Personal Chef Spotlight

Chefs Dennis and Christine

PCs of the Year 2013

APPCA Live Seminars

APPCA member Lola “Dee” Dondanville has run her personal chef business, Just Deelicious, since 2012. Her Bullhead City, Ariz.-based company does mostly special occasion gatherings (not much call where she is for weekly service, she says) and supplies healthy lunches for several non-profit organizations. She also writes a healthy food blog called What’s Cooking, Healthy Cooking by Lola Dee. When she told us that she’d been asked to speak at an elementary school career day about being a personal chef, we just had to get her to share her experience. Here it is:

I received a call in January from one of our local elementary school teachers, inviting me to speak at career day at Sunrise Elementary, here in Bullhead City, Ariz., where I live and work. She found my name by googling “personal chef” for our area. My name popped up on the APPCA site, as I happen to be one of the only personal chefs listed in Mohave County, Ariz. She asked me to create a 30-minute presentation for three successive groups of 4th through 6th graders. My assignment was to not only give information about being a personal chef, but to directly relate it to math, science, and English. Of course, I planned on doing some preaching about healthy eating too! Brilliant!


I was excited and honored to be invited. As it so happens, Sunrise Elementary is a beautiful new school, just around the corner from my home. Once I found the right door and made it through security, I was greeted by some of my fellow presenters, the proverbial butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. I met a doctor, the county coroner, (forensics is a popular career), a lawyer, firemen, EMT’s, a pastry chef from Harrahs, and many others. We made our way into the auditorium to the assembly of the entire student body featuring a pep talk presented by our Parks & Recreation Director, a Bullhead City native.

The enthusiasm and sheer energy coming from a room full of elementary school students is palpable. I began to feel a rush of happy energy just being in their presence. It was near Valentine’s Day, so my bright pink chef’s coat and chef hat with my custom embroidered heart logo that means “Cooking From the Heart” were very appropriate! The kids responded so positively, and were so excited, gazing at me with beaming faces and smiles.


After the assembly, I was shown to “my” classroom, where I would be making my presentations. As it turns out, I was assigned to the art teachers classroom, and she happens to be the daughter of a good friend and colleague of mine! Janet made me comfortable, and set me up with a table, erasable board, and everything I needed for my presentation.

The first group filed in, all bubbly and excited. The first question I asked the kids was, “So who wants to be a chef?” Almost every single child raised their hand excitedly, which really tickled me. I then began my presentation, covering all my bullet points followed by a question-and-answer period. I shared personal stories, about my background of childhood poverty and divorce, and how my single mother of five was the original Martha Stewart. I described how my Mom/role model did organic gardening, cooking, canning, baking, sewing, crafts, remodeling, and so much more. The kids could relate to this, as many are experiencing hardships in their own lives. They began to open up and share stories of their own. It was very touching!

I was easily able to connect a personal chef career to the value of knowing math by doing examples of math problems for costing meals, and the exact formulas we use to be profitable. Food safety and baking were my examples of science. Vocabulary was utilized by discussing all the words and terms we use in cooking. I emphasized hard work, self esteem, responsibility, business management, marketing, sales, and customer service, in addition to the cooking skills. I, of course, pitched healthy eating and  cooking. My healthy eating mantras for the kids were: “Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Find the ones you like and eat them often” and “Cook real food at home with your family.”


The second group was equally enthusiastic, but by the time the third group came in, they were getting restless, so it took more energy to keep them captive. They were really excited about getting their photos taken and being featured on my blog, Facebook, etc. It made them feel famous, as they all seem to watch TV cooking shows. :D

I think the most poignant memory of the day for me was from a sweet young Mexican boy, 11 years old, who very seriously told me he needs to take care of his family and look after his mother. He told me his mom is a very good cook and wanted to know if I could hire her if I needed some kitchen help, but told me she does not speak much English. Such a sincere, sweet and caring young boy, trying to help his mom. It really melted my heart.


That’s about it. I was so jazzed the rest of the day. Being around these kids was so uplifting and fun. I would recommend this experience for any of my fellow chefs if you get the chance. It is both fun and uplifting, and is great marketing as well. As personal chefs, it really gives us validation to be included on career day, alongside other chefs with prestigious careers. It also puts your good name and brand out there for potential bookings. As you can see I hung up my sign and also handed out cards.

Lola Dondanville, aka “Lola Dee” because Dondanville is way too long, :)

Are you sharing your personal chef career experiences with the next generation?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Continuing our series for personal chefs that addresses the challenges of meeting the special dietary needs of clients, we have member Katie Parish of Parish Personal Chef Services in Denver guest blogging on creating Paleo diets.

Katie Parish Head Shot

When people hear the phrase ‘Paleo diet,’ most have a preconceived notion of what that means. One of my favorite questions is, “Does that mean you eat bugs?” Um, no. Not to say that there aren’t those who do! What Paleo does mean is a diet made up of whole, unprocessed foods: meat, poultry, seafood, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit, and sometimes dairy. It involves a lot of label reading—the fewer ingredients the better.

Two common misconceptions about Paleo are that this way of eating is low carb and that’s it’s all about meat. True, there is a lot of bacon to be found, but there is also a lot of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, kale, bananas, and apples. Everyone approaches Paleo a little differently, and it’s all about finding what works best for each individual.

Many people who eat using a Paleo template do so because of health reasons. That’s includes me. About five years ago, I had my gall bladder removed, and after that, gluten started making me feel sick. About a year after that, I had to stop drinking my morning latte, because the milk made me queasy. About three years ago, after hearing me describe all of this, a friend suggested that I check out Paleo. I started reading everything I could on the subject, starting with Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution. I decided to try it, and it has made all the difference for me. I lost weight, my A1C numbers came down, my energy shot up, and I didn’t have to go to the bathroom in every store I went into anymore. It took a few months for it to be second nature, but now it doesn’t even occur to me to include grains or dairy when I’m preparing meals.


Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup


My problems were mild compared to what many other people who to turn to Paleo for health reasons have gone through—ulcerative colitis, Hashimoto’s, adrenal fatigue, diabetes, Crohn’s. The list goes on and on. There are even instances of people reversing severe MS using Paleo. Check out Dr. Terry Wahl’s story in her book, The Wahl’s Protocol, or watch her TED talk here:

I currently have three clients eating a Paleo diet. One gentleman has been eating Paleo off and on for several years, but doesn’t have time to cook for himself. He wants to lose a few pounds, and finds that he is most successful if he keeps his carbs under 50 grams a day. Most of what I prepare for him is very low carb, and if I do include something like sweet potatoes, I keep the portion under ½ cup so he knows how to adjust what he eats the rest of the day to stay within his target.

Another client is in remission from stage 3 melanoma. She and her family eat all organic produce, grass- fed meat and dairy, and wild-caught fish. What I prepare for them is primarily meat or seafood and veggies, cooked with healthy fats.

Chicken Sweet Potato Hash

Chicken Sweet Potato Hash

There are many different varieties of Paleo: AIP (the Auto Immune Protocol), Low Carb Paleo, and Primal (includes some dairy). Which one your client will want depends on the reasons that brought them to Paleo in the first place. They won’t necessarily want low carb, especially if they workout regularly, but a lot of people will probably have an idea of how many grams of carbs per day work best for them and their goals. Many people already eating Paleo have done some kind of an elimination diet (either with the guidance of a doctor or on their own using, and have a pretty good idea of how different foods affect them.

The foods that are on the “no go” list for Paleo are there because in many people they can cause systemic inflammation and irritate the gut. For some, just eliminating grains/gluten gives them much more energy and gets rid of the “brain fog.” For others who have more serious health issues, the list of foods that irritates their system can be longer than what is normally eliminated when eating Paleo. For example, someone with Hashimoto’s will probably want to follow the AutoImmune Protocol, which also eliminates eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshades in addition to grains, legumes, dairy and sugar.

If you’re new to Paleo, here are three steps I think personal chefs should take when they begin to craft Paleo recipes:

  1. Get a Paleo cookbook that includes a chapter on “getting started,” such as:

Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo

Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso

Real Life Paleo by Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry

The Paleo Approach Cookbook by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD

There are many others out there, but I think these are good for beginners.

  1. Know your substitutions. Many recipes just need a few tweaks to make them Paleo. (Unless we’re talking baked goods. That’s a whole other animal).

Dairy: Coconut milk can be used in many places instead of regular milk. Some clients can tolerate heavy whipping cream and grass-fed butter since they’re mostly fat and doesn’t have as much casein as milk. For those who can’t tolerate butter, ghee can often be used in its place. Cheese usually needs to be omitted.

Grains: Cauliflower is a popular substitute for rice. There are many recipes online for cauliflower “rice.” It is also great in place of mashed white potatoes. Zucchini or sweet potato noodles are great in place of pasta. For thickeners, some options are arrowroot, gelatin, and Mochiko (sweet rice flour, if tolerated).

Sugar: Most sugars, including artificial sweeteners, are off limits. Small amounts of honey or pure maple syrup are considered natural alternatives and may be used.

 Seed Oils: Oils that can be used include olive, avocado, nut oils, palm oil, and coconut. Processed seed oils should be avoided, including safflower, canola, and peanut.

 Legumes: I haven’t found great substitutes for beans and usually just omit them. Peanuts can be subbed with any tree nuts is there aren’t allergy concerns.

  1. Read labels. Many packaged/canned items have all sorts of hidden ingredients. Make sure there are only natural items you recognize on the ingredient list, and no chemicals!
Chicken Salad with Beets

Chicken Salad with Beets

Here are also some great blogs that can help you with the basics and to find some recipes:

All of these bloggers also have cookbooks with some great resources in them.

You have need to have a thorough conversation with your clients before you get started. If a potential client requests Paleo meals, first I like to know if they’re new to Paleo and are looking for guidance from me, or if they are old pros and just don’t have time to prepare the meals themselves.

If they are new, I want to know their reasons for wanting to try Paleo. Do they want to lose weight? Did they just start working out at a Crossfit gym where they heard about it? Do they have health issues they are hoping to address? If this is going to be a big change for them, baby steps may help them ease into it. Pick one thing that they think would be easiest for them to eliminate, and when that becomes second nature, move on to the next.

If they are hoping to address health issues, jumping right in would be the best approach. It’s the best way to see the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. can help here. They have a great plan that lays out what is and isn’t allowed, and lets people know what to expect.

If they have been eating Paleo for a while, I’ll ask what their meals typically look like, and then we’ll have a conversation about “gray area” foods and carb tolerances, including white rice, white potatoes, and full-fat dairy.

On my allergy sheet that I have clients fill out, I’ve added columns for vinegars, oils/fats, and alternative flours.

Here’s a recipe I’ve created that can give you an idea of what a Paleo meal looks like—and the kinds of ingredients that are used. What makes this recipe Paleo is I substituted the original white potatoes and whipping cream with sweet potatoes and coconutmilk, as well as mochiko rice flour for the original wheat flour to make the roux. Many times just a few tweaks need to be made to convert a recipe to Paleo.

shepherd's pie landscape (2)

Lamb Shepherd’s Pie
from Katie Parish
Serves 6

For potato mixture:

3 medium sweet potatoes
½ cup coconut milk (or heavy whipping cream if tolerated)
3 tablespoons grass-fed butter
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

For lamb mixture:

1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon mochiko rice flour (use if rice is tolerated or sub with ½ cup of the mashed sweet potatoes)
2/3 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Peel sweet potatoes, and place in a saucepan with enough water to cover them. Boil until ready to mash. Drain potatoes and return to saucepan and mash. Add coconut milk (or HWC), butter, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Cover with foil until ready to use.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and sauté until softened. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Next add the lamb and cook until all pink is gone. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Sprinkle the mochiko flour on top to bloom, then mix in to thicken the sauce.* Add more if needed to get desired consistency. Next, add the peas (thawed in microwave, or just add frozen). Finish with the rosemary, salt and pepper.

