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?
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!
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?
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!
This past weekend, Escoffier Online International Academy celebrated its 2016 graduating class online and our own Candy Wallace delivered the commencement address. Candy considers it to be a tremendous honor to have been asked to speak to the students, but it’s no surprise that they would invite her. After all, she has had close ties to Escoffier. In 2014 she was inducted into Disciples of Escoffier, and has been serving on the Advisory Committee of the Auguste Escoffier Schools of Culinary Arts.
During her 12-minute talk, Candy reviewed her own culinary career and how, 24 years ago, she came to launch the then-new profession of personal chef. For Candy, it’s all about having options throughout your career. You may start on the line in a restaurant and love the demands and hours of that job. But maybe 10 years in or 20 your priorities change. Candy wanted to create an option for culinarians who wanted to continue to cook for people to be their own boss, have their own business, focus on their dreams–but in a way that suits their changed lifestyle or interests.
In her address, Candy emphasized the value of learning in the course of a culinary career. She told the graduates that if they’re entering the industry in a restaurant to learn something everyday. To volunteer to take on tasks. To keep your mouth closed and do what you’re asked and do it with joy. The time will come soon enough when your skills catch up with your opinions and your opinion will then be valued by a time-pressed executive chef.
And, throughout your career, she said, “Read, watch videos, travel if you get the chance. Developing a global palate is a lifelong journey that you’re going to enjoy. Get out, look around, taste, and talk to the farmers and chefs and fishermen you encounter in your travels and learn.”
Candy also did a special call out to one of our valued APPCA members, Beth Volpe of Savory Eats by Beth in Glendale, California. Beth, she said, had joined APPCA and launched a successful personal chef business but wanted to have official culinary credentials, so she asked Candy for advice. Candy suggested Beth enroll in the Escoffier Online International Academy. Beth did so the next day and now she was one of the graduates Candy was congratulating in her commencement address. “She kept her word and did the work. I’m proud to call her my colleague,” Candy said.
It turned out that shortly after the delivery of the address, Candy received this note from Beth:
At 8:00 am this morning Joe (my husband) and I settled in with our coffee to watch Graduation. I was very excited for him to hear you speak and put a name to the face. You are obviously my mentor and he has heard me talk forever about you and your success. Your speech was so fantastic and outlined your journey and the culinary path of being a personal chef. Needless to say we both about fell off the couch when you mentioned me. And at the same time started tearing up. We were so shocked and so humbled and proud. I can’t thank you enough for such a mention. I feel so honored and am still in awe. You have certainly made our day, our month, our year.
I had my family watch this graduation ceremony not knowing that I would be mentioned and they too were thrilled.
Thank you for remembering me. You changed the course of my life and allowed me to make the dream come true.
With warmest regards and XOXO
We hope that as you search for your culinary direction you consider all your options–there are so many now–and that a grounded education is your first step. And if your journey is to become a personal chef, that you get in touch with Candy at APPCA so that she can help guide you on your path and give you the help you need to establish and run a thriving business. We hope that watching her address below gives you the inspiration you’ve been looking for to take your next steps!
Are you considering a culinary career? What is your passion when it comes to food and cooking? Is being a personal chef an option for 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!
Back in March we talked about the idea of having YouTube videos as part of your marketing arsenal. APPCA member Beth Volpe of Savory Eats by Beth let us know that she just did an online video for an L.A. radio show, discussing ways to eat healthy even with a busy schedule. Beth, who earned a certificate from Escoffier Online Culinary Academy, uploaded the videos to her website and they’ve been garnering views. We think this has been a great way for her to promote her business and introduce herself and her skills to potential clients.
We asked Beth to share with fellow members her experience making the videos. We wanted to know how the show found her, how she prepared, how she decided on the topics to cover, and how it felt to be on camera. We also asked her what she learned from the experience and what may come next. So, here’s Beth’s response:
I was contacted by a representative of Lunch with The Finance Bunch, an online radio show that features entrepreneurs in different fields. I was asked to do a cooking show featuring recipes that would be easy for a busy working person to prepare and from that meal, make another meal for the following night. They wanted budget friendly recipes. They found me through a Google search and confirmed their decision after viewing my website.
