried seaweed sheets. But my friend Mineko Moreno (who is a superb instructor in the art of sushi making) introduced me to colorful soy wrappers. The large package comes five sheets to a pack. As you can see, they also make beautiful hand rolls, but you can also use them to make traditional long rolls.

sushi wrappers

You’ll need fillings, too–these can be anything from shrimp, crab sticks, tuna, salmon, or other seafood, cooked or raw, to vegetables. Cucumbers, carrots, or daikon radishes are just some of the vegetables that, sliced into thin sticks, can work beautifully. Add fish roe, pickles, avocado slices, favorite sauces. The variations are only limited to your imagination.

sushi ingredients

And, you’ll need a sushi mat, which you’ll want to cover with plastic wrap to keep the roll from sticking.

Sushi mat

Now, you’re pretty well set. Of course, you could also add wasabi (the lovely hot green paste served with pickled ginger at your local sushi bar).

Get yourself organized with all your ingredients and then be creative. The wrappers go shiny side down on the mat, then you moisten your fingertips and press the seasoned rice uniformly on the mat, leaving about an inch empty along the top. In the middle of the rice, line up your filling.

Avocado, crab, shredded ginger roll in the making

Then, you’ll lift the bottom of the mat and carefully begin to fold over and roll your filled wrapper, pressing down gently but firmly when you’ve got it in a roll to seal the deal.

sesame soy wrapper roll

Carefully move the roll and place it on the counter or a large plate, sealed side down and let it rest about 10 minutes. Refrigerate the rolls until you’re ready to use them (hopefully soon). When you’re ready to serve, let them come to room temperature and cut them in half and then repeatedly in half until you have eight pieces. (Tip: Run the knife blade through water for each cut to keep the rice from sticking to it.)

Green and yellow rolls

These are only cut in half to give you an idea of what the center looks like. And, you can serve them with a citrus ponzu sauce, a Japanese dipping sauce made with soy, yuzu juice and dashi.

saffron shrimp and ginger roll

See? Easy. Perfect for catering. And, once you master this, you can create a sushi-making party and teach your clients’ guests. Set out a variety of fillings and let your guests create their own rolls under your guidance. It’s a fun departure from same old, same old cheese and crackers platter.

Do you have a favorite dish or area of specialization that you want to share? Leave a comment and we’ll be in touch!

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One of the issues that often comes up for personal chefs is how to get the most bang for the buck on food. And, of course, it’s just as true for clients and cooking class students. As a food writer, I get asked this question all the time, so I thought I’d pull together some ideas that may resound with you and that you can share with clients. Even if you do the lion’s share of cooking for them, it can’t hurt for those who are interested to have some tips for how to spend food money wisely–and reduce waste. While this can entail a healthy dose of frugality, we’re not talking coupon clipping here–and it doesn’t mean there isn’t room to splurge. It’s just a matter of knowing how to make the best decisions based on eating habits, budget, and health concerns. Sometimes a little splurging is actually good for you and not reckless, especially if you’re balancing it with cost-savings in other places.

Some of these ideas are really obvious (especially if you’re a chef) but are things we tend to forget or let slide, so I’ve included them here for you or to share with clients and students. And, if you have suggestions of your own, let’s hear them with a comment below! Share your knowledge so we can all benefit!

Olive oils

Where to Splurge:

  1. Buy good cuts of meat, only in smaller portions. I like to go to Whole Foods and buy a small piece of Wagyu skirt steak to grill. It doesn’t cost much but it’s delicious. When it comes to pork, I enjoy the richness of Berkshire pork, which you can find at a quality butcher.
  2. Buy good quality olive oil for finishing, sauces, and dressings. When heat is involved–sautéing, frying, etc., less expensive vegetable oil is fine–often preferable–but use good quality olive oil for the flavor. Also try avocado oil for flavor finishes, too. Remember to store oil in a dark, cool place to maintain quality, but don’t hoard it since it will go rancid or just lose the intensity of its flavor.
  3. Buy roasted chickens and use them to help you make other meals faster–like tacos or soup. Save the bones and unused meat for making stock.
  4. Buy organic produce, but if you have to prioritize, go with produce without a thick peel you don’t eat – lettuce, berries, etc. as opposed to avocados. Here’s a list of the “dirty dozen”–produce you should spend those organic dollars on.
  5. Buy vanilla beans, but only to use when the vanilla flavor is the star in the dessert. Store the beans in vanilla extract to impart more flavor to the extract, or store the beans in a bowl of sugar.
  6. Buy small pieces of good cheese. Buy chunks of parmesan or cheddar or mozarella, not pre-grated. If you have a food processor you can easily grate the cheese if you need large quantities.
  7. Invest in good basic kitchen tools: knives, graters, peelers, and salad spinners. It makes cooking much easier and may encourage you to do more if you’re not fighting your ingredients. And take care of them. Make sure your knives are well sharpened.

Parmegiano Reggiano

Where to Budget:

