Perhaps you’re a new personal chef eager to jump start your business. Or maybe your client base is going through a shift. Are you anticipating summer holiday slowdowns? You could be launching a new line of services under your business–like catering or teaching cooking classes. Whatever it is, you need some media attention to draw in eyes who could turn into potential clients.
Now let’s stipulate first that simply getting a story about you in your local paper or getting quoted in a public radio story on food trends isn’t necessarily going to translate into more business. But media outreach should be another marketing tool in your arsenal–like social media, cooking demos, and, of course, having a quality website and business card.
Not sure how to get started? Well, here are five ways you can get reporters and editors to talk to you and, hopefully, about you:
1. Write a brief but well composed press release and send it to reporters covering the food, business, lifestyle, and/or health beats in your local media outlets (newspapers, news websites, radio, TV, bloggers, and podcasters). If you’re an APPCA member you have access to press release information in the training materials, including sample releases that you can personalize with information about you and your business. Be sure that the contacts you find are up to date–you don’t want to send a release to someone who hasn’t held that job in three years. And also be sure that the people you’re targeting are the right people for what you’re trying to accomplish. Tailor your press release to the angle of the story you’re pitching. You shouldn’t send the same release to a business reporter and a lifestyle reporter.
2. Assuming you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or other social media platforms–and you should be–start following/friending reporters with whom you want to develop a business relationship. Periodically ask them relevant questions. As you get friendly, let them know what you do and ask if you can send them info about an event you’re participating in or a new type of service you’re launching. Offer to serve as a resource if they have an article or segment they’re working on in an area you specialize in.
3. Do some research and find out if your target media people have their own blogs. Subscribe to them. Read them. Most important, leave friendly comments on them–but only if you can offer a relevant observation to the discussion. Be sure to include your website URL in the comment or sign in with the web URL to leave the comment so they can find you.
4. Create a small media event. Perhaps you’re launching a new fall menu for catering or you’ve just started a new cooking class series. Set up an event exclusively for media–a tasting, cooking demo or class. Alternatively, invite them to attend an event you’re already holding–as your (comped) guest. Either way, be sure to have useful takeaways on hand for them, such as recipes, a press release and fact sheet about your business and what you’re promoting, and perhaps a small package of cookies or jar of jam or some other edible treat you made.
5. Read, watch, or listen to stories by your target media. As you get to know what they’re interested in, you can tailor an email note, mentioning pieces of theirs you’ve found interesting and ask if they have an interest in an area in which you specialize–cooking for seniors or athletes, lessons learned in running a personal chef business, teaching cooking classes to children, etc.–and offer your expertise in a story. Do some research and provide data about related trends to demonstrate your knowledge of the topic. Reporters are always under the gun to come up with unique story ideas. If you have a pitch for a piece they find intriguing, you’re helping them do their job. That’s priceless.
Remember, this isn’t a one-shot attempt. This is a process. You’re building relationships and that takes time. And, honestly, you have to have something newsworthy to cover. Don’t waste attempts at attention with news that really isn’t all that newsy or media targets will simply delete or block your communications. Give them something to really excite–and help–them.
Back in Las Vegas for week eight of Food Network Star and our Nicole Gaffney was one of six contestants left. This week, the six met with Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis in the Poker Tournament Room of Caesar’s Palace to learn what one-of-a-kind culinary experience they were to enjoy, take in the meal and the ambiance, and then divide into two teams to create their own special meal for the judges.
Nicole drew the $1,000 Golden Sundae at Serendipity 3, which she described as “Vegas on a plate.” She couldn’t finish the scoops of Tahitian vanilla ice cream and passion fruit-infused caviar served with a 24-carat gold spoon, but she told us on Twitter, “It was crazy good!”
Nicole then joined team Sarah as Sarah’s first pick, along with Luca, to create a four-course “Around the World” meal. Sarah gave Nicole frogs legs as an ingredient–something foreign to Nicole–who decided to fry the legs and accompany them with a spicy tamarind-glazed sauce with cucumber mango slaw. Then she took on dessert, with her toasted marshmallow ice cream as the star of a deconstructed s’mores dish.
Team Sarah totally bested Team Emma in the eyes of Alton, Giada, Susie and Bob, and guest judge Penn Jillette. Kudos to Nicole, whose frog legs (if not her story) and dessert were a big hit. Sadly, Emma, who surprisingly was unfamiliar with her assigned ingredient, Mangalitsa pork, and told a gruesome story about burning pigs in a barn, was eliminated.
And then there were five–who are off to New York for the next challenge! Stay tuned! Go Nicole!
How have you successfully gotten media attention for you and your business? Please share!
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.
APPCA member Natalie Lewis may have a raging sweet tooth, but she’s deep into savory dishes that she makes for both her personal chef and catering clients. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, with a diploma in French cuisine, the Cincinnati native is a dedicated traveler who has enjoyed enhancing her knowledge of regional and cultural fare. Early in her career she took that knowledge to jobs at upscale catering catering companies and restaurants. Her move to Napa gave her a greater appreciation for local, sustainable cooking and the art of viticulture. Today, she lives with her family in Northern New Jersey.
Natalie found us like many others–with a desire to get out of the restaurant business she starting researching other career options in the food world and found APPCA through an Internet search. She joined us in 2010.
“The best benefit has been that people find me easily when they do Google searches for personal chefs,” she says. “The APPCA website is one of the first to come up. So I’ve gained a lot of clients this way. The forums are also great, so I can connect with other personal chefs and compare notes.”