As far as preparation was concerned, I searched my database for recipes that I know are easy, fast and budget friendly. I didn’t prepare myself for being on camera since I really have not had experience on camera other than a demo that I did a couple of years ago. That was live. This was pre-recorded. They shared with me the process once I got there. While it wasn’t live, I operated as if it were. The biggest problem I had was looking into the right camera. I was forever looking at the crew in the room and talking to them as opposed to talking into the camera. Sometimes I was talking into the food camera.
There were little goofs that most people would not notice. Like showing how to cut a tomato and putting the diced tomato into my trash bowl. I caught it right away but I am not sure the regular person would. I knew that the cameras would stop rolling once the food was placed in the oven. Even though the host set this up as if they were visiting my kitchen, it was not my kitchen. The oven actually turned off each time I increased or decreased the temperature. I’ve never seen that happen before so my food took longer than expected to cook. I couldn’t figure it out. I don’t think the host was that familiar with her oven either. They edited the taping but that was a bit of a surprise. The host wanted well-done meat. It was not well done when I took it out but not sure well-done meat would have looked very good on camera.
I really enjoyed doing the video. I wasn’t nervous at all. It was my first time doing something like this and I did learn from it and think the next time will be easier. I would love to do more videos.
My son Brian helped me promote the video via my Facebook business page, which took people directly to my website where they could view all four parts of the video. He did all kinds of little tweaks to personalize the video. We have been tracking it with Google Analytics which is a great way to see how many people are accessing that page on my website. I’ve had over 100 new people visiting that page on my website just to view the video. I was also interviewed by the host during the show and it gave me an opportunity to talk about the personal chef profession and my niche which is people that have dietary restrictions.
One thing I did learn from all of this is that social media is so necessary if you want to get your business known. I am on FB and I have my website. However, I don’t use Twitter or Instagram. We decided to hire a social media person who can manage this for us and put my name out there in places I have not explored yet.
Do you create videos or do TV/online appearances to help promote your business? Tell us your experience and how it’s impacted your visibility.
Starting up your own personal chef business? Need a refresher on proven marketing strategies or business best practices? The APPCA can help! We’re holding our next Personal Chef Seminar in San Diego the weekend of May 21 and 22. Led by executive director and personal chef Candy Wallace in her home central San Diego, this intimate seminar gives you a thorough and hands-on grounding in everything you need to know to jumpstart or rev up your business. You’ll have plenty of time to dig deep, ask questions, and develop relationships with other personal chefs across the country who are on the same path. It’s an enjoyable, intensive dive into the best practices of being a personal chef. By the end of the weekend, you’ll have all the information necessary to complete your specific business plan, and have a targeted marketing plan and support network to guide you going forward.
We’ve been holding these seminars for more than 20 years, so we know they’re effective. Our proven teaching technique and gold-standard training materials have been assisting and supporting more than 11,000 working personal chefs across North America.
Here’s a comment from one of our members who attended the seminar:
“Just wanted to let you know that i attended the SAN DIEGO two day live seminar this past weekend. i cannot begin to tell you how supportive, informative, professional Candy Wallace is. And what a joyful persona! We had a wonderful two days together of going through the curriculum; questions/answers; practicalities; computer training; and, great lunches on top of all that. She really cares about what she does and wants to pass on the knowledge (good and bad) that she has gained over the years. I had been looking at different organizations for the last few years and I’m thrilled that I chose the APPCA. I feel it will make all the difference in the ultimate success of my business.”
Here’s what happens over the course of the weekend seminar:
Saturday – Full Day – Nov 14, 2015
8:30 – 9:00
9:00 – 12:30
“Business Plan & Regulations” & “Finances”
12:30 – 1:30
1:30 – 3:00
“How To Market Your New Business”
3:00 – 3:30
3:30 – 5:30
“How To Market Your New Business – Through Advertising, Press Releases, and Media Exposure”
Sunday – Nov 15, 2015
8:00 – 9:00
9:00 – 11:30
“A Day in the Life of a Personal Chef”
12:30 – 1:30
“Intro to Personal Chef Office”
plus Tips & Tricks for Search Engine Marketing with APPCA’S Webmaster
1:30 – 2:00
Q&A – Wrap Up (until ALL questions are answered.)
Continental breakfast and lunch both days also hosted by APPCA.
By the end of the seminar you’ll have answers to specific questions, such as “What level of service do I intend to offer and to whom?” How do I find clients and what do I do with them once I find them?” “How do I structure my business?” and “How do I track and store administrative and client information without being overwhelmed by paperwork and business details?”
