We love that our members feel such an attachment to APPCA and kinship with one another that they find it beneficial to participate in regional chapters. One such is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter, or MARC. They get together to exchange information, bring in speakers to learn about new concepts, and hold cooking demos.
Earlier this month, 17 APPCA members gathered for a MARC meeting at chapter president April Lee’s home. We’ll let her describe what transpired:
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter (MARC) of the APPCA held its first meeting of 2014 this past weekend. We had a blast and great turnout with 17 people in attendance, including several new members. We had several speakers who inspired and motivated us with great ideas: Lynne D’Autrechy, President of Buzzquake.com, talked to us about Internet marketing, how to increase traffic to our websites, and reach more potential clients. Bernard Henry (star personal chef and APPCA member, but with a CFO background) spoke about basic financial and accounting tips and how to set up our own businesses. Rufus Knight (husband of member Laura Knight, of A Knight’s Feast) talked about how to enhance our websites visually and contextually, as well as how to make them more useful for our clients and for ourselves. Our to-do lists just got longer but with fantastic ideas!
We also had two great cooking demos: Cindy Shepard (Cindy’s Home Cooking) showed us how to use sous vide circulators for our meal service and dinner party clients. This is a very popular cooking method being used in all the high-end restaurants now. Most of us were unfamiliar with how sous vide works, but were impressed with the results, especially with how proteins, which are easily overcooked (such as fish), can be cooked perfectly and held for hours at just the right temperature. Amazing!
Shelbie Wassel (Shallots Personal Chef Service) demonstrated one of her favorite go-to client entrees: Parchment Paper Salmon over Fennel, Leeks and Carrots. Her delicious pairing of the flavorful vegetables topped with salmon filets roasted beautifully in the oven and made a very pretty presentation in the parchment pockets. For those of you who know Shelbie, you can imagine how much fun we all had during her demo … hehehe!
Everyone enjoyed the sous vide steaks, sous vide salmon, and the parchment salmon with vegetables as part of the potluck dinner which followed the meeting.
Oh, yes … the potluck dinner that follows every MARC meeting. This is actually why we have the meetings: so that we can have a great party afterwards with wonderful food and drink. Just take a look at the photos and you’ll know that a very good time was had by all! (On top of that, April says, several of the members got together the night before the meeting for dinner and then met the day after the meeting for dim sum. “Doesn’t take much to get personal chefs together to enjoy good food and drink,” says April.)
A HUGE THANK YOU to all the members who took precious time out of their busy schedules to spend a day (or two) with colleagues. This chapter is as active and vibrant as it is because of all of you! Big hugs all around!
For those APPCA members who are interested in joining MARC, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I am so proud and happy to be associated with this group because it is comprised of wonderful people. We are a very lively, collegial, and supportive group and we care very much about helping each other … plus we LOVE sharing great food and wine, and having fun together!
What are some of the best tips or pieces of information you’ve received as an APPCA member? What could we help you with?
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.
With Easter coming up this Sunday (and Passover having just started last night), I thought it would be a good idea to go back to basics with a dish that is fundamental to so many cultures: chicken soup. Jewish households will certainly be making this with matzo balls for their Passover seder, but I’ll be making it for Easter dinner, adding lots of fresh seasonal vegetables and herbs, along with shredded chicken.
So, why focus on a recipe for something most of us having been making since forever? Because, surprisingly, a lot of people do it wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I see directions for making stock that calls for bringing the liquid to a rolling boil, then turning the temperature down and simmering for hours. They have the last part right, but if the end game is to enjoy a clear, clean-tasting broth, bringing it to a boil won’t get you there.
Instead, try low and slow–as in starting with the heat medium low, waiting until the broth just approaches a simmer, covering, reducing the heat to low, and then giving it several hours to fully cook and develop its flavors. It takes more time, yes, but the result is exquisite–so much better than boiling. With this technique you’re coaxing flavors, not forcing them.
You can also successfully make stock in a slow cooker at the lowest heat level.
This is such a loving process that honors the ingredients and starts you off on the right foot for whatever dish you wish to prepare.
Good stock rocks!
Candy Wallace’s Clear Chicken Soup
Serves 6 to 8
Clear broth was always required for soups being served in my grandmother’s restaurant. In order to achieve clear stock you must always heat low and slow, never allowing the stock/soup to actually boil. My chicken soup is an example of this visually delightful stock process. I actually use a combination (50/50) of homemade chicken stock and water to make the soup.
Start with an organic chicken for the soup. Place breast down in the pot.
4 cups homemade clear chicken stock*
4 cups water
1 medium chopped yellow onion
3 quartered carrots
3 quartered celery stalks
2 to 3 fresh bay leaves
A handful of fresh thyme stems (6 or 8)
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 to 4 fresh thyme stems
Other vegetables you enjoy
*Candy’s Chicken Stock
Stock is chicken parts or a whole chicken, chicken bones, vegetables you have on hand and want to use or lose, plus carrots, celery, and onion (mirepoix), fresh herbs, and salt (no pepper–it can turn your stock acrid) slow cooked over low heat, strained, cooled, and stored. (But remember the old adage of garbage in/garbage out, so don’t use your stockpot instead of your garbage disposal.) Also, always start with cold water and use enough of it to just cover the chicken and vegetables–about four inches over. Skim often if needed, but you don’t need to stir often. Just cook low and slow for hours.