  1. Buy whole chickens instead of parts and cut them up yourself. Double wrap and store pieces in freezer. Be sure to mark the package with what the item is and the date so you can use it before it gets freezer burn. Also, dark meat is less expensive and has more flavor. Save parts like the back, wings, drumsticks and use them to make stock.
  2. Don’t buy skinless, boneless chicken packages. If you’re not going to buy a whole chicken, it is cheaper to buy the whole parts and remove the skin and bones yourself. If you see bulk packages of chicken parts (skin and bones intact), buy them and divide into meal-sized portions and freeze.
  3. Buy cheaper cuts of meat, like lamb shoulder instead of loin for chops, or pork butt–basically cuts in which you’re talking about muscle. The meat will be tougher but you can do a nice slow cook or braise to make the meat more tender and flavorful. These cheap cuts are the best for stews and soups as well. And don’t buy pre-cut “stewing meat.” Buy the whole piece and cut it yourself so that you have pieces that are the same size and will cook evenly. You’ll save money and get a better result in your dish.
  4. Eliminate meat from your diet two or three times a week and instead make dishes with beans, rice, lentils, and other grains or legumes. Experiment with quinoa, couscous, farro, wheat berries, polenta and other grains. Try using whole wheat pasta. Use meat to flavor dishes, not as the centerpiece of the meal.
  5. Don’t buy pre-packaged produce. Peel your own carrots, wash and chop your own lettuce. The only exception may be spinach, which is a real pain to clean.
  6. Buy bags of popcorn kernels instead of packaged flavored popcorn and pop it yourself.
  7. Buy produce that’s in season and have a plan for it (i.e., menus) so it doesn’t spoil. Also think of ways to use the whole fruit or vegetable. Beet tops, parsnip tops, and other root vegetable greens are delicious steamed or sautéed. They can also be included in stock. Stick brown bananas in the freezer to use later for banana bread or to make a smoothie.
  8. Jars of dried herbs are pricey and often lose their flavor sitting on the shelf exposed to light. Instead, plant herbs, even in pots. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, basil, mint (always plant mint in a pot because it spreads fast) are easy to grow.
  9. If you have room in your freezer, store flour, sugar, beans, etc. in there so you don’t have to toss food because bugs got into the container.
  10. Make your own convenience foods. If you’re cooking, make enough for two meals. Make large pots of soup or stew and freeze it in serving-size containers. You can do the same with chicken or proteins other than fish. Welcome to your new frozen food dinners.
  11. Make your own pizza. Dough is easy to make and can be frozen. Then it’s just a matter of grating cheese and having your own combination of toppings. Instead of tomato sauce, use sliced tomatoes and fresh basil.
pizza before cooking with pesto, tomatoes, black garlic

Pizza with pesto, tomatoes, and black garlic before baking

12. Learn a couple of cooking techniques that can give you flexibility in making quick meals. For instance, you can quickly brown chicken parts in a large Dutch oven on the stove, add layers of sliced onion, garlic, olives, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, etc. with herbs, a dash of wine or stock, cover and cook in the oven at 350 for about an hour. Make rice or other grains and you’ve got your meal. Alternately, use diced tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini for a different flavor combo. Make roasted tomato soup and the next night add seafood to the soup with a few slices of lemon. Now you have cioppino. Do you enjoy the flavors from roasting vegetables? You can turn any combination of roasted vegetables into a quick and easy soup. And, that goes for leftovers.The leftovers from the roasted squash you served with chicken one night can be added to stock, simmered and then pureed to make soup the next night.

Roasted peppers

Roasted peppers

Roasted red pepper soup

Roasted red pepper soup

In the Market:

  1. Have a plan. Make a list. Check your calendar to see when you’ll actually be home to eat. A lot of the produce and dairy you buy gets tossed away because you don’t use it before it goes bad. Knowing how you’ll use what you buy and that you’ll be able to eat it will prevent you from wasting money.
  2. Shop the store’s perimeter–that’s where the produce, meat and dairy tend to be. The middle aisles, with the cookies, prepared foods, and snacks are the most dangerous and expensive places in the store. Stick with your list.
  3. Shop ethnic markets. You’ll find interesting, even unusual produce, often for less than the big chain supermarkets. If you don’t know what an item is or how to prepare it, ask someone who works in the store or a fellow customer. I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful recipes that way. And, I’ve found great deals on duck legs, lamb, fish, and other items at ethnic markets.
  4. Again, buy produce that’s in season. If there’s a great deal on a particular vegetable you enjoy, buy in quantity. You can use it to make soup; you can even freeze it. And, it’s less expensive than buying packages of frozen vegetables. If Roma tomatoes are on sale and you like tomatoes, buy several pounds, slice them in half lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and roast. Romas have a hearty texture but they don’t have great flavor; roasting brings out the sugars. Roasted tomatoes are perfect for soup, pasta sauce and cioppino. And you can freeze them.
  5. If you like to shop farmers markets but find them too pricey, try shopping at the end of the market. Sometimes farmers will give shoppers a deal so they don’t have to schlep inventory back.
  6. If you’re single, go in with friends on deals for bulk purchases when buying at Costco, CSAs, etc.
  7. Become friends with your butcher and your produce guy/gal. They can direct you to good deals, tell you about the product,  and offer suggestions on how to use it. If you feel like making stock from scratch, ask your butcher if he/she can give you beef or lamb bones. Roast the bones, add onion, garlic, root vegetables, salt and pepper and, of course, water, to a big pot. In a couple of hours you’ve got stock for making a lot of different meals. Package them in one-cup and quart containers so you can add a little or add a lot to make soup or a stew. And don’t forget to mark them so you know what the container is and how old.


What are your favorite strategies for smart food purchases? Where do you splurge? Where do you save?

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Pickled veggies

Do you make pickles? If not, you’re missing out on an opportunity to add a terrific snap of flavor to the meals you prepare for clients. Most people who shy away from pickling do it because they’re intimidated by water bath processing. But pickling doesn’t always have to lead to water baths (which isn’t hard to do anyway)–and, with these three recipes, that step isn’t involved–although you could do it if you want. These types of pickles are basically meant to be eaten quickly and within a week.

Now why would you want to make them? First of all, they’re delicious snacks that you can enjoy out of hand. They’re also perfect on a charcuterie or cheese plate. In fact, any dish in which you are serving a fatty protein–pork, salmon, and lamb, pates, and rich cheeses immediately come to mind–can benefit from the acid a pickle provides. It’s that acid that satisfyingly cuts the richness of the fat.

