Perhaps you know this intuitively, but according to a new survey, Chatter Matters: the 2018 Word of Mouth Report, 83 percent of Americans say that a word of mouth recommendation from a friend or family member makes them more likely to purchase that product or service.

In fact, writes Jay Baer, whose organization Convince & Convert, conducted the research, “And not only is word of mouth a powerful motivating force, it’s actually the preferred mechanism for information when Americans are making purchases. Among all Americans, word of mouth represents two of their three most popular sources of information when researching purchases (online search engines are the third).”

Aha, you say! I sell a service. Perhaps I should do more to stoke positive, even ebullient word of mouth about my business.

What you’re doing is the initial groundwork laying for a marketing strategy–which is especially important in such a social media/internet heavy environment. It’s not like you’re just trying to get your latest client for a catering gig to recommend you to her BFF. You also want that happy client to post a rave about you on Instagram or Facebook, replete with photos. It’s word of mouth on steroids.

Wendy Marx, president of Marx Communications–a B2B boutique PR firm, just published a terrific piece on this in Business 2 Community. It’s worth your time to read, but let me share here her “8 Powerful Ways to Ignite Your Word of Mouth Marketing”:

  1. Build Trust: Here Marx says, you should do right by your customer and go above and beyond to champion them to build loyalty. And, she adds, “Trust also depends heavily on your skill and competency. Create a reputation of unparalleled expertise.”
  2. Create an Unbeatable Customer Service Strategy: Have a solid, reliable, well-trained team to improve a customer’s experience. Use appropriate humor to set customers at ease, resolve problems quickly, and leave them feeling satisfied. You don’t have a “team?” Then this is up to you.
  3. Be Different: Distinguish yourself from the competition in simple ways, including your marketing language. “Think of words that describe your product in new and engaging ways. From your website to your email marketing campaigns, make your messaging reverberate.”
  4. Encourage a Rich Brand Culture: What do you stand for? What are your values? Marx advocates writing a rich values statement that portrays your values–and then you should act on them. Maybe you support helping the homeless or a cure for breast cancer. If you actually volunteer for those causes, let people know via social media so potential customers who also hold those values can relate to you.
  5. Find Passionate Advocates: You may have happy, but quiet clients. But you may also have some who are more naturally outspoken. Nurture them as loyal advocates who will let others know about you and your services. Marx suggests creating a system where they can best advocate for your brand. Think about that in the context of being a personal chef. Perhaps they could host a gathering you cater. If you have a blog, they could write a guest post on what they look for in a personal chef and then share that on social media. Be creative.
  6. Give People a Platform: This could refer to to #5 above. As Marx says, “Social media pages, customer testimonial sites, and case studies are all excellent ways for your customers to share their happy experiences. You might include a link on your site or an email that encourages customers to leave a review. This could be as simple as Did we make your day? You can make ours by leaving a review below! Keep it light and conversational.” If you encounter someone who is especially happy with your service, perhaps you could interview and write about her for your blog–or this one!
  7. Incentivize Your Audience: You may have customers who love what you do but need a little something extra to get them to chat you up. How about creating a loyalty or brand advocacy program that rewards them for engagement? Big brands can create incentives for retweeting or posting something about you on social media. Personal chefs don’t necessarily have that kind of largesse available. But is there something you could do at a more modest level for spreading the word at incremental levels? Baking a dozen cookies? Offering a discount?
  8. Be Enthusiastic: This is a no brainer. As Marx says, “Love what you do. Enthusiasm is contagious.” She adds, “Love what you do, and do it well, others will be naturally attracted to your brand. And these enthusiasts will tell others about you who in turn will tell others and on and on.”

We know that personal chefs are not at all the same as large businesses that make and sell products. But, in fact, good, strong word of mouth is probably even more critical to small service businesses lacking a large marketing budget. So the more focused you can be on building a following through your own happy clients the more successful you can be as a personal chef.

What kind of strategy have you developed for better word of mouth? Can we help you with this?

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!

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Everyday Dorie’s Lemon Goop

Filed under: Books,Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , December 3, 2018

Chances are if you know Dorie Greenspan, it’s because of her divine baking cookbooks. I’m one of the thousands of her fans of her über chocolatey sablé World Peace Cookies, the recipe for which is on page 138 in her 2006 tome, “Baking: From My Home to Yours.” Yeah, I love those cookies.

Greenspan is the author of 13 cookbooks—and baking is only a slice of her culinary skill. She’s a magnificent cook and shares those recipes in books like “Around My French Table,” which takes us from sardine rillettes and chestnut-pear soup to chicken basquaise and fresh orange pork tenderloin. The Brooklyn-born writer has collaborated with Julia Child, Pierre Hermé, and Daniel Boulud on their cookbooks, and is the recipient of five James Beard Awards. She is the “On Dessert” columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and she’s just published book number 13, Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook (HMH/Rux Martin Books, $35).

In October, I had the huge pleasure of interviewing Dorie in front of an audience in San Diego. Yes, she’s as delightful as you’d think she is from her books (as is her husband Michael). And, oh, the stories she told!