Transfer the lamb mixture to either a 9×11 baking dish, or 6, 8-ounce ramekins. Top with the sweet potato mixture. Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes.

Photos courtesy of Katie Parish

Do you have any questions about special diets, or specifically about Paleo diets?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Last month life and career coach (and chef) Nicole Aloni helped us discover our values in the first post in her three-part series, Three Keys for Personal Chefs to Enjoy More Balance and Fulfillment in 2015 (heck, any year) for à la minute. Together the three posts in this series guide us in how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of our life–from our careers to our relationships. Nicole feels that these are some of the most valuable skills she shares with her coaching clients. Nicole is a long-time friend of APPCA and has given inspiring programs at several of our national meetings.

Nicole Aloni

This month Nicole addresses:

Part 2: How to Identify and Manage Your Internal Saboteurs

by Nicole Aloni

The new year is a time to reflect and re-evaluate, to consider goals, and re-think our priorities. This three-part series offers an overview of some of the most valuable skills I share with my coaching clients. These can be powerful tools for discovering how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of your life–from your career to your relationships.

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. — Martha Graham

Are you sometimes —perhaps often— aware of thoughts zooming around the periphery of your mind that put you on edge? Quick critical blurts that remind you of how: inept, short, old, selfish, ignorant, childish, overweight, weak, etc.— you are? Or the voice that says, “You’re toohomely, unrealistic, inexperienced, untrained, ordinary, boring—to even THINK of attempting ­­­some goal or dream you long for.”

This is the language of your internal saboteur. Your saboteur can be a man, a woman, an animal, a reptile…anything. There can be one main offender or there may be a posse. You can recognize the handiwork of a saboteur by how it makes you feel—small, disheartened, maybe even hopeless. Their critical monologues always make you doubt yourself and are expert at stirring up fear and anxiety.

Neuroscientists have done remarkable work in recent years uncovering the influences that have created these critical voices we all hear. You may eventually want to check out some of this research. But for now, it’s important that you learn the practical skills necessary to recognize and manage your internal saboteur. This begins by gaining insight into how these critters work and where they hang out. These are the first steps to developing the ability to recognize just who is talking when your head is buzzing with negative junk. Then you can begin to set the saboteur’s opinions aside from your authentic, powerful self.

A life coach can help you do some special exercises designed to identify your saboteur (I sometimes refer to them as gremlins). However, in this article I will show you how to get some clarity about this issue on your own. It’s a great opportunity to start on the road toward a more fulfilling and joyful life—with a lot less backchat.

My chief saboteur looks like a cross between Bob Hoskins as Scrooge and a Roald Dahl troll. His name is Rex and he speaks in a raspy, cranky growl that I can imitate when needed. He always has a crafty little sneer on his face. Rex commonly reminds me that I’m too old to- (fill in the blank). I first noticed him using that barb when I was about 37.

Through work with my first coach, I identified Rex and then learned a number of saboteur management strategies. One of my favorites is to focus on making him as small as a flea and dropping him into a spice bottle. I screw on the lid and put that harmlessly squeaking jar in the back of my closet. Or, if he’s been especially fierce, I may stand on my balcony and throw the bottle into the ocean where his squeaky protests grow quieter as he floats further out to sea. Depends.

Clients have shared some their fabulous saboteur dialog with me which ranges from, “You don’t know anything” to “Whoa boy, you better keep your head down or they’ll figure out who you really are!” to “You’re not interesting enough to get that _____.” The following is a Saboteur Discovery Exercise to help you start listening for your own “gremlins.”


Once you have completed that exercise you will be ready to start putting this knowledge into practice. Listen for those voices and when they creep in, use the strategies you developed in the Saboteur Discovery Exercise to put a headlock on your saboteur.

What steps are you taking this year to improve your career and life in general?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Websites are your business’ virtual office, the place where potential and current clients, media, and–let’s face it–your competition stop by to evaluate what you do and how well you do it. Your site is likely the first impression you make, especially if visitors come to you via Personal Chef Search or a search engine. And yet I’m constantly surprised at how little attention many people pay to theirs. You may spend a small fortune on design or almost nothing at all, but some of the most critical mistakes I find have nothing to do with budget. They have to do common sense and basic marketing principles. In other words, you’re not paying attention.

Because we want you to succeed and use all the tools available to you to do this, well, I’m going to be blunt about the top 10 website mistakes you’re making. And, if you’re rolling your eyes because you don’t think this applies to you, check your website to be sure. Congrats if you’ve escaped this cudgel, but in all likelihood you have at least one or two issues you need to resolve–and, most are so simple you’re going to be embarrassed. The good news is that they’re easy fixes. (I’m not going to get into complex navigation issues here, but ask your friends and family to test your site to identify if getting around your site is also an issue.)

1. You don’t identify yourself by name. You’re asking people to invite you into your home but nowhere on your site do you do more than call yourself Chef John or Chef Kim. That just won’t fly. Tell people who you are.

2. You don’t identify the geographic area you serve. Are you based in Seattle? Philadelphia? Dallas? Who is going to get in touch with you if they don’t know where you are? And don’t rely on your phone number’s area code to give it away. You may have moved but kept your old number on your cell phone. Or your region’s phone numbers have been repeatedly divided into new area codes that people aren’t necessarily familiar with.

