If you’re new to being a personal chef or looking for ways to bring in new clients to your long-time personal chef business, it’s time to get out in front of the public. That’s not as daunting an idea as it may sound. Depending on where you live, there are plenty of venues you may not have even considered as potential promotional opportunities. Some of our members are doing these already. We think you should consider these five–and hope that they’ll spark even more ideas for presenting yourself to your community.
- Urban infill new planned communities: Here you have busy people looking for resources for living in their new homes. Why not approach the community manager or marketing manager (with some freshly made eats, your business card, and menu list)? Give the person your pitch for helping new/potential residents learn how to grocery shop, menu plan, and cook ahead for themselves? Yes, that’s the service you want to sell, but a friend of mine refers to it as the butterscotch pudding theory of marketing. That luscious pudding is so good you want the recipe to make it at home–until you learn that candy thermometers and double boilers are involved. Then you just want to enjoy it at the restaurant. As a personal chef, it doesn’t hurt to explain how involved the shopping, menu planning, and cooking are so that new residents want to hire you to do it for them. Alternatively, make a pitch to the marketing manager to do monthly omelet breakfasts for residents. They pay for the food, of course, plus a small fee. One of our members, Sacha Quernheim of Red Zucchini Personal Chef Business has been doing this in her St. Louis community for a couple of years. You can read her tips here.
- Service clubs: First, you should join clubs you feel an affinity for so you can network and give back to the community. Offer to do a cooking demo or provide light eats for a meeting or event. But be sure to bring your marketing materials with you–the business cards and fliers that have all your current info (including social media accounts) on them.
- Bridal shows: Check your local convention center website or city magazine to learn when the bridal shows are in town. Nab a booth and bring edibles to hand out, along with your marketing materials. Not only are these opportunities to sell your personal chef services, but you can also get catering jobs for bridal showers and even weddings–and down the line, baby showers. In fact, check out maternity trade shows, too. After all, who needs a personal chef more than an expectant and then new mom!
- Wellness conferences and health fairs: If your personal chef business is oriented toward health and wellness, including special diets for special needs clients, you should have a booth at a conference or health fair that brings in people interested in those diets. It’s a ready-made audience. Depending on the costs, you could team up with other personal chefs in the area to split the costs and table time. And don’t just hang out at your booth. Go visit other vendors to network and hand out your marketing materials.
- Avocational classes: If you live in an area where there are kitchenware retailers like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, or mom and pop shops, find out how you can do cooking demos. Talk to a manager about putting in an application, just like Dallas-based member Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine did at Williams-Sonoma. She’s been doing demos for awhile now. And this smart lady even had a friend come in and snap photos and take a video. You can read about her experience with chef demos here. As she said, “I would definitely say that all of us PC’s should at least market themselves at high-end cook stores like W-S. I am SO lucky that all this happened and that I had the time.”
Chefs, as business owners you always have to be marketing yourself. If you feel like you’ve hit a wall or are lacking inspiration, look around your community for opportunities. Follow the lead of Sacha and Anne and find venues that are either untapped or totally suit your personality and goals. Then go for it!
Have you found a great venue for marketing your business in your community? Inspire us with your story!
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.
And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!
As some of you may know, I have Type 2 diabetes. This morning I enjoyed what has become a typical hot weather breakfast: a quarter cup of granola (15 grams of carbs) mixed with a half cup of nonfat yogurt (eight grams of carbs, plus protein), and a half cup of fresh blueberries (10 grams of carbs, plus fiber). That’s a total of 33 grams of carbs, less if you take into account the glycemic index, which measures how food with carbohydrates raises blood sugar. Blueberries, for instance, have a low glycemic count, thanks to its fiber, so it actually would give a net carb count of eight or nine grams. Add a teaspoon of honey and a bit of low-fat milk to my coffee and I top out at around 45 grams of carbs total for breakfast.
Confusing? Welcome to the world of Type 2 diabetes. Actually, confusing comes only at the beginning of the journey. Once you start tracking carbs it becomes pretty easy to figure out what and how much to eat at every meal. And as a personal chef with diabetic clients, you’ll get the hang of it quickly enough, too.
Carbs have developed a bad rap among the health-conscious public but it’s a vast overstatement to say they’re bad for you. Carbs are a source of energy thanks to the glucose that comes from sugars and starches they contain. Plus they can help reduce weight and prevent disease—assuming you choose the right kinds of carbs. Certainly a diet full of pretzels, pizza, beer, and pasta isn’t exactly healthful. But consider just how many foods that are good for you contain carbs—pretty much everything but meats and fats. So, we’re talking whole grains, fruits, beans, and legumes—food with fiber.
In a healthy person, the body breaks down the sugars and starches that make up carbs into glucose which goes into cells for energy. For people with Type 2 diabetes, glucose, or blood sugar, builds up in the blood instead of going into the cells, which over time can damage your heart, eyes, and kidneys. The challenge for people with Type 2 diabetes is figuring out how much to consume anytime we sit down to eat so our blood sugar levels don’t skyrocket. For example, fruit juice is pretty much out. Think about it. One medium orange contains 15 grams of carbohydrates and goes down to 12 net carbs thanks to the fiber in the orange. But one cup of orange juice contains 26 grams of carbs. You’re better off eating a whole orange and get the reduced carbs and increased fiber than swig a glass of juice.
