When I interviewed Katie Enterline and Mary Stewart of The Grateful Table for a post in May, I learned that Katie, with a Master’s Degree in Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science and Policy from Tufts University, has spent years engaged in building healthier food systems and making connections between food, people, and environmental health. So, when Candy and I discussed doing a blog post that addressed how personal chefs can bring more local and sustainable ingredients to their clients, Katie was the one I turned to for expertise. And, she readily agreed to help out. Here’s her take on why and how personal chefs can be the go-to resource for a better way to eat.
How to Get More Local and Sustainable Ingredients Into Client Meals
By Katie Enterline
As more people are starting to think about and care about where their food is coming from and looking for healthier, more sustainable food options, we as personal chefs have a unique opportunity to support our client’s desire in this area. Oftentimes, more sustainable ingredients are higher quality as well, allowing you to prepare the freshest seasonal meals for your clients. Whether this is already something of importance to you or you are looking to give your business a competitive edge, there are many ways you can start providing these options to clients.
Coming from the sustainable agriculture and food systems sector prior to launching The Grateful Table, purchasing sustainably produced and local products was very important to me and something I knew I wanted to incorporate into our business model. Eating sustainably produced whole foods is an investment in our health and the health of our planet. When we purchase local ingredients, we invest in our local farmers and the local economy and help to preserve family farms. We believe it is important to be mindful of the effects our food system has on the environment, public health, communities, and animal welfare and it is our mission to purchase organic and local products whenever possible.
Focusing on sustainable and local ingredients is a defining characteristic of our business model, which has at times been a deciding factor in why some clients choose us, and gives us a competitive edge while serving an ever-growing need.
At the same time, while it is a priority for us, it may not be one for our clients initially, but becomes an opportunity for us to help encourage and educate them on how to source and incorporate more healthy sustainable products that they might otherwise not do on their own. When it is not our client’s priority, we will work with them to stay within their budget and still try to purchase local and organic whenever we can.
Some ways we do this is to avoid purchasing fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues organically as indicated on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List. Additionally, we cost compare organic options vs. non-organic, which can sometimes be the same price or lower, and buy organic nuts, grains and beans in bulk sections by only purchasing the amount needed for a cook date. In addition, we can focus on either organic/local produce, or meat and seafood, whichever is most important to our client.
In the Washington, D.C. area, we have a few small- to mid-sized natural foods grocery chains that carry all or mostly organic produce and products with a large focus on local produce during the height of the growing season. We try to search for farms stands open daily in the summer close to our clients’ homes before heading to larger stores. We have also noticed many of the larger chain grocery stores increasing their organic offerings and at times local produce as well.
Additionally, through CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) and farm-to-home delivery businesses, we have found new creative ways to bring local products directly to our clients. Recognizing the growing movement toward local and organic, grocery delivery businesses such as Hometown Harvest are helping local farmers bring their vegetables, dairy, meats, and other grocery staples to consumers in our area. We can order their products online to be delivered directly to our clients’ homes the day of or day before our cook date.
Incorporating our clients CSA share into their menu planning has also been successful for us. This has worked very well with clients who like to support local farmers and they particularly love when we create something from vegetables that are unusual and they would have no idea what to do with, such as Pickled Japanese Turnips.
The demand for healthier, more sustainably produced foods is only going to continue to grow. Personal chefs can take advantage of this and make sure to offer these products to their clients. As demand continues to increase, there will also be many more ways to provide these products to our clients.
Are you helping your clients eat meals using more local, sustainable ingredients? If not, why not? And, if so, what are your strategies?
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.
Who doesn’t love a hand pie? It’s casual but sophisticated. You can eat the entire thing with impunity. Or two or three. And you can make endless varieties throughout the year to reflect the seasons.
Empanadas are the quintessential savory hand pie. I’ve enjoyed them with a flaky pastry crust but I really love these empanadas wrapped in house-made flour tortillas that San Diego chef Osvaldo Blackaller of Cueva Bar taught me how to make earlier this year.
Not only are these a great dish for you to add to your weekly client repertoire, but they make for great dinner party/event menus when tied into a Mexican/Latin theme. Add a chimichurri sauce and you’re all set.
You can make empanadas with any kind of filling. The three Blackaller introduced me to are chicken with gorgonzola, brisket and sauteed onions, and chorizo with smashed potatoes. It was hard to pick a favorite. Each was packed with intriguing flavors with moist, tender fillings and a crispy pastry. I couldn’t choose which I wanted to feature so you get the recipes for all three fillings. But first let’s address making the dough. It’s not at all difficult, but as I experienced, the more you make these the better they’ll come out–and whatever you don’t use for the empanadas can be enjoyed as quesadillas or soft tacos. They freeze well, too.
Cueva Bar Worldwide Empanadas
from Chef Osvaldo Blackaller
Yield: 20 tortillas
5 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces sparkling water (more or less, depending on how the dough comes together)
1. Mix the flour, salt, and shortening until flakes of shortening are formed.
2. Add 10 ounces of sparkling water and start kneading until its almost integrated. Touch for consistency and, if necessary, add more water slowly until the dough comes together–neither too moist or too dry. Don’t overknead.
3. Cover dough and let rest for at least an hour before using.
4. When you’re ready to roll out the dough, pull out individual pieces about the size of a golf ball. Smooth it into a small disc and gently fold over the edges to create one smooth side. Then roll out the disc to the size of a corn tortilla–about eight inches.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. Add 2 ounces (or 2 1/2 tablespoons of the filling) to the center of the tortilla. Fold one side over the filling and crimp the edges to seal. Brush the top with either an egg wash (2 eggs, beaten) or a blend of chili oil and olive oil. Cut slits on the top to let the steam escape while baking.
7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.