Among Lewis’s other passions is her food blog, Natalie’s Daily Crave, where she posts recipes–mostly original–and gorgeous food photography.
The recipe below originated from cocktail appetizers she makes for her catering clients. “I make little bite-size red potatoes stuffed with blue cheese and bacon,” she says. “They’re always a hit at parties so I thought a potato salad with a similar concept would be a crowd pleaser also.”
This salad is perfect for summer picnics and barbecues–and something you can adapt for your own catering clients!
Bacon and Blue Cheese Potato Salad
from Natalie Lewis
- 3 lb red skin potatoes
- 6 oz good blue cheese
- 10-12 strips thick cut bacon
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- 3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 3-4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup chopped fresh chives
- 3 heaping Tbsp fresh chopped dill
- salt and pepper
Clean and scrub outside of potatoes. Cut potatoes in half and add potatoes to a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Boil for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until they are fork tender, but still firm.
Meanwhile cook the bacon and crumble the blue cheese with a fork. Next, make the dressing. In a small bowl add the mayonnaise, Dijon, vinegar, chives and dill. Mix well and set aside.
Once the potatoes are cooked drain well. Roughly chop the potatoes into 1-inch chunks and while warm, pour the dressing over the potatoes. Mix well and add salt and pepper.
Add the crumbled bacon an blue cheese. Top with additional bacon, blue cheese and chopped chives. Can serve warm or cold. Store in fridge 2 days in advance.
*Photos courtesy of Natalie Lewis
So, here we are at week seven of Food Network Star, so thrilled that our own Nicole Gaffney is now one of six contestants and in Las Vegas for a series of new challenges. But, there’s always a wrench thrown into these competitions–and one came this week in the form of reinserting a contestant. Yes, Star Salvation has ended and into the competition returned… ta dah… Luca! Gorgeous Luca, whose English has been transformed.
So we’re back to seven contestant and have two related challenges. The first, taking place in the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace, was with judge/mentor Giada De Laurentiis, who gave each contestant 90 second to describe up to three dishes in a way that would make her hungry. Kudos to Emma, who was the only one to nail it with all three. Nicole, starting with a beef pho, used words like viscosity and unctuous–great in an essay for an English class, but not very appealing or understandable for the general public looking for something delicious to eat.
Moving on, this critical skill was to be on display again for the main challenge–a pool party at the hotel’s Venus pool. Each contestant had an hour to prepare a dish representing their culinary POV and then a minute to pitch their dish to the crowd. Each of the 100 party guests was given three tokens to spend on three dishes, plus they were given what Alton Brown calls the “dial of doom,” a marketing gadget used to measure each person’s reaction to each pitch.
Our Nicole decided to make a seared scallop wrapped in serrano ham, accompanied by romesco sauce. Just one problem. There was no serrano ham and Nicole decided to substitute prosciutto. But, she wasn’t exactly forthright about that in her pitch. “I’m guessing that no one at this party is going to be able to tell the difference between serrano ham and prosciutto,” Nicole said. Well, no one except the judges…
The good news? Alton and Giada liked her pitch, calling it concise and connected to her viewpoint. And, she was grace under pressure as a gust of wind almost swept away her dish during her pitch. But while both judges liked the flavors of her dish, Giada took her down on the misleading description. “I loved the scallops but not the serrano ham,” she said. “Don’t misguide them or they’ll never trust you again.”
It was a good lesson. Gotta make a substitute with an ingredient? Be upfront about it.
Nevertheless, Nicole made the first cut with the top four, with Lenny winning and doing a celebratory belly flop into the pool. Can’t wait to see what next week brings!
Have a favorite summer dish you make for clients? Please share!
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.
No matter how confident you are in yourself, your cooking abilities, and your business skills, sometimes the personal touch can make the difference. That’s why we regularly hold weekend Personal Chef Seminars. It allows Dennis and me to meet new members just launching their businesses and give them hands-on guidance in the business of being a personal chef. Yes, we have wonderful printed and online materials available to you–and you shouldn’t have any problem getting started with them alone. But gathering with a group of like-minded people for a weekend of learning and sharing just clarifies the process that much more. And it gives you compadres and commadres with whom you can share questions and issues long after the weekend is over.
What takes place? Whether we travel to cities like Chicago and Baltimore or hold the seminars at our home in San Diego, the basics are the same. We review the training program and manual one bite at a time, taking it at your pace and answering your questions. We talk about business plans, finances, and marketing. And we answer your questions. We delve into things like website SEO, advertising, and media exposure. And we answer your questions. We introduce you to Personal Chef Office and the Personal Chef Forums. We even talk recipes and cooking methods. And we answer your questions. We love answering your questions.
Last month, we held an intimate seminar with four remarkably talented women: Mary Ziebart of Chicago, Jackie Buesa of Carlsbad, Rochelle Schofield of Los Angeles, and Valerie Cathell of Virginia. Each came to us with a desire to not just to cook for a living but to help change their communities. It was inspiring to be with each of them, as well as watch them spur each other on and, ultimately, bond.
Mary, for example, is just entering her career as a personal chef, having attended culinary school and spent time as a private chef and then an educator–even winning the 2012 Foodservice Educator Network International (FENI) award for Secondary School Teacher of the Year Award. “I loved teaching but I wanted to get back into the kitchen again and make people smile,” she says. “This seminar took the fear out of starting my own business.”