In preparation for the interview I read the book cover to cover. Greenspan brings decades of experience—both her own and what she’s learned from chefs—to home cooks from the perspective of a home cook. “Everyday Dorie” may surprise you by how accessible the recipes are. And by the familiarity of many of the ingredients. It’s just that she uses them in ways that make you stop and want to slap your head upsides with a “why didn’t I think of that” roll of the eyes.

I also made several dishes from Everyday Dorie. Well, one wasn’t actually a dish, but a condiment–and I want to share it with you because I just thought it was so cool and unique. When it comes to condiments I have to admit, I think I’m a hoarder. One of my favorites is preserved lemon.

When I saw that Dorie had a recipe at the back of the book she calls Lemon “Goop” I had to check it out. It’s like preserved lemons, but it’s a jammy-like condiment. And it’s made with both salt and sugar. And in making it you also get lemon syrup. So it’s also a two-fer.

Lemon goop and the syrup are easy to make. You’re going to peel the zest from 6 large lemons, then cut off the top and bottom of each lemon and cut off the rest of the rind and pith so all that’s left is the fruit.

From there you’ll section the lemons. Then you’ll combine sugar, salt, and water in a pot and bring the mixture to the boil. Add the zest and the lemon sections, bring back to the boil, then lower the heat so that it just simmers. Leave it for about an hour. Once it’s cooked down and nice and syrupy, remove it from the heat, and strain the syrup from the lemon solids. Puree the solids in a food processor or blender, using some of the syrup to create the texture you want. That’s it.

Lemon goop is just the acidic/sweet note you want to hit to balance the richness of a fatty fish. Or a pork chop. Or roasted chicken. The syrup can play all sorts of roles. Dorie adds it to vinaigrettes, as she mentions below. How about mixing it with garlic and ginger and a little neutral oil to brush onto shrimp for roasting? Or add to a seafood salad?

The great thing is that you have plenty of time to consider how to use the lemon goop and syrup because it lasts in your refrigerator for ages–like forever–until you use it up. Just keep it tightly covered.

Lemon “Goop” and Syrup
from Everyday Dorie by Dorie Greenspan

Makes about ⅔ cup goop and ¾ cup syrup

From Dorie: I had something like this years and years ago at a restaurant near Le Dôme in Paris. It was served with tuna; perhaps tuna cooked in olive oil, I don’t remember. What I do remember is that I loved it, went home, tried to re-create it and came up short. The second time I had it was at a Paris bistro called Les Enfants Rouges, where the chef, Daï Shinozuka, served a dab of it with fish. Daï gave me a recipe — and this is based on it — but his started with preserved lemons. The recipe I finally came up with uses ordinary lemons and finishes up as a glossy jam that tastes a little like preserved lemons but is sweeter and more complex.

You’ll have more syrup than you need to make the jam — aka “goop” — but the syrup is as good as the jam. I’ve added it to vinaigrettes (page 307), roasted beets, sautéed green beans, tuna salad, chicken salad and more. It’s a terrific “tool” to have in the fridge.

I serve the goop with fish and shellfish, pork and chicken. To start you on the road to playing around with this, try it on Twice-Flavored Scallops (page 193).

6 large lemons
2 cups (480 ml) water
1½ cups (300 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt

WORKING AHEAD Refrigerate the goop and syrup separately until needed. In a tightly covered container, the syrup will keep forever, and the goop’s lifespan is only slightly shorter.

1. Using a vegetable peeler or small paring knife, remove the zest from 3 of the lemons, taking care not to include any of the white pith; set aside.
2. One by one, cut a slice from the top and bottom of each lemon, cutting deeply enough to reveal the fruit. Stand the lemon upright on a cutting board and, cutting from top to bottom, slice away the rind and pith, again cutting until the fruit is revealed. Slice between the membranes of each lemon to release the segments.
3. Bring the water, sugar and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Drop in the segments and reserved zest and bring back to a boil, then lower the heat so that the syrup simmers gently. Cook for about 1 hour, at which point the syrup will have thickened and the lemons will have pretty much fallen apart. It might look as though the lemons have dissolved, but there’ll still be fruit in the pan. Remove from the heat.
4. The fruit needs to be pureed, a job you can do with a blender (regular or immersion) or a food processor; if you have a mini-blender or mini-processor, use it.
5. Strain the syrup into a bowl and put the fruit in the blender or processor. (Save the syrup in the bowl!) Add a spoonful of the syrup to the lemons and whir until you have a smooth, glistening puree. Add more syrup as needed to keep the fruit moving and to get the consistency you want. I like the goop when it’s thick enough to form a ribbon when dropped from a spoon. Thicker is better than thinner, because you can always adjust the consistency with more of the reserved syrup.

LEMON “GOOP” AND SYRUP is excerpted from Everyday Dorie © 2018 by Dorie Greenspan. Photography © 2018 by Ellen Silverman. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

What cookbooks are you hoping for or gifting for the holidays? List them below to give us inspiration! 

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!

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APPCA member and personal chef Anne Blankenship has pretty much served as our reporter on the ground for personal chef transitions. The owner of Dallas’ Designed Cuisine a Personal Chef Service, Anne is working her way toward retirement and has written about that process for us. This week she outlines the process of hiring and working with an intern, the idea being that she could eventually refer incoming potential new clients. 