And here are recipes for each of the fillings. Notice that for the chicken empanadas, Chef Oz creates an upright empanada in the style of a rooster’s coxcomb. For the chorizo, he shapes the empanadas into bull horns. Only the brisket has the traditional side shape with crimping.
Chicken Filling for Empanadas
4 pounds boneless chicken breast
6 cups finely diced onion
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon curry powder
2 cups water
1 cup vinegar
1. Prepare chicken marinade by mixing all spices and vinegar.
2. Grind chicken breast or finely dice.
3. Mix spice marinade with ground chicken. Marinate for 30 minutes before cooking
4. Brown onions.
5. Add chicken and cook on medium heat.
6. Stir thoroughly and add water.
7. Turn heat to medium low and let simmer until 90 percent of the juice is reduced.
8. Remove from heat and let cool before using it for empanadas.
Braised Beef Brisket Filling for Empanadas
5-pound brisket, marinated
2 cups red wine
4 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Mix together dry ingredients and olive oil. Rub brisket with mixture and store overnight.
The next day:
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Add wine to brisket. Place brisket in oven and oven sear for 15 minutes.
3. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and braise for 4 1/2 hours. Turn the oven off and allow brisket to sit in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove brisket from oven and shred the meat for the filling.
Beef Chorizo Monclova Filling for Empanadas
Chorizo Spice Marinade
4 Tablespons of salt
20 Guajillo Peppers
16 Ancho Peppers
1 cup of white vinegar
6 tablespoons of paprika
16 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons dry marjoram
2 teaspoons ground, toasted coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1. Place peppers in low boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes, or until soft.
2. Grind all spices and herbs together.
3. Discard about 80 percent of the water from peppers and blend peppers.
4. Strain the pepper blend to get rid of all seeds.
5. Place smooth blended pepper mix back in blender, add vinegar, spices, and garlic. Puree until smooth. Taste spice level and adjust accordingly.
7. Cover and set aside until ready to use.
To make chorizo:
Chorizo spice marinade above
5 pounds ground beef
Mix spice marinade with ground beef until is well blended. Allow to cure for 2 days before using.
Have you ever made your own flour tortillas? What new dishes are you introducing to your party repertoire?
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.
Fresh From Your Kitchen’s Leslie Guria has a plan–and that’s to launch a food blog to complement her personal chef business. “I’m going to start with a few topics… recipes, farmers markets, cookware reviews, organization, then ultimately focus on the areas that bring in the most traffic,” she explains.
Like many aspiring bloggers, this APPCA member is interested in developing a passive stream of income and Leslie’s studying food photography and monetizing to make that happen. Unlike many who have these dreams, she has a background in small business marketing, so she’s confident that she can make a go of it.
Food blogs can serve a number of purposes for personal chefs. They can help promote your business. They can promote you as an expert and even a brand. They can allow you to go off into areas of interest that feed your soul even if they aren’t directly related to what you do day to day. And, if you’re very smart, very talented, a workhorse, and lucky, they can create a new revenue stream.
But you’re up against a lot of competition. It’s impossible to know just how many food blogs are out there, but there are millions and the numbers keep growing. The trick is to find your niche. Is it recipes, cocktails, vegetarianism, special diets, produce, regional food, restaurant reviewing, your grandma’s traditional Italian cooking?
For APPCA member Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food her blog is named for her passion, A Cookbook Obsession. Carol has put more research and effort into the care and maintenance of her blog than most. She began with having it attached to her business website, but didn’t see a lot of traffic coming in–mostly, she deduced, because another blogger had already established his blog with the same name as her business using .net instead of .com. He already had sewn up the “athoughtforfood” social media handles, too. (Lesson #1, if you can, purchase as many suffixes for your beloved business name as you can afford.)
So, after suffering a knee injury last year that put her out of commission for several months, she spent her time studying food photography. She also realized that her business was taking a physical toll on her and that she might have to give it up someday. At that point Carol decided that, “it would be nice to have something food-related to fall back on or already have in the works if that time ever comes, and A Cookbook Obsession was officially born.”
Carol has collected about 1,200 cookbooks over the years and uses these and new ones coming in as the source of inspiration for blogging. “It’s where I share recipes from my cookbooks that inspire me along with my original recipes. Because of copyright laws, you can not reprint or republish recipes as printed, so I always state ‘inspired by’ or ‘adapted from’ and write the recipe as I made it. My plan is to become more of a ‘cookbook resource’ for readers. I’ve added doing cookbook reviews through Blogging for Books, which is great because I can now get free cookbooks in exchange for the review.”
It’s no coincidence that these talents have helped her writing a biweekly food feature, Dinner for Two, for the local Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal. Now in its fourth year, she’s written more than 100 pieces for the paper.
Chef Natalie Lewis launched Natalie’s Daily Crave on her business website about five years ago. “I started it simply because I want to share all of my food experiences with other people. I want everyone to be as excited as I am about the food I’m tasting and the recipes I create or find! Food is way more fun when it’s enjoyed with others. I would describe Natalie’s Daily Crave as a blog for the home cook with recipes that are approachable and straight forward. It’s geared towards people who enjoy cooking and I like to provide recipes you can keep in your back pocket for those special days when you want to make something just a little different than the norm.”
For Natalie, blogging takes a lot of time because she does it all herself–both recipe development and taking photos. A friend who is a professional photographer has helped her with tips along the way, but it can sometimes take hundreds of photos to get just that right shot–and that’s after figuring out staging and making the dish look appetizing.
“That fork resting on the side of the table? The perfectly folded napkin tucked under the plate? All of that is carefully thought out to achieve a desired look,” she notes. “I admire food photographers who do it for a living and I’ve learned so much about the effort it takes. Oh, and I haven’t even gotten to the actual writing and posting yet. Let’s just say it’s definitely a labor of love!”