Chef Candy Wallace will guide you through these issues to help you find your path. With years of experience and real-life anecdotes, she’ll give you critical insights that will help you plot out your future. You’ll leave with a package of invaluable materials you’ll constantly reference as you dig further into your business, plus a signed Certificate of Completion for the APPCA two-day seminar. Not only is this suitable for framing, but it also applies to specific education points toward certification through the ACF/APPCA certification partnership. In fact, this APPCA training program and materials are the source material for the written certification exam offered through the ACF/APPCA certification partnership.
This one weekend in San Diego is your fastest and most effective path to success. You’ll leave with confidence in and excitement about your future, new friends and colleagues, and a boatload of knowledge that will help you launch your new career.
To learn more and register, go to our APPCA website. For more detailed information regarding the seminar location and local hotel availability, please phone 800-644-8389 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you ready to take the leap into your new career as a personal chef? Do have have all the tools and knowledge you need to be a success?
Jim Huff is a longtime personal chef in New York City as well as a longtime APPCA member. Several years ago the International Studies Committee of the Forest Hills, New York Women’s Club invited him to give a talk on the influences of different international and ethnic cuisines on typical American comfort foods, given the availability now of diverse ingredients in local food stores. Along with his speech, he provided food for their monthly Tea.
“We had a savory table, a sweet table and a table for me to promote my business with recipes and other printed materials about my services,” Jim recalled.
It was the first “official” talk he had given that was related to his business. Over the years he’s conducted seminars and training sessions in the retail industry so he had some background in public speaking. And he’s also helped APPCA executive director Candy Wallace with APPCA seminars.
“In my presentation I challenged the group to start thinking about “melding” ingredients from other cultures into their own comfort zones. I gave several ideas on how I might accomplish the melding and peaked their interest when I told them a few examples that they would soon be tasting with their Tea,” he wrote in his blog.
“While they were enjoying their tea and my tastings I manned a separate table where I provided them with information about my business and a few recipes. It went very well and so many of the members said it was the best Tea yet. I gave out lots of counter cards, business cards and recipes and lots of advice. I spoke to several possible clients for gift certificates, dinner parties, and regular service. It was a very successful event! What a great way to connect with the community!”
If this sounds like something you’d like to do, APPCA member and personal chef Leslie Guria of Fresh from Your Kitchen Personal Chef Service in Chicago has some suggestions for getting started. Before she launched her current business she used to book public speaking engagement for her marketing clients. Here are some tips you can use:
- Book with an organization of prospects or influencers, but offer to speak on something other than being a personal chef. Your audience wants to learn something, not be sold. For example, speak to a moms group on cooking for a month, getting kids to eat, sneaking in veggies. It could be a hands on event.
- I used to introduce myself via telephone and follow up via email. That may be different now because of social media. Its easy to find organizations with calendars and meeting planner contacts online.
- Always be prepared with a flexible list of topics and something professional looking, a speaker kit that tells who you are, what you do, why you should speak to their group, etc. It should include your bio, a list of topics with a brief outline or paragraph, references, and a photo from your website. If you set up a speaker kit on your website, it’s easy to send the link. If I were booking for a client, I’d make sure they had articles or blogs post dedicated to their topics to show credibility. Provide references if possible.
- If the organization will allow it, send a media release as appropriate to announce the event. Include your web address and all contact info.
APPCA member Kelly Yorke of A House Call Chef in Evergreen, Colorado not only does public speaking, she appears on TV doing live cooking segments on network television. Kelly says she has to market constantly. “And it’s not just about being a chef and honing our craft. It’s about being sales people and marketing people. Public speaking is helpful to bring various aspects of media aware of our business,” she says.
Kelly has been a personal chef for about 12 years. Prior to that she was a corporate chef–basically she’s had a culinary career for about 30 years. She says that the public speaking has developed to market her TV cooking show series, personal chef business, and brand she’s developing in therapeutic cuisine with her sister, a physician who practices integrative medicine.
Kelly suggests starting by offering to do cooking demos in your local grocery store, which can market your talks on their website and social media. But, she says, you have to be an expert in something before you can go out and speak.
“It involves a lot of learning and experience,” she says. “If you’re a personal chef, you have to have done it and learned those hard lessons about what works for you, your customer, your local area before you can talk about it.”