1. Add stock, water, onion, carrots, celery, thyme, and salt to the pot with the chicken. Heat on medium low flame and allow it to just begin to simmer before cover, reducing to lowest heat and continuing to cook for several hours. This process produces almost no scum on the top of the soup, but if it does produce any foam or scum, simply skim it off and discard.
2. When the chicken in the pot is cooked through and falling apart, remove it from the pot so the skin can be removed and the chicken boned and shredded. Cool it and store it separately.
3. Pour the stock through a sieve or chinois to separate the mirepoix and thyme from the stock, leaving the enhanced clear stock base.
4. Cool and store separately. When soup is fully cooled, you may skim the layer of fat that rises to the top.
5. Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the broth for the final soup, along with three to four stems of fresh thyme and any other vegetables you care to add to the soup, like small florets of cauliflower or broccoli, haricot vert, spinach, or whatever you enjoy and have at hand.
6. Once again, bring soup to a simmer on low heat, stir in the shredded chicken and allow to simmer until the vegetables reach the level of firmness you enjoy. If you wish, you can add pre-cooked whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or pearl barley at this point and serve with hot rolls, a fresh salad, and cheese board.
What are your favorite Easter dishes? What is the journey that led you to becoming a personal chef? Please leave a comment and let us know.
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.
For Linda Berns of CustomKosher, LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, her fondest memories are of cooking with her grandma from the time she was a little girl in St. Louis. “I went to the culinary school of Gramma,” she says. “My grandparents cooked for everybody. They made challah and sweet rolls for everyone that friends would pick up for Shabbat–for no charge.”
The family held huge seders–the celebratory dinners at Passover–with a table that stretched from the dining room to the living room. In fact, Linda has all of her grandmother’s glasses, plates, silverware, and pots and pans. “So I cook with the same things she cooked with and it’s the same table she set.”
While she grew up cooking, Linda actually studied international studies and communications at American University in Washington, D.C. with the motivation of designing educational materials. Eventually she opened a graphic design company, Berns & Kay, Ltd., a business she’s had for more than 30 years.
But, with the onslaught of computers, she realized that everyone could now be a designer. While running her graphic design business, she was also cooking for her synagogue and friends whenever there was a simcha (celebration) or a shiva (mourning ritual). Need a meal for 200? Linda could and did make them. So, when she was watching the Food Channel with her husband one evening and saw a show on personal chefs, she turned to him and said, “Well, shoot, I could do that!.”
That was 14 years ago. Linda joined APPCA and took the course to learn how to launch her business. And, in doing so, believes she became the only kosher personal chef in the country. As a graphic designer, she can create her own tablecloths, room decorations, signage, invitations, programs, and wedding announcements for her clients.
Indeed, her business is a mix of catering and cooking meals for regular clients, many of whom aren’t Jewish and some of whom have significant health conditions. As part of her design business she created a lot of health materials for the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, picking up a wealth of nutritional information as part of developing the materials. So, she finds it easy to create healthful, delicious meals for elderly clients with medical issues like heart disease or diabetes.
“I’m like their Meals on Wheels girl,” she jokes. “I enjoy it and its a wonderful connection to my love of my grandparents. I used to go with my grandmother to visit old people and cook for them, so being around old people has always been very special to me.”
Over the years, Linda has taught cooking classes at synagogues and nutrition classes at women’s organizations. She was the food manager at the George Washington University Hillel for four years, which gradually came to feed 150 to 200 students on Friday nights and serve 450 meals for Passover. Today, she gets a kick out of teaching the kids on her street how to cook–everything from sufganiyot (sweet donuts for Chanukah) to potato latkes (potato pancakes, also for Chanukah). And, she kvells about her grown sons’ cooking talents. “My sons are spectacular cooks. My oldest son, who is 29 and a trombone player in L.A., finds people hiring him to cook for them. My 25-year-old son in Boston is also a terrific cook.”
One of Linda’s greatest achievements is having six custom kosher recipes in the book, Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook. “It’s filled with recipes from celebrities like Joan Rivers, Al Franken, and Martha Stewart, but I actually have more recipes–and healthy ones–than any other contributor,” she says.
Since Passover begins early next week, we asked Linda to give us some tips for cooking for Jewish clients who observe the holiday–and some recipes that would fit into the restrictions that eating during Passover entails. The two recipes below are healthy and delicious–and perfect for any occasion, including Passover.
“Although my gramma never made these dishes, they are infused with her love of blending traditional ingredients to create new holiday meals, and to celebrate everyday and for all occasions,” Linda says.
Linda’s Passover Cooking Tips:
The Jewish religion is complicated! Levels of observance vary widely, as do types of observance depending on regions of the world. The easiest thing to do when shopping for processed products of any kind is to look for items labeled “Kosher for Passover”. They are always safe.
The smartest thing to do when preparing Passover meals is to always ask your customers their level of observance and what fresh and processed foods they consider kosher for Passover.
Passover is the Jewish holiday of unleavened bread. Jewish people from Eastern European countries – Ashkenazi Jews (the majority of Jewish families in the U.S.) — don’t eat foods that rise, including bread or pastry with yeast, pasta, rice, barley, rye, legumes, soy, or corn. Substitute quinoa, potatoes, matzo, matzo meal, and matzo farfel.
