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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
Fresh From Your Kitchen’s Leslie Guria has a plan–and that’s to launch a food blog to complement her personal chef business. “I’m going to start with a few topics… recipes, farmers markets, cookware reviews, organization, then ultimately focus on the areas that bring in the most traffic,” she explains.
Like many aspiring bloggers, this APPCA member is interested in developing a passive stream of income and Leslie’s studying food photography and monetizing to make that happen. Unlike many who have these dreams, she has a background in small business marketing, so she’s confident that she can make a go of it.
Food blogs can serve a number of purposes for personal chefs. They can help promote your business. They can promote you as an expert and even a brand. They can allow you to go off into areas of interest that feed your soul even if they aren’t directly related to what you do day to day. And, if you’re very smart, very talented, a workhorse, and lucky, they can create a new revenue stream.
But you’re up against a lot of competition. It’s impossible to know just how many food blogs are out there, but there are millions and the numbers keep growing. The trick is to find your niche. Is it recipes, cocktails, vegetarianism, special diets, produce, regional food, restaurant reviewing, your grandma’s traditional Italian cooking?
For APPCA member Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food her blog is named for her passion, A Cookbook Obsession. Carol has put more research and effort into the care and maintenance of her blog than most. She began with having it attached to her business website, but didn’t see a lot of traffic coming in–mostly, she deduced, because another blogger had already established his blog with the same name as her business using .net instead of .com. He already had sewn up the “athoughtforfood” social media handles, too. (Lesson #1, if you can, purchase as many suffixes for your beloved business name as you can afford.)
So, after suffering a knee injury last year that put her out of commission for several months, she spent her time studying food photography. She also realized that her business was taking a physical toll on her and that she might have to give it up someday. At that point Carol decided that, “it would be nice to have something food-related to fall back on or already have in the works if that time ever comes, and A Cookbook Obsession was officially born.”
Carol has collected about 1,200 cookbooks over the years and uses these and new ones coming in as the source of inspiration for blogging. “It’s where I share recipes from my cookbooks that inspire me along with my original recipes. Because of copyright laws, you can not reprint or republish recipes as printed, so I always state ‘inspired by’ or ‘adapted from’ and write the recipe as I made it. My plan is to become more of a ‘cookbook resource’ for readers. I’ve added doing cookbook reviews through Blogging for Books, which is great because I can now get free cookbooks in exchange for the review.”
It’s no coincidence that these talents have helped her writing a biweekly food feature, Dinner for Two, for the local Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal. Now in its fourth year, she’s written more than 100 pieces for the paper.
Chef Natalie Lewis launched Natalie’s Daily Crave on her business website about five years ago. “I started it simply because I want to share all of my food experiences with other people. I want everyone to be as excited as I am about the food I’m tasting and the recipes I create or find! Food is way more fun when it’s enjoyed with others. I would describe Natalie’s Daily Crave as a blog for the home cook with recipes that are approachable and straight forward. It’s geared towards people who enjoy cooking and I like to provide recipes you can keep in your back pocket for those special days when you want to make something just a little different than the norm.”
For Natalie, blogging takes a lot of time because she does it all herself–both recipe development and taking photos. A friend who is a professional photographer has helped her with tips along the way, but it can sometimes take hundreds of photos to get just that right shot–and that’s after figuring out staging and making the dish look appetizing.
“That fork resting on the side of the table? The perfectly folded napkin tucked under the plate? All of that is carefully thought out to achieve a desired look,” she notes. “I admire food photographers who do it for a living and I’ve learned so much about the effort it takes. Oh, and I haven’t even gotten to the actual writing and posting yet. Let’s just say it’s definitely a labor of love!”
Some bloggers post daily, some post weekly or twice a week. Natalie tries to post monthly or at least around holidays, knowing that she’s developed enough of a history for people to find recipes when looking for something specific. For her, it’s a way for her to express herself and have a platform. “Making others happy and getting them excited about food is exactly what fuels my passion. I also think it’s a great way for clients and potential clients to see what I’m up to on a personal level.”
Given Carol’s intention of monetization, her approach is much more driven. Like Natalie, she’s immersed in cooking dishes, photographing them, uploading and editing photos and writing the post–she estimates it can take four to six hours. And she does this twice a week.
