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?
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
Because personal chefs are instrumental in assisting clients address health issues through diet, we’ve asked members who actively create special diets to help the rest of us understand them. It’s the first step in learning more so that if clients approach you with special dietary needs your first instinct will be to say, “Yes, I can help.” This week Monica Shoemaker of Home Plate Personal Chef Service in Portland, Oregon, is introducing us to the basics of the anti-inflammatory diet.
Creating beautiful meals for busy families, professionals, individuals is not all we do as personal chefs. People often come to us with health issues that they recognize can be made better by the foods they eat. And often times, they aren’t able to cook for themselves or don’t have the energy to do so because of an ailment or serious disease. That’s where we come in. The anti-inflammatory diet seems to be the latest trend that I think is going to stick around for a while. Created by Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard-educated pioneer of integrative medicine, and based on the Mediterranean diet, this approach to nutrition is centered around his belief that certain foods cause or fight systemic inflammation. He views inflammation as leading to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and heart disease. To reduce the risk of age-related disease, Weil counters it with healthy fats, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, a lot of water, and limited amounts of animal protein, except omega-3-rich oily fish.
That’s a preventative approach, but the diet can also be employed to treat issues clients already are dealing with. Stress, lack of exercise, smoking, can all lead to inflammation. Inflammation occurs naturally when there’s an injury. For those with diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, joint pain, and auto-immune conditions like fibromyalgia, the anti-inflammatory diet can be a salve and calm the body. Common culprits to avoid are sugar, wheat, dairy, and too much red meat. I know what you’re thinking… no fun! But it’s our job to create delicious and creative ways to prepare foods that nourish and heal when the challenge arises. Eating an array of colorful fruits and vegetables that are loaded with antioxidants can ward off the oxidative stress put on the body, as well as avoiding salt, and refined and processed foods. We can add beans, nuts, olive oil, onions, salmon, tuna, anchovies, and other cold-water fish to the client’s diet. What we’re stressing here are fiber, anti-oxidants, monounsaturated fats, and omega-3-rich foods.
Additionally, there’s a theory that too much acid-producing food can cause inflammation and that increasing alkaline-promoting foods can counteract negative effects and promote better health. Alkaline foods are primarily fruits and vegetables. And, no, that doesn’t rule out citrus. Fruits like lemon are acidic in their natural state, but when metabolized by the body, they have an alkalizing effect and healing can occur more rapidly.
I have a client for whom I’ve been cooking for six years now who has multiple sclerosis. When he first came to me he had consulted with a naturopath and a nutritionist about how to manage his newly diagnosed disease. Not only does he take medication, but they recommended an anti-inflammatory diet which can improve symptoms and slow the progression. They provided me with a list of foods, herbs, and spices that are acidic and a list of foods that are alkaline. With that information, I was able to customize menus for him that influence good health. In addition to that, I recently cooked for a new client who is a breast cancer survivor and hired me to cook for two other families going through chemo and radiation. She wanted them to have a month’s worth of meals just as she had when she was undergoing her treatments. She said that it was such a blessing to have lovingly prepared meals for her family that were nutritious and ready to eat.
I feel that it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves about the anti-inflammatory diet, and other health conditions that can benefit from healing foods. Since special diets are a large part of our business. What’s great about our jobs, is not only do we get to do what we love, we also provide a service that people really appreciate. We help clients by giving them nutritious meals and we help them save time so that they can do the things they love.
You can easily find information about anti-inflammatory diets on the internet and there are a lot of great books on the subject. It’s very important to ask our clients to consult with their doctor about their health, but this is a way of eating that everyone can benefit from.
Here’s a recipe that I created and have made for clients for years. It is quick and simple to make. It has fresh ginger, which is anti-inflammatory, as well as the other components. This was my son’s favorite soup when he was young and still is.
Vietnamese Chicken Ball Soup
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
8-10 cups chicken broth
1 ½ pounds ground chicken
1 knob (about 3 tablespoons), fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons tamari
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups snow peas, sliced on the bias into thirds
2 cups shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, sliced on the bias
2 green onions, sliced on the bias
3 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Bring the broth to a boil while assembling the meatballs. Gently mix the ground chicken, ginger, sesame oil, tamari, cilantro, and salt and pepper. Form into a 1½-inch ball, roll in cornstarch, shake off excess, then drop into the boiling broth. I do these one at a time and drop them into the broth as I make each one. It goes quickly. The cornstarch helps keep them together. The meatballs are somewhat loose, but they firm up in the hot broth.