There’s also a common assumption that people with Type 2 diabetes can’t eat sugar. But they’re stuck in the mindset of refined sugar and forget that sugar naturally occurs in foods like fruit and milk. So, with the best of intentions your client may be offered a big bowl of fruit in lieu of a slice of cake. But while the fruit is healthier, she must still need to limit the amount she can eat.
So, how do you help clients get carbs to work for them? Here are a few techniques I’ve learned that have helped me over the years:
- Go for high fiber. Instead of white rice, serve brown rice. Instead of conventional pasta serve whole wheat pasta. Scout out whole grain cereals. Serve whole wheat sourdough bread, which, thanks to the lactic acid that creates that tangy sour flavor, also makes it low glycemic. Prepare whole grain sides like farro, freekah, wheat berries, barley, buckwheat, and wild rice—turn them into salads with roasted vegetables. Use fresh cauliflower, pulsed in the food processor, to make faux rice.
- Limit portions. How do I know how much I can eat? I took a nutrition class at Kaiser Permanente after I was diagnosed. There I learned that 15 grams of carbs is one serving (regardless of the type of carb). According to the nutritionist, a woman trying to lose weight should have three servings of carbs per meal; a man should have four. To maintain weight, a woman should have four servings at each meal, plus one as a snack; for men it’s four to five. And for the very active, the number of servings goes to six per meal for women and five to six for men. With that, you just do the math with a carb-counting guide and reading nutrition labels on packaged foods. But typically a serving of carbohydrates would be a slice of whole grain bread, a third of a cup of cooked pasta or rice, three-quarters of a cup of cereal, a six-inch corn tortilla, or a half cup of corn, green peas, or beans.
- Shop small. It’s good to eat bananas, but look for very small ones because who wants to eat the leftover half the next day? Shop for small apples and peaches and tangerines. Does your client crave a baked potato? Search for small russets so he can have the satisfaction of eating a whole one without overdoing the carb count. Five ounces is 24 grams of carbs—enough to account for other vegetables and also have fruit for dessert. If you can’t find them (most markets usually go for giant size) bake a red or Yukon gold. Or bake a small sweet potato, which is rich in fiber.
Your client may miss his pizza and big bowls of pasta for awhile, but if you can create meals that are flavorful and have some of the qualities of what he used to indulge in, only in healthy portions, he will find that he loves the new way he consumes carbs–relishing the deep flavors and textures from whole grains or the joy of indulging in a small juicy nectarine or bowl of strawberries. And you’ll have fun testing your creativity, too, as your client enjoys better health and more energy!
Do you have a client with Type 2 Diabetes? What kinds of dishes are you creating that have addressed the carb issue?
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.
And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!
Our Candy Wallace has been on a commencement speech roll. Earlier this spring she delivered a virtual graduation address to the students of the Escoffier Online International Academy. Then on June 17 she was the keynote speaker at the Art Institute of California in San Diego’s commencement.
It’s no surprise that the founder and executive director of APPCA would be asked to give graduating students–and not specifically the culinary students–just entering their new chosen profession words of wisdom and advice. After all, Candy has been a leader in the culinary industry for decades. She’s seen it all and done it all–and created a career path that has drawn hundreds upon hundreds of people looking for a way to better control and direct their lives and find success and happiness.
So, what did she tell these graduates, whose degrees ranged from fashion, web design, photography, and advertising to media arts and animation and culinary arts?
She told them that the first thing they needed to do was make a plan. “Not having a plan is like throwing yourself off a cliff and trying to knit a parachute on the way down,” she said. “That’s not so good. You need a roadmap to avoid the pitfalls of cliff jumping.”
You start, Candy said, by defining where you want to go–in 10 years or next year. This plan is where you create a place for your dream to live.
Then, she noted, you have to figure out how to get there. “Know that you don’t know it all yet.” And she advised them to search out resources for learning more. And throughout, to stay humble and stay determined.
Find a mentor, she advised, someone who can help you, push you, encourage you, and be honest with you while you’re learning and growing.
Here some other sage nuggets of advice she gave these graduates:
- Commit to learning something new every day.
- Know that you can’t learn everything on the clock so you need to do it on your own time as well.
- Make mistakes. It can be frustrating and embarrassing but admit to them and learn from them. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.
- Be patient with yourself and stay realistic.
- Keep your eyes open for opportunities and see challenges as opportunities in disguise.
- Be kind to the people you encounter along the way and give credit to those who help you.
- Learn about the world, especially through travel. Be adventurous and curious–and share your own culture.
- Participate in your community.
- Nurture the friendships you make over the years. Keep loved ones close to you.
- Honor your parents. They started you on this journey and have been your biggest cheerleaders.
And, finally, she told the graduates, “Stop along the way to enjoy your life. Press the party button!”
You can listen to the full eight-minute speech here:
What were the best words of advice you received when you launched your career? What do you wish someone had told you?
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.
And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!
I don’t know about you, but with summer here, all I want is to munch on corn on the cob. Or scrape it off the cob and eat it raw in salads. I especially love the way gorgeous red corn kernels visually ignite grains or pasta or other vegetables.
I’ll slather cobs in softened butter and garlic, wrap them in foil and put them on the grill. Then roll them in Cotija cheese and sprinkle with Tajin or Tamarula sauce.