Substitute white vinegar — a wheat derivative — with apple cider vinegar.
Substitute pure cane sugar or honey for anything containing corn sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant
from Linda Berns
Hardy and heart healthy all year round!
Recipe serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course
1 Medium eggplant cut in half lengthwise. Remove the meat. Leave the shell intact and set aside.
2 Large zucchini diced into approximately 3/8-inch pieces
2 Large yellow squash diced into approximately 3/8-inch pieces
24-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
8 ounces fresh mushrooms wiped clean, stem tips removed, cut in large pieces
2 cups diced onions
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil as needed
1/4 cup wine, red or white–whatever is on hand (optional)
8 ounces firm tofu cut into approximately 1/2-inch cubes (optional)
8 ounces canned beans of your choice drained and rinsed (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup mozzarella or feta cheese (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
Additional salt & pepper to taste
1. Dice eggplant meat into approximately 1/2 cube.
2. Fry eggplant cubes in 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Stir frequently to brown evenly. You may have to add extra olive oil. When brown remove from pan and set aside in a large bowl.
3. Brown onions and 2 tablespoons of garlic together in sauté pan with another 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Scrape up eggplant bit. Cook until onions begin to turn golden.
4. Add diced tomatoes and juice, sautéed eggplant, wine, sugar, kosher salt, black pepper to the pan. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Let sauce simmer uncovered until most of the liquid is reduced.
5. Add trimmed and quartered button mushrooms. Continue to let simmer 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning and remove from heat.
6. Mix sauce with uncooked and diced squash, beans, and tofu in a large bowl.
7. Spread the saved 1 tablespoon of ground garlic and drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil around the inside of each half of the eggplant shell.
8. Fill the shells with the vegetable stuffing and top with mozzarella or feta cheese (optional)
9. Bake in oven preheated to 375° until the cheese is melted, the yellow and greens squash turn bright colors, and the stuffed eggplants are hot throughout — approximately 20 minutes.
Note: You can also substitute the eggplant with portobello mushrooms or acorn squash. Follow steps 1 through 6. With mushrooms, then spread pureed garlic and drizzle olive oil on the underside of each cap and fill with stuffing mixture, then top with cheese. Line a baking dish large enough to hold all the mushrooms with foil and brush with oil. Add mushrooms and bake at 400° until the cheese is melted, yellow and green squash is brightly colored, and stuffing is hot–approximately 15 minutes.
With acorn squash, you’ll cut the squash across the middle, scoop out the center seeds, turn the cut side down in a baking dish with water about half way up the sides of the squash and bake at 400° while you make the stuffing (steps 1 to 6 above). Remove squash from oven and baking dish when it feels soft to touch and let cool, then fill with vegetable stuffing and top with cheese. Bake in preheated 375° oven until cheese is melted, yellow and green squash is brightly colored, and stuffing is hot–approximately 20 minutes
Please Pass the Kale & Sweet Potatoes!
From Linda Berns
Eat as a healthy side dish with fish, chicken or beef
Recipe serves 4
Medium large bunch of kale (approximately 3/4 lb. kale)
3 to 4 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Remove the kale leaves from the hard center stems. Tear leaves in large bite size pieces.
2. Soak leaves in large bowl of water while you peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into approximately 2-inch chunks.
3. Boil sweet potatoes until just tender as you assemble all the other ingredients.
4. When just tender, drain the sweet potatoes and set aside.
5. Drain kale leaves in colander and set aside.
6. Add olive oil to large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat.
7. Add kale and stir to coat with oil. Continue tossing and stirring kale until it turns bright green and becomes tender. Do not over cook.
8. Add sweet potato chunks to kale and toss.
9. Add balsamic or sherry vinegar to pan and toss to coat kale and potatoes.
10. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Sweet potatoes, usually an integral ingredient in tzimmes, are traditionally served at Passover because root vegetables were often the only vegetables available in Eastern Europe.
What are you favorite Passover dishes? What the journey that led you to becoming a personal chef? Please leave a comment and let us know.
Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.
I grew up in a restaurant. I also grew up in a large Eastern European family that believed in growing much of its own food, preparing, preserving, and sharing fresh seasonal meals together.
It’s that background that inspired me to make food my career. I’ve been in the culinary industry for more than four decades–as a restaurant chef, a private chef, a caterer/event planner, and a culinary educator. Over the years I’ve watched many talented, competent culinary pros forced to leave the industry because of their inability to be on the line nights, weekends, and holidays. There were too few career options until recently. You were either the restaurant owner, on the line, or out of the business if you were cooking for a living. That was always especially true for women chefs. It’s impossible to be the heart of a household and raise a family if you can’t be there to provide them with care and attention.
And, if you’re older? What’s your option then? Teaching, perhaps, but not all chefs are good teachers or even want to teach. Then there are those second-career folks, who chuck previous work to follow their passion in culinary school only to find they’re not welcome on the line because of their age.
There are all sorts of variations on this. But, what they have in common is that many people want to have a culinary career, but not necessarily a conventional one. So I decided to start what I call a big recycling project for culinary pros who wanted to support themselves and their families by cooking, but not in a traditional commercial situation, like a restaurant, hotel, catering company, or country club. A profession that would allow these pros to control their own destiny, cook for a living, but not have to have a commercial space, commercial equipment, staff, and a giant bowlful of stress.