Add the sliced carrots, let them cook for a few minutes, then add the shiitakes. Cook for a few more minutes, then turn off the heat. Add the snow peas and green onions once it starts to cool a bit, otherwise the snow peas will get overcooked. Add the spinach. Garnish with a little chopped cilantro and serve.
This freezes well too!
One of the most important things that APPCA founder and executive director Candy Wallace likes to stress about why she developed the personal chef path is that is was designed to be a valid alternative career path to commercial cooking situations that drained the creativity and joy out of professional culinarians’ lives. It was created to offer trained pros an umbrella under which they could provide their services and skills–always in a state of evolution.
Sometimes that means leaving it for new opportunities–as our recent conversation with Nicole Gaffney showed. And sometimes it means circling back–as today’s conversation with Tracy Pizura demonstrates. Life takes many turns and Tracy, after 14 years away from being a personal chef to run her own cafe in South Florida, recently decided to return to the personal chef industry, restart her business, now named Summer Rain Cafe, and rejoin APPCA.
We chatted with Tracy about her journey away and back to learn what the pull is for being a personal chef.
Tracy grew up passionate about cooking, having first started baking when she was about eight. Her grandma would send her handwritten recipe cards with her cookie recipes on them. Tracy progressed to preparing dinner for her family of seven and says she was exposed to the finest of restaurants, which, “motivated me to continuously learn about and how to prepare all kinds of foods,” she says. “With such a large family I had plenty of tasters.”
As the oldest of five siblings, she took over meal responsibilities when her parents gambling resulted in their losing all their money. For awhile cooking was limited to things like running hot water over an unopened can of Chef Boyardee in the bathroom sink. When they finally moved into a motel with a full kitchen, she took on the cooking as a joy, never considering it as a career. In fact, she sold insurance for awhile, waited tables, did bartending. Finally, a customer suggested she apply to culinary school. As it happened, he was an administrator of Johnson and Wales University, which was opening a school in South Florida. Two-and-a-half years later she graduated at the top of her class. She also married, got pregnant, and had to figure out how to earn a living while caring for a daughter she had resolved not to place in day care. Enter the personal chef business. “I contacted Candy Wallace after discovering her on the Internet,” she recalls. “She was so kind and giving, she gave me all the support I needed without asking for anything in return. I will never forget her generosity.”
Elegant Edibles, in Jacksonville, Florida, did well, but after Sept. 11, 2001, Tracy decided to return to South Florida to be closer to her family. She closed the business, moved with her four-year-old daughter and husband and focused on her daughter–including homeschooling her. But, she says, an opportunity came her way to open a 16-seat cafe in a condominium, which she did for about a year and a half, while also occasionally cooking for a client (that personal chef bug never did completely leave her).
After separating from her husband in 2008, Tracy needed a better means of financial support for her and daughter Summer that would also be flexible. She found it in a small cafe located in a medical building near her home.
“It wasn’t up to code but I knew I could get is licensed and running. So I took all the money I could off the few credit cards I had and went for it,” she says. “That was six years ago. Summer Rain Cafe, named after my daughter, was the best decision I ever made. Summer and I worked it together. It was her last year of homeschooling and I taught her how to be an entrepreneur.”
But once Summer started high school, the long hours, the daily breakdown, and the cleaning all started to wear on Tracy, who no longer felt that creativity that comes from cooking and developing recipes. So just a month ago she closed the cafe and has returned to her original business as a personal chef, but keeping the name of the cafe for her personal chef business.
“The first thing I did was rejoin the APPCA,” she says. “I am glad to be back and hope to find old friends and meet new ones on the forums and in the area where I live.”
Tracy acknowledges that, “When you own a restaurant you have an overhead you must meet every month. This means you have to focus on making money and some of my most profitable items were sodas, chips and unhealthy snacks. I didn’t like selling those items as I don’t eat them myself. But, business is business and I was there to make money.
“Which leads me to the most important reasons I chose to return to the personal chef industry. I can run a business that is good for the community. It makes money but it truly helps people. I can choose when I want to work and when I don’t. There are new and exciting challenges with each client and I find that most of them want to eat healthier and I am there to help. It is much more creative as you plan new menus every week and are preparing all types of interesting dishes. You can focus on quality ingredients that are better for the planet. Your environment changes constantly so your not going to the same place every day.