Some bloggers post daily, some post weekly or twice a week. Natalie tries to post monthly or at least around holidays, knowing that she’s developed enough of a history for people to find recipes when looking for something specific. For her, it’s a way for her to express herself and have a platform. “Making others happy and getting them excited about food is exactly what fuels my passion. I also think it’s a great way for clients and potential clients to see what I’m up to on a personal level.”
Given Carol’s intention of monetization, her approach is much more driven. Like Natalie, she’s immersed in cooking dishes, photographing them, uploading and editing photos and writing the post–she estimates it can take four to six hours. And she does this twice a week.
The killer is the promotion.
“This is one thing that totally took me by surprise,” she says. “The amount of time to promote a food blog is staggering. First, you need to make sure Google can find your post and recipe so a little knowledge about SEO is helpful. I use a WordPress plug-in that keeps me on track for that. I then send out an e-mail to my subscriber list, pin it to Pinterest, Yummly, StumbleUpon, Instagram, Facebook, Google Plus, and photo sharing sites such as FoodGawker, Tastespotting, Tasteologie, Dishfolio, Healthy Aperture, Finding Vegan, and, if I’m using some type of hot pepper, Jalapeno Mania. I don’t do Twitter yet because it’s already difficult to keep up with social media.”
She also posts to Pinterest group boards–which, in turn, requires you to pin others’ content to your various boards. And she has her own Facebook pages, as well as participates in several Facebook groups and sharing groups.
Monetizing is also something Carol’s working on.
“I recently began placing ads on my site through a few ad networks. But, there too, you have to have some traffic to speak of and they have to like what they see. Most bloggers start with Google or Amazon. I won’t be retiring on the income anytime soon, but ads are one of the first steps in monetizing a blog. You can also add ‘affiliate links.’ This is where a person or company has a product to sell and you place a link to purchase that product on your blog. If someone buys the product through your site, you get a commission. I have two affiliate links on my website: MasterCook recipe management software and the Tasty Food Photography book mentioned earlier.”
Down the road? Perhaps writing sponsored posts for brands or selling her own e-book or e-cookbook.
So, what tips do Natalie and Carol have for aspiring food bloggers?
1. Have good photography.
2. Join food blogger Facebook groups to ask questions and get support.
3. Do your research to decided which blogging platform to use, whether Blogger (Google-owned), WordPress, SquareSpace, or something else–including just adding it to your website. Will you do it yourself or hire a website developer? In either case, you need to have an idea of a look you want and how you want to organize your content.
And, says Natalie, “My number one tip is to just be yourself and don’t worry about anyone else. It’s not easy to put yourself out there in front of the world, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you cook, there is always someone who won’t like what you have to say. Be true to yourself and do your own thing!”
Do you have a food blog? Why did you launch it and how have you promoted it?
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.
In the years I’ve known San Diego chef Sara Polczynski, I’ve watched her evolution from primarily a pastry chef into an accomplished creator of Mexican and Central American dishes. Her passion for this region has taken her into a number of Latin American countries, where she makes a study of the ingredients and their preparation. It also led to her being named the consulting chef for a popular downtown San Diego eatery called The Blind Burro. Last summer Sara invited me to her home to teach me three dishes that are perfect examples of coastal Mexico’s influence on her–which is, of course, perfect for neighboring San Diego. The day was hot and steamy–yet she didn’t break a sweat and the results were truly refreshing for lunch. But these dishes translate to most other regions across the U.S. and deserve to make it into your rotation for summer parties you’re catering.
Sara also gave me several great tips. Most are incorporated in the recipes, but one stands out. That is to “deflame” onions that are to be eaten raw. White onions, which are typically the variety used in Mexican cooking, can be harsh in their raw state. Deflaming simply means running the diced onion under cold water for 30 seconds to eliminate the bite. You’ll see this instruction in her guacamole recipe, which is actually a base for other recipes–although you can, of course, eat it plain.
So, what did she make? As I mentioned, there’s guacamole, but instead of your run-of-the-mill smashed avocado dip this is a bright and flavor-packed Mango and Shrimp Guacamole. She starts with a basic guacamole, then makes a refreshing mango salsa that, again, you can serve on its own as a sauce over proteins or to top tacos. To this combo she adds chopped shrimp that she quickly poached, cooled, then marinated with olive oil, lime juice, and sea salt.
Then there was her Moon Scallop Aguachiles Tostada. Yes, you can use any other type of scallop but moon scallops are so sweet and have such a nice firm texture that they stand out in each bite. Aguachile is a puree of serrano chiles, lime juice, and salt. That’s your spicy, acidic marinade for the scallops, which are then chopped and combined with cucumbers, sea salt, and cilanto, then bedded onto a crispy flat corn tortilla (you can find them at Mexican markets) smothered in smashed avocado and topped with pickled onions and cilantro.
Finally, there was her unique and cooling Shaved Baby Squash and Blossom Salad. This colorful dish is so easy to make and really takes advantage of the bounty of summer squash we’re about to enjoy. All you need is a mandoline or hand slicer to get long thin strips of the squash that you’ll add to the delicate yellow squash blossoms, diced red pepper, and greens like arugula. Add a terrific vinaigrette and you’re set–although you could also add beans, shrimp, roasted corns, beets, nuts, seeds, cheese, or berries. The squash ribbons will soften slightly as they absorb the dressing, but still have an enjoyable crunch. Yes, it’s quite versatile, not to mention brilliantly colorful.
In fact, Sara says that color is one of her greatest influences in her cooking. “Why wouldn’t it be?,” she laughs. “It makes you happy when you eat!”
Mango and Shrimp Guacamole
from Sara Polcyznski
Yield: 2 cups
Both the salsa and the guacamole can be served separately but combine them and add shrimp and you’ve got a uniquely flavored dish. For the salsa, Sara says the key is a small dice to make it pretty.
1/3 red bell pepper, small dice
1 mango, small dice (Tip, to slice the mango meat from the large seed, cut off the base, peel off the skin, the set on the counter and slice down.)