Then there was Jackie, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with highest honors. She has been employed at a high-end coastal resort and has worked as a line cook, banquet chef, caterer, and healthy cooking teacher. Now she’s interested in focusing her talents on a smaller scale, emphasizing fresh and simple foods for a clientele that appreciates the value of local and organic.
“The weekend seminary was such a great experience,” she says. “You and Dennis are so knowledgeable and also very patient. You really took the time to make sure everyone in the class had a clear understanding of the material. You shared so much about your extensive experience in the business. I gained valuable insight of the business and challenges I might encounter. And, you shared the many rewards of becoming a personal chef.”
I’m blushing. And, yet, that’s what Dennis and I strive for with these seminars because we want you to return home and feel empowered to get your business going with confidence. We want your takeaway also to be that we’re here for you every step of the way to help you grow your business–whether we do it by email, phone, or over a cup of coffee.
Val, who grew up the child of fabulous cooks, bonded with her family in the kitchen. Like many personal chefs, she hasn’t had formal culinary training, but was always cooking for friends, who asked her to cater events and urged her to go into business for herself. Now she wants to take this ability to feed people and serve others. “I am a very maternal thinker and I do believe we show love with our food,” she says. She writes about food, wants to teach others cooking skills, and loves that she can share her talent with others professionally.
But that doesn’t mean that launching a business automatically leads to success. That’s why she joined APPCA and why she signed up for the seminar. “It was invaluable in helping me understand the important business aspects of being a personal chef. Your instruction was thorough and so entertaining. Your personal stories were wonderful and provided great insights and tips on things to do and not do, like never shop on your own money and always get the fee up front.”
It also gave her the confidence to get the most out of Personal Chef Office and the manual so she can better control and grow her business. “And now that you taught me about the Personal Chef Forum I also know where to look when I have questions.”
On that beautiful Sunday afternoon as everyone was packing up to head home, Val gave me the best compliment I could hope for, “You are an amazing woman. I can see that it comes from the heart. It’s what I aspire to.”
My passion for this work and for helping our members attain their goals does come from the heart. And I hope that Dennis and I can meet more of you in person at our weekend seminars so we can help you take your talent to your community in a way that brings you success and deep satisfaction. Stay tuned for our announcement of our next weekend seminar and be sure to sign up! We can’t wait to see you!
For APPCA member Nicole Gaffney, week six of Food Network Star wasn’t a dream experience. This week she and her fellow contestants were charged with turning their POV into a packaged food product. They each had one hour to cook their product and then had to “sell” it in a commercial featuring a 360-degree green screen and virtual production stage. Each was assigned a theme and our New Jersey girl Nicole got the Wild West.
We knew that could be an issue once we saw her face drop. After all, how does a chef with a coastal point of view sell a product in the desert?
Nicole decided to make a tomato onion jam that she explained to the judges jibed with her coastal POV since it goes great with fish and is a good base for a dish with mussels or clams. Using her nickname, she named the product “Coley’s Coastal Tomato Onion Jam,” and her sales pitch was essentially, “You don’t need to live by the ocean to get the laid back flavors of the shore.” But when she opened her commercial with, “It’s drier out here than Death Valley in Prohibition,” and Bobby Flay’s smile turned into kind of a snicker, we knew she was in trouble and so did she.
Fortunately, her jam was delicious and the judges all gave her raves. But they were honest about her star power going AWOL. Giada De Laurentiis gave her sage advice. “You’re wound up so tight. Let go. Be who you want to be.”
For the first time Nicole was in the bottom three–but she wasn’t eliminated. So, phew. And we’ll see her in Las Vegas next week for week seven!
Have a question about starting up your own personal chef business? Have you been to one of our seminars? Let us know what you learned that weekend! Leave a comment!
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.
Our beloved “answer man,” Pete McCracken, passed away on June 20. Pete, who was not only an APPCA member but a city councilman in his town of Porterville, Calif., had suffered a heart attack in late May and also had cancer.
Pete and I had been exchanging emails for the past month on a project we were working on and he never said a word about his illnesses. For me, personally, his death has been a big shock and heart breaker. He was truly colorful; those who knew him reveled in his stories. And he had many.
For those of us in APPCA who participate in the online forums, he was, indeed, our answer man. Post a question and you could count on Pete doing thorough research and coming up with an answer. He would fully investigate topics and provide informative links. It was a passion with Pete to have the answers for everything and we loved him for it. In fact, once something was answered by Pete the conversation pretty much ended, with all parties fully informed.
As you’ll learn if you go to the Fresno Bee’s obituary, Pete was a man of many and diverse talents and interests. He was a farmer and spoke Arabic, having farmed in Yemen for three years. He consulted in a variety of countries for the World Bank on agricultural irrigation and drainage. For a couple of years Pete and his wife Wanda owned and operated Le Bistro, a French restaurant in Porterville. And, following his passion for dance, the couple also owned and operated a dance studio that taught Western dance. With all that, Pete still found time to serve his community as chairman of the council of cities in Tulare County, a member of the Porterville’s Planning Commission, and Porterville’s mayor from 2009 to 2010.
And, of course, Pete was an accomplished chef.
How could a life so rich not be celebrated! He was a really smart man, one heckofa chef, and a true individual! One of a kind, indeed! We send our condolences to Wanda, his son Matthew, and his three stepchildren. And we encourage you to share your memories of Pete below.