Are you concerned about that first foray of talking to a group of strangers? Kelly says to relax and just do it.
“Know you’ll get better at it. You won’t be as good at it in the beginning. You have to practice and do it in smaller, local groups without getting paid to hone your craft.”
Like Leslie, she says you don’t want to overtly sell your services. People impressed with your knowledge and skills will want to work with you. So impress them with that in an area you are expert in–lifestyle changes, food for healthy living, disease-specific diets, whatever it is that you have a strong skill set.
How do you find the groups to speak to? Kelly says it’s all about networking.
“Talk to people in groups who have common expertise with what you work in. People you know in your community. People who you do sports activities with. Talk to them and find out what they do and if your interests overlap. Maybe they want to invite you to speak to their business. Be out there and talk to people. Yes, you can Google organizations, but face-to-face connections and interactions that you have are always better in gauging if people want to do business with you.”
For Jim Huff, networking was key in getting his Women’s Club gig. “A close friend, who has always promoted my business, including using my services, got me involved in donating my services for the annual silent auction,” he explains. “I donate my services for dinner for four; the winner pays for groceries. My friend introduced me explaining who I was and briefly spoke about my services, reminding them of my donations. Several of the attendees have either won the dinner service I donated or attended one as a guest! I have gained several repeat clients for dinner parties via this venue.”
Are you already doing public speaking? What are the lessons you’ve learned? How has it helped your business?
Jews around the world will begin celebrating the eight days of Passover beginning Friday, April 22 at sundown. Traditionally, the first two nights are organized around the Seder, but you knew that.
And, you probably know that for these eight days Jews are forbidden from eating hametz, or leavened food. That’s why we eat matzo. It’s all wrapped up in the symbolism of the holiday, which commemorates the sudden liberation of the ancient Jews from Egyptian slavery. As children, we’re told of the story of the Jews fleeing Egypt with such haste that there was no time to bake bread that needed time to rise. So the flour and water cracker that is matzo became the staple then and ever since has been eaten every Passover. And, trust me, even though we’re talking two, maybe three ingredients (salt), every family has their favorite brand of matzo. Of course, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can make it yourself.
Even with this dietary restriction, it’s amazing the dishes you can turn out. Matzo offers tremendous versatility and below I’ll share some ways you can use it for Jewish clients who want you to prepare kosher for Passover meals.
Soak sheets of it in hot water, drain the water, break it up and add some beaten eggs, then put in a frying pan with oil or butter and you have matzo brei. Now some people use a 1:1 ratio of matzo sheet to egg and enjoy something more akin to a matzo omelet. My family does a 2:1 matzo to egg ratio. I prefer this style which gives you beautiful crispy puffed out pieces of matzo that, depending on your particular style, can be served with applesauce, sugar or salt. I’m a salt girl myself but our family was split with Mom’s side also going for salt and Dad’s for the sweet stuff. (If you’re Jewish, no doubt you have the same sweet versus savory divide in your family at Hanukah over potato latkes.)
Matzo can also be the basis of a sweet, crunchy “brittle,” as in covering it with chocolate or butterscotch or caramel and nuts, baking briefly and then, when cool, breaking it into bite-size pieces. Google “matzo brittle” and you’ll find scads of recipes with any number of variations. In this case, the matzo essentially is just a delivery system for the sugar, chocolate and nuts. And not a bad one, actually.
And, for those who simply cannot live for a week without their favorite dishes, there are recipes for matzo lasagna, matzo spanikopita and matzo quesadillas. And, yes, even matzo pizza. Thanks, but I can do without for awhile. Of course, if you’re desperately seeking ideas for other things you can do with matzo, you have to watch this wonderful video.
Then there’s farfel, which is basically matzo that’s been broken up. Farfel can be used as a cereal substitute or to make sweets (it takes some imagination, but yes, there are recipes for desserts with farfel like this chocolate nut cluster), kugel (pudding) or stuffing. I know someone on Twitter who is using it to make granola with dried blueberries, apricots, sliced almond and pecans. She’s changing it up from this LA Times recipe.
And, finally, if you grind matzo you get matzo meal. And matzo meal itself is endlessly versatile. Use it as a bread crumb substitute or pretty much anything for which you’d use flour. You can buy it in a box or, if you’re feeling industrious, grind it yourself using a blender or food processor.