I love a sprinkling of pickled onion in a carnitas taco. I’ve enjoyed them in Asian soups filled with pork or made from a pork stock. Shredded pickled carrots are delightfully crunchy in a salad or sandwich. Pickle pearl onions for cocktails. Consider the menus you plan–whether for weekly clients or catering gigs–and think about what dishes would benefit from a crunchy pickle.

I got the recipes below from my friend Pete Balistreri, who operates a chain of restaurants in San Diego called Tender Greens. Tender Greens is all about slow food done fast with local, seasonal, organic produce. In fact, I’ve been on the farm where they source most of their produce. Here, we used cucumbers, cauliflower, and onions–but you could select other vegetables to great effect. In fact, the cauliflower recipe was originally written for fennel. For the cucumber, you can substitute with Japanese or English cucumbers. For the onions, go for white, yellow, or red onions–or garlic or shallots, or a combination.

Pickled cucumbers

Asian-Style Pickles
from Pete Balistreri

Sliced cucumbers
Rice wine vinegar
Red peppercorns

How easy is this. Just mix all the ingredients together. Refrigerate for an hour. Eat. Serve with fish (how about sashimi?) and a salad. Mix the liquid with olive oil and create a vinaigrette. Or heat the liquid and pour over tougher cucumber varieties like lemon cukes, wait till they cool, then eat. (Note: I make these all the time but use red pepper flakes instead of the whole peppercorns. I also add toasted sesame seeds when I’m ready to eat them. They’re my perfect quick and refreshing snack on a hot summer day.)

Pickled onions

Pickled Onions
from Pete Balistreri
Yield: 3 quarts

3 cups red wine vinegar
7 cups water
1 cup red wine (like a Pinot Noir)
1/2 cup sugar
1 bunch thyme
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
4 onions (white, yellow or red), julienned

Mix together all the ingredients but the onions in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Pour over the onions. Let cool, then refrigerate. Give them 24 hours to develop their color and then serve. Try these inside a beef taco or to top a salad.


Pickled cauliflower

Pickled Cauliflower
from Pete Balistreri
Yield: 2 quarts

3 cups champagne vinegar
8 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 bunch thyme
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 head cauliflower, florets separated

Mix all ingredients but the cauliflower in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Pour over the vegetables. Let cool, then refrigerate and wait 24 hours for the color to develop, then serve. You can save the liquid and reheat for another batch.

Do you make pickles for clients? If so, what are your favorites to make?

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Ed Fluck

Long before the general public really understood the term, Edward Fluck became a private chef. Certainly the wealthy among us have had butlers and cooks, but it was only around 25 years ago that they started bringing private chefs into their households.

Chef Ed Fluck, known to all as “Chef Ed,” a longtime member of APPCA, had been cooking professionally for 15 years when he was recommended for the position of private chef to Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons. More than 42 people were interviewed for the job, but Chef Ed was less concerned about the competition than the actual match.

“You have to make sure the match is perfect because it’s like a marriage. You live on site and are with the family constantly,” he explains.

That meant that he also, delicately, interviewed Charlotte Smith, Rankin Smith’s wife, during their initial meeting, asking her why they wanted to have a chef at that point in their life. He liked her response. First, she said, they wanted to do more entertaining for charities and hosting out-of-town guests. Second, she just didn’t like dealing with the kitchen and wanted to stay away. “I found that very refreshing,” Chef Ed recalls. “She was honest and not playing games.” It turned out she also needed someone to manage the house and staff of six. That intrigued him. It was a new challenge and something he looked forward to.


But he also did his research and, to his satisfaction, found that many of the staff had been there for more than 10 years—so he didn’t see it as a situation in which the client was going through a lot of employees.

Chef Ed worked for them for six years, until Rankin Smith passed away and his widow moved to Florida. During that time, he learned that not only did he and the staff have to conform to Mrs. Smith’s schedule—so did their guests. If lunch was scheduled for 12:30, not even their guests could request lunch an hour later. As she told him, “You’re not a short-order cook.”

“She was very tough but we got along very well. Even so, you always have to remember–even when they take you on vacation—that they’re your employer. You still have to make sure they’re taken care of,” he says.


As a private chef, Chef Ed explains, you’re dedicated to the client. You’re just working for one family and the tasks in his case not only involved cooking, but all the shopping, managing the household (“I logged in every phone call that came in.”), banking, and car maintenance. No, he didn’t do that himself, but hired and supervised those who did.

Chef Ed points out that the standards for a private chef are exceptionally high. “The people I worked for could eat anywhere in the world, so I had to learn to do everything in the kitchen exceptionally well. As a private chef you’ll have a brief career if you limit what you make.”

He was in his 40s when he worked for the Smiths, and Chef Ed enjoyed living on the property, although “it was kind of like being 16,” he jokes. “I’m not in my own house, but I wanted to be respectful of their privacy, so I’d call when I’d go out and come in. I wanted Mrs. Smith to know everything that was going on in her home.”

After leaving the Smith household, Chef Ed went to work for another couple of prestigious families, as well as taking on personal chef clients—but at, what he calls, “a more high-end level, going into the homes a couple of times a week to create meals that would be served that day, not frozen meals for reheating.”


Even today he still has a private chef client, but no longer lives on the property. He has the household keys, does the cooking for the family a couple of days a week, but also runs a successful weekend event business in Atlanta, sans preset menu.