The killer is the promotion.
“This is one thing that totally took me by surprise,” she says. “The amount of time to promote a food blog is staggering. First, you need to make sure Google can find your post and recipe so a little knowledge about SEO is helpful. I use a WordPress plug-in that keeps me on track for that. I then send out an e-mail to my subscriber list, pin it to Pinterest, Yummly, StumbleUpon, Instagram, Facebook, Google Plus, and photo sharing sites such as FoodGawker, Tastespotting, Tasteologie, Dishfolio, Healthy Aperture, Finding Vegan, and, if I’m using some type of hot pepper, Jalapeno Mania. I don’t do Twitter yet because it’s already difficult to keep up with social media.”
She also posts to Pinterest group boards–which, in turn, requires you to pin others’ content to your various boards. And she has her own Facebook pages, as well as participates in several Facebook groups and sharing groups.
Monetizing is also something Carol’s working on.
“I recently began placing ads on my site through a few ad networks. But, there too, you have to have some traffic to speak of and they have to like what they see. Most bloggers start with Google or Amazon. I won’t be retiring on the income anytime soon, but ads are one of the first steps in monetizing a blog. You can also add ‘affiliate links.’ This is where a person or company has a product to sell and you place a link to purchase that product on your blog. If someone buys the product through your site, you get a commission. I have two affiliate links on my website: MasterCook recipe management software and the Tasty Food Photography book mentioned earlier.”
Down the road? Perhaps writing sponsored posts for brands or selling her own e-book or e-cookbook.
So, what tips do Natalie and Carol have for aspiring food bloggers?
1. Have good photography.
2. Join food blogger Facebook groups to ask questions and get support.
3. Do your research to decided which blogging platform to use, whether Blogger (Google-owned), WordPress, SquareSpace, or something else–including just adding it to your website. Will you do it yourself or hire a website developer? In either case, you need to have an idea of a look you want and how you want to organize your content.
And, says Natalie, “My number one tip is to just be yourself and don’t worry about anyone else. It’s not easy to put yourself out there in front of the world, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you cook, there is always someone who won’t like what you have to say. Be true to yourself and do your own thing!”
Do you have a food blog? Why did you launch it and how have you promoted it?
In the years I’ve known San Diego chef Sara Polczynski, I’ve watched her evolution from primarily a pastry chef into an accomplished creator of Mexican and Central American dishes. Her passion for this region has taken her into a number of Latin American countries, where she makes a study of the ingredients and their preparation. It also led to her being named the consulting chef for a popular downtown San Diego eatery called The Blind Burro. Last summer Sara invited me to her home to teach me three dishes that are perfect examples of coastal Mexico’s influence on her–which is, of course, perfect for neighboring San Diego. The day was hot and steamy–yet she didn’t break a sweat and the results were truly refreshing for lunch. But these dishes translate to most other regions across the U.S. and deserve to make it into your rotation for summer parties you’re catering.
Sara also gave me several great tips. Most are incorporated in the recipes, but one stands out. That is to “deflame” onions that are to be eaten raw. White onions, which are typically the variety used in Mexican cooking, can be harsh in their raw state. Deflaming simply means running the diced onion under cold water for 30 seconds to eliminate the bite. You’ll see this instruction in her guacamole recipe, which is actually a base for other recipes–although you can, of course, eat it plain.
So, what did she make? As I mentioned, there’s guacamole, but instead of your run-of-the-mill smashed avocado dip this is a bright and flavor-packed Mango and Shrimp Guacamole. She starts with a basic guacamole, then makes a refreshing mango salsa that, again, you can serve on its own as a sauce over proteins or to top tacos. To this combo she adds chopped shrimp that she quickly poached, cooled, then marinated with olive oil, lime juice, and sea salt.
Then there was her Moon Scallop Aguachiles Tostada. Yes, you can use any other type of scallop but moon scallops are so sweet and have such a nice firm texture that they stand out in each bite. Aguachile is a puree of serrano chiles, lime juice, and salt. That’s your spicy, acidic marinade for the scallops, which are then chopped and combined with cucumbers, sea salt, and cilanto, then bedded onto a crispy flat corn tortilla (you can find them at Mexican markets) smothered in smashed avocado and topped with pickled onions and cilantro.