And so the personal chef career path was born to serve hungry, time-pressed clients who want Monday through Friday meal support in the form of custom-designed, palate-specific meals prepared from fresh ingredients in their own kitchen in one day, safely stored and labeled with heating/handling instructions.
Twenty years later this has become a legitimate culinary career path and the APPCA is the recognized leader in representing personal chefs. The people we’ve trained have helped their clients segue into healthier living and eating. They provide delicious meals that address the variety of medical issues their clients have–from heart disease and diabetes to celiac disease and cancer. They help seniors stay independent in their homes, professional athletes reach peak performance through nutrition, and families enjoy nightly meals together.
One of the APPCA activities I enjoy most is teaching weekend seminars, whether they’re in San Diego, where I live, or cities across the country. I learn so much from our participants and marvel at their accomplishments. I want to share with you some of their stories to give you a sense of the power of personal chefs in their communities.
A new APPCA member is married to a busy OB/GYN and is in the process of establishing a personal chef business to provide healthy meal support for his spouse’s patients so they can enjoy healthy meals from fresh, local, organic ingredients throughout their pregnancy. Part of his service fee is designated for a similar program to be offered through a local free clinic in a challenged neighborhood to support the clinic’s pregnant patients.
Another member is not only a registered dietician and nutritionist, but also a trained chef who provides meal support specifically for her diabetic clients. Other member/chefs with similar skills are supporting clients with special needs, such as food allergies, cardiac incidents, and chemotherapy.
Many of our member/chefs are deeply involved in wellness and nutrition programs, teaching healthy cooking classes in local schools, offering school gardening classes and services to support students and parents who wish to learn how to safely grow part of their food source at home and at school.
One of our Northern California members, Dane Mechlin, is not only a successful personal chef, he also plans, plants, and maintains the school garden at his children’s elementary school and participates in the planning of the school lunch program to include produce from the garden.
In March, our seminar for start-up personal chefs revealed three new personal chefs who had achieved safe, significant weight loss and planned to offer their culinary and coaching services to clients and community groups seeking support and assistance toward the goal of safe weight loss through lifestyle and nutritional modification. Teaching what you know to assist others in achieving their goals is a common theme for personal chefs.
Finally, we have a number of veterans in our organization who have transitioned from active duty into the civilian world. They’re our heroes and we offer several programs, including financial discounts on training programs and scholarships, to support their professional culinary goals.
So, everything is possible in the personal chef world. You’re limited only by your imagination.
For more than 20 years, APPCA chefs have been answering the “What’s for dinner” question with nutritious, delicious food made just for their clients, based on their unique palates and needs. Are you wowed by what you’ve read about our members? Imagine how proud I am of them and how satisfying it’s been to have both launched a career path that fulfills their professional desires and to have created an organization that helps these amazing professional personal chefs realize their dreams and serve their communities. In fact, the APPCA is the only award-winning, culinary professional-owned professional trade association in the industry. If this is your dream, you should join us!
If you’re a personal chef, how are you making an impact on your clients and your community? Tell us your stories!
As we segue from winter to spring, it’s sometimes challenging to come up with dishes that can make the transition with us from chilly to warm weather. I’ve found that lentils are terrific to cook with year round. And they’re one of those nutritionally perfect foods–high in fiber, high in folate, and a good source of non-meat protein. And studies are showing that adding lentils to the diet of people with diabetes can slightly lower blood pressure and improve blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
And they can taste so delicious.
Food writer and friend Caron Golden shared with me our mutual friend Chef Flor Franco’s recipe for Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup, which she recently made with Caron’s mother and served for lunch with roast chicken, rice, salad, and fresh fruit. Flor is the owner of Indulge Catering and has created programs in San Diego that teach low-income women to prepare healthy, low-cost meals for their families.
The soup is an amalgam of lentils and split peas infused with fragrant cumin, coriander, turmeric, Spanish paprika, and cayenne. Add roasted tomatoes, garlic, and onions; fresh minced parsley and cilantro; and a splash of olive oil and that’s about it. The result is a richly flavored but very healthy dish that can be eaten as soup or spread over a steaming mound of rice, depending on how thick or loose you want it. Just add or take out water. For those of you who have vegetarian or vegan clients, you can add this to your repertoire.
And, here’s a tip, combine the spices in larger quantities in advance and keep in an airtight container to make preparation faster if you plan on making this soup regularly.
Flor Franco’s Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup
Yield: about 5 servings
15 cups of water
2 cups lentils
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups green split peas
5 tomatoes (plum tomatoes are good for this)
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Moroccan spice mix
2 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
3 dried Chinese chiles
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup fresh minced cilantro
Preheat the broiler.
Add the lentils and split peas to a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook about 35 minutes until soft.
Broil the tomatoes, onions, and garlic until they start to brown and soften. Remove from the oven and peel the skin from the tomatoes.
When the legumes are ready you can remove some of the liquid if you want this mixture to be very thick (so you can mound the dish on a bed of rice) or add more water if you want it more like soup. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro.