APPCA member Nicole Gaffney pretty much sailed through week five on Food Network Star. The eight finalists were driven to Knott’s Berry Farm for their challenge–preparing an assigned classic American food pairing for the 4th of July in one hour and then presenting a live demo of the dish in four minutes to an audience in the theme park’s Wagon Camp Amphitheater.
Nicole was assigned barbecue pork and onion rings. Well, how does a chef make barbecue anything in an hour? Nicole quickly came up with Spicy Pork Kabobs with Pineapple, creating a chipotle marinade inspired by Mexican tacos al pastor. Then she did a quick pickle of a shallot before breading and frying it to make onion rings. Through this, during one of her little camera interviews, she made a point about herself that went viral on social media. “I have a chronic case of resting bitch face,” she said. “I need to put on a smile and work it.”
Work it she did. Judge Bobby Flay said he liked both her food and her fun demo. But while the other judges agreed that she engaged the audience and made a good dish, Giada De Laurentiis pointed out that Nicole didn’t quite link her dish to her Jersey Shore background or coastal POV. Nevertheless, she is safe and moving on to the next challenge next week. Go Nicole!
“You have to be slightly insane to do a competition like this!”
That’s APPCA member Nicole Gaffney, owner of The Dinner Belle Personal Chef Service in a new Food Network commercial for their Summer Sundays line up of shows. And, given what Nicole has been up to as a contestant in season 10 of Food Network Star, she’s not kidding.
Week 1 had her offering a party bite for 100 people that demonstrated her culinary point of view (“I want to bring a splash of the ocean into kitchens all over America and be your Food Network star de mare.”). The sesame-crusted tuna with spicy soy glaze was a hit with the judges, as was her presentation.
Week 2 was successful enough. Cooking simultaneously with chef Alex Guaranaschelli, who had to orally follow Nicole’s instructions to make a couscous salad with arugula, had the judges enjoying both the salad and Nicole’s tips, but wishing she had more energy. Still, she made it to week 3.
And that was the Cutthroat Kitchen challenge. In her mini group everyone was to make spaghetti and meatballs, but Nicole forgot to pick up a package of spaghetti in the pantry–and then was thrown a couple of curve balls by her fellow competitors. The first was having to grind her meat in a spice grinder. The second was a Lucy-inspired grape stomping–so far her most memorable moment of the competition. “Cutthroat Kitchen was really hard but you had no choice but to have fun with it. I had to stomp and fill up a carafe, so I might was well laugh and dance and have a good time.”
Not only did she show grace under pressure, she also displayed resourcefulness–after all she still had that spaghetti and meatball dish to get out. No pasta? No problem. She made the meatballs with pan-fried breadcrumb gnocchi. And got through to this past Sunday night’s competition.
Week 4 was all about social media, something Nicole is quite accomplished in, so she dove into the first challenge–making a 60-second personal video selfie that required her to offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show and a favorite cooking tip. “Social media is all about being memorable and being real so people will follow you,” she said. “I need to look at this camera as my best friend and just get real with it.” So, she ran around the set, giddily pointing out the “sick” pantry and its fresh ingredients before stopping at a counter to demonstrate peeling ginger with a spoon.
Then things got whacky, as the competitors were divided into teams of three to make a viral marketing video for YouTube featuring a Hersey’s candy. Nicole’s team got Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. With Cuban-American Reuben Ruiz playing a Spanish teacher, Nicole played the tone-deaf student who couldn’t get the accent–until she ate a Reese’s. Then the r’s began to trill. The judges loved her craziness and on she goes to Week 5.
How did this even happen for a second-generation Sicilian American girl from Atlantic City? Let’s just say strong family influences got her into cooking, the APPCA helped her develop a thriving personal chef business, and her own drive and ambition and fan love of the show motivated her to audition.
Nicole’s Sicilian grandfather was a huge influence on her. A commercial fisherman, along with his father, brother, and uncles, he immigrated to Gloucester, Mass., and eventually made his was down to the Jersey shore. When he returned from month-long fishing trips at the end of the summer with clams and lobsters–by-catch from hunting down giant bluefin tuna–there would be a huge family feast with corn, potatoes, and, says Nicole, lots and lots of butter. Leftover lobster would go home with Nicole’s family to make lobster salad.
“I never realized how unique that was when I was a child,” she muses.
When on dry land, Nicole’s grandfather loved to cook, making homemade bread, fishcakes, pizza, and fried dough for dessert. “He loved to watch people eat it. He’d have the biggest grin on his face. I have his smile so I find myself doing the same thing.”
He taught Nicole his bread and pizza recipes, but like most of us who enjoyed dishes made by family members, she is convinced she can’t get it to taste the same. Nicole also spent hours in the kitchen with her late mother and grandmother making really great pies, she says. “We still get together–aunts, cousins, and my grandmother–to make the pies.”
Nicole attended Louisiana State University, majoring in communications, before returning to Atlantic City, where she worked in sales, modeling, and managing an Italian market. But Nicole realized she wanted to immerse herself in the culinary world so she attended The Academy of the Culinary Arts. After one semester she left to get back to work. Having been a waitress she knew that lifestyle and environment and wanted no part of it as a career so while holding down a desk job, she did some computer research and came across the APPCA.
“After scouring the site, I felt like ‘let’s give this personal chef thing a try,’” she says. “I did the training program and started my business, The Dinner Belle Personal Chef Service, in June 2010. It gets really busy here in the summer, so I got some clients.