Finally, there was her unique and cooling Shaved Baby Squash and Blossom Salad. This colorful dish is so easy to make and really takes advantage of the bounty of summer squash we’re about to enjoy. All you need is a mandoline or hand slicer to get long thin strips of the squash that you’ll add to the delicate yellow squash blossoms, diced red pepper, and greens like arugula. Add a terrific vinaigrette and you’re set–although you could also add beans, shrimp, roasted corns, beets, nuts, seeds, cheese, or berries. The squash ribbons will soften slightly as they absorb the dressing, but still have an enjoyable crunch. Yes, it’s quite versatile, not to mention brilliantly colorful.
In fact, Sara says that color is one of her greatest influences in her cooking. “Why wouldn’t it be?,” she laughs. “It makes you happy when you eat!”
Mango and Shrimp Guacamole
from Sara Polcyznski
Yield: 2 cups
Both the salsa and the guacamole can be served separately but combine them and add shrimp and you’ve got a uniquely flavored dish. For the salsa, Sara says the key is a small dice to make it pretty.
1/3 red bell pepper, small dice
1 mango, small dice (Tip, to slice the mango meat from the large seed, cut off the base, peel off the skin, the set on the counter and slice down.)
1/2 green onion, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/2 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Salt to taste
Mix together all of the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste.
Plain Guacamole Base
2 pounds avocado
3/4 ounce cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces diced white onion, deflamed (run under cold water for 30 seconds after dicing)
Lightly mash the avocado with a potato masher and blend with the remaining ingredients (keeping the mixture slightly chunky for better texture).
1 pound raw shrimp, deveined and with tails removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Fill a bowl with water and ice. Set aside. Bring water in a medium-size saucepan to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook briefly, just until the shrimp turn a light pink. Scoop out and place in the ice water bath to shock and stop the shrimp from cooking. Remove, drain, and loosely chop (Set several whole ones aside to garnish the dish). Then add olive oil, lime juice, and sea salt. Mix well.
When the salsa, guacamole, and shrimp are made, combine them and mix well. Plate and serve with chips.
Moon Scallop Aguachiles Tostadas
from Sara Polcyznski
1 1/4 cups fresh lime juice
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh serrano chiles, stemmed
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 pound moon scallops
1 Persian cucumber, sliced thin
3 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and smashed with salt and lime juice
8 flat crispy corn tostadas (available at Mexican markets)
1/4 cup pickled onions
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves for garnish
To prepare the moon scallop marinade, combine the lime juice, chiles, and salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings. Poor over the scallops and marinate for up to an hour.
Chop the scallops, and add the cucumbers, sea salt, and minced cilantro.
Top each tostada with some smashed, seasoned avocado. The add the aguachile moon scallop mixture. Top with pickled onions and cilantro.
Shaved Baby Squash and Blossom Salad
from Sara Polczynski
Yield: 1 quart
1 pound baby squash (the smaller, the sweeter), sliced thin lengthwise to better absorb the dressing
2 cups greens, like arugula
1/4 diced shallot
1/3 (or 1/4 cup) red bell pepper, small dice
Salt and pepper to taste
8 squash blossoms, stamen removed
Vinaigrette of your choice
Toss the heavy vegetables with the dressing first. Let sit so that the squash softens slightly. Add sea salt and pepper to taste.
Add greens and carefully tear apart and add the blossoms. Add more vinaigrette to taste. Marinate five to 10 minutes and serve.
What are some of your favorite ethnic cuisines? What dishes do you make for clients that borrow from them?
A little over a week ago, we came across this piece from The Kitchn about how to help you cook faster. Since time is money for a personal chef, we posted this on our Facebook feed. Then we got to thinking about tips even more specific to personal chefs–ways that you can focus more on the important stuff, the quality of the food you prepare, and less on the more admittedly aggravating stuff that you have to do to expedite your time.
As Candy notes, classic personal chef service cook dates are unique in that you are transporting ingredients and often a mobile cooking kit to prepare your clients’ custom-designed meals in the safety of their kitchen. Organization is key because you’re preparing multiple entrees and side dishes in a residential kitchen–and you have to do it in a timely and safe way.