3. Your “Contact Me” page only contains a form for potential clients to complete, not actual contact information. Don’t make people work to get in touch with you. Be as accessible as possible.

4. You don’t include enough photos of your food. If you are offering sample menus or recipes, you must have photos to accompany them. Food is a visual medium and potential clients want to see what your food looks like.

Vietnamese Beef Lettuce Wraps with Rice Noodles and Cucumber Relish

Beautifully styled and lit photo of Vietnamese Beef Lettuce Wraps by Carol Borchardt, who has developed a passion for food photography

5. Your photos are lousy. If you’re creating a virtual billboard that represents your talent, show it at its best. Photos that are poorly lit or out of focus are the worst culprits. Photos that are too small are also problematic. Either learn how to take quality photos or hire someone who can style and shoot you and your food to their advantage.


Compelling photo of Elizabeth Prewitt and her dishes

6. You have included a blog on your website, but haven’t updated it in months, perhaps years. You may have had the best of intentions but are too busy to keep up with writing a blog. If that’s the case, the call is easy. Remove that page from your website. Don’t give the impression that you don’t follow through.

7. You don’t identify yourself as an APPCA member. Potential clients and media are looking for evidence that you provide a legitimate service and that you are trained and expert in what you do. Using the APPCA logo and noting your affiliation in your “About Me” (or the equivalent) page goes a long way in proving that.


8. You have clickable logos on your website for various social media platforms, but they aren’t actually linked to  social media accounts. If you are on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or other social media platforms (and you should be), insert the links to make the most of those logos to get people to where you can interact with them. If you’re not engaged in social media, remove those logos.



Twitter logo

9. You haven’t updated your website after making changes in your life or your business. I recently wrote about a member and, based on what she wrote on her website, noted where she was based. She sent me a note saying she no longer lived there. I had to change what I wrote to reflect her actual home base. She had to go back to her website and update the old information. I wonder how many people might have contacted her if the information had been current.

10. You don’t brag about your accomplishments. Have you won an award? Been featured in a newspaper article? Been a guest on a local radio show? Asked to cater a major event? Add a “News” page that allows you to tell website visitors what you’ve been up to. And be sure to keep it up to date.

These 10 mistakes don’t just apply to your website. Pull out your business card. What information have you included? Remember, you can use both sides of the card. It should contain your full name, the name of your business, the communities you serve, any specialization you have, and the services you offer. And, of course, it should have your contact information (phone, email), your website URL, and your social media platforms (including your personalized Facebook business page URL).

Your email signature should be just as robust. Include your full name, your business name, your phone numbers, your web URL, your social media account names/URLs. Have a business logo? Include that, too.

The takeaway is that with every point of contact you need to be memorable (in a good way), be easy to find, be irresistible. Your website is a reflection of you and what you can provide. If you create a situation in which people leave your site scratching their heads because they can’t figure out what exactly you do, who you are, or how to reach you–well, why even have a website? You can do better.

What mistakes do you find on websites that you wish people would address?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.


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Throughout the year we want to inspire you with the various ways in which our members are reinventing themselves and their personal chef businesses. Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen in the San Francisco Bay Area is a perfect example of this. And an advocate. He’s our guest blogger this week and has some terrific words of wisdom that we know you’ll take to heart!


Businesses succeed not by being the best, the first, or the most well run. They succeed because they know how to tell a compelling story. They also learn how to retell their story over and over. This means they refuse to be hemmed in by their past. They know how to re-craft their business identity to stay in harmony with the needs of their customers. Today, especially, there is a growing need to be fluid, adaptable, flexible. Many of the strategies we’ve adopted as personal chefs may not be working as well for us now as they did this time last year. It could be for a variety of reasons—our personal lives have changed, our clients’ lives or budgets have changed, the communities we work in have evolved. For some of us our stories need to be upgraded. It’s important to learn how to craft a different story. And then a different one from that. And down the road a different one from that.

A few years ago I was lucky to be invited by Candy Wallace to speak at the APPCA convention in Las Vegas. The heart of my message was that as personal chefs we have a pretty sexy story to tell, which includes a number of unique advantages. Because we are chefs we are perceived experts on food and food service (large in part due to Candy’s success in making the APPCA a tremendous value for members and their customers). Food experts continue to be highly valued in today’s market. Because we’re cooks, we know how to make something magical out of diverse ingredients, which often includes being willing and able to adapt quickly to our circumstances.

My aim in my presentation was to point out the value of having a powerful and sexy story to tell which includes an innate skill set unique to our profession. These skills keep our work fresh, retain customer value, and help pull us through leaner times. We have the skills to adapt, to change, and to leverage our perceived expertise as food professionals to keep our careers thriving. In other words, we have what it takes to change our story as needed. Does your story need an upgrade?

I read Candy’s December blog post about 10 Ways to Revitalize Your Personal Chef Business in 2015. Items 8 through 10 particularly resonated with me because, since I became a personal chef, I have been diligent in my efforts to keep my business fresh and to continually revitalize my practice. I chose to leverage multiple passions which ended up with multiple streams of income. What I have been doing is changing my story so I can continue to offer value and to have a fulfilling life. Having various ways of making money was the icing on the cake.

Cooking Classes

Cooking Classes

Five years ago my PC business became focused on cooking for people with food allergies, a lucrative niche. I once again changed my story. I changed my company’s name from Full Fridge to Hipp Kitchen (Hipp being short for Hippocrates, who said, “Let food be thy medicine.”). But in cooking alone, I craved company. So I found a beautiful venue in San Francisco and began holding allergen-friendly cooking classes and foodie events. I’ve done over 30 parties, classes, and team-building adventures in this venue alone. I was making more money, as well as developing new relationships and keeping my creative juices floating. Now my story was that I was a (perceived) expert in food allergies.