Chef Ed passes on some advice for those interested in becoming private chefs:

  1. Get as much experience as possible before starting down the road to being a private chef. The deeper your background is in cooking, the better. The question I get asked the most is, ‘What is your specialty?’ You need to be able to do everything well. In the six years I was with Rankin Smith I cooked over 6,000 meals. If you aren’t able to do anything and everything to a very high standard, people will grow tired of your ‘specialty’ cooking. It’s like going to the same restaurant every day for six years.
  2. Research your potential employer. You don’t want to work for ‘a name.’ You’re going to work for and live with people. Knowing about them as people and employers is more important. You could end up working with someone who becomes a great lifelong relationship, or you could end up in a job where you are on call 24/7 and get run into the ground. And when that causes you to leave, you can create a stain on your reputation.
  3.  If you’re working full time in one family’s home 40 to 50 hours a week, the more positive life experience you must demonstrate–i.e., responsibility, trustworthiness, and confidentiality, the better. The earlier in your life you make the decision to hone these skills the more valuable you are to your employer and the better chance you have to create the work you enjoy. Your prospective employers are looking for someone who can handle a great deal of responsibility, evaluate situations with balanced, seasoned judgment, and who has the ability to relate to all the other people in their orbit –- from the highest status to the lowest — in order to build solid relationships of trust and competence. Only in that way can that a household run smoothly every day. I read an article about private chefs/house managers and it said the average age of the chef was 50 years old.


My approach was to get “as much experience as I could as young as possible,” Chef Ed says. “I was captivated and excited about learning everything I could in as many different venues as I was able. During my 30’s, I put in my 10,000 hours of refinement,” he said, referring to Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, the 2008 book’s “10,000-hour rule”–the number of hours of practice needed to acquire mastery of a skill. “I didn’t think about being a private chef until the opportunity presented itself. Things were different 30 or 40 years ago. The business was not as bright and shiny as it is today.

“I like the world I have created for myself,” he says. “I never thought of it as unique, just a world where I was comfortable and happy and able to do what I loved.”

Are you intrigued about being a private chef? What skills do you need to hone to get there?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

Photos courtesy of Edward Fluck


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sorghum salad2a

We are enjoying a whole grains revolution. Not only is the public becoming enthralled with whole wheat breads, quinoa salads, and brown rice sushi rolls, but we’re being introduced to a plethora of flavorful ancient grains whose names still mystify a wide swath of consumers. Cookbook after new cookbook is coming out with recipes for grains like spelt, farro, wheat berries, and amaranth, and vendors are showcasing them on market shelves. But it doesn’t take much namedropping to underscore how much education still needs to be done.

For those of you whose focus is on creating healthy, nutritious–and, yes–very flavorful meals, ancient grains can be your best new friends. As the name suggests, ancient grains were cultivated at least a millennium ago–before GMOs and the crazy corporate methodology of removing all nutritional value. They can be cooked as grains or ground into flour. Many are gluten free.

I picked out three that you may not have come across before: freekah, sorghum, and einkorn. But if you want to really delve into ancient grains, check out my friend Maria Speck’s now classic book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. Her new book, Simply Ancient Grains, will be published in April.

So, let’s start with freekah. This is less a grain than a process which originated in the Middle East centuries ago in which grains are harvested while still green and then slow roasted in the hull. Some versions are called greenwheat freekah because the freekah is made with young wheat kernels. It’s reminiscent of farro and barley, with a nutty, grassy flavor and hearty, toothy texture.

raw freekah

What I love about it, along with the flavor and the fact that it cooks up in all of 20 minutes, is that it’s so ridiculously healthy. It’s low in fat, low carb with a low-glycemic index, high in fiber (a single serving has seven grams of dietary fiber), and is a prebiotic.

cooked freekah

Freekah is as versatile as rice, even if it’s more earthy, so it’s an easy substitute for many of your favorite rice-based recipes. This time of year, mix it up with winter squash, crispy bacon, sauteed greens, fresh apples and pears, dried fruit, toasted nuts, or mushrooms. In warmer weather, turn it into a salad with fresh herbs, shrimp, berries, or figs.

Then there’s sorghum. When I hear the word sorghum, my head immediately pulls up an image of Gone with the Wind. Isn’t it some kind of Southern molasses?

Dry sorghum grains2

Well, yes and no. One type, sweet sorghum, is a tall cereal grain that has, in fact, served as the source of an inexpensive syrup and as feed in the form of the whole plant for animals. But in the U.S. a second, shorter variety is grown for animal feed. And ethanol. And, get this, fencing, pet food, building material, and floral arrangements. Its great quality is that it’s drought tolerant (anyone growing it in California?) and very hardy. In fact, it requires a third less water to grow than corn. And that’s why, in thirsty parts of the U.S., sorghum is making a comeback. According to United Sorghum Checkoff, in 2013 8.06 million acres of sorghum were planted in the U.S.–primarily in Kansas, Texas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Colorado on dryland areas.

Originating from northeastern Africa, where it’s been growing for at least 4,000 years, sorghum spread to the rest of Africa, as well as India and China. It’s thought to have been introduced to North America in cargo ships that carried African slaves.

While corn is still king in the U.S., farmers are experiencing greater demand for sorghum and not just because of water scarcity. Because it’s an ancient grain and a gluten-free grain, increasingly people are showing a culinary interest in it. It’s ground into flour for baking but I have been enjoying the whole grains themselves–which look like pale little ballbearings with a black dot in center.

Sorghum is not difficult to find. I found Bob’s Red Mill packages of it at Whole Foods. Like any whole grain it’s endlessly versatile. Boil it like rice and enjoy it as a side dish. Create risotto with it. Make a hot cereal with it. Or, you can even pop it like popcorn.

I kept it simple just to try it out. The water to grain ratio with sorghum is 3 to 1 and it takes close to an hour to cook. The grains plump up, but they still are small and have a chewy consistency.