1/2 green onion, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/2 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Salt to taste
Mix together all of the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste.
Plain Guacamole Base
2 pounds avocado
3/4 ounce cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces diced white onion, deflamed (run under cold water for 30 seconds after dicing)
Lightly mash the avocado with a potato masher and blend with the remaining ingredients (keeping the mixture slightly chunky for better texture).
1 pound raw shrimp, deveined and with tails removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Fill a bowl with water and ice. Set aside. Bring water in a medium-size saucepan to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook briefly, just until the shrimp turn a light pink. Scoop out and place in the ice water bath to shock and stop the shrimp from cooking. Remove, drain, and loosely chop (Set several whole ones aside to garnish the dish). Then add olive oil, lime juice, and sea salt. Mix well.
When the salsa, guacamole, and shrimp are made, combine them and mix well. Plate and serve with chips.
Moon Scallop Aguachiles Tostadas
from Sara Polcyznski
1 1/4 cups fresh lime juice
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh serrano chiles, stemmed
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 pound moon scallops
1 Persian cucumber, sliced thin
3 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and smashed with salt and lime juice
8 flat crispy corn tostadas (available at Mexican markets)
1/4 cup pickled onions
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves for garnish
To prepare the moon scallop marinade, combine the lime juice, chiles, and salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings. Poor over the scallops and marinate for up to an hour.
Chop the scallops, and add the cucumbers, sea salt, and minced cilantro.
Top each tostada with some smashed, seasoned avocado. The add the aguachile moon scallop mixture. Top with pickled onions and cilantro.
Shaved Baby Squash and Blossom Salad
from Sara Polczynski
Yield: 1 quart
1 pound baby squash (the smaller, the sweeter), sliced thin lengthwise to better absorb the dressing
2 cups greens, like arugula
1/4 diced shallot
1/3 (or 1/4 cup) red bell pepper, small dice
Salt and pepper to taste
8 squash blossoms, stamen removed
Vinaigrette of your choice
Toss the heavy vegetables with the dressing first. Let sit so that the squash softens slightly. Add sea salt and pepper to taste.
Add greens and carefully tear apart and add the blossoms. Add more vinaigrette to taste. Marinate five to 10 minutes and serve.
What are some of your favorite ethnic cuisines? What dishes do you make for clients that borrow from them?
A little over a week ago, we came across this piece from The Kitchn about how to help you cook faster. Since time is money for a personal chef, we posted this on our Facebook feed. Then we got to thinking about tips even more specific to personal chefs–ways that you can focus more on the important stuff, the quality of the food you prepare, and less on the more admittedly aggravating stuff that you have to do to expedite your time.
As Candy notes, classic personal chef service cook dates are unique in that you are transporting ingredients and often a mobile cooking kit to prepare your clients’ custom-designed meals in the safety of their kitchen. Organization is key because you’re preparing multiple entrees and side dishes in a residential kitchen–and you have to do it in a timely and safe way.
So, below are 11 tips that Candy has compiled that should help you make the most of the time you spend in the kitchen so you can stay cool and collected and make your clients happy.
1. Menu plan not only from a standpoint of a full range of taste and textures, but also from a standpoint of stove time and available appliances.
2. When you get to the kitchen, set the oven to 375 degrees and leave it at that level for the day. Adjust the time to finish cook rather than the temperature.
3. Finish entrees and even some sides in the oven to free stovetop burners for searing and sauteeing.
4. If your client enjoys pulled pork or braised entrees, use a slow cooker for the entrée. Need more burners? An electric pressure cooker can actually be used as an additional burner, and can be used for multiple purposes during the cook date. You can make stocks in a pressure cooker in about 15 minutes.
5. If you cool it, store it in 2-cup containers and freeze it, you can defrost, enhance it and use it on a future cook date for the client’s enjoyment.
6. Making fresh marinara for your client? Double the recipe, cool it, and store it for an entrée on your next cook date.
7. Take a pasta cooker with a drain insert on a client cook date for multiple uses. You can blanch vegetables for side dishes while building layers of flavor in the water that can then be used to cook pastas or starch side dishes.
8. To expedite cooling, place several half sheets or quarter sheets in the freezer. When removing hot food from the stove or oven, spread or pour the food onto the chilled half sheet and place on a rack on the counter top to cool.
9. When packing your car always transport proteins and perishables in your vehicle in a cooler or a personal chef choice of a soft-sided thermal bag on wheels with a telescopic handle along with blue ice for safe transport.
10. Buy a 10-pound bag of ice on your way out of the grocery store to use as an ice bath for cooling food at the client’s kitchen.
11. If the client’s kitchen isn’t well ventilated you may want to purchase several small battery-operated fans for the counter top to circulate air AROUND The area where you are cooling entrees to expedite the process…remember NEVER direct the air directly at or onto the food that is being cooled.
What are some of your tricks for efficiently working your cook date? Please share them below in the comments section!
Family businesses are always risky. It requires careful choreography between parents and children or siblings or spouses for everything to go just right. Not only money is at stake, but also family relationships. But when it works, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of sharing responsibilities and joys and the craziness with a family member.
For Mary Stewart and Katie Enterline of The Grateful Table, a personal chef business based in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the idea came from daughter Katie, who had been working long hours for nonprofits in the food and agriculture sector and had a Master’s Degree in Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science and Policy from Tufts University. It seemed a natural since the two had cooked together for a long time for big family meals.
“I wanted to start a family and wanted something more flexible,” she recalled. “I told Mom she should cook for a living and that I knew people would pay us to cook for them. She loved the idea. Even in grad school I used to think I wish I could just cook for people.”
Katie had a colleague who had been a personal chef and through talking with her realized that there was a name for what she wanted to do, an actual profession. She searched Google and found the APPCA. “We got training. There were answers for how to do this. That’s what made it real.” And in May 2013, they launched their business after an April APPCA training.