But there was still one itch that wasn’t being scratched: my passion for travel. I came to find out combining a love for food and a love for travel was also a strong customer need.

Chefs Barge Cruise

My experience shows that you have to leap when you encounter an opportunity. Mine was meeting a travel agent who was working on organizing a culinary tour to Italy. She had the template; I had the people and the passion. I had always dreamed of doing culinary tours in Europe, so I formed a new culinary adventure company called Spirit and Spice—and couldn’t be happier. Leading culinary travel adventures is so heart-fulfilling, and as a source of income it’s been wonderful because my husband and I have been able to travel to Europe. I have lots of repeat business and my customers are still talking about the adventures years afterwards.


I have organized and led three culinary adventures to Europe. My last tour was called “Floating Through Paradise” and was one week on slow-moving French Hotel Barges cruising up the beautiful Canal du Midi in the South of France, followed by a week in Paris. Candy and seven other personal chefs joined me in the adventure. Cooking classes, wineries, olive oil factories, goat cheese farms, a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu, farmers markets, hunting wild asparagus along the Canal du Midi, and as a group, preparing the final dinner on the barges to say thank you. I brought home new techniques, new recipes, new friends, and a lifetime of memories.

Chefs at the Mediterranean

I have changed my story a number of times. I went from being a home cook to being a personal chef. I went from being strictly a personal chef to also being a perceived expert in food allergies. I then became a cooking teacher, a culinary event producer, and now I am considered by my ever-widening network to be an expert when it comes to creating culinary travel adventures!

Pintxos in San Sebastian

I encourage you to follow Candy’s advice and do what you can to keep your business (and yourself) revitalized. Don’t be afraid to take a close look at your main passions and figure out how to turn at least one of them into a source of income. You have the power to completely change your story. Begin telling it to everyone and pretty soon your new story will be top of mind within your network. Plus, you have lots of wisdom and inspiration offered from your fellow PC’s on the forums to help you get started.

My fourth culinary travel adventure is coming up in May. It’s called “Bordeaux to Barcelona.” I have room for a couple more people and it would be wonderful to have some fellow chefs along. Please check out the details here.

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Monica Shoemaker has been cooking ever since she can remember. Growing up in Texas on the Mexican border, her first memories are of making tortillas with the family housekeeper, Maria. “Those hot tortillas coming off the griddle were my first memories,” she recalls. “I always loved cooking, loved experimenting. A friend of mine in high school used to joke that I was the only person who would throw parties when my parents were away and serve hors d’oeuvres.”

But Monica had never actually considered cooking as a career choice, opting instead to get a degree in social work. All the while, however, she had been teaching herself how to cook, waiting tables at restaurant, and did cook tableside at a chic Mexican restaurant in Houston. The restaurant asked her to cater for them and she even got a gig as a private chef for her flight instructor. Yes, she was learning how to fly.


Then she moved to Portland, following her brother, in 1996. She got married, and had a baby boy. “When my son was three I wanted to have the freedom and flexibility of having my own business and do it cooking. I did some research and found APPCA. I went to a summit that year and met Candy. She’s amazing. She’s given me lots of great business advice. I love her!”

The name for her new business, Home Plate Personal Chef Service, came to her in a dream while she was in Houston visiting her mom. Back in Portland, she was able to get clients from some of the top headquartered companies in the region, including Nike, Adidas, and Intel. She’s focused on cooking nutritious, healthy meals and loves creating meals based on clients’ special diets.

“I do everything from paleo to helping people with food allergies and sensitivities, like gluten-free and MS or other anti-inflammatory diets,” she explains. “I’m always reading up on nutrition and medical journals. People come to me because they want to eat clean, healthy food.”

But, like many chefs, she likes to have her moment to shine with food that’s a little more extravagant. “I love doing dinner parties, too, she says. “That’s when I can pull out all the stops.”


One of the greatest times of her life was a trip made with a group of personal chefs to Italy, led by Candy. She participated in a cooking course at the Academia Barilla in Parma. “It was an amazing experience. Not only were we able to taste the best olive oils in the regional and learn how they made parmesan and prosciutto, we even got to cook with a chef who cooked for the pope! I loved the produce, the little markets. It was incredible!

Monica at Academia Barilla

“But what I gained the most, aside from the amazing food and lovely scenery, were the friendships I made there–in particular, Katie Jackson and Gina Capobianco, both APPCA members, whom I’ve seen many times over the years since we met there,” adds Monica. “We travel together, meet up in other cities, and talk on a weekly basis. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the APPCA and I was able to bond with a lot of other chefs in our association, which was fantastic since we often work alone when we’re at the homes of our clients.”

Today, Monica is weaving in a new skills set with her cooking. She just became an aesthetician. She’ll continue to work with her clients, but is also hoping to work in a wellness center to do nutritional counseling and skin care.

Monica has a special Persian-style lamb stew recipe to share–perfect for cold winter nights.

Spiced Lamb Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate

From Monica Shoemaker

The recipe has been adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.  I made a few changes…but the method of cooking is the same.

Serves 4

2 to 3 pounds quality roasting shoulder joint of lamb, boneless
2 tablespoons plain flour
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
4 sticks celery, trimmed and finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
½ stick cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cups of pomegranate juice
1 cup of chicken broth
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

lamb stew ingredients2

Cut the lamb into thumb-sized cubes. Spike the flour with a teaspoon of sea salt and black pepper. Toss the lamb cubes in the seasoned flour.

Heat a large pan and pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil starts to smoke, add as many lamb pieces as will fit in one layer, cover with a lid and cook for a few minutes until soft and browned evenly. Remove from the pan, then repeat with the remaining cubes until they are all browned. Return all the lamb to the pan and turn the heat down.