I first ate the cooked sorghum with a tomato-based chicken stew. Then I turned the leftovers into a sorghum and cherry tomato salad, basically rummaging through my refrigerator to use ingredients like sliced kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, diced red onion, garbanzo beans, parsley from my garden, currants, and toasted pine nuts. I tossed all of it together in a light vinaigrette I made. Day one it was a solid B. The textures were good–some crunch, some chew. The flavors were, too–sweet, herbaceous, briny, salty, garlicky (from the vinaigrette). But day two it all came together. So, make this a day in advance so the flavors can really meld.

sorghum salad

You can also pop sorghum. Use just the slightest amount of oil to a quarter cup of sorghum in a tall, heavy pot over high heat. I found that stirring with a wooden spoon seemed more useful than shaking the pot. The grains won’t all pop but even the orphans can be enjoyed without worry of cracking your teeth. What to do with them? Other than snacking, of course. They make a great garnish. The popped kernels are petite and delicate looking. Use them to top a creamy soup or a platter of roasted vegetables. Add them to a salad. Make little sweet balls (a la popcorn balls) to garnish a dessert. They’re just fun!

Popped sorghum

Finally, there’s einkorn. Einkorn is such a unique name that I figured it was some sort of exotic grain. But, in fact, it was much more familiar than I’d expected. It’s a species of wheat that is truly ancient, in its cultivated state dating back over 10,000 years ago to archeological sites in southern Turkey. In grain form, it is essentially a wheat berry–something I’ve been cooking with for years.


As one of the earliest cultivated forms of wheat–along with emmer–it can survive in the poorest, driest of soils. But it faded from popularity. Now it appears to be coming back, thanks to its health properties, which includes a higher percentage of proteins than modern red grains and higher levels of fat, phosphorus, potassium, and beta-carotine.

It also tastes really good. It has a sweet nutty flavor and a marvelously chewy texture, making it terrific for grain salads/sides, stuffing, and cereal. It can also be ground into a flour for baking.

Einkorn salad

I’ve prepared einkorn in two ways so far. First I made a salad filled with citrus and dried figs, sugar snap peas, toasted walnuts, and garbanzo beans. I had cooked up 1 cup of dry einkorn and used 3/4 of that for the salad.

The rest I saved for breakfast the following day. I added a little more water to the cooked einkorn, stirred it up, then heated it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. I transferred it to a bowl, added a bit of butter, maple syrup, and more toasted walnuts, along with a splash of milk. It was divine. Einkorn just absorbs any flavor you pair it with and serves it back to you in a nutty, chewy mouthful.

Einkorn cereal

You can find many ancient grains at markets like Whole Foods and Sprouts–or online.

Kale and Crimini Mushroom Greenwheat Freekah Pilaf
Makes six servings

1 cup greenwheat freekah
1 3/4 cups water or stock
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch kale, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as sage, oregano, or Mexican tarragon
Juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring water or stock to a boil. Stir in the freekah. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes.

2. While the freekah is simmering, heat a large saute pan or wok. Add oil and let warm up. Reduce the heat and add the garlic and onions. Let them cook slowly until almost caramelized. Add mushrooms and cook until softened. Add kale and herbs. Cook until wilted. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the cooked freekah and mix thoroughly. Serve.

Kale and crimini mushroom Freekah pilaf2


What ancient grains do you cook with for clients?

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Pozole and condiments

One of the joys I get in food writing is learning recipes and techniques from San Diego’s local chefs and food purveyors. Periodically something comes along that I want to share with you in à la minute because I think would be a great fit for personal chefs–and something you may not come across on a regular basis. This week I thought I’d introduce you to green pork pozole, an unusual hearty stew that’s a regional favorite in the Mexican state of Guerrero. This mildly spicy dish will surely help ease the last dregs of this crazy bitterly cold winter.

Green pork pozole falls under the category of “who knew.” Like many of you, I’ve enjoyed red pozole. I’ve enjoyed it with chicken. But green? And with pork? That was a humbling and happy discovery I made late last fall while visiting the little local eatery, El Borrego, which is owned and operated by the mother-daughter team of Rodnia Navarro (daughter) and Rosario Sotelo (mom and chef). The broth is rich and herbaceous, thickened with the mandatory hominy. The chunks of pork shoulder are tender and meld beautifully with the broth and the various condiments you can add to the soup–from chicharones and cilantro to sliced cabbage and radishes. It’s a meal meant to warm your insides in cold weather. And with all those condiments, it’s like a party in a bowl.

Pozole is actually quite easy to make. The greater challenge is finding the ingredients. And that leads to the other discoveries.

Green pozole gets its name from all the marvelous green ingredients it incorporates. The most prominent is pulverized pumpkin seeds. Look for them in Hispanic markets, but don’t worry if you can’t find them. You can buy the seeds whole and grind them in a good blender. You’ll also need epazote, a weed-like herb that is traditionally associated with cooking black beans. It’s pretty easy to find in Hispanic markets. And, you’ll want Mexican Pepperleaf, or hoja santa. It’s unusual tasting–to me it had a slightly bitter minty flavor. And, you’ll want–get this–radish leaves. Yes, finally I’ve learned of a use for those beautiful leaves we tend to toss when we buy a bunch of radishes. And, Sotelo says, you can clip, wash, drain, and freeze these various leaves.

Clockwise from top left: Hominy, pork shoulder, hoja santa, ground pumpkin seeds

Clockwise from top left: Hominy, pork shoulder, hoja santa, ground pumpkin seeds

One thing I’ve heard a few people say about making pozole is that they bought the wrong hominy (which, by the way, is what pozole means). So, above is a photo of what you’re looking for–oversized corn kernels, not grits.

The green pozole Sotelo makes is a staple in Acapulco in Guerrero, where Sotelo is from, and traditionally served on Thursdays, or what Sotelo notes “Jueves Pozolero.” So the restaurant started serving it on Thursdays, but has expanded it to include Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays–and rainy days. Of course, San Diego’s rainy days are rare, so if you come for a visit, stop by on the weekends for this dish. But do make it yourself and your clients.