“It’s been a lot of hard work but has been incredibly gratifying,” she adds. “Once you get that first client who is a great fit, it really catapults your business because it gives you a steady income.”
Nicole says that the APPCA helped her get the ball rolling, get a business plan together, taught her how to approach clients, pricing–”everything! It really gave me the backbone to my business, which is what I really needed,” she says. “The web forums are really helpful. I could see other people’s problems and really learned from the feedback.”
Nicole also does dinner parties and teaches cooking classes, which has given her the poise and self-confidence she needs to be in front of the camera. So, after she turned 29 last September–looking to shake things up a bit in her life–she decided to make an audition tape for Food Network Star, with her husband’s encouragement.
“Next thing I knew I was on a plane to L.A. to tape the show,” she recalls. “It’s an extensive application and interview process. They ask you everything and do a thorough background check.”
Making dishes on the fly for each challenge could be tricky, but Nicole tries to stick to what she knows. “You have to be inspired but you have to be smart about it and make something you know you can cook within the time limit. I just wanted to make sure I always finished. And I wanted to not rush through everything to make sure I did it the right way.”
She also had to focus on not getting psyched out by the situation or the competition–or simply being in the presence of judges Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay. “That was probably the biggest challenge throughout the time I filmed. When you’re out there you don’t have any contact with family, friends, or spouses. And you work so many hours in a day it gets tiring. You’re really running on a lot of adrenalin. Being in the presence of Alton, Giada, and Bobby, you try to stay calm and not act nervous, even though it’s so overwhelming. So you have to keep coaching yourself. I love the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ So, I just had to try to keep thinking I’m good enough–but it’s hard to not get psyched out.”
Now, as viewers and competitors alike wait for August when the competition concludes and we all learn who is the next Food Network star, Nicole is adjusting to life in the spotlight even as she returns to cooking for her longtime clients.
“This has been so exciting! It’s a wonderful time in my life. I’m just trying to sit back and take it all in and enjoy it!
What’s your ambition as a personal chef? Do you have any questions for Nicole about her experience on Food Network Star?
Photos courtesy of the Food Network and Nicole Gaffney
Our organization’s name is the Association of Personal and Private Chefs of America. It seems straightforward, yet there still remains confusion over the difference between personal and private chefs–and, to my chagrin–the terms are frequently used interchangeably.
So, I thought I’d take the opportunity here to make the distinctions because they are, in fact, quite different animals.
Let’s talk about private chefs first. Remember Rosie Daley, Oprah Winfrey’s private chef who got a lot of publicity in that role? Or Art Smith, who also worked as a private chef for Oprah for 10 years? These two are examples of a chef as an employee. Private chefs like Rosie and Art receive a paycheck and, hopefully, benefits.
Private chefs satisfy the culinary needs of their employers, usually preparing three fresh meals daily, along with any other entertaining, creating menus for parties, perhaps business meals–essentially whatever the client, excuse me, employer–wants. Some private chefs travel with the boss, especially if he or she maintains multiple homes. Since they’re subject to their client’s business, social, and family schedules, it’s often necessary to disappear into service, with long hours and work schedules frequently par for the course.
And, don’t be surprised if you encounter the need for security clearances, drug testing, and confidentiality agreements. You’ll likely need to be well versed in etiquette and protocol. And you’ll be expected to have culinary training and experience, as well as rock-solid references.
Unlike private chefs, personal chefs are entrepreneurs operating their own small business. They don’t have a single employer but instead numerous clients. They determine their own level of service, pricing, location, and availability. They locate and schedule their own clients.
When we created the personal chef career path, it was with the goal of offering an alternative for culinary pros who chose to no longer cook in commercial situations. That included women chefs who wanted to have and raise children as the heart of the household, chefs who are also family caregivers and need flexibility in their schedules, chefs of a certain age who choose to extend their professional careers, and chefs who choose to own and operate their own small culinary business without the financial and time-intensive commitment of owning a restaurant.
As the profession has grown it’s also come to include culinary school grads who may or may not have worked the line in a restaurant. Others are adept home cooks who want to put their skills to use for others. Some have degrees in nutrition or are dieticians. They may specialize in gluten-free or low-carb diets, weight loss, paleo, cancer or other disease-related nutrition–or be generalists. They may have a full schedule of regular clients–or prefer to service just one or two. Their business. Their rules.
Unlike private chefs who are employees, personal chefs create their own income stream through their small business. And to generate that income, many personal chefs also have multiple revenue streams under their personal chef brand umbrella. They may cater parties or other events for clients and others. They may offer cooking classes or do cooking demos at local shops or events. They can be authors, speakers, and media personalities. One of our members, Nicole Gaffney, is currently competing on Food Network Star. (see below)
How do they learn how to run what can be a complex business? Well, that’s where we come in. We have honed our training process to help our members get started quickly so they can achieve success in the shortest amount of time. We have forums where you can chat with your colleagues to share and get information. We have seminars and videos. We have social media. All these together help personal chefs–and private chefs, too–get the information and support they need to make their business work for them.
Being a personal chef is hard work, but it has proven to be appealing on so many levels. Many personal chefs feel it’s a calling and that they’re serving their clients and their community through their food and knowledge about food. Others have wanted to find a culinary alternative to restaurants where grueling hours and low pay sap the life out of them. By creating their own business, they can make a living cooking what they want, when they want, and for whom they want. Being a personal chef allows you to be a culinary professional on your own terms.