Add the onion, celery, garlic, cinnamon, walnuts and bay leaves to the pan. Put the lid back on and cook very gently for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan, until the onion is softened.

Lamb stew ingredients in pot

Cut your pomegranates in half and ease out a few of the seeds and put to one side. Stir the juice into the lamb and top up with water to cover. Simmer very gently for 1½ hours, or until the lamb is tender, adding a little water now and then if the stew gets dry.

Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Season to taste and sprinkle with the parsley and reserved pomegranate seeds. Lovely served with steaming hot saffron rice.

Lamb stew

Photos courtesy of Monica Shoemaker.


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Over the next several months we’ll be addressing a topic that many personal chefs take special pride in: learning how to help clients with special dietary needs. Several member chefs who have developed specializations will contribute posts that explore how they got through the learning curve and developed dishes that make life healthier and happier in their clients’ daily lives.

We start with Beth Volpe of Savory Eats by Beth, who has developed the ability to work with a spectrum of clients with special needs. She tells us how this developed and gives tips for how to take on a new dietary challenge so you don’t have to say no–and, in fact, can be the great change in a family’s life.

Working with Special Needs Clients
by Beth Volpe

Last March I was contacted by a nutritionist who had a client with food sensitivities. “Tom” is in his early 30’s, has a high pressure job, is married to a wife with a minimal palate, and his colon was removed 11 years ago due to severe ulcerative colitis. He does not feel good most of the time. He was put on a food sensitivity diet consisting of 25 items (this included herbs and spices). Cooking for clients with dietary specifications of course requires more work and research. However, cooking with only 25 items presents even more challenges when it comes to making the food look and taste good. I was able to add one or two items to the list weekly. Unfortunately, we found that combining certain foods together caused a negative reaction.

Chicken Loaf with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese--created for "Tom." After a couple of months of cooking for him, he was able to enjoy ricotta cheese.

Chicken Loaf with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese–created for “Tom.” After a couple of months of cooking for him, he was able to enjoy ricotta cheese.

I don’t have formal training in dealing with food sensitivities but fortunately there are lots of resources out there. In “Tom’s” case I stayed in close contact with his nutritionist at first to fully understand the list of foods. I cooked twice a week for this client, making 14 dinners and 14 lunches weekly. Half were frozen. Since the couple doesn’t cook I was also cooking for his wife, who did not like many items on his list. More work! I still cook for “Tom” today, however I have given him my recipes and he cooks on his own now. I see him every three to four months.

Vinegar and Coconut Milk--special for "Tom"

Vinegar and Coconut Milk–special for “Tom”

What I have learned:

  1. People with food sensitivities or intolerances feel sick when they eat foods that do not agree with their body. It has been described to me as the same feeling as a hangover.
  2. I always ask if their condition has been diagnosed and who made the diagnosis. Was blood work done? For too many people, the answer is gluten-free diets.
  3. These clients require lots of research by the chef. For me, I needed to understand this dietary program. I always research any medical condition my clients have before I meet with them so that when we do meet I am at least somewhat familiar with their condition. Then I’m able to ask the right questions.
  4. To date, I have never turned down a client with special dietary needs. However, today, I would not take on a client like this or a vegan client or anything that looks too complicated.  At the time I met “Tom” I had just started my business. I was in the market to get clients and entertained any interested parties.
  5. I cook fresh only. I don’t freeze foods anymore. My clients seem to prefer fresh food and are willing to pay for me to come in weekly and cook for them.
Raw Apple Pie--created for a paleo diet

Raw Apple Pie–created for a paleo diet


My business fell into a niche market from the get go. My first client was diagnosed pre-diabetic. Then I did a Paleo Valentine’s dinner (that was fun and interesting). That was followed by a young mother with Multiple Myeloma. She had just had a stem cell transplant. The rest were/are referrals from nutritionists. Now my clientele consist of gluten free, gluten free/lactose intolerant, heart conditions (bypass surgery or heart attack), and cancer/chemo patients. All of these require research. All of these are challenging.

Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free New York Steak and Potatoes with Onions

Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free New York Steak and Potatoes with Onions

If you’ve been approached by people with special dietary needs, don’t turn them down out of hand because you’re afraid you don’t have the knowledge base to help them or that it will be too difficult. But there are challenges in working with them. I’ve put together some tips to help you get started:


  1. Make sure you have the time to devote to clients with special needs. It is not as simple to put a recipe or menu together. They personally may want more of your time.
  2. Be prepared to research what you need to know about their situation. That may mean talking to their doctor or nutritionist directly. Buy the book, Google it, read blogs. Get familiar with why they are seeking your help.
  3. Be patient and be ready to do what the client needs, not what you want to do. I always considered myself a savory cook. Making food taste over the top was what I did. Well, that all needs to be put into perspective when you are limited by the foods you are able to cook with. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative. It means you must become even more creative. Save your amazing recipes for those wonderful dinner parties.
  4. It’s a good idea to find out what type of oil the client, doctor, or nutritionist wants used in cooking. Generally extra-virgin olive oil, sesame, and coconut are acceptable. I was surprised to find out that commercial brands of oil such as canola (and many others) are not acceptable (for my clients).
  5. For your lactose-intolerant clients, butter and milk alternatives must be used. I use ghee when butter is called for in a recipe.
  6. Chia seeds are a great binding alternative in any ground meat such as meatloaf. Mixed with a liquid it becomes a tasteless gel.
Chicken Fajitas and Spanish Rice--gluten and lactose free

Chicken Fajitas and Spanish Rice–gluten and lactose free

Beth Volpe is the chef/owner of Savory Eats by Beth Personal Chef Services in Los Angeles.