Green Pork Pozole (Pozole Verde Guerrerense)
from Rosario Sotelo of El Borrego
Serves 4 to 6 people


1 pound pork shoulder (can also include bone)
1 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 quarts water
1 pound can of hominy, rinsed and drained

Mixture 1
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 cloves garlic
1 small red onion, peeled and cut into chunks
3 cups chicken broth

Mixture 2
6 ounces pulverized pumpkin seeds
5 tomatillos, skin on and grilled
5 garlic cloves
3 teaspoons oregano
1 small red onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded
1 Mexican pepperleaf (hoja santa), about the size of a corn tortilla
3 ounces epazote
2 iceberg lettuce leaves
12 radish leaves
2 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon vegetable oil


1. Cut the pork into two-inch cubes. Add to a pot with water and salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

2. Add the ingredients for Mixture 1 to a blender. Blend thoroughly.

Blending first mixture2

3. At the 30-minute cooking point for the pork, strain just the liquid from Mixture 1 into the pork pot and discard the solids. Twenty minutes later add the hominy. Check the meat. It should be almost cooked. Throughout the cooking process, periodically skim the scum from the top of the soup.

Straining liquid into pork broth2


Skim scum2

4. Add the ingredients to Mixture 2 to a blender. Blend thoroughly. Heat a skillet and add the vegetable oil. Add the blended Mixture 2 to the pan and saute over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

Pumpkin seed mixture2

5. About 10 minutes before the meat is tender, gradually add the sauteed paste to the pork pot and cook for 10 more minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings.

Last cooking2

6. Serve the pozole with a variety of condiments, including sliced radishes, chicharones, sliced cabbage, cilantro, chopped onions, slices of avocado, lime slices, dried red pepper flakes, dried oregano, crispy tostadas, and mini roll taquitos.

What warming dishes are you making clients to ease the chill?

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APPCA member Lola “Dee” Dondanville has run her personal chef business, Just Deelicious, since 2012. Her Bullhead City, Ariz.-based company does mostly special occasion gatherings (not much call where she is for weekly service, she says) and supplies healthy lunches for several non-profit organizations. She also writes a healthy food blog called What’s Cooking, Healthy Cooking by Lola Dee. When she told us that she’d been asked to speak at an elementary school career day about being a personal chef, we just had to get her to share her experience. Here it is:

I received a call in January from one of our local elementary school teachers, inviting me to speak at career day at Sunrise Elementary, here in Bullhead City, Ariz., where I live and work. She found my name by googling “personal chef” for our area. My name popped up on the APPCA site, as I happen to be one of the only personal chefs listed in Mohave County, Ariz. She asked me to create a 30-minute presentation for three successive groups of 4th through 6th graders. My assignment was to not only give information about being a personal chef, but to directly relate it to math, science, and English. Of course, I planned on doing some preaching about healthy eating too! Brilliant!


I was excited and honored to be invited. As it so happens, Sunrise Elementary is a beautiful new school, just around the corner from my home. Once I found the right door and made it through security, I was greeted by some of my fellow presenters, the proverbial butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. I met a doctor, the county coroner, (forensics is a popular career), a lawyer, firemen, EMT’s, a pastry chef from Harrahs, and many others. We made our way into the auditorium to the assembly of the entire student body featuring a pep talk presented by our Parks & Recreation Director, a Bullhead City native.

The enthusiasm and sheer energy coming from a room full of elementary school students is palpable. I began to feel a rush of happy energy just being in their presence. It was near Valentine’s Day, so my bright pink chef’s coat and chef hat with my custom embroidered heart logo that means “Cooking From the Heart” were very appropriate! The kids responded so positively, and were so excited, gazing at me with beaming faces and smiles.


After the assembly, I was shown to “my” classroom, where I would be making my presentations. As it turns out, I was assigned to the art teachers classroom, and she happens to be the daughter of a good friend and colleague of mine! Janet made me comfortable, and set me up with a table, erasable board, and everything I needed for my presentation.

The first group filed in, all bubbly and excited. The first question I asked the kids was, “So who wants to be a chef?” Almost every single child raised their hand excitedly, which really tickled me. I then began my presentation, covering all my bullet points followed by a question-and-answer period. I shared personal stories, about my background of childhood poverty and divorce, and how my single mother of five was the original Martha Stewart. I described how my Mom/role model did organic gardening, cooking, canning, baking, sewing, crafts, remodeling, and so much more. The kids could relate to this, as many are experiencing hardships in their own lives. They began to open up and share stories of their own. It was very touching!

I was easily able to connect a personal chef career to the value of knowing math by doing examples of math problems for costing meals, and the exact formulas we use to be profitable. Food safety and baking were my examples of science. Vocabulary was utilized by discussing all the words and terms we use in cooking. I emphasized hard work, self esteem, responsibility, business management, marketing, sales, and customer service, in addition to the cooking skills. I, of course, pitched healthy eating and  cooking. My healthy eating mantras for the kids were: “Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Find the ones you like and eat them often” and “Cook real food at home with your family.”


The second group was equally enthusiastic, but by the time the third group came in, they were getting restless, so it took more energy to keep them captive. They were really excited about getting their photos taken and being featured on my blog, Facebook, etc. It made them feel famous, as they all seem to watch TV cooking shows. :D

I think the most poignant memory of the day for me was from a sweet young Mexican boy, 11 years old, who very seriously told me he needs to take care of his family and look after his mother. He told me his mom is a very good cook and wanted to know if I could hire her if I needed some kitchen help, but told me she does not speak much English. Such a sincere, sweet and caring young boy, trying to help his mom. It really melted my heart.


That’s about it. I was so jazzed the rest of the day. Being around these kids was so uplifting and fun. I would recommend this experience for any of my fellow chefs if you get the chance. It is both fun and uplifting, and is great marketing as well. As personal chefs, it really gives us validation to be included on career day, alongside other chefs with prestigious careers. It also puts your good name and brand out there for potential bookings. As you can see I hung up my sign and also handed out cards.