Do you have a go-to favorite recipe for clients that’s healthy and nutritious? Please leave a comment and let us know.
When did you get your start in the kitchen? Personal chef and APPCA member Suzy Dannette Brown of The Brown Bag Personal Chef in Felton, Calif., wishes she had photos of herself at age four when she first started cooking. “I come from a long line of cooks,” she says. “In fact, my great grandmother had a cooking show in Montana–long before Julia Child.”
Suzy’s first job was as a busboy at age 16 at the Ridgemark Country Club in Hollister, Calif., where she was raised. In less than a year she’d worked her way up to third cook on the line. Ambitious, she manned the snack bar before school, then hustled back after school to cook. On Sundays she’d work brunch, take a few hours off, and then return to run the dinner crew. That stopped when a new chef was hired who didn’t like women in the kitchen.
While she’d intended to go to culinary school, she did what she thought was practical and ended up going to college for her degree in architectural computer-aided design, or CAD, and then got a series of corporate jobs. But that ended in 2006 and she returned to her true love, the kitchen.
“I decided life is short and I wanted to get back to cooking. I thought I wanted to launch a catering company, but while doing research I stumbled across APPCA. I ordered some of their books. I met Candy (Wallace) and I liked the program. I fell in love with everybody and haven’t looked back. Now I run a personal chef business serving Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Monterey, and San Benito counties in Northern California.”
Long self taught, Suzy decided to take culinary classes at her local junior college and when she took a nutrition class she had her “aha” moment. “That’s when I knew what my direction would be,” she says. Time wasn’t her friend when it came to going the traditional route for her BA, so she enrolled in the Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts, which allows her to go to school remotely. When she finishes in December, she’ll be certified as a holistic nutrition consultant.
Building her business didn’t come easily. She admits she struggled for the first few years. “But then it just turned around and exploded my fourth year and it’s been a crazy train,” she laughs. She attributes a lot of her success to avid networking and promotion.
“Networking is extremely important but not all groups will work for you,” she acknowledges. “You have to take the dollar signs out of your eyes and realize that our business is about building relationships first. If you continue to show up and be a part of your networking group and take yourself out of it by helping others, it’ll come back to you. The important thing is to get your name out there and be generous with referrals. Offer to do market cooking demos. Donate dinners at fundraisers.”
Suzy loves being a personal chef mostly because she likes the people she works for. “I enjoy visiting with them and being a part of their family–because in doing this work I become an extended part of the family. I appreciate helping clients with dietary needs and restrictions. That’s why the nutritionist component is so compelling to me. Plus, it’s broadened my spectrum of cooking.
“I love having something different to do everyday,” she says. “Being a personal chef is great because I get to follow my own path.”
Suzy has given us her calzone recipe below:
From Suzy Dannette Brown
Yield: 3 calzones
Basic Pizza Dough
1 package yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
8 ounces warm water, 110°
1 cup whole grain flour (I use spelt or wheat)
1cup all purpose flour (I use Einkorn)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
¼ cup of favorite fresh chopped herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, chives)
2 tablespoons olive oil
In a small bowl or measuring cup dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Let stand until bubbly, about 10 minutes.
In a food processor pulse flours, spices, and herbs four to five times to combine all ingredients. Add olive oil to yeast mixture. While processor is running pour yeast mixture in slowly and with a steady stream until a dough ball forms.
Turn dough out on a well-floured surface. Knead just enough to combine dough into a nice ball. Rub with olive oil and place in a clean bowl. Cover with a tea towel, place in a warm spot, and let it rise.
Basic Pizza Sauce:
1 medium onion, chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, left whole
5 to 6 medium tomatoes, quartered (I love Kumatos or Cherokee Chocolates)
½ cup Fume Blanc
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (I will use a 18 year)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon or so dry oregano
Pinch or so of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste<
Rough chop onion and toss in a large sauce pan that has olive oil heated over medium heat. Caramelize onion until golden brown. Toss in garlic and continue to sauté.
Add tomatoes and wine. Deglaze pot. Let tomatoes and onions continue to cook until they break down and a sauce starts to form. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and oregano.
Place tomato sauce in food processor. Add tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and a handful of fresh basil. Pulse until well combined and smooth. Set aside.<
Note: If sauce seems a bit loose for pizza sauce, place back into pot and reduce down to desired consistency.
Basic Vegetable Calzone Filling:
10 ounces (284g) fresh spinach cooked down and squeezed free of water
12 ounces (170g) artichoke hearts, chopped
2 to 3 small zucchini, sliced into 1/4” half moons, slightly sautéed to help remove moisture
1 large red onion, sliced and caramelized in olive oil
Feta: I use a goat/sheep
Fresh mozzarella, grated
Manchego or any of your favorite hard cheeses, grated
To make calzone:
Preheat oven to 500° F. Divide dough into three balls and roll out into circles. Spoon some sauce on dough. Add enough mozzarella to cover 1/2 of the dough.
Layer vegetables on cheese. Top with an ounce or two of feta and mozzarella. Fold over and seal. Create a hole on the top to release steam.
Brush with olive oil, manchego cheese, salt and pepper. Bake on a pizza stone at 500° for 12 to 15 minutes.
Note: For a client, par cook for about 8 minutes. just enough to get the dough firm. Remove from the oven and let cool. Then package for freezing. They freeze better par cooked than fully cooked.