You can hear more on my thoughts about what it takes to become a successful personal chef in this video I made for our partner Escoffier Online:
APPCA member Nicole Gaffney did it again! In the first part of this week’s competition, she helped talk Alton Brown through the breading part of making chicken fried steak, something she acknowledged she didn’t make or eat since it’s not a dish popular in New Jersey. But she offered what Brown felt were good tips. Then came the elimination part of the show, in which the contestants had to prepare a dish out of random pantry ingredients in front of the camera with Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli serving as the “viewer” following them and simultaneously making the dish. Nicole created a couscous salad with arugula. Bobby Flay liked her salad and her kitchen tips. Alton Brown thought she was adaptable and offered cogent instructions. Yes, she needs to pump up the energy level, they said, but she was unquestionably in for another week. So tune in next Sunday night to cheer her own!
Have you channeled your passion for food? Do you have any questions about becoming a personal or private chef?
Periodically we invite our members to contribute to this blog with their recipes or expertise. Several months ago Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food Personal Chef Service in Memphis gave us some wonderful tips on food photography. So when we saw her drop-dead gorgeous photo of these Vietnamese Beef Lettuce Wraps we had to get the recipe–and share it with you. So, with thanks to Carol…
If your clients want to consume more vegetables and healthful foods, these Vietnamese-inspired beef lettuce wraps are a delicious, fun way for them to begin. A sweet-sour cucumber relish, gluten-free rice noodles, shredded carrots, fresh basil, and peanuts top a spicy beef filling wrapped in lettuce leaves, all accompanied by a tangy dipping sauce.
I like to think of recipes as a roadmap. A recipe provides the directions, but how I get to the final destination is up to me. So, inspired by a recipe from a magazine, I made numerous adjustments to it such as increasing the flavor and spiciness of the filling and adding elements such as the cucumber relish. At first glance, the recipe may look long and involved; however, it comes together fairly quickly. All the elements for a satisfying meal are here: protein, lots of fresh, crunchy vegetables, and starch in the form of rice noodles, so no extra sides are needed.
The filling can also be made with ground chicken, turkey, pork, and even tofu. Therefore the recipe is easily adapted to numerous dietary requirements. Using wheat-free tamari or coconut aminos will make the wraps entirely gluten-free.
There’s quite a bit of fresh ginger in this dish. I find grating ginger to be wasteful and time-consuming—so much stays on the grater. Instead, I like to peel and coarsely chop it, then process in a mini food processor with just enough water to create a puree. The puree is similar to prepared ginger products that are available in the produce section but without the additives. If you make too much puree, freeze the excess in a snack-size zipper top bag to use another time. It’s a great time-saver to have the ginger in your client’s freezer ready to go because they’ll ask for these wraps over and over!
By assembling each wrap as desired, kids of all ages can play with their food–and get away with it!
VIETNAMESE BEEF LETTUCE WRAPS WITH RICE NOODLES AND CUCUMBER RELISH
½ cup water
¼ cup soy sauce or tamari<
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 ½ pounds lean ground beef (or turkey, chicken or pork)<
2 tablespoons minced ginger
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/3 cup soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
2 large English (hothouse) cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 bunch scallions, white and light green part only, chopped
½ cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
LETTUCE AND TOPPINGS
1 large head Boston lettuce (12 leaves)
½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1 cup shredded carrots
2 ounces rice noodles (maifun), soaked in hot water and drained well
½ cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
SAUCE: Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl.Divide into small bowls for each diner.
FILLING:Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until hot. Cook and stir onion and ginger 4 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and beef, breaking into small pieces; cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes or until beef is browned and no longer pink.Drain well. Stir in all remaining filling ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or until evaporated, stirring occasionally.
RELISH: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Divide into small bowls for each diner.
TO ASSEMBLE: Spoon meat mixture onto lettuce leaves, top with basil, carrots, rice noodles, peanuts and lime wedges.Roll up and serve with dipping sauce.
Thanks, Carol! This looks and sounds delicious and like a perfect meal for clients!
On a special note, we want to let you know that APPCA member Nicole Gaffney is a contestant on the new season of Food Network Star. Nicole, who runs her personal chef business in Atlantic City, New Jersey, did us proud on Sunday night’s debut episode. For that night’s Hollywood-style party competition she prepared sesame-crusted tuna with spicy soy glaze and introduced herself to the party guests as coming from a family of fishermen on the Jersey shore.
“I want to bring a splash of the ocean in to kitchens all over America and be your Food Network Star de la mar,” she said.
Judges Giada de Laurentis, Alton Brown, and Bobby Flay all found her pitch authentic, original, and compelling–and, more to the point, loved her tuna dish. She made it to the top three in the elimination segment. So, let’s root her on next Sunday! Team Nicole! We’re working on getting a chance to interview Nicole for à la minute.
What is your “Food Network Star winning recipe? How do you introduce yourself to clients?
Ah, the lazy days of summer! Boogie boarding at the beach. Sprawling in a hammock next to the cabin by the lake. Dipping toes in the pool while sipping lemonade or an icy margarita. It’s a dreamy scenario–except that it’s not your scenario. Instead, it’s your clients’. You’ve lined up a great schedule this year. You’ve finally got the workload you can manage and the income you need. And then June rolls around and your clients start telling you of their great vacay plans–and you’re not included.