If you’re looking for help and a way to pay forward the help you received when you were just starting out–or if you’re a culinary school student searching for some practical internship experience–you’ll want to ready this guest post by Anne:

They say too much of anything is not a good thing. When you have more business than you can handle, what do you do? I have recently found myself in the position of turning away clients on a weekly basis for the first time since I started my personal chef business. While I am thrilled that potential clients are calling, it is also frustrating to be unable to accommodate potential new business.

When I sat down to ponder this issue, a light bulb went off in my head. Recalling my days in culinary school I knew that there were required internships of students. I so “fondly” recall working for $5.85/hour, scrubbing fish scales out of the sink around midnight, and then mopping the floor! However, it was a great experience and when you are the “low person on the totem pole” you never say “that’s not my job.”

I contacted my alma mater (a local community college with an outstanding and highly rated culinary program) and sent a message to the head of the Food and Hospitality Institute at the college. The school’s culinary program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation, and I of course knew that the “CPC” (“Certified Personal Chef”) designation was available through the organization. I told the chef that I wanted to hire a student for an internship as well as provide them with insight into a different area of the culinary world—that of a personal chef. I also reminded him that the “CPC” designation was a viable option, as many culinary instructors are unaware of this classification. He responded and said he would mention my internship to his classes and that the best option was for me to post it on the online job board for students, which I did at the end of August when school started. In addition, I contacted my clients to let them know I was considering hiring an intern. I wanted to check  whether or not it would be alright with them that this person would accompany me on future cook dates.

I received a response to my ad within a week from a promising young student. However, I had neglected to post the days/hours that I needed the applicant, and his school schedule was such that he would not be available. After I amended the posting to include the hours, I received a second response at the end of September. This time I knew I had potentially found the right candidate in Tina, who is in her first semester. Like me, she had been in the corporate world for 20 years and wanted to change careers, had always wanted to be a chef, loved to cook, and had planned and executed dinner parties for friends with various cuisines and interesting dishes. We exchanged e-mails and as she told me more about herself I became certain that if she was interested, I could help her pursue becoming a personal chef as well as have someone viable to whom to refer new business.

We met for lunch a few days later and after three hours of discussion we made plans for her to accompany me on upcoming cook date at the beginning of October. Once at the client’s home I showed her the menu and recipes for that day and we divided up the tasks and who would make which menu item. Although I was watchful, I knew she was competent and I truly didn’t have to worry about the way she cooked the food. Everything she has done thus far has been excellent (and made me think I’ve been a little careless in the way I cooked some of my recipes!). Even better is that when we review the menu for the day and divide up tasks, she usually has a good idea of how to execute the recipes but always asks if she is not sure.  Truly, she is the best person I could have gotten for the job!

The “end game” is that if she decides to pursue being a personal chef, I would help her get started and hopefully be able to refer any incoming potential new clients to her as I am quite satisfied with the client base I now have. I told her that it wasn’t all “philanthropical” on my end—she would be helping me so that I wouldn’t have to turn away business and she would benefit by having her own clients. I have been very honest with her about how clients come and go in the personal chef business, that you have to be flexible, manage your finances well and be prepared for what could happen. However, I also told her that being your own boss, making your own schedule, and truly enjoying what you do for a living is beyond compare to working in the corporate world. I still love what I do every day and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

She will be with me until the middle of December but has until the end of December to decide whether or not to go back to the corporate world or pursue her dream of being a chef.

I did not change my liability insurance policy as I did not know how long Tina would be with me.  Since my insurance premium is due in December, I will take a look at everything at that time. When we talked she asked me what the “big picture” was and I said that I wanted to try and retire in 2020 and if the right person came along, I would consider turning my business over to them.  I was working out details about possibly taking a percentage of the client fees for awhile when I turned over the business.  I am still mulling over that idea. If Tina does not want to go forward with this then I will start over again next semester and possibly hire someone else.  If I cannot find the right person, I will just keep on doing as I am now and turn business away.

If you are in a position to hire an assistant for your personal chef business, consider your local community college, as many of them now have excellent culinary programs. You have the ability to mentor someone (probably younger) and show them that there is so much more to the food industry than working at a restaurant. I feel it is one way for me to “pay it forward” for someone who wants to be a personal chef. I have the Internet presence, the knowledge and 12 years of experience to assist her in getting started. I believe she feels as strongly as I do about the “personal” in being a personal chef and how we interact with our clients’ families, children and lives. As a result, my tagline has now become “Personal Chefs – We Make a Difference in Peoples’ Lives.”

Have you considered working with an intern? What are your concerns about the hiring and collaboration process?

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!

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We’re now three days out from Thanksgiving. For some of us deciding what to make isn’t an issue. Our recipes seem to be etched in stone and family members will simply not abide any variation. Tradition, my friends, tradition.

But for those of us who like to change things up a bit–even if it means just switching out evaporated milk for cream cheese in our pumpkin pie–perhaps a little inspiration is in order. It could be a different twist on a favorite dish or an altogether new one that could establish a new traditional favorite.