“And, most importantly you don’t have the stress of meeting a large overhead every month.”
Because Tracy has always followed the industry–even when she was running the cafe–she has seen how it’s evolved, grown, and become more mainstream. Clients are better educated about food, and she’s found that commercial kitchens give personal chefs opportunities to streamline and cook for more than one family and then deliver meals, which enables personal chefs to compete with meal delivery services. Tracy herself has gained so much experience in the food industry. All this has given her much more confidence in her ability to succeed than she had years before.
Under that personal chef umbrella she’s creating, Tracy will certainly do weekly meal service for clients. She’s targeting clients who want to eat and live an organic and sustainable lifestyle–those who shop at farmers markets and prefer locally grown product. She specializes in unprocessed foods that are free of refined sugar, and diets like Paleo and low carb. She’s also drawn to Jewish/Kosher-style cooking and thanks a Jacksonville client for sharing so many recipes with her and teaching her kosher practices that she can use for the large Jewish population in South Florida. But she also is marketing dinner parties and cooking classes.
And, she’s no fool, she’s eying the many yacht owners in the area. “I would not mind a trip through the Caribbean as a perk on the job,” she says.
Where are you in your culinary journey? Are you contemplating career changes? How can we help you figure out next steps?
It’s hot. And sticky. In case you hadn’t heard San Diego had a brief respite from drought over the weekend and enjoyed a tropical storm. Now on the East Coast when this happens, people give a sigh of relief because a storm usually clears away the humidity. Not so here. The storm has mostly moved on but we’re enjoying 85 percent humidity and 90-degree temps. Ick.
We need relief. And perhaps so do you and your clients. Several months ago I came across a little piece online somewhere that showed a watermelon pizza. It immediately caught my eye, but, eh. It was really just a fruit salad on a slice of watermelon. Interesting, but not especially original. The concept stuck with me, however, and what I realized was that I wanted a savory watermelon pizza.
Watermelon salad is one of my favorite dishes this time of year as the temps start to climb. One of my all time most enjoyable versions is served at a local restaurant, Urban Solace. Every bite is different, filled with cherry tomatoes and arugula, feta and currants, toasted pine nuts and cucumbers. And it’s tossed with a sweet vinaigrette.
Once the seasons turned and the weather warmed up I was able to translate this concept in my head to a dish. I gathered a baby watermelon, cherry tomatoes, a hot house cucumber (Japanese or Persian–all with no seeds–will do as well), an onion, pine nuts, kalamata olives, arugula, currants, and goat cheese.
I also went out to my little garden and nabbed some a couple of stems of my treasured mojito mint (it’s a little less astringent than peppermint or spearmint) and basil. This is a “pesto perpetuo” variety of basil, which grows as a perennial.
With these herbs, along with white wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper, I made a vinaigrette.
Basil Mint Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Then slowly whisk in the oil until all the ingredients are blended together and the dressing emulsifies. Set aside.
With that done, I sliced what needed slicing and put the “pizza” together.
Slice the watermelon about an inch thick and place on a flat surface. If you want, you can grill the watermelon slices to create an altogether different kind of flavor. But, for me the point is to stay away from heat so I just start layering.
First you add the cucumbers.
Then come the tomatoes. If you have access to heirloom cherry tomatoes, you’ll have even more color and flavor.
Goat cheese can be difficult to work with, so I use a small melon baller.
Finally, I scatter the top with currants and toasted pine nuts. Make a bed with the arugula and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Then quarter the slice.
You can serve quarters as an appetizer or a whole slice as a lunch, accompanied with some crusty bread.
What’s your go-to dish for summer heat waves? What do your clients request?
Are you starting to feel overwhelmed by zucchini? Are you trying to find new ways to use eggplant and red bell peppers? Maybe your clients are enthralled by fennel or okra, or even mustard greens. Okay, you get the picture. With summer’s bounty of veggies, you need to get creative in how you use them.
So, here’s a suggestion—raviolini stuffed with these vegetables married with your favorite cheese. Smaller than your basic ravioli, raviolini is perfect as an appetizer or first course for a dinner party. Or, you can drop it in a soup, like wontons.
Of course, you want to make these with fresh pasta. I recently spent time in the kitchen of San Diego chef Ryan Studebaker, who showed me how he makes these pasta for the catering business The Vetted Table, an arm of A MIHO Experience.