In my world, salsa suddenly needs corn. So does my gazpacho. I crave corn and scallion tamales from the farmers market. But, what I look forward to most of all is a visit to La Jolla’s George’s at the Cove for executive chef/partner Trey Foshee’s sweet and creamy Chino Corn Risotto with Chanterelles and Burrata, named for the Chino Farm, a very special farm in the Rancho Santa Fe area of San Diego. How special is it? Well, back in the day both Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck were ardent customers. Even the displays at the farm stand look like works of art–and the produce tastes as stunning as it looks.
I thought I’d share this recipe with you because it’s perfect for when you’re catering a must-impress dinner party. It’s the kind of dish you don’t just want to eat, you want to dive into the bowl and eat your way out.
Chino Corn Risotto with Chanterelles and Burrata
From Chef Trey Foshee of Georges at the Cove
Trey Foshee’s corn risotto celebrates the bounty of summer corn. It makes for a wonderful first course followed by grilled chicken or fish and lots of fresh summer vegetables. Be sure to use fresh corn, if possible on the day it was picked. Burrata, a fresh Italian cheese that combines mozzarella and cream, adds to the decadence of the dish.
Makes 6 appetizer-course servings.
2 Tbs. butter
¼ cup onion, minced
8 oz. Carnaroli rice
½ cup white wine
1 ¾ cups hot chicken stock
In a large sauce pot heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat, do not brown. Add the rice and start a timer for 18 minutes. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon until they start to sizzle, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed. Add one quarter of the hot chicken stock, stir until absorbed and you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir. Add another quarter and follow procedure above, then another quarter more. After 18 minutes add the last quarter, and season. At this point you can either continue on to the to serve section or, pour into a hotel pan and chill. Stir after about 15 minutes. You can hold it at this point for up to 24 hours.
2 cups very fresh corn kernels
1 ½ cups chicken stock or water
Combine in a small pot and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, transfer to a blender and blend until smooth, pass through a fine mesh strainer, chill and reserve.
2 Tbs. butter
1 cup corn kernels
2 cups risotto base
1 cup corn puree
½ cup chicken stock, warm
1 cup chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
1 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbl. butter
6 slices burrata
In a medium sauce pot heat one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat, add the corn kernels and cook until just soft, about 3 minutes. Add the risotto base, corn puree, and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and stir gently with a wooden spoon. Cook over medium low heat, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes to allow the flavors to meld, add the other tablespoon of butter and stir.
Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat and add the oil. Add the chanterelles and sauté until cooked and lightly browned, add the butter and remove to a warm place.
Spoon the risotto in a shallow bowl, place a slice of burrata on top and spoon the chanterelles around.
What’s your favorite summer recipe to impress clients or friends? Let us know if you’d like to share it here.
Carol Borchardt is one of APPCA’s greatest success stories. She’s an in-demand personal chef, who dug deep and expanded her talents to include writing and food photography. In fact, she’s helped us with gorgeous photos for our Facebook page and upcoming new and improved website. Carol understands the value of smart marketing through photography and social media. And she’s melded both to launch the delightful food blog, From a Chef’s Kitchen. I asked her to tell the story of how she got into blogging and how she’s turned it a strategic way to promote her business and even add new revenues.
We eat with our eyes first and everyone loves to look at beautiful images of mouthwatering food. I have always been fascinated with food photography and all that goes into producing those beautiful images. However, it wasn’t too long ago, whenever I attempted to photograph something, the result was nothing short of awful.
As part of reaching out and getting to know people in my local food community to promote my personal chef business, I got to know one of the food columnists at our local daily newspaper. She asked me to help with a project, loved the recipes I submitted for it and subsequently asked me to do a biweekly food column containing a recipe and write-up for the newspaper. I had never done food writing before but thought it was pretty cool to be a personal chef and newspaper columnist. I would get paid and the newspaper would allow me to mention my personal chef business at the end of every column so I figured…why not.
As part of the arrangement, the newspaper was going to send a photographer out for each column. However, with my cooking schedule and where I live, scheduling cooking, styling and photographing the dish was nearly impossible. After two complicated sessions, I decided to take the photo myself. The photo was not very good, however it passed and the newspaper was happy to let me take all photos after that.
Suddenly, I was a food photographer too, which was pretty interesting because my knowledge of photography in general was quite limited.
Because of my new sideline gig as a biweekly columnist for the local newspaper, I wanted to learn more about food writing. I came across Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write For Food. Her book is a great resource for anyone interested in writing a cookbook, doing freelance food writing and, of course, food blogging, which is how I became intrigued with it. It intrigued me because I love to create new recipes and being able to share them with the world seemed so rewarding. However, my personal chef business kept me extremely busy so I wasn’t able to delve into the process.
Then, two years ago, I was sidelined from my personal chef business due to an injury. I tripped and fell in a client’s kitchen, fracturing my right kneecap. I couldn’t work or drive for six weeks. It was during this time I realized that someday my personal chef career could end for any number of reasons. Having already experienced severe office job burnout prior to becoming a personal chef, I knew there was no way I could ever go back to work in an office. I felt I needed to have something to fall back on that I was passionate about.
That’s when my “real” food blog was born. I say “real,” because I had a small blog section on my business website, but it got very little traffic. I knew absolutely nothing about how to promote it; I didn’t even have a Facebook account until a few months before my accident. My food photography had progressed to a point where FoodGawker.com and Tastespotting.com were accepting some of my photographs so I received traffic there. Because their editors carefully curate those sites, having photos accepted was very encouraging to me.