In that spirit, here are some Thanksgiving dishes we’ve featured over the years and a new suggestion:

Turkey Stuffing Muffins and Cranberry Chutney: Just when you thought you couldn’t come up with a new way to approach stuffing someone turns it into muffins. What a cool idea! You could certainly do with your own favorite, traditional stuffing, but take a look at this recipe from the Art Institute of California-San Diego. And pair it with this divine cranberry chutney!

Everything Sourdough Popovers: I just wrote about these popovers, but if you missed it, take a look. Who doesn’t adore airy popovers? Along with the intriguing sourdough flavor these have, I’ve added something a little extra: everything topping–you know, the topping you find on bagels. If you or your clients are not a fan, no worries. You can leave them naked and dunk into a gravy or sauce. You can make them a little sweet by topping them in cinnamon sugar. You could also top them with finely chopped toasted nuts with or without sugar. Be bold! Or not if you or your clients are purists.

 

How to Spatchcock a Turkey (and why you should): Turkeys can be a challenge. You want the skin crisp but if only the breast if facing the heat, the skin on the thighs below tends to get greasy and unpleasant. You want moist white meat but it can get overcooked while waiting for the dark meat to reach the right temperature. Bottom line? Roasting a turkey can be an aggravating guessing game. So, I’m going to make it easy for you. Spatchcock your bird and roast it at high heat. Spatchcocking is a way of breaking down the bird so it will rest flat in a roasting pan and cook evenly. You avoid the age-old problem of having the white meat dry out while the dark meat continues to cook below. Instead, you have moist meat from the drumstick to the breast. And because it roasts at high heat, the turkey cooks quickly and the skin all over the turkey is fully exposed, making it all nice and crisp.

Macaroni and Cheese for Kids and Adults: Is mac and cheese really a Thanksgiving dish? Heck, yeah, and who doesn’t love every cheesy, comfort food bite? You’d be surprised at how many different techniques there are for making it. Yes, I know, your mom or grandma’s is the best, but, whoa, there are a lot of contenders out there. After spending perhaps too much time looking through cookbooks and online to get a better sense of what’s involved I was drawn to two approaches by two big names: Alton Brown and Martha Stewart. By then it was easy enough to sort out the basics and create my own version using the best of what I found. A little less cooking of the pasta here, the spice combo there, tempering eggs, adding a panko topping. Well, it all came together in a bubbling, rich, creamy casserole with a crusty top and lots of flavor.

 

Apple Pie: What about dessert? My sense is there are people who love to bake pies and those who are terrified of the idea of making a crust. I get it. I was taught by my grandmother when I was a teenager–but for years it was always an iffy proposition as to whether or not the crust would come out. So I set off several years ago to hit up all my pastry chef friends to learn their techniques. They were all different. Some used butter only. Some butter and lard or butter and Crisco. Despite the variations, I gained confidence. And I make pies with gusto and delight. So, to those of you savory chefs who steer away from THE CRUST, I offer my go-to pie recipe from my friend Michele Coulon. Her way is the traditional French way. It’s simple and straightforward, relies on just a few quality ingredients, and sticking to formula. Bake one up and serve it to clients or your family. You–and they–will be hooked!

Michele Coulon’s Apple Pie

Yield: 1 Pie

1 Southern Pie Pastry (see below)
1 pound, 5 ounces apples (weigh after peeling and coring)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ounce butter
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup cream
1 egg

Pre-heat conventional oven to 450°.

Make pastry and set aside.

Peel and core apples, placing in a big bowl. Sift dry ingredients together and add to apples, mixing well. Add 3 tablespoons cream and mix with apples. Set aside.

Place one pastry disk on a floured surface and roll out to just larger than your pie plate or tin so that the edges will hang over. Use the rolling pin to place the dough in the pie plate, then refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll out the second disc and you can either leave it whole for the top crust or slice into 1-inch strips to make a lattice. Refrigerate.

Fill the bottom pie crust with the apple mixture. Dot apples with butter. Put lattice or intact top crust over the apples. To make the lattice, Michele just lays half of the strips in one direction, then lays the other half across them. If you’re using the intact top crust, center it over the apples, then make a 1-inch hole in the center to release steam and use a fork to gently poke holes around the top. Once the lattice or intact crust is set, roll the top and bottom edges together and under the bottom crust edge. Using a fork, gently pinch edges together but do not go all the way through the dough.

Mix together 1/2 cup cream and the egg. Brush egg wash onto lattice or top crust and any dough decorations.

Put on a parchment paper-lined tray (to catch drips) and put in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 350° and bake until apples are cooked — 30 minutes at first, then probably another 15 minutes. Use the tip of a sharp knife to check. If the tip goes into apple slices easily, they’re done cooking. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Southern Pastry from Michele Coulon

Yield: 2 pie crusts, top and bottom. Cut recipe in half for 1 pie.

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound cold European-style butter, cut into 1-inch chunky pieces
Ice water

Mix ingredients by hand using two knives in a bowl or in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Then add 12 tablespoons or 160 grams of ice water. Mix until just blended. It should be rough with striations of butter.