Before we dive into the recipe, here are a few tips Studebaker shared for successfully making this dish:
- Anytime you roast or sauté vegetables, get the color you want first before seasoning. Cooking pulls out the water from vegetables and your seasoning may get pulled out with it–and you won’t get the color you’re after.
- Studebaker oven roasts the vegetables for this dish, but for this small batch he sauteed them. Individually. “Sauté vegetables one at a time because different vegetables cook at different rates,” he says. “You can oven roast a variety of vegetables together as long as they have a similar density.”
- To sauté or roast the vegetables use a 75/25 blend of canola oil and olive oil. “Olive oil can be too strong a flavor and it will smoke once you reach a high heat. Canola oil creates a more neutral flavor for you to incorporate other herbs and spices and it has a higher smoke point.”
Raviolini with Seasonal Vegetables, Pistachio Pesto, and Parmesan
from Ryan Studebaker
Serves 4 to 6
This dish is hugely flexible–in the type of vegetables you use and the pesto. For the pesto, use your favorite recipe and substitute traditional pine nuts with pistachios and you’re good to go.
3 cups of seasonal vegetables (In our version, he used yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, and red bell pepper), small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
75/25 blend of canola and extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Whatever herbs and/or spices you want to include
3/4 cup goat cheese
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Toss the vegetables, garlic, and shallots in the oil mixture and spread onto a heavy baking sheet or pan. Roast until caramelized. Alternately, you can sauté each of the vegetables, including the shallots and garlic, separately until they begin to brown and then mix together. Let cool and drain. Once the vegetables reach room temperature mix in the goat cheese. Set aside.
Egg Pasta Dough
Yield: About 1 pound
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon milk
Let’s address making the pasta, which is the one issue many home cooks will find intimidating, although Studebaker calls it a labor of love.
On a clean and dry table or counter, create a well with flour. (Studebaker suggests making the well wide so you have more room to move your hand and not break the wall.) Pour yolks, egg, olive oil, and milk into the center. Using your finger, break the yolks and begin swirling without spilling over the edge of the well.
Continue this motion while occasionally pushing small amounts of flour into the center, making sure you’re slowly incorporating the flour to avoid lumpy dough.
Once the dough begins to pull away from the table, begin adding flour more quickly by sprinkling it over the top and kneading.
Continue kneading the dough until it has a nice sheen. The kneading process can take 10 to 15 minutes. The dough is ready when you can pull your finger through it and it snaps back into place. You cannot over-knead this dough.
Wrap in plastic and let rest at least one hour before rolling out. If refrigerated, let the dough come to room temperature before handling.
Now you’re going to put it all together. Using a pasta machine or attachment, set the stop at number 1. Pull off a chunk of dough and flatten it so it fits into the opening and run it through. You’ll do this four times, increasing the stop each time until you reach number 4.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add plenty of salt.
Make a wash with egg and water. Place about a tablespoon of filling in mounds along one piece of dough. Gently cover with a second piece of rolled out dough. Then gently push the top dough around the filling mounds and push out any air. Lightly brush with the egg wash.
Using a round 2-inch cookie cutter, cut each of the raviolini circles. Using a fork, press the tines gently around the edges to seal.
Boil the raviolini about two minutes and drain. Plate the raviolini, top with pesto and freshly grated parmesan.
Do you make your own fresh pasta? If not, why not? If so, what tricks do you have to share that make the process easier and the finished dish more delicious?
This time last year, every Sunday night for several weeks I, along with APPCA chefs across the country, watched Food Network Star with a vested interest. One of our own was in the competition. Every week, APPCA member Nicole Gaffney undertook a grueling challenge and she outlasted almost all the competition. No, she didn’t win but she made it to the finals and made us proud.
So, I thought it would interesting to check in with Nicole a year later and find out how that experience impacted her life and career. I was moved by Nicole’s personal and professional growth, as was Candy Wallace, APPCA’s founder and executive director.
“This career path was designed to be a personal chef “umbrella” under which the owner operator develops and offers services and skills that represent the chef/owner’s own level of expertise and personal preferences and specialties. No two personal chef businesses should look alike. And the process of operating a personal chef business is in a constant state of evolution,” said Candy.
“Nicole’s evolution is profound and we are not only proud of her journey but also excited for her since she is at a point in her journey, post-food TV, that she has taken a good hard look at her life and experiences thus far and has re-prioritized her needs, her truths, and her goals.