We’ve all been there. Come summer and the winter holidays you may find that some of your clients may want to temporarily suspend services. This came up recently in one of our forums. Jennifer Zirkle of The Ginger Chef in Belmont, Michigan, was just hit with this by two of her clients and asked for advice from colleagues on how to go forward. She launched her business in 2012 and it’s taken her a year to get a regular client base. This development shook her up.
“Wondering if I just go with the flow, or do I try to fill their spot with new clients? This is a huge hit to my income,” she said.
Summer vacation time can cause some downturn in the business of a personal chef, but it’s something you need to plan for so you can take it in stride. If you are in the habit of scheduling your regular clients in three-month cycles as I do, you’ll know in advance which of your clients will be traveling or taking the summer off from using their regular personal chef and fill that slot with a new client. As several of the chefs responded to Jennifer, go ahead and move forward to fill those slots and let clients know that you’ll try to fit them back in when they return.
But there are plan B options as well. As many of you know, we conducted a member survey earlier this year. One of our questions addressed what income streams you have under your personal chef business. We found that 75 percent of you also do catering/special events while 62 percent of you teach cooking classes. Another 37 percent of you are demo chefs. Some are writers. Some teach fitness nutrition or are nutritionists/dieticians. There are restaurant consultants and recipe testers, menu developers and on-call corporate chefs.
How do people get these gigs? Networking, of course, is key. You may need to advertise or market your services to get new clients or fill your free dates with casual business as a contract cook. Do you have a Facebook page for your business? Start letting people know your availability and your various skill sets.
And, even if you’re not doing regular meals for your current clients, you can let them know you’re available to facilitate their entertaining needs. Picnics, family reunions, graduations or birthday celebrations, 4th of July parties, and Labor Day cookouts all could use your expertise.
This issue can also come up at the end of the year. Figure out how to turn it into a professional advantage. We’re talking holiday receptions, dinners, brunches, and parties. How about sending a note to each of your clients in October, thanking them for allowing you to serve them over the course of the past year and then mention that you’re available to accommodate their holiday entertaining needs?
Some personal chefs develop a set of holiday menu offerings–both apps and entrees–that can be ordered in advance by the client by a predetermined order date. You can prepare the dishes in a commercial or incubator kitchen and deliver them to your client. You could also offer preset holiday dinners, prepared offsite and delivered to multiple clients on the holiday.
Or, hey, perhaps you want to take some pressure off and enjoy the holiday season with your own family and resume your regular schedule after New Year’s.
So, how is Jennifer dealing with the summer hiatus gap? Well, on June 4 at noon, she’s appearing on WZZM Channel 13 to do a healthy cooking segment. She’s gotten a gig doing cooking demos at Old World Olive Press, a local olive oil company. She’s picking up some seasonal vacationers as clients, and baking birthday and wedding cakes for clients.
So, no summertime blues. One of the joys of being a personal chef is being able to choose what works best for you.
Are client summer hiatus plans something you’re facing? How are you addressing this? How can we help you?
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Zirkle.
As personal chefs we’re awfully good at creating delicious, nutritious, ready-to-eat meals for clients. But how many of us also develop little extras that can lift an otherwise satisfying dish into something truly memorable? Extras like condiments–salsas, unique mustards, aioli, pickled vegetables, or some other treat?
Our friend Caron Golden, a food writer in San Diego, loves to meet with chefs in their kitchens so they can teach her a dish or technique, which she then shares with readers in her blog San Diego Foodstuff. About a year and a half ago she spent time in the kitchen of Terra, a restaurant in San Diego’s East County with a local, seasonal focus. Terra’s sous chef at the time, a young man named Pablo Ibarra, taught her how to make Charred Meyer Lemon Chutney. Winter, of course, is prime time for Meyer lemons–well, for citrus in general–although we still have Meyer lemons and conventional Eureka lemons on our trees and can generally find them year round.
This chutney is sublime with chicken, seafood, and pork. It’s got a mellow combination of tart and sweet. Make it with thicker skinned Eureka lemons and you get an additional intriguing bitterness, not unlike marmalade. This recipe calls for relatively few ingredients, but of course that means they have to be top quality.
Set up your mise en place with minced shallots, sliced green onions, sugar and salt. Neatly cut a couple of lemons into quarter-inch slices, hold each slice up to the light to track down seeds, then use fork tines to pop them out.
You’ll need a couple of sauté pans, one for charring the lemons, the other for sautéing the shallots. Pour a bit of canola oil into each before firing up the burners. Once the pans heat up add the lemon slices into one, then toss the lemons around to get both sides blackened and sizzling. In the other pan, sauté the shallots, and then add the little caramelized pieces to the charred lemons.
Next comes the sugar and salt–if you’re working with Eureka lemons, add a little extra lemon juice and sugar that the sweet juicy Meyers would otherwise provide. (You might also consider adding some chopped, sautéed chiles for heat.)
Just before removing the mixture from the heat, stir in the green onions. The chutney will be almost done, but there is one optional task left: chopping up the rings of lemons. Here, we used Eureka lemons and you can see they’re still fairly firm, but Meyer lemons would collapse. In this case you might choose leave them alone.
2 Meyer lemons, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds, seeded
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
(Whole grain mustard)
1. Add oil to sauté pan (not nonstick) and heat to high temperature. Carefully add lemon slices and cook on both sides until browned.