Of course, if matzo meal is known for anything, it’s for being the basis of matzo balls, but during the week of Passover, once the Seder is history and I have to come up with ways to live without my daily bread, I often turn to matzo meal for cooking. Look on the panel of most boxes and you’ll find a recipe for pancakes, in which beaten egg whites play a prominent role to fluff them up. I also use matzo meal to bread and saute fish fillets or skinless, boneless chicken pieces for oven frying. I mix some with grated Parmesan cheese to top a baked tomato or roasted vegetables. And, even when it’s not Passover, I like to use it as the binder for zucchini pancakes (grate the zucchini and onion, wring out to get rid of the liquid, add a beaten egg, minced garlic, salt & pepper and matzo meal to bind it together, then fry in a little olive oil in a skillet).
Are these enough ideas to help you help your clients through the week?
Do you make Passover foods for clients? What are your/their favorite recipes?
Sacha Quernheim is a personal chef and APPCA member in St. Louis. She runs Red Zucchini Personal Chef Service. We featured her in a post back in October. When we learned she teaches kids’ cooking classes we asked her to write a guest post for us to talk about how she does it. Sacha has some great tips plus a couple of recipes.
I held kids’ classes for about two years. It started out with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and grew over the two years. I started them because I noticed that a lot of my daughter’s friends did not know what fresh food was. I actually had one of my daughter’s friends ask me if a red sweet pepper was real because she had never had one!
I had about eight to 12 kids in a class at a time. We had classes every Monday night at my home. The way we would do them would be that I would come up with a menu that has a theme. For example I would do movie night and do popcorn w/chili and cinnamon and a few other menu items that go with that theme. I would have stations set up before the kids arrived with all the ingredients, and equipment to make the dishes. I wrote the recipes for the classes and had them ready for the kids. They would pair up into teams to make each dish. I would then go around and just help them and give them pointers. Some of the kids were in the class for the whole two years. Those kids would tell me that they were cooking at home with and for their parents. They weren’t afraid of cooking and they were trying new things.
I would always try to make the recipes with some techniques to teach them. For example, I would have them make something with basil so I could show them how to do a chiffonade. I also made sure that it was something healthy that maybe they don’t usually eat or cook at home. We did homemade ranch dressing with a fresh salad and just things that were very healthy, made from scratch and things they could do at home as well.
I had a child with autism in my classes as well. He actually loved the class! He really enjoyed cooking and sometimes he could not do it as fast as the others but he always tried his best. Also, as the classes progressed and got more involved, the other kids were more relaxed and didn’t need as much help from me so I was able to help him with his dishes and the other kids would help him as well. It really was a benefit for all of us to have him in our class and hopefully anyone that holds cooking classes would welcome anyone with disabilities because it really does enrich your life to work with sweet kids such as the little boy I had in my class with autism. Here are a few tips for running kids cooking classes based on what I learned and experienced:
1. Be prepared, I found that having all ingredients set out at each station and all equipment makes that little ones more at ease and makes the class go smoother.
2. It does not have to be perfect. The kids will learn and get the experience just by doing it. If the dish does not come out perfect it’s not a big deal. Also, if they don’t do a certain technique correctly no big deal either. I would always just let them know we really should have done it this way, show them in the recipe and remind them of how to read the recipe, but reassure them by saying it’s okay. We we still eat it!
3. Its going to get really messy! Kids are messy. They actually enjoy getting messy. So let them. They also take part in the cleaning process as well. They just want to have fun. And if it’s fun for them they will keep coming back and won’t be afraid to cook and try new healthy foods!
Here are two recipes that the kids loved and many of them told me they make it at home all the time:
Zucchini Mint Pasta
Serves 4 as a main dish and 6 as a side dish
½ lb whole wheat pasta
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 zucchini, cut into medium cubes
2 tablespoons fresh mint
2 tablespoons fresh basil
½ cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup feta cheese, diced
Fill pot with water and salt. Bring to the boil. Add pasta and boil pasta until done. Drain and set aside.
In a skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Add red onion and zucchini. Sauté until zucchini starts to brown. Turn off heat. Zest whole lemon into skillet. Cut lemon in half and add the juice of the whole lemon. Turn heat back on and add pasta and warm through.
While the red onion and zucchini are sauteing, chiffonade mint and basil. Turn heat off the pan once the pasta is warmed through and add mint, basil, and both cheeses. Serve immediately.