“Reading this interview,” Candy added, “reconfirmed my commitment to continue to provide training and support for individuals who choose to build a culinary career that reflects who they are, what they need to provide for themselves and their loved ones, and where they choose to go on their professional and personal journey.”
APPCA: How has your life changed a year after your run on Food Network Star?
Nicole Gaffney: It’s changed a lot and also is still very much the same. I have a brand new kitchen – so that has changed the way I cook and interact with food, as my old kitchen was cramped and uninspiring. My career path has changed, which I’ll elaborate on in the next question. But mostly, my attitude has changed. I went in to FNS knowing completely who I was, and feeling really confident in that. But after the show had ended, I didn’t know which way was up. Full disclosure: I had accepted my loss and was able to put it in perspective on the surface, but deep down I was devastated. I put my heart and soul (not to mention my life on hold) into a competition I had dreamt about entering since I was a kid. So having made it all the way to the end, and then coming out of it with essentially nothing was heartbreaking. This past year I experienced a lot of growing pains as a result, but I’m happy to say I’ve come out of that funk and feel a lot better about who I am and where I’m at in my life.
APPCA: How has your business changed? Are you still a personal chef? Are you still teaching?
NG: I’m no longer working as a personal chef. As much as I loved my clients, and loved running my business for five years, I began to feel like it was holding me back from pursuing what I really wanted out of life. I felt creatively stifled by the restrictions each client had in their diet, and rather than creating food that made me excited, I was expending all of my energy problem solving on their behalf. I was providing them with a valuable service and it was paying the bills, but I started to feel like I had hit a wall. I always felt much more gratified when I taught someone to cook as opposed to when I just cooked the food for them. I am still teaching through a few different local cooking schools, demos at food festivals, on my blog and YouTube channel. I have my hand in a lot of different pots right now and am working on monetizing the most time-consuming ones.
APPCA: Are you watching the current season? What are you looking at when viewing? Are you “virtually coaching” contestants based on your experience with the mentors or with challenges?
NG: I’m actually not! My husband and I made the decision to get rid of our cable around Memorial Day weekend in order to save a little (actually, a lot) of money, but mostly to inspire us to get out and enjoy the summer. It feels really pretentious and hippie-ish to talk about, but I’ve been really happy with our decision. We’ve been spending more quality time together with our family and friends, have been taking sunset paddles on our paddle boards every night, I’ve been learning the ukulele, keeping up with my garden and reading a lot more. I did watch the first episode online, and it brought back a lot of uneasy memories. I have to say I’m rooting for Jay – he’s a Baton Rouge guy, and I have a lot of love for that city (LSU – geaux Tigers!).
APPCA: What opportunities have you gotten as a result of being on the show?
NG: I think the biggest opportunity for me has been the overall name I’ve made for myself and the fanbase I’ve built online. It’s propelled me to be able to grow my blog and my YouTube channel with far more ease than it would have otherwise, and gives me instant credibility to brands and networks.
APPCA: Are you still connected to Food Network? Are you still in touch with some of the people you got to know on the show?
NG: I’m not still connected to Food Network. Unless I become super successful in one of my ventures, then they are contractually entitled to a piece of it. I have stayed in touch with Bobby Flay a bit, he has been very good to me in terms of encouragement to keep pursuing my dream. My other cast mates and I have all stayed in touch with the exception of Lenny. No one has been able to get a hold of him since the last time we were all together for the finale.
APPCA: Are you doing TV?
NG: Yes! I still host a local Philadelphia-based TV show called The Chef’s Kitchen where I get to cook in the kitchen with some amazing chefs. I also will be starting to represent a few different sustainable seafood products on QVC very soon, possibly as early as next week. I also post weekly quick cooking videos to my YouTube channel, Coley Cooks. I’ve found that my husband and I are not alone in the quest to do away with cable tv, and YouTube and self-created online content are very much the way of the future.
APPCA: Now that a year has passed, what do you think you learned about yourself and what you want in your career and life following what was certainly a life-changing experience?
NG: I think my biggest lesson in all of this is to care much less what people think of me. Being a young personal chef, I was always so concerned with keeping up appearances, staying PC, not wanting to offend anyone, and being seen as trustworthy, professional, and polished. I used to get really upset over any negative criticism I received online or anytime I would lose a follower. I would try to think about what I did or said that made someone dislike me, and then try not to ever do that again. I realized through this whole process that it is impossible to win over 100% of the population and I will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I learned to stay truly authentic to myself, and at times that means being opinionated, super sarcastic, having a potty mouth, and just generally being weird. I stopped being so concerned with having to uphold this perfect persona in order to maintain a business that focused on people pleasing. At the end of the day, the people who do like me will appreciate it, and those who don’t… well, I stopped worrying about them.