Mary, a self-taught cook with a passion for fresh, mostly unprocessed ingredients, and Katie developed a business plan and gradually figured out how logistically it would work with two of them as chefs.
“Initially we worked together nonstop as we were learning, but as the business grew and we got more clients it made more sense for us to separate. So now we each see four clients a week,” Mary explained.
But the team tries to go on initial consultations with new clients together so clients can meet both women and they can cover for each other if necessary. In the past year, that did become necessary when Katie gave birth to her first child.
They also have business division of labor. “Katie is wonderful doing the website and Facebook,” Mary said. “By default I do the finances. We bounce ideas off each other. This can be a very solitary profession. We love the support we get through the APPCA and our Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter (MARC), but it’s great to have a partner to share with.”
To that end, they have rules as business partners. “It’s really important,” said Mary. “We have to separate business issues from family issues. We have to know when to compartmentalize. I have other kids so we don’t want to be at family gatherings and just talk business.”
The duo cooks what they describe as good, fresh, healthy meals that they personalize for clients, many of whom have special dietary needs. “We both have clients with dietary restrictions,” Mary said. “My initial client was on chemo but also wanted to stick with her Weight Watchers plan, so I needed to build recipes that were really personalized to deal with her health issues and preferences.
“I like that challenge of making the food really personalized to the client. I love the research part of it when I’m faced with cooking for special diets,” she added.
Their menus are seasonally oriented and Katie has even gotten clients to have farm-fresh produced delivered to their homes so she and Mary can cook with it. “One of our clients has a CSA and tells me what’s in the box so I can work with it,” Katie noted.
The partners recently attended the MARC meeting held nearby at the home of chapter president Shelbie Wassel. They were asked to demonstrate a dessert so they showed their colleagues how they make a lemon tart with coconut whipped cream. “We wanted to show a nondairy alternative to whipping cream,” said Mary, “and I wanted to show how easy lemon curd is to make.”
Meyer Lemon Molten Lava Cakes
Adapted from Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Yield: 8 servings
1/2 cup butter
1 (4-oz) white chocolate baking bars, broken into chunks
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 whole eggs
4 eggs (yolks only)
3/4 cup lemon curd (see attached recipe)
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Heavy Whipping Cream, sweetened, whipped or (see attached Coconut Whipped Cream recipe)
1 cup fresh raspberries
Mint sprigs, if desired
Heat oven to 425°F. Grease 8 (6-ounce) custard cups. Place onto ungreased 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking pan; set aside.
Place butter and baking bar in 2-quart pan over low heat and melt, stirring frequently until smooth. Or microwave 1 minute; stir. Continue microwaving, stirring every 15 seconds, 60 to 90 seconds or until melted and smooth.
Stir in flour and powdered sugar; mix well. Add eggs, egg yolks, lemon curd and lemon zest; beat with wooden spoon or whisk until blended.
Pour evenly into prepared custard cups. Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until edges are golden brown and center is puffy and just beginning to set. Let stand 10 minutes. Run tip of knife around edge of custard cup to loosen. Invert onto individual dessert plates. Shake to loosen. Sprinkle tops with powdered sugar. Serve with whipped cream. Garnish with fresh raspberries and mint sprigs, if desired.
This is a great make-ahead dessert recipe. Batter can be refrigerated up to 24 hours before baking. Bake them when you are finishing dinner and they will be ready when you want to serve dessert.
From Gourmet Magazine
Yield: 1 1/3 cups
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
3 large eggs
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into bits
Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 6-10 minutes or until reaches 170 degrees F.
Transfer lemon curd to a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.
Cooks’ note: Curd can be chilled up to 1 week.
Tips for making lemon curd:
Most recipe involve either a double boiler or straining through a sieve or even tempering eggs. Others use a mixer and several pieces of equipment. However, it can be made more quickly and simply with less equipment and less mess.
1. Strain the egg yolks first. Add lemon juice to help push it through the sieve. This removes the white solids that adhere to the egg yolks and cause lumps.
2. Use lemon sugar. Rubbing lemon zest into granulated sugar helps release the oils–and it can be stored and used for cakes, lemon bread, and other dishes.
3. The key to avoiding curdled, lumpy or scrambled curds is to mix ingredients all together until smooth, cook slowly over low heat, and stir constantly until the mixture reach 170 degrees. Do not boil.
Coconut Whipped Cream
Yield: 2 1/2 cups
1, 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
1/4 – 3/4 cup powdered sugar – to taste
Optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or almond extract
Chill your coconut milk can in the fridge overnight.
Chill a large mixing bowl and beaters 10 minutes before whipping.
Remove the can from the fridge without tipping or shaking and remove the lid. Scrape out the top, thickened cream and leave the liquid behind (can use in smoothies).
Note: If your coconut milk didn’t harden, you probably just got a dud can without the right fat content. In that case, you can try to salvage it with a bit of tapioca flour (1 to 4 tablespoons).
Place cream, powdered sugar and vanilla (if using) and mix until creamy and smooth – about 1 minute.
Use immediately or refrigerate. It will harden and set in the fridge the longer it’s chilled.
Will keep for 1 to 2 weeks.
Are you considering launching a personal chef business with a family member? What are your concerns? How are you addressing them?
How many of you cater brunch parties? How many of you get requests from clients for easy breakfast treats?
My friend, San Diego chef Vivian Hernandez-Jackson, is a first-generation Cuban American, born and raised in Miami, who infuses her Cuban heritage into a variety of pastries and sandwiches, which she sells at her popular Ocean Beach eatery Azúcar. I spent some time with her in her kitchen and learned how to make these crazy delicious scones.
Initially I was confused. Why would scones–traditionally British fare–figure so prominently on her menu? Then I learned that while attending Le Cordon Bleu in London, she worked at Claridges and made hundreds upon hundreds of scones. They became as much a part of her repertoire as the other pastries she learned to make.