So, with tons of time on my hands during my recovery period, I decided if I were ever going to delve into food blogging, it was the time to do it.
Because a food blog is nothing without great photography, I first immersed myself into learning everything I possibly could to improve my photography through reading books, watching online video workshops and by studying great food photography.
I then researched how to start a food blog and looked at hundreds of food blogs.
I knew nothing about social media but knew I had to learn it in a hurry because it’s one of the main ways to promote a food blog. Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, StumbleUpon, and Google+ were all mysteries to me so I had to start figuring them out.
I knew nothing about WordPress (a popular blogging platform), website design or search engine optimization (SEO). For my personal chef business website, I had always let pros at APPCA do it. This, however, I was determined to learn from the ground up, and it wasn’t long before I learned what the “white screen of death” was.
I also knew nothing about how to make money with a food blog—I just knew people did it because they published their income and traffic reports.
But, as with all journeys, they begin with the first step. My original food blog concept, which was based around my love for cookbooks, seemed to confuse everyone. Most people thought all I did was rework cookbook recipes. (Branding experts advise having a clear, definable focus.) The concept worked for Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks fame, but it wasn’t going so well for me. Three graphic designers couldn’t come up with the right logo for me so I worked until midnight many nights trying to design one myself on professional software I knew nothing about.
After hitting numerous roadblocks, I decided to rebrand last summer and change my name to what it is now—From A Chef’s Kitchen. I knew I was doing the right thing when one of the first people I told about the change said, “Now THAT tells me who you are!” I tried a graphic designer one more time and my logo came together quickly and painlessly.
Fast forward to today and I’m having a ball. I absolutely love the process of recipe development, styling the dish and nailing a mouthwatering shot. I love being able to share my recipes and passion for food with the world. It’s very gratifying receiving comments from readers who made a recipe and it’s become their new family favorite.
Through social media and particularly Pinterest, my traffic is growing nicely. Many of my posts are written from my viewpoint as a personal chef. I’m also using my food blog to help promote APPCA and personal chefs in general with my monthly “Menus” posting.
I don’t plan on giving up my personal chef business any time soon, but ways I’m turning my blog into a secondary business is through:
- Ad revenue
- Affiliate marketing (commissions are earned by helping to sell other people’s products)
- Recipe development / sponsored posts for companies. So far, I’ve worked with Calphalon, Weight Watchers and Australis Barrmundi for compensation. However, companies such as Oxo and NordicWare send products for review and I’ve also been able to add some free cookbooks to my collection.
Many food bloggers develop a product to sell such as a self-published cookbook, other food-related book or meal plans. I would like to do that someday. I hope to start doing freelance food photography work and am looking into becoming a certified food stylist.
I’m still a little shy about putting myself out there with my recipes and photography but I’m growing more and more confident about it each day.
If you enjoy photography, writing and recipe development, I highly encourage you to look into food blogging. As a mentor of mine in the food blogosphere said, “Start, and then learn.” That’s what I did!
Have you been wanting to start a blog? What’s been holding you back? If you have one, please add your link in the comment section below and describe what you’re doing.
Chefs can be miracle workers. The best uplift us with the innovative, often comforting, flavors and dishes they create. But pair that with big hearts and you get the greatest of gifts wrapped up in a single person. My long experience with chefs has shown me that, despite cliched media portrayals of kitchen tyrants with outsized egos, feeding people well is their greatest pleasure and motivation. And that generosity of spirit usually extends beyond the professional. I’m sure, as personal chefs, you can barely control the impulse to feed those you love–even when you’re exhausted after having been on the clock (and your feet) all day feeding clients.
That’s why I want to share this story and recipe. I’m sure you can relate to it. Several years ago my sweet friend chef Flor Franco, who owns the popular San Diego catering business Indulge Contemporary Catering, gave my mom and dad–and me–the treat of her time and talent. I had mentioned to Flor how much my mom loved the lentils and a cilantro sauce she brought to a lunch we had attended and that Mom would love the recipes.
Well, Flor didn’t just say, “Sure, no problem.” She upped the ante with, “Let’s make a date for me go over to her house and cook with her so she can learn how to make them.”
So we set a date and Flor showed up to my parents’ house, like a caterer or personal chef does, with all the ingredients she needed, plus roasted chicken, sauces, rice…basically a feast.
We focused on her Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup, an lovely amalgam of lentils and split peas infused with fragrant cumin, coriander, turmeric, Spanish paprika, and cayenne. Add roasted tomatoes, garlic, and onions; fresh minced parsley and cilantro; and a splash of olive oil and that’s about it.
The result is a richly flavored and very healthy dish that can be eaten as soup or spread over a steaming mound of rice or grains, depending on how thick or loose you want it. Just add or take out water. Ours was more like soup, and accompanied a platter of chicken, with rice, salad, and fresh fruit for lunch. Yes, we cooked and gabbed and cooked–and then sat down to lunch together. My parents ate it up–the food and the experience.
Cooking the lentils took less than an hour and the dish can be frozen, which is why I thought this recipe would be terrific for personal chefs to incorporate into their menu repertoire.
Flor Franco’s Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup
Yield: about 5 servings
15 cups of water
2 cups lentils
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups green split peas
5 tomatoes (plum tomatoes are good for this)
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Moroccan spice mix
2 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
3 dried Chinese chiles
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup fresh minced cilantro
Preheat the broiler.