In terms of what I want out of life and my career, I mostly stopped being a personal chef because trying to maintain my business while pursuing these new ventures was detrimental to both. I was spread too thin and my clients always took precedence over anything else. They owned me, and my loyalty to them caused me to miss out on some really neat opportunities. The transition hasn’t been an easy one, but nothing worthwhile ever is. My goal continues to be teaching. It is my mission to boost confidence in home cooks, and to inspire them to cook as locally, seasonally and sustainably as possible. I believe that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. I’m not quite sure where this path will lead me, but I’ve learned to be much more excited about the journey than the final destination.
When I interviewed Katie Enterline and Mary Stewart of The Grateful Table for a post in May, I learned that Katie, with a Master’s Degree in Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science and Policy from Tufts University, has spent years engaged in building healthier food systems and making connections between food, people, and environmental health. So, when Candy and I discussed doing a blog post that addressed how personal chefs can bring more local and sustainable ingredients to their clients, Katie was the one I turned to for expertise. And, she readily agreed to help out. Here’s her take on why and how personal chefs can be the go-to resource for a better way to eat.
How to Get More Local and Sustainable Ingredients Into Client Meals
By Katie Enterline
As more people are starting to think about and care about where their food is coming from and looking for healthier, more sustainable food options, we as personal chefs have a unique opportunity to support our client’s desire in this area. Oftentimes, more sustainable ingredients are higher quality as well, allowing you to prepare the freshest seasonal meals for your clients. Whether this is already something of importance to you or you are looking to give your business a competitive edge, there are many ways you can start providing these options to clients.
Coming from the sustainable agriculture and food systems sector prior to launching The Grateful Table, purchasing sustainably produced and local products was very important to me and something I knew I wanted to incorporate into our business model. Eating sustainably produced whole foods is an investment in our health and the health of our planet. When we purchase local ingredients, we invest in our local farmers and the local economy and help to preserve family farms. We believe it is important to be mindful of the effects our food system has on the environment, public health, communities, and animal welfare and it is our mission to purchase organic and local products whenever possible.
Focusing on sustainable and local ingredients is a defining characteristic of our business model, which has at times been a deciding factor in why some clients choose us, and gives us a competitive edge while serving an ever-growing need.
At the same time, while it is a priority for us, it may not be one for our clients initially, but becomes an opportunity for us to help encourage and educate them on how to source and incorporate more healthy sustainable products that they might otherwise not do on their own. When it is not our client’s priority, we will work with them to stay within their budget and still try to purchase local and organic whenever we can.
Some ways we do this is to avoid purchasing fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues organically as indicated on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List. Additionally, we cost compare organic options vs. non-organic, which can sometimes be the same price or lower, and buy organic nuts, grains and beans in bulk sections by only purchasing the amount needed for a cook date. In addition, we can focus on either organic/local produce, or meat and seafood, whichever is most important to our client.
In the Washington, D.C. area, we have a few small- to mid-sized natural foods grocery chains that carry all or mostly organic produce and products with a large focus on local produce during the height of the growing season. We try to search for farms stands open daily in the summer close to our clients’ homes before heading to larger stores. We have also noticed many of the larger chain grocery stores increasing their organic offerings and at times local produce as well.
Additionally, through CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) and farm-to-home delivery businesses, we have found new creative ways to bring local products directly to our clients. Recognizing the growing movement toward local and organic, grocery delivery businesses such as Hometown Harvest are helping local farmers bring their vegetables, dairy, meats, and other grocery staples to consumers in our area. We can order their products online to be delivered directly to our clients’ homes the day of or day before our cook date.
Incorporating our clients CSA share into their menu planning has also been successful for us. This has worked very well with clients who like to support local farmers and they particularly love when we create something from vegetables that are unusual and they would have no idea what to do with, such as Pickled Japanese Turnips.
The demand for healthier, more sustainably produced foods is only going to continue to grow. Personal chefs can take advantage of this and make sure to offer these products to their clients. As demand continues to increase, there will also be many more ways to provide these products to our clients.
Are you helping your clients eat meals using more local, sustainable ingredients? If not, why not? And, if so, what are your strategies?