What types of medical conditions or diets are potential clients contacting you about? How have you learned to help them?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Nicole Aloni

Why have we chosen the path of personal chef? A few reasons come to mind. We love to take care of others. We love cooking. And we want control over our careers so we can live a more fulfilling life on our own terms. But, even with the best of intentions and drive, we’re people and we often come up short in meeting our goals and living our dreams. The new year is a time of reflection and re-evaluation, of setting new goals and re-motivating ourselves for the future. So, we’re lucky that life and career coach (and chef) Nicole Aloni has offered to write a three-part series to guide us in how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of our life–from our careers to our relationships. Nicole feels that these are some of the most valuable skills she shares with her coaching clients. Nicole is a long-time friend of APPCA and has given inspiring programs at several of our national meetings.

In this three-part series, Three Keys for Personal Chefs to Enjoy More Balance and Fulfillment in 2015 (heck, any year), Nicole will discuss:

Part 1: Discovering Your Personal Values
Part 2 (in February): How to Identify and Manage Your Gremlins (your internal sabateurs)
Part 3 (in March): Nicole’s favorite techniques for managing stress and enhancing your sense of well being and joy

Discovering Your Personal Values
by Nicole Aloni

We are all on a hero’s journey toward discovering our true life’s purpose—the impact we were born to make on the planet. When we have discovered that path and step in to it, our lives feel full, balanced, and joyous.

To understand and embrace your unique role, it’s essential for you to come to understand what your values are. Firstly—values are not morals. Your values are those energies or qualities without which your life is flat, frustrating, and out-of-sync feeling—and often not as successful as you would like. For example, one of your top values might be receiving recognition/being number one. That is not a moral choice; it is who you are. There is nothing inherently virtuous (or not) in your values. What is important is not the value itself but the degree to which you are fully living it in your day-to-day life.

When you understand your values and then use them as the benchmarks by which you measure all major decisions, your life will come to feel easy, joyous, exciting. You will feel in “flow.” You can wisely assess each decision or opportunity to see whether your top values will be honored or trampled by making that choice and decide accordingly. Making these kind of informed choices will help you find and stay on your own, personal path of flow and fulfillment.

So, it’s essential that you do the work to identify these values that are intrinsic to you—as unique as your DNA. This values discovery is often the work of a focused session or two with your coach. But you can do much of this on your own.

A Values Exercise
Think of a fantastically happy time in your past. Isolate a three- or four-minute snapshot of a time when you felt on top of the world. Were you lying on the beach in Phuket with your toes being lapped by gentle waves? Picking up your baby for the first time? Making a perfect run through powder down a 5-diamond run?

Close your eyes and bring this experience to mind as vividly as you can. Really feel it. Now ask yourself: What made this experience truly marvelous and amazing? Was it my feeling of adventurousness? My sense of mastery? Of independence or vitality? Serenity or the honoring of family? These are values. (Below is a list of some other values that may resonate with you.)

Start your list with the two or three words that are clearly popping out of your experience. Those are values that were being fully honored in that moment. That’s why you felt so alive, plugged-in!

Because our feelings are so complex, most people find it useful to use a string of two or three words to really fully embody a value. And the more absolute specificity and clarity you can achieve, the more powerful this knowledge will be for you moving forward. For instance, consider how different the meaning expressed by the values string of spirituality/love/risk-taking is from spirituality/service to others/intuition.

Ultimately, we are looking for a list of your top 10 values (each probably a string of powerful words as above) that you will order from #1 (most essential to your life, your well-being—this is the one you know you can’t live without) and so on to #10.

This will likely change over time. The order in which you rank your values may shift, and some values may actually slip off the list to be replaced by something new. Lives change. We evolve. And it’s great to check in with this a couple of times a year throughout your life.

Finally, forgive and appreciate yourself just as you are today—about to begin this journey. You are already great!


Nicole is the author of three books about the art of cooking and entertaining: The Backyard Bartender, Secrets From A Caterer’s Kitchen and Cooking for Company. She is also a life and career coach, freelance writer, and teacher.

Nicole completed the diploma course at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris, and then stayed on to work as a chef in France. In California, she owned her own restaurant and directed one of the country’s largest catering operations where she produced events for queens, divas, presidents and Julia Child. Nicole then opened her own high-end catering company, which also produced a line of gourmet food products for fine stores.

After completing her studies at the prestigious Coaches Training Institute, Nicole added whole life coaching for food professionals and others to her career. Nicole helps her clients discover what is possible for themselves and their business. She works with the whole person, bringing into balance the various aspects of life so clients not only reach their potential, but also find deep satisfaction and joy.

She coaches, cooks and entertains in Seattle, WA. You can reach Nicole at and

Values Thought-Starter List
(Keep in mind, the isn’t a shopping list, just a thought-starter. You may identify with some of these or your values may not appear here at all.)

Being the best
Peace of mind
Personal Growth
Receiving Recognition
Risk Taking
Service to others

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Aim High for 2015 With a Living Business Plan

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , January 5, 2015

Motivational speak Zig Ziglar is often quoted as saying, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” Operating a business without a business plan as your road map is a form of aiming at nothing–and is a guaranteed scenario for disaster.

The opportunity to redirect, redefine, and refresh your business plan at the start of each new year is an important process that can set you in the direction you choose to pursue with self-set attainable markers to chart your progress. Establishing it when you launched your business isn’t enough. Your business plan is a living document that must be regularly updated to reflect where you are and where you want to go. Making an appointment with yourself to review and bring it up to date is a date with your destiny that clarifies your plans and goals.

And they don’t have to be strictly business goals, although things do tend to circle back to the business. What you include in your plan can help you determine if the business is meeting your needs–all your needs. Is it both sustaining you financially and supporting you spiritually so you can spend the time you want with family, friends, and your community? Are you learning new skills that help your business grow or help you blossom as a person? Are you shedding things that are no longer important to you? Have your priorities changed over the course of a year? Remember, this career path as a personal chef is designed to promote your own expertise and your specific business and lifestyle requirements.