Back in the States, Vivian figured out ways to give a tropical, Cuban flair to traditional pastries–adding coconut and macademia nuts to Florentine Bars, and key limes, mojito mint, mango, Cuban rum, and passion fruit to her many other sweets–and to improve the ingredients of the Cuban foods she grew up enjoying. So, no lard or margarine are in her doughs; it’s good butter. And her pastries are baked in real time.
How does she do it? Well, this is why I thought you’d enjoy learning the recipe. She prepares the dough in advance, scoops it into individual scones, and puts them on trays raw in the freezer to be baked first thing the following morning and throughout the day as needed. It alleviates the stress of making and baking early in the morning and reduces waste. Plus, customers get freshly baked treats throughout the day. On major holidays, like Thanksgiving, Vivian sells the frozen scoops of scone dough, with the icing and instructions, to customers the day before so they can bake them off the day of the holiday to have fresh, hot pastries.
How does this relate to you? Well, not only can you make these in advance of cooking for a catering gig, but you can make the dough for clients and leave them with baking instructions. It’s not at all complicated, as you’ll see, and the scones can easily be baked to order in just a toaster oven (as I did with the ones Vivian gave me).
Trust me, you’ll thank me for this!
Key Lime White Chocolate Scones
from Vivian Hernandez-Jackson, Azúcar
Makes 9 large scones
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter cold diced
3/4 cup buttermilk
zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons key lime juice (You can find containers of Nelly & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice at major supermarkets.)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
For key lime icing:
1/4 cup key lime juice
1 cup powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 325˚.
2. With mixer on low speed and using paddle attachment, combine dry ingredients. Add the cold diced butter and blend until the mixture resembles wet sand and no large pieces butter remain.
3. Pour in the buttermilk, zest, and juice. Mix until all are combined, then gently mix in white chocolate chips/chunks.
4. Scoop scones onto a sheet pan with parchment paper that has been sprayed with baking spray. Place about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with a bit of sugar before baking.
At this point you can freeze them and bake off when needed.
If baking fresh: 25-30 minutes
If baking frozen: 30-35 minutes
When scones come out of the oven, drizzle with key lime icing. If you have leftover scones the following day, reheat them briefly in the microwave just to warm them inside before eating.
What’s your favorite pastry to make for clients? What’s your strategy for preparing them in advance?
Being a personal chef does not strictly limit you to preparing meals for clients for them to eat throughout the week. Personal chefs can wear a number of other hats, including catering. And while your food may be just as tasty when you store it in a container as when it’s served on at the table, when it comes to creating a dinner party or other event, you need some additional skills in your arsenal.
One of them is the art of plating.
New York City APPCA member Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist prides himself on his plating skills. He’s been a personal chef since 2004 and, as he says, “I still pinch myself now and then to make sure I’m not dreaming that people pay me to pursue my passion for cooking.”
Jim takes great pride in listening to his clients’ wants and needs and responding to them to ensure they are getting what they expect. As he says, “While being a business owner I have parameters and the ability to say no, but I maintain that flexibility is the most important part of the personal in being a personal chef.”
As we all know, there’s not much that motivates us to work harder and with more pride than a compliment from a client. Jim gets these regularly. Most recently, he says that after a dinner party he catered, “The host said that everything was delicious and well-presented and that he was impressed with my creativity and talent as a chef. While I enjoy being paid nothing makes one feel better than hearing compliments like that.”
We want you to get that same buzz of excitement from praise, so Jim has written this piece for us that shares his successful plating philosophy.
Recently, I was involved in a discussion about plating for dinner parties, how to balance the needs to make the food look awesome vs. the need to get the food out while it is still hot. In a commercial/restaurant kitchen with a staff this is probably a no brainer. It’s not as easy in a client’s kitchen designed for family convenience. In the beginning stages of my business I fretted over this and finally developed a formula that works for me and has pleased my clients.
In a simplified form my philosophy is to wow them with a great looking appetizer/first course and an interesting appearing dessert. Not that the courses in between should be sloppily served, but frequently the main entrees are a modest serving on the dinner plate atop or alongside the side dish. A sprinkling of a chopped herb, a dusting of paprika, droplets of flavored oil or drizzle of balsamic glaze can provide a decorative as well as a taste-boosting factor to the basic plate.
Based on the hostess’ preference we often plate the Wow First Course and have it on the table when the diners arrive at the table. This provides a great way to bring the conversation to a halt and get people seated and eager to start their meal. Other hostesses prefer everyone to sit and then service to begin. This also provides for switch in the conversation to the food and its appearance. Either way, we eat with our eyes first and this is the ice-breaker for what is to come.
The first example, my Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Napoleon is playing up the values of color and elevation. By choosing to alternate red and golden beet slices we have actually enhanced the strength of the brightness of each color. Garnishes such as the puree, the chopped pistachios, microgreens, and pistachio oil take the plate beyond just a vessel to eat from. Obviously white plates are the easiest to show off color.
The second example brings the plate more into the picture, White Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto. The plate’s leaf shape and color offset the bland color of the white asparagus. Keeping everything flatter, closer to the vessel keeps the plate in focus. The reddish brown of the Crispy Prosciutto draws the eye across the plate making it seem larger than it is. The garnishing elements of baby arugula, chives, and breakfast radishes are there to provide that sharp visual contrast to the blanched asparagus. It is finished with a simple Lemon/Garlic/Chive Vinaigrette to provide a subtle hint of yellow and green with a sprinkling of lemon zest for a flavor boost. Not shown in the picture are antique salt dishes, each filled with Himalayan pink salt for dipping the radishes.