Even if your business isn’t exclusively focused on addressing specific health issues, no doubt periodically you’ll get a request from a potential client for help with special diets that address anything from heart issues to diabetes to allergies. Gluten-free diets–which can stem from celiac disease or wheat allergies, or because people perceive it to be healthier–are becoming a common request. New Yorker Donna Douglass, an APPCA member whose personal chef business, What’s Cooking?, stresses healthy, nutritious cooking, has found herself in that very situation.
“I just found myself cooking for someone who is wheat free, which is different from gluten-free, but still a challenge,” she says. “But I did some research and am comfortable with it. It’s part of cooking with whole foods, cooking from scratch.”
Donna’s advice is to create menus with whole, not processed, foods–ingredients in their natural state. “If you’re already cooking from scratch, you can do this,” she says with assurance. “It just takes research, carefully reading labels, and being careful about cross contamination.”
Donna offers 10 tips for personal chefs who need to avoid gluten for their clients:
- Cook with whole foods, mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, organic dairy and local grass-fed meats, organic poultry, wild seafood, and gluten-free grains.
- Be careful of meats that are prepared with other ingredients–or ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat meats–since they may be prepared with sauces or breadcrumbs that are not gluten-free. Examples include hot dogs or sausages, and lunch meats. Cheese isn’t meat, obviously, but packaged cheese can also have these additives.
- If using processed or packaged foods, consider Ancient Harvest brands quinoa and pasta. Donna likes them much better than brown rice pasta for taste and texture.
- Read labels. If there’s nothing natural in it and not labeled “gluten-free,” don’t use it.
- Be careful if you get cheese sliced at a grocery store or deli. There may be breadcrumbs or other gluten products around their cutting boards or slicer where they are packaging your cheese. Buy gluten-free cheese or organic cheese at a health food store.
- Make your own breadcrumbs from gluten-free bread or buy gluten-free breadcrumbs and add your own seasonings.
- Use all-purpose gluten-free flour or brown rice flour for thickening sauces.
- Almond flour is good for baking. Both Bisquick and Bob’s Red Mill make gluten-free flour mixes that you can use for toppings, dough, and batters for pot pies, desserts, pancakes, etc. Other good choices include tapioca flour, coconut flour, and amaranth.
- Be wary of condiments on supermarket store shelves. Many brands of condiments include gluten or are exposed to factories that make products with gluten. Look for condiments like soy sauce, ketchup, steak sauce, BBQ sauce, mustard, and tomato sauce that are specifically labeled gluten-free. Even some vinegars may be made with grain vinegar. Again, carefully read labels.
- Be aware that some spices may be processed on equipment that may have used gluten. For more on this, go to this gluten-free condiment list.
Donna also warns that you should beware of cross-contamination in your own preparation and your equipment.
She’s also provided a list of online resources:
Here’s Donna’s recipe for Gluten-Free Portabello Mushrooms with Spinach and Goat Cheese
Gluten-Free Portabello Mushroom with Spinach and Goat Cheese
from Donna Douglass
Marinade for Mushrooms
½ cup olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup reduced gluten-free sodium soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, pressed
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup Marsala
2 sprig of fresh thyme>
6 large Portabello mushrooms, clean out gills
To marinate mushrooms
Whisk the first 6 ingredients and Marsala in a medium bowl. Stir in thyme sprigs. Cut stems from mushrooms and spoon out gills. Arrange mushrooms, gill side up in a 9×12 Pyrex dish. Pour marinade over mushrooms and marinate up to 4 hours, turning to coat occasionally.
2 bunches of fresh spinach, trimmed and washed
4 ounces Cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup homemade GF breadcrumbs
1 container of crumbled goat cheese
Cook spinach in a steamer basket. Drain and set aside to cool. Squeeze excess water from spinach and place in a small bowl.
Add Cremini mushrooms to food processor and use the pulse button to coarsely chop the mushrooms. Heat oil in a sauté pan and add the onion and sauté until beginning to brown. Add Cremini mushrooms and sauté to tender. Add the onions, mushrooms and spinach to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a baking sheet with oil. Bake mushrooms for about 15 to 20 minutes. Divide filling among the mushrooms. Top with crumbled goat cheese,gluten free breadcrumbs and some left over marinade.
Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is golden.
Still intimidated? Don’t be. “You shouldn’t be afraid to take on a gluten-free client,” Donna says. “Even if they have severe issues they’ll let you know and will probably supply special equipment.”
What are your tips for working with gluten-free clients? What are your concerns? Are there other special diets you’d like more information about?
We talk a lot as personal chefs about our mission to create healthy meals for families. Part of that mission also includes thinking about where our food comes from. Is it organic? Is it from local farms and ranches? Who made it? Now it’s not always feasible–for cost reasons or just geography–to buy organic, local, and sustainable–but it’s something to strive for. In San Diego, where we have year-round growing seasons and are right on the ocean, it’s become a big deal.
That includes seafood. One of the premier seafood wholesalers in San Diego is Catalina Offshore Products, founded and owned by Dave Rudie. They got their start decades ago selling sea urchin that Dave would dive for. The company has long since expanded and in the last several years, they’ve positioned themselves as a chef favorite and now a public favorite, thanks to the face of the company, Tommy Gomes.