Assuming you’ve addressed the basics–committing to writing your strengths, skills, and time; a realistic initial sales forecast; and your business model/s for generating revenues–you can review other critical business issues over time, such as changing markets and revised sales forecasts. Here’s where you include potential new revenue streams like catering events or teaching classes. It’s where you evaluate your current client base and determine if it’s still viable or needs revisiting. It shows you where you need to spend time marketing and identify the best approaches for doing so.

Yet another issue to revisit in your business plan is how well set you are for dealing with new, unexpected responsibilities. Perhaps you’re going to be a new parent. Perhaps your parents need your help as a caregiver. Perhaps you’re getting married or divorced or are buying a new home. Does your business plan reflect the changes that are inevitably taking place in your life?

Revising and updating your business plan is a great way to dedicate time to thinking about what you want to achieve in the coming year and what you want your life to be truly is filled with. Putting your goals and dreams down in a document gives it a solidity and reference point that just mulling it over in the middle of the night lacks. And be sure to set several goals instead of one singular grand goal. You don’t just want to increase revenues by 10 percent. Perhaps you also want to include learning a new skill like public speaking or writing a blog or improving your food photography. Perhaps it’s something as basic as developing a half dozen new sauces and a killer chicken stock. With several goals, you can celebrate your accomplishments throughout the year. (Because you are going to return to your business plan throughout the year to check on your progress, right?)

Taking the time to update your living business plan enables you to deal with evolving circumstances. And that gives you power. It allows you to deal with change effectively and immediately, without panic or anxiety. It allows you to bite off small chunks of accomplishments while working toward the greater goals of the year. It gives you something to strive for and to measure achievements by. It’s a New Year’s gift you give yourself both in serenity and helping you attain your ambitions.

And, remember, if you find yourself stuck in creating or updating your business plan, get in touch! That’s what we’re here for!

Have you begun to assess and update your business plan? If not, what’s holding you back? What are some of the new goals you’re identifying for 2015?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.



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Dom Petrov Ossetra and Hackleback (r)1

With the New Year upon us this week, we’re facing the inevitable feast of resolutions. Well, we don’t want to be left out of the fun. And we’re always keen on trying to help our members thrive in business and life. So, we’ve come up with strategies that we believe will help with both. And, if you’ve got any to suggest, please include them in the comments section below!

So, in the spirit of stepping right up to the future, generating new business, keeping current business, and just all around embracing life, we hope you will:

1. Jump start your business marketing in innovative ways that attract the people you want to work with. Dive into social media and really engage people with a mix of what you’re doing, useful information about food/diet, and showcasing what you admire in others (generosity is a winning character trait on social media that attracts others). Join professional or volunteer organizations that will help you network beyond your usual circle. Contact us about guest blogging in this space or to ask Caron Golden to write a feature post about you. Let us know your area of expertise so we can call on you as a resource. (And then promote the heck out of the published piece!) It all helps you get your name out into the wider world!

2. Refresh your website and be sure to include the most important information about yourself, specifically your name, service geographies, and contact info (you’d be surprised at how many people seem to keep this a secret). Keep your site up to date and informative. Brag on yourself! And, be sure to get someone else to give new copy a once over to catch typos and grammatical mistakes. Make it as professional as you can.

Chef Carol Borchardt, who is generous with business advice and photography expertise

Chef Carol Borchardt, who is generous with business advice and photography expertise

3. Improve your food photography. The difference between a mediocre photo and a mouthwatering one is often as simple as lighting and focus. Don’t display muddy shots of brown food. Make every dish glow. That’s what you’re selling! Take a photography class. Buy a food photography book like Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin and study it. Read our past posts by member/photographer Carol Borchardt and learn from them. Study photos you admire and learn how to style from them.

4. Focus on learning a couple of new cooking techniques or a new cuisine to reignite your passion for cooking and so you can introduce new recipes into your client repertoire.

5. Conduct regular client assessments with longtime clients–perhaps every six months. It’s good to have ongoing conversations about where they are in their health, diet, and preferences. It’s also an opportunity for you to introduce new dishes to them and encourage them to give you referrals.

6. Set aside a budget to go out to eat at new restaurants, ethnic restaurants, anything that gets you out of your rut so you experience new tastes and new approaches to food and cooking. It’s research and it’s fun.

7. Get out and ask questions. What do people need in your community that you can provide? Does a community college need cooking teachers? Does a cooking school need someone who is able to teach kids or elders or people with specific dietary issues in which you have expertise? Does a local business need a regular caterer? Does a dietician with special needs clients need a chef to refer them to?

All editions of The Professional Chef

8. Identify gaps or deficiencies in how you run your business and find ways to improve them so that you’re more efficient and can earn more money. We have plenty of materials and software that address the business of being a personal chef. I can help and if you need other tools, we can direct you to them. Or come to San Diego and take a Personal Chef Seminar to recalibrate your business. Or take a class to learn a new skill set (in accounting, marketing, public speaking) at your local community college.


photo 2


9. Add a new related revenue stream to your business. This can range from teaching cooking classes and doing food demos at events to providing small markets with take0ut foods or catering meetings for businesses.

10. Set aside time once a month to get out of the kitchen and away from your business and do something fun. We all need to clear our heads and just enjoy life. We chose this industry so we could earn a living doing what we love on our terms. Set your priorities so you can lead a balanced life and be with those who are important to you.

January is traditionally a time for activating a new approach to life. We may not need to diet or exercise more, but who couldn’t  improve on what we already do well or simply learn something new that will enhance our business or life?

With the economy improving, 2015 is bound to be a terrific year! What can you do for yourself and your family to fulfill that promise?

Dennis and I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

What are you planning on doing to make 2015 a banner year?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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