I apologize for the third picture being out of focus but I think the idea is clearly represented with the Steamed Artichoke with Cherry Tomato & Red Onion Salad. This was a way to add pop of color to a food vessel that under the best of circumstances looks tired and/or worn out: the steamed artichoke. This is bumped up by topping it with an Heirloom Cherry Tomato & Red Onion Salad.
The sheer simplicity of the presentation focuses everyone’s attention to a classic table setting. The dish is served on glass plates over the dinner plate and charger and coordinating placemats on a glass table top. The diner eats the artichoke petals, which are marinating in the salad’s vinaigrette, as well the salad. Heartier appetites dig out the heart and enjoy that as well.
The next picture is of a Hummus Trio hors d’oeuvre. Sometimes the simpler vessel highlights the color contrasts. We have Classic Hummus in the center with basil leaves peeking out, Edamame & Cilantro Hummus on the left with a radicchio leaf, and finally Roasted Beet & Horseradish Hummus with endive petals.
On the subject of color coordination, a dessert buffet provided a happy accident when we were able to use a glass tray to show off the fabulous tablecloth while highlighting the Raspberry Nutella Tarts. This shows that massive quantities can also have that wow factor in the sheer number of items on a given vessel.
And finally a busy plate of mini desserts provides an array of sweets that have individual eye appeal. Clockwise from the top are: Key Lime Pie Shooters, Red Velvet Whoopie Pie, Brownie Drowned in Ganache with a Raspberry, and a client-provided chocolate chip cookie.
Truth be told we don’t often have the opportunity to pre-plan all our presentations when working with a new client if we have not seen their choice of dinnerware. In my experience I’ve had to deal with blue Wedgewood prints, gold-encrusted florals, black and white Paisley, purple pebble appetizer plates, even once Dineresque Beige Melamine! That means I have to draw on a good eye and some of the approaches mentioned here to create a visually exciting presentation on the spur of the moment.
In a nutshell, my philosophy is to visually wow them at the beginning of the meal, meet their expectations with hot tasty entrees and sides, and then wow them again at the meal’s end with colorful desserts that don’t promote that end-of-the-meal laden feeling.
How have you honed your plating skills? Have any additional techniques to share?
We’re very proud of the efforts made by our Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter (MARC) to bring our members in the area together as an additional resource to network and share information. This year, Shelbie Wassel of Shallots Personal Chef Service in Owings Mills, Maryland is the chapter president and she organized and hosted their recent spring meeting. Shelbie has written a wrap up of the meeting and Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food in Memphis supplied us with photos. Thank you both for your contribution!
Our MARC group celebrated the arrival of spring with a two-day meeting based at my home, but with a number of outings and speakers.
We began with dinner Friday night at a funky little restaurant called Alchemy in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. The next morning the meeting went into full swing with over 20 attendees from New York down to Virginia. We also had Chef Carol Borchardt visit us from Memphis!
After a breakfast that featured homemade gravlax with bagels ( a special thank you to Judy Harvey for making the tuna stuffed eggs, when I ran out of time) and a beautiful breakfast cake made by Chef Peggy Haser, we held a short business meeting. Laura Knight (A Knight’s Feast) reviewed our bank account and we elected Keith Steury (The Food Sherpa) as our new secretary. We also had the group quite excited when we announced the current planning of a trip to Alsace, France to be hosted by MARC member, Chef Bernard Henry.
Our keynote speaker was Joan Norman, owner and operator of One Straw Farm, one of the largest farms in the state. The farm not only services many of the finest restaurants in town, but also runs a huge CSA. Joan shared stories of her 30 years in the farming business and discussed the use of biodegradable mulch film and how that distinguishes her farm from those that claim to be 100 percent organic.
Our next speaker was Dara Bunyon, a local Baltimore food blogger, whose business, Dara Does It, dabbles in all things food. She shared interesting tidbits from her blogs, such as the top items that people steal from restaurants! (Not just salt shakers!)
Our third speaker for the morning, MARC’s very own, Lettie Lavalle (Leave Dinner to Lettie), is also a social media expert. Lettie walked us through the confusing maze of various sites and helped to demystify the ever-growing world of social media and how it relates to personal chefs.
Lunch time provided an opportunity to chat with friends and enjoy an all-salad buffet that featured a duck confit salad over baby greens and spinach with dried cherries and a curried chicken salad with homemade mango chutney as an accompaniment.
After lunch, Mary Stewart and her daughter Katie Enterline of The Grateful Table presented a kitchen demo for us. Mary prepared individual lemon curd soufflés, similar to chocolate lava cakes. Katie demonstrated her whipped cream, using coconut milk in lieu of heavy cream. OMG! I guarantee that this will become my dinner party dessert of choice! Beautiful and delicious!
Our next event, included a lovely drive through horse country to reach Bastignati Winery. We sampled five wines…some very nice, some not my thing! However, several of us purchased bottles to go.
Our evening concluded with a potluck dinner, prepared by the attendees. If you have never attended a potluck prepared by personal chefs, then you are missing a treat! Amazing starters included Jim Huff’s bacon jam, Sharon and Bruce Cohen’s Tuscan tomato bread soup, and Mary Stewart’s risotto cakes. Dinner followed with Ayisha Jones’ fig jam tenderloin and Keith Steury’s Asian pork BBQ. Sides included Laura Knight’s asparagus salad and Marta Mirecki’s fennel radicchio salad. April Lee generously provided an amazing collection of wine, including a lovely chocolate dessert selection.
Our next meeting is scheduled for October 2 to 3, 2015. MARC meetings are open to members of the APPCA in good standing!
Why do we do this? Well, we’re a group of people who truly enjoy each other’s company. We’re brought together through our membership in APPCA and have much in common. Personal chefs are people who love food and travel, and therefore have a zest for life. I think chefs by nature are passionate, artistic people who have a nurturing desire to please others by feeding them. Put all those qualities together in one room and you are bound to have a good time! The meetings we hold allow us to recharge our professional batteries and share work experiences with those who understand the ins and outs of the profession.