Chocolate Drizzled Pretzels
1 package large rod pretzels
1 package chocolate chips, or white or caramel
Fill a saucepan with water half full. Put chips in metal bowl and place over pot of water to create a double boiler. Heat chips over water over medium heat stirring constantly until melted.
Place pretzels on parchment paper. Dip pretzels in melted chocolate and place back on parchment paper to harden. Put sprinkles on chocolate dipped pretzels before chocolate hardens.
You can also melt white or caramel chips and drizzle over pretzels to make design.
Do you teach kids cooking classes? What have you learned about doing it well?
Now that we’re officially in spring, it’s time to start thinking about preparing foods that are a little lighter than the heavy stews and soups we’ve been enjoying in cold weather. I recently met with a young chef, Teri McIllwain, who had spent years as the nutritional chef at the La Costa Resort in San Diego County and before that as a personal chef in San Diego. Yes, she got her start with APPCA. Just a few months ago, she left La Costa to take her nutrition chops up the road to another resort, Cape Rey Carlsbad.
I love Teri’s approach to ingredients: seasonal, local, and healthy. She buys from local farms–how many resorts let their chefs do that–and she makes seasonal connections that aren’t necessarily obvious. For instance, when she sees pea tendrils at the farm, she knows that halibut won’t be far behind (yes, fish is also seasonal) and that it’s time to change the menu for the resort’s restaurant, Chandler’s.
Healthy meals are deeply important to her both at the restaurant and at home. She explained she regularly cooks up batches of whole grains and ancient grains at home to heat up for breakfast so she has energy for the day. And she shared a dish she loves to make–a variation of which will be on the menu, she added–that involves sauteing pancetta in a pan, then adding shredded yams that crispen up in a pancake. To that she adds green onions, feta, and a dollop of Greek yogurt.
I spent some time with her recently and she showed me how to make a favorite dish: Farro Stir Fry. I think as chefs you’ll appreciate how versatile and easy it is to prepare. We have a recipe, of course, but this is sort of a movable feast. It’s a farro stir fry, but you could use any whole or ancient grain instead. Teri includes shrimp, but you could make it with chicken or tofu or some other protein–or no protein. Teri’s recipe calls for butternut squash, but she used delicata squash with me and plans to switch that out once summer squash is in season–perhaps roasting it ahead of time. And the greens are up to you. She used kale, but spinach, Swiss chard, or other greens–or a mix of them–will work just as well.
One last thing. Make sure you’ve prepped your ingredients before starting cooking. With the exception of the winter squash, this goes pretty quickly once you get started. But the results? Sublime!
Farro Stir Fry
From Teri McIllwain of Chandler’s Restaurant at Cape Rey Carlsbad
16 Baja prawns, peeled and deveined
1 TB olive oil
1 lemon, zest and juice
Salt and Pepper
In a large mixing bowl add combine shrimp, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Toss and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat add the olive oil, allow for oil to heat through and cover entire pan. Once hot add the shrimp to the pan, and evenly place shrimp to cover the pan. Cook shrimp without moving until shrimp begin to turn slightly pink and begin to tighten. Flip shrimp and continue to cook until pink and fragrant. Remove from the pan and hold to the side.
2 TB olive oil
1 small onion, small diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup butternut squash, small diced
2 cups beech mushrooms
3 cups cooked pearled farro
½ – 1 cup chicken broth
1 green onion chopped
2 cups local green, chopped
2 TB gluten free soy sauce
Over Medium heat using the same pan, add olive oil and heat through. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, and the squash until cooked through. Add the mushrooms, sauté until slightly cooked, 30 seconds, then add the farro. Stir-fry the farro until golden brown, then add the chicken stock until farro slightly covered. Simmer until most of the stock is absorbed, then fold in the greens and green onions.
½ Meyer lemon
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Plate stir fry and add shrimp, squeeze lemon on top, season and serve.
What new dishes are you developing for spring? How important is it for them to have interchangeable ingredients?
Among the many marketing tools you have available to incorporate into your personal chef marketing strategy is video–specifically YouTube. Food videos are huge. According to a 2014 story in BloombergBusiness, subscriptions to the 300 most-viewed food channels on YouTube more than tripled in 2013 over the previous year and views of videos on those channels jumped 59 percent, according to an analysis by Google.