Add the lentils and split peas to a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook about 35 minutes until soft.
Broil the tomatoes, onions, and garlic until they start to brown and soften. Remove from the oven and peel the skin from the tomatoes.
When the legumes are ready you can remove some of the liquid if you want this mixture to be very thick (so you can mound the dish on a bed of rice) or add more water if you want it more like soup. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro.
What’s the most moving experience you’ve had cooking for a client?
We’ve talked recently about the importance of marketing, including taking your expertise to video and television. So I was tickled to see one of our members, Jes Thomas of Soul Food: A Personal Chef Service in Knoxville promoting her TV appearances on Facebook. If you want to learn how she has made this leap, read on.
Jes has only been a personal chef for a year. “I have always loved eating, which led me to the path of cooking,” she says. “I have been leading college ministry at my church as well as homeschooling my children. Now that they are older I have freer weekdays. I honed my skills in cooking because of all the events and gathering related to church and community. People always asked if I would ever open a restaurant but that is too much of a headache. The joy comes from people who feel ‘filled,’ both physically and emotionally. I love when my food helps them. Personal chefs combine all the best parts of cooking for others. My customers have a need and I get to fill it in a personally fulfilling way.”
Jes came to food through her work in advertising and public relations for a year following college, where she earned a BA in Mass Communication and a Masters degree in Religions Education. At the firm, Jes worked in departments with food clients and learned about gourmet foods because she was in charge of ordering the upscale lunches for client meetings in New York City. Around that time she also started baking and collecting recipes as well as take random cooking classes at kitchen stores. When she moved to her small town in Appalachia, she began to explore “cooking from scratch” because their rural town didn’t have many restaurants or specialty grocery stores. She used videos on foodnetwork.com for more education. And she spent a week in New York City at the Institute of Culinary Education, learning to make croissants, bagels, and pretzels, as well as a boot camp for gourmet cooking.
Last year, Jes took the APPCA certificate class with Candy Wallace. Part of the training included learning how to contact media outlets, which complemented her knowledge of how to write press releases. Jes says her strategy was to make her free website as professional as she could without paying for extra bells and whistles. She set up social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and About Me and then started following all the major news people in the closest city where she wanted to work. “I was hoping some of them would notice and follow me back,” she explains.
Jes got her first break when she saw that the ABC affiliate, WATE, asked the audience to send in news ideas. “I wrote up a press release about myself and the business and emailed it to the hosts of Good Morning Tennessee,” she says. “Then I tweeted the hosts and let them know I sent them the e-mail. They wrote me back and said they were interested. Within a few weeks, I was interviewed about the business.
“That is how I landed my first regular client,” she says.
After that, Jes pursued the WBIR, the NBC affiliate, because they had a kitchen on set. She sent another press release to the producer, tweeted her, and she wrote back. After her first on air appearance, the producer asked if Jes would be interested in coming back. “I have been there monthly since then. It would be great if it were a paid gig, but I will take the free publicity any day!”
As anyone who has done this knows, it can be tricky to cook on air while holding a conversation with the hosts. Jes acknowledges that it takes a lot of practice.
“I practice cooking at home and explaining it. My first few segments, I practiced the ‘script’ in my head and tried to think of all the points I wanted to cover. You’ll notice in a couple of the segments, Russell Biven, the co-host, jokes around with me. I must say, that did distract me and I lost my train of thought. There are actually quite a few blunders I have made, but I have done a lot of teaching in different subjects so I have learned to ad-lib!
“I took public speaking in college and grad school. I still get nervous about messing up, but I think that is what keeps me on my toes. I am up front every week at my church of about 100 people doing announcements and a lot of that is ad lib with my husband. Keeping thing light hearted and fun is my goal.”
At this point, Jess has a few local shows under her belt: Live at 5 at Four on the NBC affiliate, Fox in the Morning in Knoxville, and Good Morning Tennessee, which has invited her back–even though they have no kitchen. “The great thing is now I have connections on these shows, so if I want to do something different with the business I can get in touch with them and have a place to promote it.”
Have you done television spots to promote your business? How did you find your way in? How has it helped your business?
Salmon is one of those fish that even the fish averse seem to enjoy. Because it’s got so much natural oil in it, it’s hard to screw up, making it a reliably tasty dish even for those who don’t cook much. But it also means that it can get tiresome. Marinating fillets or steaks in a little lemon/olive oil/garlic/herb mixture and running it under the broiler for a few minutes is a tried and true technique. But do that enough and inevitably that will result in yawns. Who wants that!
I recently spent some time in the kitchen with a San Diego chef who showed me a wonderful way to prepare it that I think clients will enjoy–especially since you can leave them with a sauce that is wonderfully versatile. Once they enjoy it with the salmon, they can use it several other ways.
The chef is Jeremy Oursland of Bottega Americano in downtown San Diego. Like some of you, Oursland grew up in the restaurant business. His dad had been a chef at a country club and Oursland started out there as a kid working as a dishwasher. And, like many who start with doing the dishes and sticking with it, he got a chance to cook, first making brunch and breakfast, then dinner. He also learned about catering, banquets, and fine dining during his stint there.
On the new spring menu Oursland showed me the dish he’d be preparing. They just call it Salmon, but it’s a seared salmon filet with caramelized fennel, gnocchi, sugar snap peas, and Swiss chard, dressed with a rich tomato fonduta–Italy’s version of fondue.