Who doesn’t love a hand pie? It’s casual but sophisticated. You can eat the entire thing with impunity. Or two or three. And you can make endless varieties throughout the year to reflect the seasons.
Empanadas are the quintessential savory hand pie. I’ve enjoyed them with a flaky pastry crust but I really love these empanadas wrapped in house-made flour tortillas that San Diego chef Osvaldo Blackaller of Cueva Bar taught me how to make earlier this year.
Not only are these a great dish for you to add to your weekly client repertoire, but they make for great dinner party/event menus when tied into a Mexican/Latin theme. Add a chimichurri sauce and you’re all set.
You can make empanadas with any kind of filling. The three Blackaller introduced me to are chicken with gorgonzola, brisket and sauteed onions, and chorizo with smashed potatoes. It was hard to pick a favorite. Each was packed with intriguing flavors with moist, tender fillings and a crispy pastry. I couldn’t choose which I wanted to feature so you get the recipes for all three fillings. But first let’s address making the dough. It’s not at all difficult, but as I experienced, the more you make these the better they’ll come out–and whatever you don’t use for the empanadas can be enjoyed as quesadillas or soft tacos. They freeze well, too.
Cueva Bar Worldwide Empanadas
from Chef Osvaldo Blackaller
Yield: 20 tortillas
5 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces sparkling water (more or less, depending on how the dough comes together)
1. Mix the flour, salt, and shortening until flakes of shortening are formed.
2. Add 10 ounces of sparkling water and start kneading until its almost integrated. Touch for consistency and, if necessary, add more water slowly until the dough comes together–neither too moist or too dry. Don’t overknead.
3. Cover dough and let rest for at least an hour before using.
4. When you’re ready to roll out the dough, pull out individual pieces about the size of a golf ball. Smooth it into a small disc and gently fold over the edges to create one smooth side. Then roll out the disc to the size of a corn tortilla–about eight inches.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. Add 2 ounces (or 2 1/2 tablespoons of the filling) to the center of the tortilla. Fold one side over the filling and crimp the edges to seal. Brush the top with either an egg wash (2 eggs, beaten) or a blend of chili oil and olive oil. Cut slits on the top to let the steam escape while baking.
7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.
And here are recipes for each of the fillings. Notice that for the chicken empanadas, Chef Oz creates an upright empanada in the style of a rooster’s coxcomb. For the chorizo, he shapes the empanadas into bull horns. Only the brisket has the traditional side shape with crimping.
Chicken Filling for Empanadas
4 pounds boneless chicken breast
6 cups finely diced onion
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon curry powder
2 cups water
1 cup vinegar
1. Prepare chicken marinade by mixing all spices and vinegar.
2. Grind chicken breast or finely dice.
3. Mix spice marinade with ground chicken. Marinate for 30 minutes before cooking
4. Brown onions.
5. Add chicken and cook on medium heat.
6. Stir thoroughly and add water.
7. Turn heat to medium low and let simmer until 90 percent of the juice is reduced.
8. Remove from heat and let cool before using it for empanadas.
Braised Beef Brisket Filling for Empanadas
5-pound brisket, marinated
2 cups red wine
4 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Mix together dry ingredients and olive oil. Rub brisket with mixture and store overnight.
The next day:
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Add wine to brisket. Place brisket in oven and oven sear for 15 minutes.
3. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and braise for 4 1/2 hours. Turn the oven off and allow brisket to sit in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove brisket from oven and shred the meat for the filling.
Beef Chorizo Monclova Filling for Empanadas
Chorizo Spice Marinade
4 Tablespons of salt
20 Guajillo Peppers
16 Ancho Peppers
1 cup of white vinegar
6 tablespoons of paprika
16 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons dry marjoram
2 teaspoons ground, toasted coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1. Place peppers in low boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes, or until soft.
2. Grind all spices and herbs together.
3. Discard about 80 percent of the water from peppers and blend peppers.
4. Strain the pepper blend to get rid of all seeds.
5. Place smooth blended pepper mix back in blender, add vinegar, spices, and garlic. Puree until smooth. Taste spice level and adjust accordingly.
7. Cover and set aside until ready to use.
To make chorizo:
Chorizo spice marinade above
5 pounds ground beef
Mix spice marinade with ground beef until is well blended. Allow to cure for 2 days before using.
Have you ever made your own flour tortillas? What new dishes are you introducing to your party repertoire?