Tommy comes from a fishing family and is a wealth of knowledge about seafood–and, importantly today, sustainability. While the company doesn’t pretend to be entirely sustainable, they are working hard to do all the right things–and still be profitable. That extends to their recent agreement with non-profit advocacy group Seafood of the Future to label products in ways that help consumers make good choices based on local fisheries in healthy supply by building a network of restaurants, distributors, and producers also committed to fishery sustainability. Catalina Offshore Products uses their guidelines to inform customers of the status of various species they sell. It’s all about transparency.
That’s why you’ll still see white shrimp for sale from Baja (which we in San Diego consider local), Bluefin tuna, corvina, and Cabrilla grouper (not on the Seafood for the Future list) alongside approved species like black cod, yellowfin tuna, wild swordfish, and Chilean sea bass. You may still buy the grouper or shrimp, but, hopefully, you’ll think about that purchase, and perhaps also buy some black cod.
Catalina Offshore Products is also interested in getting customers to go beyond just the filet and strive to eat the entire fish–from tail to mouth. To do that, they have weekly in-house cooking demos, primarily by Chef Christopher Logan of Creative Flavors Catering, but also by numerous other chefs who have befriended Tommy and Catalina Offshore Products–and often Tommy himself will wield a spatula over a skillet. Consequently, they have gotten people to fall in love with fish collars and cheeks. Chefs fall all over each other to get livers and eggs and other innards that they transform into exquisite dishes.
And, five years ago, Tommy and Catalina Offshore Products launched a regular Sunday evening event called Collaboration Kitchen in partnership with local produce warehouse Specialty Produce, both to demonstrate seafood cooking techniques and raise money for local organizations. Tickets to these events, which are $75, sell out in hours and draw San Diego’s best chefs to participate. The event now has a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit designation and board of directors and hands out a check for $3,000 on the spot to the recipient.
We thought you’d enjoy a recipe from one of these events. This was the 2014 season opener with Sam “the Cooking Guy” Zien, who has an Emmy Award-winning TV show, a radio show, blog, and several cookbooks.
He’s a local food celebrity and charmed the crowd that night with dishes like Deviled Eggs and Shrimp Skewer, Curried Grouper, and Captn Crunch Seared Tuna.
Here’s one with a fish you may not have thought to cook with: shark:
Hoisin Shark Tacos
From Sam Zien
Makes 2 tacos
4 green onions, white & light green parts only, sliced lengthwise into thin shreds
1/4 cup jicama, sliced into thin shreds
3 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
1/2 tablespoons Asian chili paste
1/4 pound shark fillet without the skin, cut into small pieces
2 corn tortillas
· Combine green onions and jicama into a “slaw” and set aside
· Mix hoisin and chili paste in a small bowl and set aside
· Preheat a skillet or wok well on fairly high heat – also preheat a nonstick skillet to heat the tortillas
· Add 2 teaspoons peanut oil to the wok, then the shark and cook quickly until still a bit moist inside, about 3 minutes
· At the same time, heat the tortillas in the nonstick skillet
· Spread some sauce on the each tortilla, top with shark and slaw
What are your favorite seafood dishes to serve clients? Are you buying local, sustainable seafood? If not, why?
We love connecting with you on our personal chef forums. But we also enjoy the relationships we’re building on social media. Some of you are just as active on social media as we are. But others are wary of this medium or uncertain about what to do. One thing we’ve noticed, particularly on Facebook, is that when we go to your business pages to try to promote your work or your page, it’s often neglected. The most recent posts are months old. Or, you haven’t got any useful content to speak of that would draw people to engage with you or help them understand what you do.
So, we thought we’d give you some tips for how to draw people in–people who could be potential clients, after all, or good contacts for networking–and keep them coming back. They aren’t difficult to do. In fact, all they do is make you more interesting, useful, and engaging. We like to think of social media as a large cocktail party filled with lots of conversations going on simultaneously. Do you want to be the wallflower or social butterfly? Think about how you act at a party. You find yourself in a small group of people. Do you monopolize the conversation and not let anyone else have a turn or do you ask others questions to learn more about them? Do you have some interesting anecdotes to share, some useful information or story you found in a newspaper or do you drone on about how hard it was to shovel snow from the driveway or get your car to start?
The idea is to become a person who is helpful and entertaining. To be viewed as an expert with resources to share. To engage others. Yes, you want to promote yourself and your business–but not at the expense of being boring or viewed simply as a self-promoter. Be the cool guest at the cocktail party.
With this in mind, here are six ways to help you accomplish this:
1. Ask questions. Think of it as a way to learn more about your “friends” and “followers”–and as a useful market research tool. Find out what people’s favorite foods are, how often they eat at home with their families, if they enjoy cooking shows, what their favorite ethnic foods are, how they learned to cook–or if they cook. If you are ignorant about something–an ingredient from another culture or a cooking technique–ask if someone can share their knowledge. As you do this more frequently, you’ll find your questions will be more targeted and you’ll be surprised at what sparks a conversation. And that’s a great result.
2. Tag people with a purpose. One of the most annoying things on Facebook or Twitter is to be tagged by someone just because they want your attention. But if you have something to share (a link to a magazine article, a TV show, or cool website) that specifically mentions someone–a friend, a celebrity chef, a business–by all means tag them. If you want someone in particular to respond to a question, tag them. If you’re linking to a blog post you’ve written that mentions someone, tag them.