Everything was prepped and ready to go when I got to the restaurant. First, Oursland showed me how to make the fonduta, filling a saucepan with half a lemon, wine, garlic, shallot, fresh herbs, peppercorns, and a roma tomato. Cream had been warmed in another pot. Once the mixture was reduced and strained, he added the cream, tomato paste, and butter, which yielded a rich yet slightly acidic sauce. In fact, this makes enough so that you can use some to serve with the salmon and vegetables and have more to enjoy over pasta, other fish, chicken, roasted vegetables, or (Oursland’s suggestion) cheese curds. Or use it as a dipping sauce for bread.
Then Oursland cooked the salmon. In your client’s home, use the stove. At the restaurant, Oursland takes advantage of the searing heat of the pizza oven. First he heated the cast iron skillet in the oven. Then he carefully added some canola oil and slid a salmon filet, skin side down and away from him onto the pan before pushing it into the oven. He also prepared a version on the stovetop.
Oursland suggests purchasing skin-on salmon from a specialty seafood market or Costco. He prefers wild or sustainably farmed salmon. When prepping it be sure to pat the skin dry so that it will get crispy. And only salt the fish just before you put it in the hot pan. “If you season it and let it sit, the salt will pull the moisture in the fish to the surface and the sear won’t be as crisp,” Oursland warns. He suggested using a fish spatula because its thin edge makes it easy to get under the fish without tearing the skin or the flesh–and it’s easy to clean.
He also makes sure he blanches the vegetables before sauteing them. “This seals in the flavor, adds crunch, and brings out vibrant colors,” he noted. “Make sure all the veggies have a chance to dry thoroughly before sauteing,” he said, adding, “Thomas Keller has a chapter in the French Laundry cookbook about big pot blanching. It’s well written and a fun read. I enjoy preparing vegetables. It can be a little time consuming but if you do so with respect for the product it will show in your dish. I find it very relaxing and rewarding.
“If you pay attention to the minor details it makes for such a better result,” Oursland said.
Salmon with Caramelized Fennel, Gnocchi, Sugar Snap Peas, and Tomato Fonduta
From Jeremy Oursland of Bottega Americano
Serves 4 to 6, depending on portion size
½ pound sugar snap peas
1 bunch rainbow chard
2 fennel bulbs
3 ounces canola oil for caramelizing the fennel, and sautéing the gnocchi and the salmon
1 teaspoon butter
6 ounces per person of gnocchi (You can substitute pasta like fusilli or penne.)
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
6 ounce portion per person salmon filet, skin on
1 cup fonduta (see below)
Yield: 3 cups
3 cups white wine-preferably one you wouldn’t mind drinking but not too expensive
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs tarragon
8 garlic cloves
1 large shallot roughly chopped
2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 of a lemon
1/2 medium tomato
1 cup cream, slightly warmed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 pound butter, cut into pieces
To make the fonduta, combine the wine, bay leaf, thyme, tarragon, garlic, shallot, lemon, and tomato in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and reduce by half.
Add the cream and whisk in the tomato paste. Reduce by a third, then strain the mixture through a sieve.
Return the sauce to the saucepan and whisk in the butter over medium-low heat. Season to taste with kosher salt. Strain again. Set aside.
For the vegetables:
Prepare an ice bath. Wash the rainbow chard thoroughly in cold water and dry. Remove the stems and dice the leaves into ¼-inch by ¼-inch pieces. Blanch in salted boiling water for one minute and then place in ice bath for a moment to shock them. Remove from the water and set aside.
Prep the sugar snap peas by removing the “string,” grabbing the outer edge where the pea was connected to the vine and pulling it away from the pea. Remove the tip where the pea connected to the vine, too. Blanch and then shock in the ice bath. Remove and set aside.
Cut the top and bottom of the fennel bulbs. Remove the core. (Save them to include in a simple vegetable stock). Julienne the remaining parts of the bulbs into ½-inch strips. Sauté in canola oil over medium-high heat until it has a nice caramel color and becomes soft. Finish with a touch of butter and season to taste with kosher salt. Set aside.
Blanch the gnocchi, then sauté on medium-high heat in canola oil until golden brown and crispy. Season with kosher salt. (If you’re using fusilli or penne, cook according to directions and skip the sautéing.)
Sauté all the prepared vegetables together in a pan with a little olive oil and crushed garlic. Add the gnocchi or pasta. Season to taste with kosher salt. Set aside.
To cook the salmon, first pat the skin dry to help the skin get crispy. Heat a cast iron or non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add canola oil. Season the fish with kosher salt just prior to placing in the pan (again for a crispy skin). Lightly lay it in the pan skin side down and placing it in a motion away from the hand holding the pan to avoid splashing the oil on yourself. Let it cook approximately five minutes. Using a fish spatula, flip the filets carefully, tilting the pan away from you to avoid the oil splashing, and cook another two to three minutes on the other side. Remove from heat and let it rest a couple of minutes before plating.
To plate, place the vegetables and gnocchi on each plate to form a bed for the salmon. Place the salmon on top. Sauce the plate with the fonduta and serve immediately.
What’s your favorite way to prepare salmon for clients?