So, below are 11 tips that Candy has compiled that should help you make the most of the time you spend in the kitchen so you can stay cool and collected and make your clients happy.
1. Menu plan not only from a standpoint of a full range of taste and textures, but also from a standpoint of stove time and available appliances.
2. When you get to the kitchen, set the oven to 375 degrees and leave it at that level for the day. Adjust the time to finish cook rather than the temperature.
3. Finish entrees and even some sides in the oven to free stovetop burners for searing and sauteeing.
4. If your client enjoys pulled pork or braised entrees, use a slow cooker for the entrée. Need more burners? An electric pressure cooker can actually be used as an additional burner, and can be used for multiple purposes during the cook date. You can make stocks in a pressure cooker in about 15 minutes.
5. If you cool it, store it in 2-cup containers and freeze it, you can defrost, enhance it and use it on a future cook date for the client’s enjoyment.
6. Making fresh marinara for your client? Double the recipe, cool it, and store it for an entrée on your next cook date.
7. Take a pasta cooker with a drain insert on a client cook date for multiple uses. You can blanch vegetables for side dishes while building layers of flavor in the water that can then be used to cook pastas or starch side dishes.
8. To expedite cooling, place several half sheets or quarter sheets in the freezer. When removing hot food from the stove or oven, spread or pour the food onto the chilled half sheet and place on a rack on the counter top to cool.
9. When packing your car always transport proteins and perishables in your vehicle in a cooler or a personal chef choice of a soft-sided thermal bag on wheels with a telescopic handle along with blue ice for safe transport.
10. Buy a 10-pound bag of ice on your way out of the grocery store to use as an ice bath for cooling food at the client’s kitchen.
11. If the client’s kitchen isn’t well ventilated you may want to purchase several small battery-operated fans for the counter top to circulate air AROUND The area where you are cooling entrees to expedite the process…remember NEVER direct the air directly at or onto the food that is being cooled.
What are some of your tricks for efficiently working your cook date? Please share them below in the comments section!
Family businesses are always risky. It requires careful choreography between parents and children or siblings or spouses for everything to go just right. Not only money is at stake, but also family relationships. But when it works, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of sharing responsibilities and joys and the craziness with a family member.
For Mary Stewart and Katie Enterline of The Grateful Table, a personal chef business based in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the idea came from daughter Katie, who had been working long hours for nonprofits in the food and agriculture sector and had a Master’s Degree in Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science and Policy from Tufts University. It seemed a natural since the two had cooked together for a long time for big family meals.
“I wanted to start a family and wanted something more flexible,” she recalled. “I told Mom she should cook for a living and that I knew people would pay us to cook for them. She loved the idea. Even in grad school I used to think I wish I could just cook for people.”
Katie had a colleague who had been a personal chef and through talking with her realized that there was a name for what she wanted to do, an actual profession. She searched Google and found the APPCA. “We got training. There were answers for how to do this. That’s what made it real.” And in May 2013, they launched their business after an April APPCA training.
Mary, a self-taught cook with a passion for fresh, mostly unprocessed ingredients, and Katie developed a business plan and gradually figured out how logistically it would work with two of them as chefs.
“Initially we worked together nonstop as we were learning, but as the business grew and we got more clients it made more sense for us to separate. So now we each see four clients a week,” Mary explained.
But the team tries to go on initial consultations with new clients together so clients can meet both women and they can cover for each other if necessary. In the past year, that did become necessary when Katie gave birth to her first child.
They also have business division of labor. “Katie is wonderful doing the website and Facebook,” Mary said. “By default I do the finances. We bounce ideas off each other. This can be a very solitary profession. We love the support we get through the APPCA and our Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter (MARC), but it’s great to have a partner to share with.”
To that end, they have rules as business partners. “It’s really important,” said Mary. “We have to separate business issues from family issues. We have to know when to compartmentalize. I have other kids so we don’t want to be at family gatherings and just talk business.”