When making the full recipe, divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a disk about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. At this point you can start to bake with them, wrap the disks and refrigerate overnight, or freeze them until you want to use them (defrost in the refrigerator). It’s one of those great do-ahead options.

What dishes will you be making for Thanksgiving? What is the one that makes it Thanksgiving for you and your family?

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!

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Consider this post another chapter in my quest to identify ways to use excess sourdough starter when I do my weekly feeding. I’ve made cake, crackers, and biscuits so far. Unlike fresh starter, the pre-fed starter doesn’t contribute much to rise. Its role instead is flavor.

Thinking about Thanksgiving, I recently made popovers and thought I’d share the results with you so you could put them on your clients’ Thanksgiving menus. Who doesn’t adore airy popovers? Along with the intriguing sourdough flavor these have, I’ve added something a little extra: everything topping–you know, the topping you find on bagels. You can find everything seasoning online at King Arthur Flour and locally at Trader Joe’s. If you’re not a fan, no worries. You can leave them naked and dunk into a gravy or sauce. You can make them a little sweet by topping them in cinnamon sugar. You could also top them with finely chopped toasted nuts with or without sugar. Be bold! Or not if you or your clients are purists.

The other delightful aspect of these popovers is how ridiculously easy they are to make. You’ll heat up milk until it’s just warm–not hot! Then you’ll combine the milk with eggs, the sourdough starter, and a little salt.

Whisk in the flour–but don’t over mix. Even a few lumps are just fine. This batter is very forgiving. Notice I used the word batter, not dough. This mixture is very loose–like heavy cream. Don’t worry. It’ll work just fine.

It’ll start baking in a very hot oven. After 15 minutes you’ll turn down the heat and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes. Try as hard as you can to time this with when you want to serve the popovers because these guys are best eaten right away. But, get this, I froze what I couldn’t eat immediately. When I wanted one, I pulled it out of the freezer and let it defrost, then heated it up in a 350° oven for about 15 minutes. It was still delicious.

If you are going to add a topping, melt butter in a wide little bowl just before the popovers come out of the oven. Then pull them out of the cups, dip, and roll.

Everything Sourdough Popovers
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 6 popovers

Ingredients
8 ounces milk
3 large eggs
4 ounces sourdough starter, fed or discard
¾ teaspoon salt
4 ¼ ounces all-purpose flour
¼ cup melted unsalted butter
¼ cup everything topping (available from Trader Joe’s or King Arthur Flour)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450° and add muffin or popover pan.

Warm milk in the microwave or a small saucepan until it’s just warm to the touch.

Combine warm milk with eggs, sourdough starter, and salt. Gradually whisk in flour until it just comes together. Don’t worry about eliminating all lumps.
The batter will be loose, about the consistency of heavy cream.

Remove hot pan from the oven and spray it thoroughly with non-stick pan spray or brush generously with oil or melted unsalted butter.

Pour batter into the popover cups about ¾ of the way up. If you’re using a muffin tin, fill all the way to the top. Space the popovers around so each one is surrounded by empty cups to allow the popovers to expand while they bake.

Bake popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375° and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the popovers from the oven. Dip the top into a small bowl of melted butter and roll in everything mixture. Serve immediately or cool and freeze. To reheat, defrost and place in oven at 350° for about 15 minutes.

Will you be making a baked side for Thanksgiving? What is your go-to recipe?

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!

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Chef Samone Lett is the owner of Atlanta’s Wishful Concepts Catering & Personal Chef Services. She’s an APPCA member and I’m captivated by her tweets. Always looking to feature our fabulous members, I reached out to Samone to ask if she’d be interested in telling her story. It’s a fascinating one, as you’ll read below. We have such remarkable members!

It is hard to recount my journey from a homeless young woman following culinary school  to a successful chef. So, I’ll start from my beginning. As a small girl in Brooklyn, New York, I used to watch celebrities like Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and Jamie Oliver on the Food Network and prayed to God to give me a chance to be on this show as a contestant. Never in my wildest imagination did I see myself as a big chef hosting my own show on television. It’s still an aspiration!

But by God’s grace, my hard work and struggle has paid off and today I am a successful chef.

 

I was passionate about cooking as a small child. My father and grandmother taught me how to cook when I was nine, and I continued in the military, when at age 18 I enlisted into the U.S. Army as a Food Specialist and eventually was stationed in Germany. There I was exposed to kitchen management, food service, and cooking for large quantities of people. I later studied the intricacies of this profession at a culinary school. I studied Hospitality Management & Tourism and also graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with a degree in Culinary Arts. After graduating culinary school I took my chef bag began to aggressively pursue personal and private chef jobs. I had a set back in 2004, a year after my graduation, when I ended up homeless. My previous marriage, clients, and business fell apart and I was in a season of instability. I later wrote about it in my spiritual memoir, Lily In The Valley, published in 2007. After remarrying in 2010 the road to rebuilding Wishful Concepts Catering began and I was inspired to focus on my passion for culinary arts full-time.

I also worked in some restaurants in Orlando, but never felt satisfied as I had no direct interaction with guests. I could not know what they thought about the food I made for them. This was why I started my own catering business. I was hooked to the idea of becoming a personal chef given to me by Chef Candy. I relished the idea of running private events.