Lola Dondanville, aka “Lola Dee” because Dondanville is way too long, :)

Are you sharing your personal chef career experiences with the next generation?

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Continuing our series for personal chefs that addresses the challenges of meeting the special dietary needs of clients, we have member Katie Parish of Parish Personal Chef Services in Denver guest blogging on creating Paleo diets.

Katie Parish Head Shot

When people hear the phrase ‘Paleo diet,’ most have a preconceived notion of what that means. One of my favorite questions is, “Does that mean you eat bugs?” Um, no. Not to say that there aren’t those who do! What Paleo does mean is a diet made up of whole, unprocessed foods: meat, poultry, seafood, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit, and sometimes dairy. It involves a lot of label reading—the fewer ingredients the better.

Two common misconceptions about Paleo are that this way of eating is low carb and that’s it’s all about meat. True, there is a lot of bacon to be found, but there is also a lot of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, kale, bananas, and apples. Everyone approaches Paleo a little differently, and it’s all about finding what works best for each individual.

Many people who eat using a Paleo template do so because of health reasons. That’s includes me. About five years ago, I had my gall bladder removed, and after that, gluten started making me feel sick. About a year after that, I had to stop drinking my morning latte, because the milk made me queasy. About three years ago, after hearing me describe all of this, a friend suggested that I check out Paleo. I started reading everything I could on the subject, starting with Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution. I decided to try it, and it has made all the difference for me. I lost weight, my A1C numbers came down, my energy shot up, and I didn’t have to go to the bathroom in every store I went into anymore. It took a few months for it to be second nature, but now it doesn’t even occur to me to include grains or dairy when I’m preparing meals.


Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup


My problems were mild compared to what many other people who to turn to Paleo for health reasons have gone through—ulcerative colitis, Hashimoto’s, adrenal fatigue, diabetes, Crohn’s. The list goes on and on. There are even instances of people reversing severe MS using Paleo. Check out Dr. Terry Wahl’s story in her book, The Wahl’s Protocol, or watch her TED talk here:

I currently have three clients eating a Paleo diet. One gentleman has been eating Paleo off and on for several years, but doesn’t have time to cook for himself. He wants to lose a few pounds, and finds that he is most successful if he keeps his carbs under 50 grams a day. Most of what I prepare for him is very low carb, and if I do include something like sweet potatoes, I keep the portion under ½ cup so he knows how to adjust what he eats the rest of the day to stay within his target.

Another client is in remission from stage 3 melanoma. She and her family eat all organic produce, grass- fed meat and dairy, and wild-caught fish. What I prepare for them is primarily meat or seafood and veggies, cooked with healthy fats.

Chicken Sweet Potato Hash

Chicken Sweet Potato Hash

There are many different varieties of Paleo: AIP (the Auto Immune Protocol), Low Carb Paleo, and Primal (includes some dairy). Which one your client will want depends on the reasons that brought them to Paleo in the first place. They won’t necessarily want low carb, especially if they workout regularly, but a lot of people will probably have an idea of how many grams of carbs per day work best for them and their goals. Many people already eating Paleo have done some kind of an elimination diet (either with the guidance of a doctor or on their own using, and have a pretty good idea of how different foods affect them.

The foods that are on the “no go” list for Paleo are there because in many people they can cause systemic inflammation and irritate the gut. For some, just eliminating grains/gluten gives them much more energy and gets rid of the “brain fog.” For others who have more serious health issues, the list of foods that irritates their system can be longer than what is normally eliminated when eating Paleo. For example, someone with Hashimoto’s will probably want to follow the AutoImmune Protocol, which also eliminates eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshades in addition to grains, legumes, dairy and sugar.

If you’re new to Paleo, here are three steps I think personal chefs should take when they begin to craft Paleo recipes:

  1. Get a Paleo cookbook that includes a chapter on “getting started,” such as:

Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo

Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso

Real Life Paleo by Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry

The Paleo Approach Cookbook by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD

There are many others out there, but I think these are good for beginners.

  1. Know your substitutions. Many recipes just need a few tweaks to make them Paleo. (Unless we’re talking baked goods. That’s a whole other animal).

Dairy: Coconut milk can be used in many places instead of regular milk. Some clients can tolerate heavy whipping cream and grass-fed butter since they’re mostly fat and doesn’t have as much casein as milk. For those who can’t tolerate butter, ghee can often be used in its place. Cheese usually needs to be omitted.

Grains: Cauliflower is a popular substitute for rice. There are many recipes online for cauliflower “rice.” It is also great in place of mashed white potatoes. Zucchini or sweet potato noodles are great in place of pasta. For thickeners, some options are arrowroot, gelatin, and Mochiko (sweet rice flour, if tolerated).

Sugar: Most sugars, including artificial sweeteners, are off limits. Small amounts of honey or pure maple syrup are considered natural alternatives and may be used.

 Seed Oils: Oils that can be used include olive, avocado, nut oils, palm oil, and coconut. Processed seed oils should be avoided, including safflower, canola, and peanut.

 Legumes: I haven’t found great substitutes for beans and usually just omit them. Peanuts can be subbed with any tree nuts is there aren’t allergy concerns.

  1. Read labels. Many packaged/canned items have all sorts of hidden ingredients. Make sure there are only natural items you recognize on the ingredient list, and no chemicals!
Chicken Salad with Beets

Chicken Salad with Beets

Here are also some great blogs that can help you with the basics and to find some recipes:

All of these bloggers also have cookbooks with some great resources in them.

You have need to have a thorough conversation with your clients before you get started. If a potential client requests Paleo meals, first I like to know if they’re new to Paleo and are looking for guidance from me, or if they are old pros and just don’t have time to prepare the meals themselves.