The duo cooks what they describe as good, fresh, healthy meals that they personalize for clients, many of whom have special dietary needs. “We both have clients with dietary restrictions,” Mary said. “My initial client was on chemo but also wanted to stick with her Weight Watchers plan, so I needed to build recipes that were really personalized to deal with her health issues and preferences.
“I like that challenge of making the food really personalized to the client. I love the research part of it when I’m faced with cooking for special diets,” she added.
Their menus are seasonally oriented and Katie has even gotten clients to have farm-fresh produced delivered to their homes so she and Mary can cook with it. “One of our clients has a CSA and tells me what’s in the box so I can work with it,” Katie noted.
The partners recently attended the MARC meeting held nearby at the home of chapter president Shelbie Wassel. They were asked to demonstrate a dessert so they showed their colleagues how they make a lemon tart with coconut whipped cream. “We wanted to show a nondairy alternative to whipping cream,” said Mary, “and I wanted to show how easy lemon curd is to make.”
Meyer Lemon Molten Lava Cakes
Adapted from Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Yield: 8 servings
1/2 cup butter
1 (4-oz) white chocolate baking bars, broken into chunks
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 whole eggs
4 eggs (yolks only)
3/4 cup lemon curd (see attached recipe)
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Heavy Whipping Cream, sweetened, whipped or (see attached Coconut Whipped Cream recipe)
1 cup fresh raspberries
Mint sprigs, if desired
Heat oven to 425°F. Grease 8 (6-ounce) custard cups. Place onto ungreased 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking pan; set aside.
Place butter and baking bar in 2-quart pan over low heat and melt, stirring frequently until smooth. Or microwave 1 minute; stir. Continue microwaving, stirring every 15 seconds, 60 to 90 seconds or until melted and smooth.
Stir in flour and powdered sugar; mix well. Add eggs, egg yolks, lemon curd and lemon zest; beat with wooden spoon or whisk until blended.
Pour evenly into prepared custard cups. Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until edges are golden brown and center is puffy and just beginning to set. Let stand 10 minutes. Run tip of knife around edge of custard cup to loosen. Invert onto individual dessert plates. Shake to loosen. Sprinkle tops with powdered sugar. Serve with whipped cream. Garnish with fresh raspberries and mint sprigs, if desired.
This is a great make-ahead dessert recipe. Batter can be refrigerated up to 24 hours before baking. Bake them when you are finishing dinner and they will be ready when you want to serve dessert.
From Gourmet Magazine
Yield: 1 1/3 cups
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
3 large eggs
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into bits
Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 6-10 minutes or until reaches 170 degrees F.
Transfer lemon curd to a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.
Cooks’ note: Curd can be chilled up to 1 week.
Tips for making lemon curd:
Most recipe involve either a double boiler or straining through a sieve or even tempering eggs. Others use a mixer and several pieces of equipment. However, it can be made more quickly and simply with less equipment and less mess.
1. Strain the egg yolks first. Add lemon juice to help push it through the sieve. This removes the white solids that adhere to the egg yolks and cause lumps.
2. Use lemon sugar. Rubbing lemon zest into granulated sugar helps release the oils–and it can be stored and used for cakes, lemon bread, and other dishes.
3. The key to avoiding curdled, lumpy or scrambled curds is to mix ingredients all together until smooth, cook slowly over low heat, and stir constantly until the mixture reach 170 degrees. Do not boil.
Coconut Whipped Cream
Yield: 2 1/2 cups
1, 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
1/4 – 3/4 cup powdered sugar – to taste
Optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or almond extract
Chill your coconut milk can in the fridge overnight.
Chill a large mixing bowl and beaters 10 minutes before whipping.
Remove the can from the fridge without tipping or shaking and remove the lid. Scrape out the top, thickened cream and leave the liquid behind (can use in smoothies).
Note: If your coconut milk didn’t harden, you probably just got a dud can without the right fat content. In that case, you can try to salvage it with a bit of tapioca flour (1 to 4 tablespoons).
Place cream, powdered sugar and vanilla (if using) and mix until creamy and smooth – about 1 minute.
Use immediately or refrigerate. It will harden and set in the fridge the longer it’s chilled.
Will keep for 1 to 2 weeks.
Are you considering launching a personal chef business with a family member? What are your concerns? How are you addressing them?