I worked under a few chefs for some time in Orlando. Wedding planner Michelle loved my work and mentored me to learn the finer details of this business. I learned how to set up a buffet and other plate events from her and still use her ideas in running my own company.

Salient highlights of my career

  • Our company focuses on customer experience and provides friendly services.
  • Besides being a chef, I have a passion to help other women in finding their identity and direction.
  • I have written five self-help books. Lily in the Valley is my autobiography.
  • I have worked hard to find a place in this male-dominated industry. Being a female chef, I also faced lots of discrimination.
  • My company has won Best Wedding award six times in a row from The Knot and have two Couples Choice awards from the Wedding Wire.
  • We are supplying food to the crew on the sets of movies.

My experiences as a contestant on Food Network

Food Network is the most popular channel among food lovers. I always admired this show and the judges who evaluated the dishes made by the contestants. I applied to become a contestant by sending my latest pictures. I was thrilled to pieces when I got an invitation in two weeks’ time. I underwent a tough interview process and was finally selected to be a contestant on Cooks vs. Cons, which aired in August 2017. This is a show where ordinary cooks are pitted against professional chefs with their identities concealed until the show has been completed and it is time to declare the winner.

The name of my episode was Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf. Contestants had to prepare a meatloaf in just 30 minutes, although it takes nearly 45 minutes for this job. It was a highly intense and stressful event where I knew my actions were being filmed and telecast live as I prepared a dish. There were no retakes or time to rectify mistakes and I had to get it right in whatever time I got. It was really tough to keep smiling and listening to the remarks of the men behind the cameras while preparing my dish. Cooking under the pressure of a time limit and in front of the judges was really very tough.

Not being able to stay in touch with family and friends for a long time was also a hard experience for me. But, the nerve wracking experience as a contestant on Cooks vs. Cons helped me in my preparation for the next show, Food Network Star. It was a once in a lifetime experience. It was definitely amazing to meet Chef Carla Hall, Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, and food author and TV host Daphne Oz! I had loads of fun and received love and warmth from the staff and the crew members of this show. They liked me so much that I was again called by Food Network to participate in Food Network Star. I could not believe my luck when I received the call from the channel for this show. I was on Season 14, which aired in Spring 2018. I thank my stars for finally getting recognition for my work as a chef.

Today, business is good and I’m currently focusing on personal chef services as we just moved to Atlanta. No matter what I’ve endured on my journey as a chef and business owner, my faith has consistently provided the resources and people I needed. I share my story from a perspective of showing others that anyone can fulfill their purpose in the midst of challenges and obstacles.

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I love winter squashes and have written about them a lot over the years. There are so many unique varieties that are so beautiful and versatile. The dense flesh transforms into perfect creamy soups for chilly days–and you can even make the soup in the squash itself. Roast them and, as you chefs well know, you get some magnificent sweet flavors that stand on their own, can be part of a stew, or can be turned into filling for ravioli. The baseball-sized ones are a perfect chalice for stuffing. They’re a one-dish meal. And, hey, I love chomping on roasted seeds.

Making stuffed squash is pretty easy and, of course, you can riff on any ingredients that sound great to you or your clients. When I made my dish recently I chose acorn squash for stuffing and farro as my grain but rice, quinoa, barley… any of them will be wonderful. You don’t have to include meat, but I enjoy a flavorful sausage. Instead of pork, I went with sweet Italian chicken sausage. I had a box of crimini mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a package of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese Blend, which is made up of asiago, fontina, parmesan, and mild provolone. Perfect. For me, sausages, mushrooms, onion, and garlic are a winning combo. You could also include sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins…the list is endless. You can add herbs or spices, but I think the Italian sausage has enough in them already and didn’t want to mask those flavors.


The first thing you do is par-bake the squash after cleaning it. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, pull out the seeds and then scrape the hole with a spoon to remove all the remaining fibrous material. Then put the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet and add water to surround the halves up to about a quarter inch. Cover them with foil and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until they are easily pierced by a fork.

While the squash is cooking you’ll make the filling. Put up your grains to cook. Chop your vegetables and fruit–I like adding apple or persimmon or citrus or pomegranate seeds to a savory filling. Then start sautéing.

I’ll give you a marvelous tip on sautéing mushroom slices that I learned from Alice Waters on a show she did many years ago with Julia Child. Leave them alone. That’s it. Add them to a hot pan with olive oil, spread them single layer, and just let them be until they brown. Then flip them over and leave them alone again. By not constantly stirring them you end up with beautifully caramelized mushrooms that taste phenomenal.

So, sauté the mushrooms and put them in a bowl. Sauté the onions and garlic, then add the diced apple and let them just brown. Add the sausage after removing the casing and poke it into small chunks as the meat cooks. When the sausage is browned, you’ll add back the mushrooms so the flavors can meld. Put the mixture back in the bowl, add your cooked grains and the cheese and mix well. The cheese will melt a bit to bind the ingredients. By then the squash should be cooked and out of the oven. Now some people scoop out the flesh, chop it up, and add it to the filling. Go ahead. I chose to keep it intact. Either way, rub a little olive oil on the inner surface of the squash and then fill the squash “bowl” with your very fragrant filling. Top with some more cheese and put them back in the oven (yes, keep the water in the pan) uncovered. You’ll cook the squash for another 15 minutes. Then serve or cover and refrigerate, then reheat before serving.