Doesn’t this sound like a great opportunity in your area? If you’re an APPCA member, let us know if you’d like assistance in forming a chapter in your part of the country.
Often on Friday or Monday on Facebook, we’ll ask our members what’s on for the weekend or, afterwards, what they did that can inspire us. When Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine in Dallas responded on a Friday that she had a gig at the Dallas flagship Williams-Sonoma store doing a cooking demo, we just had to learn more. The demo went wonderfully and Anne sent us a wrap up of how it came to pass and how it went. More importantly, though, she also talked about why it was so important for her–and other personal chefs–to do this.
On a recent day off I was wandering around Williams-Sonoma, finally getting around to spending some gift cards I’d been hoarding. I ran into a friend of mine who I thought still worked there. In the process of catching up she asked, “Didn’t you graduate from culinary school recently?” I said yes and she immediately pulled over the assistant manager and said, “You need to talk to her!” So, long story short, they asked me to put in an application to do cooking demos/teach classes on my schedule. I did it because I don’t have a full roster of PC clients and could use the money. Okay, and I was thinking, “STORE DISCOUNT!”
By the way, I didn’t know that Williams-Sonoma has a chef card you can register for online if you’re in the business. It offers a 20 percent discount. My friend told me about it when I went in, so tell everyone about this!
I chatted briefly with the assistant manager about some details and sent a follow-up e-mail a few days later, thanking her for her time. In fact, when I was there, they asked if I could do a demo the next day, but I was already booked to be a “sous chef” with a friend of mine from school who had a dinner party. But at least they were interested. When I didn’t receive a response to my e-mail, I called the assistant manager two days later and she apologized for them not getting back to me. They wanted me to meet the manager, and she had been tied up with reviews, etc. all week. But she made it clear that they were very interested.
She then called me back, said their guest chef for the weekend had cancelled, and asked if I was available (I had a dinner party that cancelled) so I said YES and went in to chat about details. I then went home and put together a menu which I e-mailed to her. They sent me home with one of their cool cookbooks, so I figured it would be prudent to try and use some of the recipes from it (“good PR”). So the chicken and the potatoes are from their book.
They left the recipe quantities to my discretion. They said the store would be packed that day because of their Artisan Market (some local specialty vendors will have tables set up). And it’s just a taste, so I doubled most of the recipes and quadrupled the asparagus dish, since it’s so cheap right now. They said not to go over $150; think I spent a total of $75, roughly. And yes, the reimbursed me for the food cost. Here was my menu:
Chicken & Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry
Gratineed Asparagus with Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
Roasted New Potatoes with Rosemary & Bay Leaf
“Fragole Al Marsala” (Strawberries in Marsala wine)
Before the day of the event, I sent out an email to friends and family, inviting them to attend and noting the menu.
It went really well! I posted pictures on my Facebook page that a friend was kind enough to take for me. It got off to kind of a slow start because I’m not familiar with the store, so I had to keep going to the back for equipment and foodstuffs they had told me not to buy. But, I finally got it all together.
And once I got rolling it was great! Customers came and went. At one point I even had to reel them in by asking if they wanted something to eat. Once I got on a roll, though, I had them hooked. Everyone said how good the food was and that I was a good “Williams-Sonoma rep” by saying that two of the recipes had come from the book that was on display up front with me. I think I was responsible for selling three cookbooks. Some even bought some stuff in the store, and I made sure to tell the manager that. I did get to meet the actual manager (my contact being one of the assistant managers) and am hoping to hear from her about my application to teach cooking lessons. My contact did come up and say later that afternoon that everyone was noticing what a great job I was doing; that really made me feel good!
I couldn’t wear my chef jacket; it was just too hot and it’s very bulky. And I didn’t have a chance to get my menu printed and laminated; that would have been a great idea. I do that for dinner parties and such, but just ran out of time for this event. Since I wore my chef pants and black T-shirt, with Williams-Sonoma apron, I (luckily) thought at the last minute to paper clip (didn’t have anything else on me!) my business card to the front of my apron. People still thought I worked for W-S, but I was able to tell them no, that I am a personal chef.
While it was still crowded I was able to pass out my business card to a good handful of people. I didn’t get anyone asking me much about my business so it wasn’t the greatest marketing day, but still, I was out front and chatted to a bunch of folks.
I think any PC who has the opportunity to do cooking demos (even if not paid) at places like Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, or some other store should jump on it! It is a terrific marketing opportunity. Every opportunity I got, I would tell people that I am a personal chef. Surprisingly (to me) I didn’t get a lot of questions about “what is a personal chef.” Maybe people were too busy shopping or didn’t want to stop. They were, however, interested in the food!
Any time a PC can be in the public eye like this is a golden opportunity and you can make the most of it. Having completed culinary school, I felt fairly confident in what I could do. Plus, I have done many cooking classes and demonstrations before, so confidence isn’t really an issue. You do have to put yourself out there and be gracious, smile, talk to folks, etc. So, it’s also a good chance for someone who may be a bit on the shy side to get some experience talking in front of a group. I had to read a “culinary book” in school (not a cookbook) and I chose Paula Deen’s “It Ain’t All About the Cooking.” I think that is what applies here. So you can cook, right? We all can, as personal chefs, but when you run your own business, as we do, you have to be able to do it all– marketing, cooking, taking care of your books, figuring out technology and how it can help you, networking, etc.
I would definitely say that all of us PC’s should at least market themselves at high-end cook stores like W-S. I am SO lucky that all this happened and that I had the time.
I heard back from Williams-Sonoma afterwards and they were very pleased with my gig as guest chef. They said they’ll be in touch about my application to work there part-time as cooking instructor. Woo hoo!
Have you been thinking about different ways to market your business? Have you done demos at retailers like Williams-Sonoma?