2. Sauté shallots in a second pan until caramelized. Add to lemons, along with sugar and salt. Once the mixture begins to turn soft, add the green onions.
3. Remove from heat and chop the lemon peels. If you want to add a little spice or boldness, you can add a teaspoon or so of whole grain mustard.
Serve with tuna, any kind of firm white fish, pork tenderloin, or chicken (or spread on toast).
Do you make condiments for your clients that complement the meals you prepare for them? What are your/their favorites?
So, you’ve just launched your personal chef business and eager to recruit clients. What do you do when a boxer’s trainer calls up to inquire about your cooking for him while he’s training for a big fight? Oh, and he’s gluten free and vegan.
This was Angela Rose Capanna’s first client as a personal chef. The trainer called her to set up a meeting and, “I was scared to death to meet with him,” she recalls with a laugh. “He’s gluten free and vegan, yet he needs to have a lot of protein, which is very hard to do. I met with him, then went home and did a lot of research and reached out to nutritionists I knew.”
What seemed so intimidating worked out just fine. Turns out the boxer did eat some fish, so Angela developed recipes with salmon and tilapia, along recipes for dishes with beans, nuts, and seeds. She incorporated protein powders into baked goods. In fact, although she isn’t cooking for him anymore, he called recently to ask her to teach him how to make the vegan chocolate cake she used to bake for him. She’s planning on creating a video demo of it for YouTube.
Angela, who lives in Turnsville, New Jersey, launched her business, Eat Your Heart Out Edibles, when she was about 20 years old. She had been in college studying nutrition but didn’t really love it. “I had always waitressed to earn money for school, but I knew I didn’t want that kind of lifestyle. And with the new business I did baking and some catering. But you have to do a lot of baking to earn a living.”
So, two-and-a-half years ago, she decided to do some research and googled “culinary jobs.” It brought her to the APPCA and some other sites. Not knowing anything about personal chefs she kept on researching. Then she picked up the phone and called the APPCA and got me.
“You were so sweet,” says Angela. “You took an hour-and-a-half to talk to me and you didn’t even know who I was. I told you I always liked to cook and am always cooking for family and friends, but had no training. You said if you have the passion you can make it work. I was worried no one would hire me, but you assured me that if I did a good job for clients, word of mouth would spread. And that if I felt unsure of my knife skills or other technical skills, I could take classes.”
Angela went on to take our two-day training to learn how to run a personal chef business. She acknowledges having felt overwhelmed by the end because she knew she had a lot of work ahead of her, “but it was so appealing to me that I plowed forward. The first year was slow, but this September it will be three years and I’m so happy! Not only did the APPCA teach me how to run my personal chef business, but it helped me better understand how to run and grow the baking and catering component of it, too.”
With two Italian grandmothers who cooked, as well as parents and siblings, Angela clearly comes honestly by her cooking passion. “I’ve loved to cook my entire life. My mom would let me do the menu planning for the family for the week. Every Saturday we always had homemade pizza. And, when I started my business my different family members compiled family recipes for me.”
Today, Angela is known in her community for her small plates and bite-sized appetizers and desserts, which she loves to serve at special events and catering gigs.
But for her personal chef clients, her cooking style runs across the board. “It seems that I’m hired because of my eagerness to please them,” she says. “I really cook to each person’s individual needs. I’ll change recipes to give them what they want.”
She explains that no two clients are the same. One eats paleo. Another family is vegan and gluten free. Still another loves traditional foods. And, for one family with a handicapped adult daughter, she’ll cook for them with the daughter to teach her kitchen skills.
Angela’s inspiration comes from her clients. When she meets with them for assessments, she reviews what their dietary restrictions are and then ask what they love to eat. Maybe their dream meal is chicken parmesan, but they can’t eat dairy or are gluten free. “I’ll go home and try to figure out how to recreate the dish around their dietary needs. So, instead of parmesan cheese, I’ll make a mock cheese and use spinach with the ‘cheese’ to stuff the chicken. Instead of bread crumbs, I’ll mix together almond and coconut flour. It’s not exactly the same, but it will give them a delicious approximation of what they were asking for, only with diet-friendly ingredients.
“My thing is that you’re eating this food and what you put in your body is super important so that it will function for you. It’s not like I’m fixing your washing machine. This is your health and I’ll do whatever you need.”
At age 26, Angela’s business is thriving, yet she still has dreams of expansion. She’s learning how to manage her business and delegate. Her sister does some of her grocery shopping. Family also helps out with serving at catering gigs. Her mom is a terrific baker and helps with that, and as a former professional photographer, shoots promotional photos of Angela. A family friend helps with social media and press releases. And she’s hired a bookkeeper. Eventually, she hopes her best friend, who is just graduating from culinary school, will join her in her business.
“You have to love what you’re doing because it’s a lot of hard work,” she says. “My dad always told me, ‘Find what you love to do first and then learn how to make money doing it.’ That’s what I did.”
For those contemplating taking the same route, Angela says don’t say no to anything. “Educate yourself and then just do it. Practice doing a cooking week for family or friends to get comfortable with the amount of work you’re going to do and the process. Practice with others to be confident when doing assessments. I used to be so nervous but I like doing them now. Remember that nine times out of 10 the people who are hiring you like to eat good food but don’t know how to make it themselves. They’re so happy that you know how to cook and that you’re taking that stress away from them.”
What lessons have you learned from being a personal chef? What questions do you have about becoming one?