Stuffed Winter Squash with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, and Farro
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 round(ish) winter squash, about the size of a baseball
3 to 4 cups of cooked grains
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet Italian or spicy Italian sausage (about 8 ounces), casing removed
1 firm apple (I like Granny Smiths for this), peeled and diced
Olive oil for sautéing and to rub the cooked squash
1 cup shredded cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the squashed in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. You can reserve them to clean and toast as a snack. Using a spoon, scrape the remaining fiber off the surface of the squash flesh. Place all four halved cut side down on a baking sheet. Add enough water to rise about a quarter inch along the sides. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the skin. Remove the squash from the oven and turn them cut side up. Reserve.

While the squash is baking, make the grains and the stuffing. To make the stuffing, add oil to a pan and turn on the heat to medium. Add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan in one layer–you may have to sauté them in a couple of batches. Let the mushrooms cook on one side without disturbing them. As they shrink, they’ll brown. Then flip them over and let them cook on the other side until done. Add them to a large mixing bowl. Add more oil to the pan and sauté the onions and garlic until they turn golden. Add the diced apple and let them also cook to a golden color. Then add the sausage.

Crumble it as it cooks and let it cook until the pink of the raw meat turns to brown. Add back the mushrooms and stir together briefly. Put the mixture into the mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Add the grains and two-thirds of a cup of the grated cheese to the stuffing mixture and stir together to thoroughly combine the ingredients. By now the squash should be out of the oven and ready to be stuffed. Rub a little oil on the cooked flesh. Then scoop the mixture into the hollow of each squash half. It’s okay if it overflows a little. Top each half with the remaining cheese.

Return the squash to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately–or you can let it cool and refrigerate covered. Before you’re ready to serve it let it come to room temperature and then put back in a warm oven to reheat.

How do you prepare winter squash? Do you have a favorite? 

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.

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How do you and your clients feel about garlic? I’m an admitted fanatic. I just love the stuff. I also love ginger. Several years ago I wrote about grating and freezing ginger so it would always be on hand and I wouldn’t have shriveled roots that would inevitably be tossed. It’s been a great kitchen short cut as well as a waste reducer. Then I came across a piece in Bon Appétit extolling garlic season. Test kitchen manager Brad Leone offered up a wonderful garlic and ginger paste that combines the two with olive oil. He puts the paste in ice cube trays to freeze and then stores them in plastic freezer bags. Well, I was on it. Only instead of the ice cube trays, I used a small cookie scoop and froze the little flavor bombs on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, then popped them into a freezer bag. They’re remarkably versatile and so handy. You can use them to do a stir fry, make a vinaigrette, or add to soup or stew.


I happened to have bought a Cornish game hen, which I defrosted. Initially I was just going to roast it with garlic salt, smoked paprika, lemon juice, and olive oil. It’s sort of a lazy go-to for me for poultry. Then I recalled my ginger-garlic flavor bombs. Eureka! I took out half a dozen of them to let thaw and considered what else would work. I remembered the most marvelous chicken recipe in Deborah Schneider’s book, Baja! Cooking on the Edge. Her marinade of garlic, chipotles in adobo, salt, and oil is a classic in my cooking repertoire. So, I modeled a very different sauce on the concept. This one is made up of ginger, garlic, shichimi togarashi (a vibrant Japanese seasoning containing chili pepper, black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, basil, and Szechuan pepper), lime zest and juice, salt, and olive oil. It’s just a bit chunky, even pureed. Slather it all over the hens and let it penetrate the birds for at least a couple of hours but up to overnight.


In the past I’ve grilled Deb’s garlic chipotle birds and you can do that with this recipe, of course. But on this Sunday night I chose to roast the hen in my oven. I enjoyed it with small red, purple, and white potatoes rubbed in olive oil and garlic salt, with the hen resting on a pile of fresh baby spinach, dressed with its juices and a good squeeze of lime. The hen burst with bright ginger and citrus flavors and each bite ended with a bit of a kick of heat from the togarashi. After marinating for five hours, the flesh was moist, but the skin was perfectly crisp. And with the leftover marinade I gave a punch of flavor to a salmon fillet.

Ginger-Garlic Flavor Bomb Cornish Game Hens
Serves 2

Ingredients
6 ginger-garlic flavor bombs (directions on Bon Appétit), thawed
1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of half a lime
Pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Cornish game hens, trimmed and halved or quartered

Directions
In a small prep food processor or a blender, combine the first six ingredients and puree. You should have about a half a cup of marinade.

Slather ginger-garlic mixture all over Cornish game hen halves. Place in sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to overnight.

You can grill the hens or roast them in the oven. To roast, pre-heat oven to 375˚. Roast hens skin side up for an hour or until the skin is brown and juices flow clear.

What is your go-to marinade? What are your favorite flavor combinations?

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.

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Candy Wallace making introductions

Disciples Escoffier International has 10 new members. On Monday, October 8, the San Diego Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International held the first Disciples Escoffier International Induction and Celebration Dinner in Southern California.