If they are new, I want to know their reasons for wanting to try Paleo. Do they want to lose weight? Did they just start working out at a Crossfit gym where they heard about it? Do they have health issues they are hoping to address? If this is going to be a big change for them, baby steps may help them ease into it. Pick one thing that they think would be easiest for them to eliminate, and when that becomes second nature, move on to the next.

If they are hoping to address health issues, jumping right in would be the best approach. It’s the best way to see the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. can help here. They have a great plan that lays out what is and isn’t allowed, and lets people know what to expect.

If they have been eating Paleo for a while, I’ll ask what their meals typically look like, and then we’ll have a conversation about “gray area” foods and carb tolerances, including white rice, white potatoes, and full-fat dairy.

On my allergy sheet that I have clients fill out, I’ve added columns for vinegars, oils/fats, and alternative flours.

Here’s a recipe I’ve created that can give you an idea of what a Paleo meal looks like—and the kinds of ingredients that are used. What makes this recipe Paleo is I substituted the original white potatoes and whipping cream with sweet potatoes and coconutmilk, as well as mochiko rice flour for the original wheat flour to make the roux. Many times just a few tweaks need to be made to convert a recipe to Paleo.

shepherd's pie landscape (2)

Lamb Shepherd’s Pie
from Katie Parish
Serves 6

For potato mixture:

3 medium sweet potatoes
½ cup coconut milk (or heavy whipping cream if tolerated)
3 tablespoons grass-fed butter
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

For lamb mixture:

1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon mochiko rice flour (use if rice is tolerated or sub with ½ cup of the mashed sweet potatoes)
2/3 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Peel sweet potatoes, and place in a saucepan with enough water to cover them. Boil until ready to mash. Drain potatoes and return to saucepan and mash. Add coconut milk (or HWC), butter, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Cover with foil until ready to use.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and sauté until softened. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Next add the lamb and cook until all pink is gone. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Sprinkle the mochiko flour on top to bloom, then mix in to thicken the sauce.* Add more if needed to get desired consistency. Next, add the peas (thawed in microwave, or just add frozen). Finish with the rosemary, salt and pepper.

Transfer the lamb mixture to either a 9×11 baking dish, or 6, 8-ounce ramekins. Top with the sweet potato mixture. Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes.

Photos courtesy of Katie Parish

Do you have any questions about special diets, or specifically about Paleo diets?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Last month life and career coach (and chef) Nicole Aloni helped us discover our values in the first post in her three-part series, Three Keys for Personal Chefs to Enjoy More Balance and Fulfillment in 2015 (heck, any year) for à la minute. Together the three posts in this series guide us in how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of our life–from our careers to our relationships. Nicole feels that these are some of the most valuable skills she shares with her coaching clients. Nicole is a long-time friend of APPCA and has given inspiring programs at several of our national meetings.

Nicole Aloni

This month Nicole addresses:

Part 2: How to Identify and Manage Your Internal Saboteurs

by Nicole Aloni

The new year is a time to reflect and re-evaluate, to consider goals, and re-think our priorities. This three-part series offers an overview of some of the most valuable skills I share with my coaching clients. These can be powerful tools for discovering how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of your life–from your career to your relationships.

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. — Martha Graham

Are you sometimes —perhaps often— aware of thoughts zooming around the periphery of your mind that put you on edge? Quick critical blurts that remind you of how: inept, short, old, selfish, ignorant, childish, overweight, weak, etc.— you are? Or the voice that says, “You’re toohomely, unrealistic, inexperienced, untrained, ordinary, boring—to even THINK of attempting ­­­some goal or dream you long for.”

This is the language of your internal saboteur. Your saboteur can be a man, a woman, an animal, a reptile…anything. There can be one main offender or there may be a posse. You can recognize the handiwork of a saboteur by how it makes you feel—small, disheartened, maybe even hopeless. Their critical monologues always make you doubt yourself and are expert at stirring up fear and anxiety.

Neuroscientists have done remarkable work in recent years uncovering the influences that have created these critical voices we all hear. You may eventually want to check out some of this research. But for now, it’s important that you learn the practical skills necessary to recognize and manage your internal saboteur. This begins by gaining insight into how these critters work and where they hang out. These are the first steps to developing the ability to recognize just who is talking when your head is buzzing with negative junk. Then you can begin to set the saboteur’s opinions aside from your authentic, powerful self.

A life coach can help you do some special exercises designed to identify your saboteur (I sometimes refer to them as gremlins). However, in this article I will show you how to get some clarity about this issue on your own. It’s a great opportunity to start on the road toward a more fulfilling and joyful life—with a lot less backchat.

My chief saboteur looks like a cross between Bob Hoskins as Scrooge and a Roald Dahl troll. His name is Rex and he speaks in a raspy, cranky growl that I can imitate when needed. He always has a crafty little sneer on his face. Rex commonly reminds me that I’m too old to- (fill in the blank). I first noticed him using that barb when I was about 37.

Through work with my first coach, I identified Rex and then learned a number of saboteur management strategies. One of my favorites is to focus on making him as small as a flea and dropping him into a spice bottle. I screw on the lid and put that harmlessly squeaking jar in the back of my closet. Or, if he’s been especially fierce, I may stand on my balcony and throw the bottle into the ocean where his squeaky protests grow quieter as he floats further out to sea. Depends.

Clients have shared some their fabulous saboteur dialog with me which ranges from, “You don’t know anything” to “Whoa boy, you better keep your head down or they’ll figure out who you really are!” to “You’re not interesting enough to get that _____.” The following is a Saboteur Discovery Exercise to help you start listening for your own “gremlins.”


Once you have completed that exercise you will be ready to start putting this knowledge into practice. Listen for those voices and when they creep in, use the strategies you developed in the Saboteur Discovery Exercise to put a headlock on your saboteur.

What steps are you taking this year to improve your career and life in general?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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