3. Use great photos. Facebook has recently acknowledged that long posts are out and photos are in. If you want to show up on other people’s news feeds, make sure you have at least one great photo to draw attention. It could be a beautiful dish you’ve prepared, a gorgeous piece of produce, an infographic, whatever. And, if you use a smart phone to shoot your photos, get an app called InstaFrame or one like it to easily create a multi-photo collage you can upload. You can do the same with PicFrame on a Mac (very helpful in blogging, too).
4. Share posts others put up–or be a helpful retweeter. Be the good guy and generously spread their good news or interesting articles. You may even find other people like your business page because they’ve now discovered you.
5. Engage with others on their feeds or tweets. Read your news feed and become part of the conversation. If you have something useful to say, jump in with a comment, observation, solution, or question.
6. Be judicious in promoting yourself. All social media platforms are great resources for self promotion, but don’t overdo it and find ways to do it that are useful (like offering a recipe or cooking tips). Brag on a new gig you got or a compliment a client gave you for a dish. Announce what your services are and how you can help people. Illustrate it with gorgeous photos. Just do it as part of your larger engagement with others. They shouldn’t be the majority of your posts.
And, here’s an extra tip–feed your accounts regularly. Pick a few platforms that you think will do you the most good and be involved on them. If you try to be everywhere you’ll surely give up. It’s very frustrating to have people you’re trying to build a relationship with disappear for months on end. Don’t over post, but don’t go AWOL. Find your rhythm and try to stick with it.
What social media challenges do you have? Where can we find you?
Periodically we want to feature APPCA chefs who we think are doing great work, making a difference in their communities, or would be a source of inspiration for our member chefs. Steve Loeschner of Chef Steve Personal Chef Service in Derry, New Hampshire falls into the latter category. We know all of you are working hard to constantly improve your culinary skills and build your business. Take a page from Steve’s efforts. Perhaps it will give you some ideas for amping up your own personal chef business.
Like many of us who have a passion for food and cooking, Steve learned kitchen skills from his his grandmothers and mother. “Being German, Italian, and Polish, food was in my blood,” he says. And, he early on he was fascinated by “The French Chef “and “The Galloping Gourmet.” But his practical side chose a career in technology, reserving his cooking for family and friends.
Eventually, however, he started a catering business but gave that up and then with his wife Maryellen, started a bakery where they made cupcakes, brownies, and other baked goods. But the “crazy long hours” weren’t sustainable.
“I wanted to stay in cooking but didn’t want to work in a restaurant on the line making the same food day after day,” he recalls. “Still looking for a way to pursue my interest in the culinary field, I found the personal chef field. I thought this was a great fit! I can take on as many clients as I can handle.”
Steve also found the APPCA. “Everyone has been a great help and always lots of support,” he says. “I’ve also been trying to figure out how to get my culinary training and still be able to work.” He learned about the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy through the APPCA and is thrilled with the program. “This allows me to spend the time I need to review the material and it’s not crammed into an eight-hour day like a brick-and-mortar school. If I know the material I run through it. If it’s new to me I can go over it as much as I want until I get it. And the chef mentors are great. You can even send them recipes you create and they’ll review them.”
He’s now picking up the formal knife skills and basic French-cuisine fundamentals he’s been keen on learning. Because the chef mentors can review and critique your work, but obviously not taste your food, he relies on family and friends for that.
Steve has been in business for close to a year now, bringing tasty meals and a healthy lifestyle to clients. “Everybody eats such junk. They go to the store and buy boxes and bags of whatever. We bring fresh ingredients instead of chemicals, better cuts of meat, food that keeps you healthy.”
Steve works with clients to identify what they need, depending on their preferences, health issues, and dietary needs. “We create menus as a result of our assessment. We’ll swap out ingredients in our recipes to make them healthier based on their specific needs. In a lot of cases, we contact their doctor or have a list of foods we should incorporate in their diet. One client has leukemia so we have to be very cautious about both what we prepare and how we prepare it.”
He’s now collaborating with a woman who does personal training and nutrition to come up with a program for clients that integrates nutrition and fitness.
One of Steve’s biggest efforts in building his business has been developing a social media presence through Twitter and Facebook. “I’m still learning. I feel for other chefs because they’ll be going through the same thing. But it’s really important because this is how people communicate today. I like the foodie chats on Twitter. I meet a lot of people and learn a lot by watching what they say. It’s a lot of fun. You get a lot of followers that way.”
“You have to stay in front of your potential clients all the time,” he emphasizes. “It helps them remember you. It’s huge and doesn’t cost anything. With advertising and marketing so expensive, why wouldn’t you do social media?”
And, he’s beginning to organize cooking classes to teach specific dishes to clients at their homes with the ultimate goal of holding larger classes at a commercial kitchen.
But the classes won’t eclipse working with clients at their homes. That’s Steve’s passion. “Cooking for clients is quite personal and that’s why I like it. You get to know them and what they like and dislike and create meals just for them that they’ll enjoy. I love getting to know them!”
Do you have favorite story to tell about your personal chef business? Please leave a comment and let us know.