Michel Escoffier with Chef Sharon Van Meter of Dallas, Texas

Presided over by Michel Escoffier, great-grandson of Auguste Escoffier and president of the Foundation Escoffier in France, the event–held at the Marine Room in La Jolla–honored:

  • Bernard Guillas, executive chef at the Marine Room
  • Patrick Ponsaty, chef de cuisine at 1500 Ocean
  • Jeffrey Strauss, owner/executive chef of Pamplemousse Grille
  • Mark Kropczynski, executive chef of U.S. Grant Hotel

2018 inductees with Michel Escoffier, Candy Wallace, and Mary Chamberlin

  • Javier Plascencia, executive chef/owner of Mision 19, Finca Altozano, Jazamando, Erizo and Cafe Saverios
  • Luis Gonzalez, executive chef/owner of Puesto Restaurant Group
  • Dame Flor Franco, executive chef/owner of Indulge and Franco’s on Fifth
  • Dame Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach, founder of Berry Good Food Foundation
  • Dame Maria Gomez Laurens, Past President of LDEI International/Hospitality Professional/Philanthropist
  • Dame Araceli Ramos, Director of Worldwide PR for Mundo Cuervo

Candy with her long-time friend Chef Jeremiah Tower

The event also drew culinary luminaries including Jeremiah Tower.

And who organized this stunning sunset evening? Our own Candy Wallace. Candy, of course, is not only a Dame, but she was inducted into Disciples Escoffier International USA in October 2014. Candy handled the behind-the-scenes work, from getting Guillas to hold the event at the Marine Room and managing the publicity to serving as the MC that evening. It was a stunning evening with a menu designed by Guillas and inspired by his early 1900’s Auguste Escoffier cookbooks.

Following the meal and induction ceremony presided over by Michel Escoffier, Candy, and Mary Chamberlin, there was both a silent auction and live auction run by Candy and Gomez-Laurens. Proceeds will fund educational scholarships and grant programs in San Diego.

Candy and Dennis Wallace

All I can say is you should have been there! You should be so proud of Candy!

What would you consider your greatest contributions to the culinary field? What do you aspire to?

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!

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I spend a lot of time on social media, much of it on behalf of APPCA. I started to notice a lot of interesting tweets coming from an APPCA member, Angela Capanna of Eat Your Heart Out Edibles. She serves South Jersey, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The tweets are engaging and fun. She clearly knows what she’s doing. So I asked her to share her strategy and approach. She generously has–and I hope she inspires you to do more and do it thoughtfully as part of your marketing strategy.

My website is the primary source of new leads for my business, Eat Your Heart Out, and social media has become a significant driver of traffic there – as well as direct inquiries, I might add. As a busy chef, I operate on the KISS principle (keep it short and simple!)…I use two main channels – Facebook and Instagram (eatyourheartoutedibles). I have Facebook set up to auto-post to Twitter (@EYHOEdibles) – two for the price of one! LOL).

I make sure to stay consistent with posting timing; I post by 10 a.m. and again between 5-7 p.m. daily. If I have time, I’ll do a third post in afternoon. That allows me to catch followers’ attention no matter what time of day they’re on social media. Another point of consistency is that I always use certain hashtags with every post. I do roughly the same posts on Facebook and Instagram, modifying if needed for format.

In terms of content, of course the majority of my posts have to do with meals that I am cooking, or recent catering events – always with at least one picture. (Here’s my Grilled Mediterranean Chicken and Quinoa Salad.)

I also try to post something “personal” a few times a week, as that really engages followers. (I have read studies on this, and I find this to be true with people I follow). Overall, with everything I post I try to represent my brand image. What I mean by “brand image” is that I like to keep my posts mostly about food/cooking/personal cheffing/catering, with a few personal posts about me – but never about politics, current events, etc. I always try to keep anything too personal off my EYHOE social media so that whatever I post ultimately points back to my business – food and cooking. I guess you could say that my brand image is one of a creative, somewhat adventurous, chef who takes food, but not herself, seriously.

One approach that I have found to generate a lot of “engagement” is my “Name that Food” game, where I post an unusual picture of a food, and ask my followers to identify it. I also suggest that they like and share the post to get their friends in on the fun – which can result in more followers for me! Then I post the answer, usually the next day, with a “normal” picture of the food, replying to/tagging the commenters to keep them involved. Here’s a close-up of a “Rambutan”, the edible fruit of a tree from Southeast Asia.

Once the prickly skin is peeled away, the fruit reveals a sweet and juicy flesh, with bitter seeds found in the center. The second picture is “the big reveal.”

I also use social media to promote my blog, “Annie’s Anecdotes.” Whenever I have a new blog post, I will post a lead-in and link to the blog on Facebook and Instagram, to generate blog readership.

While making these posts does take a certain amount of my time, I def think it is worth that investment. I love engaging/getting personal with my followers on social media. The best part of social media is the engagement with followers! After all, I am a “personal chef”! love going back and forth with them; their comments are often insightful.

Chefs, are you active on social media? What is your strategy? How’s it working?

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!

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