Throughout the year we’re trying to dig deep into various types of diets–some address health issues, others represent personal preferences. The latter brings us to vegan diets. Cooking without any animal products can be a challenge to chefs who haven’t dealt with that before–and no one wants to turn down a client. That’s what happened to personal chef and APPCA member Jim Loellbach of Custom Provisions in Chicago. How he went about developing a robust menu for his first regular clients is a lesson in critical analysis and creativity. Below, Jim explains how he went about it–and he gives us a marvelous recipe for Mushroom Bolognese.
Being new to the personal chef game, I recently landed my first regular clients. They’re a busy couple with a one-year-old child and another due in about six months. In addition to the normal challenges that face any new personal chef, I’ve had to face one more: my clients are vegans.
Before becoming a personal chef, I was a cook and sous chef in several restaurants and hotels in Chicago. My first sous chef position was as banquet chef in a smallish boutique hotel. Most of my work was for corporate groups, wedding parties, or other social events from 10 to 100 guests. While these are fairly small numbers in the banquet world, I had to be prepared for guests with special dietary needs. I had to learn the basics of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets. In the end, I developed a small set of simple dishes that could satisfy these requests. That was fine for one-off events, but more difficult for groups that were in house for many days. Then, I’d have to accommodate a guest’s needs without serving the same thing over and over. When I had enough time, it was a fun challenge; but when I didn’t, it was a real pain!
Vegan cooking has one rule: don’t use any animal products.
For my new clients, I needed to develop a substantial vegan menu. I started by taking my normal menu and simply including everything that was already vegan. Most of my salads were already vegan, or could be by eliminating things like cheese or bacon. I stuck with vinaigrette dressings instead of creamy ones using eggs (although, I’ve since learned of some vegan substitutes). Likewise, many of my soups could be vegan by eliminating cream, using oil instead of butter, and using vegetable stock instead of meat stocks.
It was a bit harder to come up with a substantial number of vegan entrees. I already had a small number of vegetarian entrees which were easily converted to full vegan, but it just wasn’t enough. So I looked at several meat and fish entrees and asked myself whether or not they needed the animal protein at all. I had several items (stir fries and curries) that would be fine without the animal protein. Chicken in Yellow Curry became Vegetables in Yellow Curry, maybe adding chick peas to add more substance. Pasta with Meat Sauce became Pasta with Marinara Sauce.
Next, I looked at meat or fish entrees that really depended on the protein, and thought of substitutes: items like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and textured vegetable protein (TVP). I had a Thai Basil Ground Pork dish that consisted of little more than heavily seasoned spiced ground pork (served with rice, of course). TVP makes a great substitute for ground meat in most dishes, and this dish was no exception. I made it for my clients on my first cook date, and they requested it again for the second. Seitan strips make a great substitute for beef, pork or chicken in a stir fry. Tempeh, a form of tofu made from pressed whole soybeans, can be crumbled into chili instead of ground or diced meat.
Most of the dishes I’ve described so far do not represent the typical American plate: a large central piece of animal protein with supporting sides. I fleshed out my menu with a few more vegan options more along these lines: Miso Glazed Tofu Steaks with Peppers, or Soy Sesame Roasted Portobello Caps with Leeks. When I was done, I had plenty of options for my clients to choose from.
Of course, the first step in all of this was consulting with the clients. What do they usually eat? Do they prefer to have a central protein in meals? Do they already use meat substitutes? Do they like various ethnic foods? Luckily, my clients like food from around the world and don’t require a protein centerpiece on the plate.
One caveat: it’s important that vegans get a mix of essential amino acids in their diet (those that the human body cannot generate on its own). This is easily done by using a wide variety of protein sources: dried beans, rice, wheat, soy, nuts, quinoa, and others. It is not necessary to get this mix in every meal, just over the course of every few days. Variety is the key.
Here are a couple of random tips for vegan cooking. Tofu almost always benefits from removing some of its moisture. First, I almost always press it between paper towels for 15 minutes. If I want it even drier, I cut it into slabs and bake it at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Most dried pasta is made without eggs, but check the label. Indian cuisine is a great source of vegan dishes. Smoked paprika can add a meaty smoky taste in place of bacon or smoked meats. Soy sauce, miso, kombu seaweed, and dried mushrooms are great sources of umami, which meatless dishes often lack.
For online resources, I can’t recommend anything better than seriouseats.com (for vegan and non-vegan alike). The editor of this site goes vegan for one month every year, and they have collected a large amount of material. Search for “vegan” on that site and you’ll find a wealth of ideas, recipes, and links to other sources.
Finally, here’s an example of a recipe I converted from non-vegan to vegan. It’s a mushroom Bolognese sauce for pasta or polenta. The usual ground meat is replaced by a mixture of cremini and shiitake mushrooms that are chopped in a food processor to have the texture of ground meat when cooked. This sauce is as satisfying as any meat-based sauce I’ve had.
From Jim Loellbach
Serves 4 to 6
200 grams onion, finely diced
54 grams fennel, finely diced
170 grams shiitake mushroom caps
560 grams crimini mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for sautéing onions
24 grams garlic, minced
7 grams salt
3 grams fennel seed, ground
4 grams salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for sautéing mushrooms
Salt and pepper to season mushrooms
520 grams canned San Marzano tomatoes
950 grams vegetable stock
7 grams fresh oregano, minced
Salt to taste
Make a simple vegetable stock using the onion and fennel scraps, the shiitake stems, and 5 cups of water. Reserve.