And, let’s face it, the appetite, as it were for food videos, has only continued to grow. And it’s not just YouTube. If you’re on Facebook you can’t help but be blasted with food videos on your feed. As The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2015, “Indeed, if there’s a killer content category in these still early days of Facebook’s video platform, it’s food videos, say publishers and content creators.”
For APPCA member chef Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine in Dallas, it took a conversation with another local personal chef who had been a graphic designer and is a wealth of information about “technie stuff” to inspire her. “Try as I might, it is so hard to keep up with all the stuff and understand it and how to use it,” Blankenship said. “But because of her suggestions, I got myself motivated to try and do some of what we discussed. She has only been in business two years so I know this is the type of thing that is helping her business. Things like creating an Instagram account (in the name of my business) and using it; updating my Facebook page as often as possible; doing a blog on my website; updating my keywords on my website; creating a Twitter account and using it; getting reviews on Yelp; doing a video, uploading it to YouTube (creating the YouTube account in the name of my PC business), and then imbedding that link in my website, etc.”
Blankenship has been doing cooking demos at the Dallas flagship Williams-Sonoma and got a friend of hers to video of one of the demos, which is now posted on YouTube.
Now she’s working on how to do with at home that looks professional. She paid 99 cents for an app called CP Pro to help edit videos. Her goal is to create seasonal pieces on YouTube to link to her website.
There are a few ways you can go with video. One is to be in it yourself, chatting to your audience as you demonstrate how to make a dish. Here’s a great example of this from APPCA member Nicole Gaffney, who has created a fab YouTube channel called Coley Cooks:
Gaffney is engaging and enthusiastic about her subject. This video, less than a minute, is part of her quick tips series. She does others at around two minutes to demonstrate recipes.
“I guess the best piece of advice would be to just go for it!” she said. “Just make videos and put them up there and see what happens – that’s pretty much been my strategy. That, and don’t make them too long. No one has the attention span to sit through a 10-minute cooking video. And try to make them as entertaining as possible, because again, people have short attention spans.”
How long? “I think a minute or two is best,” Gaffney said.
Then there’s the question of a script and basic logistics.
“I usually just wing it but sometimes I write it out before recording,” Gaffney explained. “I record everything myself with a tripod, but it’s rather challenging, so if you can have someone else do it, I recommend going that route.”
Another technique is something that’s become pretty huge on Facebook–those videos of recipes that seem to create themselves, using display and titles to explain how the recipes come together. Tastemade, a video network, has perfected this style.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Tastemade edits videos specifically with Facebook’s unique qualities in mind. “For example,” it noted, “since Facebook videos autoplay without sound, Tastemade uses graphics to identify and walk people through recipes. They also shoot food at specific angles, taking into consideration how clips will look on mobile devices, where the majority of Facebook users peruse their news feeds. And they try and grab people’s attention early, knowing that Facebook videos play automatically.”
White on Rice Couple has also got this down beautifully–which makes sense since they’ve been known for years in the food industry for their sumptuous food photography.
So, what do you need in terms of equipment and tools? According to Entrepreneur, you need to have good lighting, a good camera, and good sound. They suggest spending some money on a Lavalier microphone, for instance. Then run the recording through a good noise-removal filter. A softbox lighting kit–or even some desk lamps–placed strategically will create depth and visual interest. Your camera can be whatever you have on your smart phone, tablet, or laptop, or, if you’re really serious, a digital single-lens reflex camera, like a Nikon or Canon.
I would add one more thing for those videos in which you’re not in the frames or narrating–good background music that enhances but doesn’t distract from the atmosphere you’re trying to create.
Entrepreneur also suggests editing with jump cuts, which is a technique that pulls together dozens or more little clips. This is a perfect style for food videos focused on recipes, since there are natural breaks between steps.
Speaking of which, you may need some video software to help you through the editing process. Instagram, Vine, and Twitter have apps that let you edit and upload footage. And you can, of course, upload video to Facebook. But if you want to do something more sophisticated, Social Media Examiner suggests tools like Adobe After Effects, an industry-leading tool that helps you create motion graphics that costs around $30 per month or free tools like PowToonand Camtasia to create video footage. You should also check out this article on Filmora for their top 10 on video editors.
Are you creating YouTube videos to promote your business? If so, please share the links to your videos and tell us how you’ve been creating them.