Place one-third of the mushrooms in a food processor and pulse to chop coarsely, about 10 to 15 pulses. Stop when the largest pieces are around 1/2 inch in size. Put the chopped mushrooms in a bowl, and repeat with the remaining mushrooms in two batches. Do not overcrowd the processor or you will get a paste instead of chopped mushrooms. Set the mushrooms aside.
In a large Dutch oven or two-gallon stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden. Add the onion and salt, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until the onions are caramelized. Add the fennel and fennel seed and cook until the fennel is softened. Remove this mixture and set aside.
Working in three batches, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pot over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add one-third of the mushrooms to the pot. Leave undisturbed until the mushrooms release their moisture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms dry out. Season with salt and pepper near the end of cooking. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl. If the bottom of the pot is getting too brown, deglaze with some of your stock, reserving the deglazing liquid. Repeat with the remaining two batches of mushrooms.
When the third batch of mushrooms is done, add the onion mixture, the two previous batches of mushrooms, and the tomatoes to the pot. Add vegetable stock to any reserved deglazing liquid to get 950 grams total, and add to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until reduced to a thick sauce consistency, about two hours.
Stir in the fresh oregano and the final addition of salt. Correct seasoning if necessary.
Have you been cooking for vegan clients? What tips do you have for colleagues?
So I get this email invitation last month asking if I’d like to attend a private sushi and hand roll class being taught by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa at Nobu San Diego.
Do you even have to guess what my response was?
Well, given that so many of our members also have a catering business under their personal chef umbrella I thought I’d share this experience with you because preparing nigiri and hand rolls could be a great culinary centerpiece for an event or dinner party. Here we used raw fish, but there’s no reason you can’t substitute cooked fish, vegetables, imitation crab, tofu, and other ingredients if raw fish is prohibitive for some reason.
Nobu turns out to be a nice, funny man, very patient, and an excellent teacher. The set up was sweet. Each of us in the class of nine food writers had a sushi-making station with a little plate lined with slices of tuna, halibut, yellowtail, salmon, and shrimp. There was a second little plate to the left with imitation crab, a slice of cucumber, and a slice of avocado for making a California hand roll. And a third little plate to the right with two slices each of tuna and yellowtail for two more hand rolls. We had a black lacquer container filled with sushi rice, a mound of wasabi, sliced scallions, a bowl of water, sesame seeds (which we didn’t use), a rack for the hand rolls, and a damp towel for wiping off the rice that stuck to our hands (which it did–a lot). Three of us each shared a container holding nori. Off to the sides of the tables were several deep containers of water to use to rinse and wring out the towel.
Oh, and there was champagne. Just because.
Nobu started off the session by explaining that he follows a six-step process for making nigiri. Essentially, with moistened hands you pick up a slice of fish and lay it on the four fingers of your left hand. Then pick up a hefty tablespoon or so of rice with your right hand and manipulate it into an oblong shape to put on the fish slice. Then add a smear of wasabi. I never did get the order of that quite right since it felt like I needed a third hand. In any case, using your first two fingers on your right hand, you gently press down on the rice, shape it, turn it around, shape it, turn it over, shape it again. All in six steps.
Nobu conveys the technique better in this video I took:
By the time we finished making our fifth piece, we were, well, adequate. Nobu himself laughed at the idea that we were making sushi. “I make sushi,” he said, smiling. He didn’t say what we had made.
But we moved on to making hand rolls.
First up was a California roll. We each took a piece of nori and placed it on our left hand, shiny side down. Then came the rice–twice as much as for a piece of nigiri. Then a smear of wasabi. Then the imitation crab–or surimi–slice, along with avocado and cucumber. Then you pull the bottom right corner over and up to the left and start rolling it from the bottom until you have a cone.
We repeated this to make a spicy tuna hand roll and finally a yellowtail scallion hand roll.
Making sushi well obviously takes far more practice than the hour we had with Nobu, but it was great fun and who wouldn’t want to learn skills by one of the great masters?
Once we had made our “sushi” we ate our creations, drank more champagne, and got to ask Nobu some questions. I learned a few things to share here.
First, when you make your nigiri, work fast. You don’t want the fish to get warm in your hand. Nobu says it takes him about seven seconds to make one. “It’s important to do it with your heart,” he says.
Don’t press the fish too hard into the rice. Even in the few seconds it takes for the nigiri to make its way from the sushi chef to you, gravity will help sink the fish into the rice. Be gentle.
When eating sushi, don’t use too much soy sauce or wasabi. You’ll mask the flavor of the fish. If you do dip nigiri into soy sauce, turn the piece over so that you dip the fish not the rice into the liquid.
Nobu was surprisingly forbearing when it came to the “right” way to eat sushi. He lives in L.A. (with a sushi bar in his home) and recognizes that Americans just do it differently than traditional Japanese. So he doesn’t have the same hang ups other Japanese chefs I’ve met have about our barbarian traditions–although I don’t think he’s keen on our habit of mixing wasabi into a bowl with soy sauce. He probably wouldn’t like my parents’ practice of dipping nigiri into a bowl of ponzu either. But he believes that as long as you don’t mask the flavors of the fish with too much sauce or wasabi, do what you want. Live and let live.
As for what beverages to serve with sushi, in Japan he likes to drink sake. Because it’s made of rice and has umami, it’s a good pairing. But in California, he likes a good chardonnay, tequila, and, yes, champagne.
Here’s how I did. Don’t judge too harshly.
Have you made sushi for clients? What are your best tips for making it for an event?