Well, we’re at the precipice of month three of 2017. What actions did you lay out in your 2017 business plan to build your personal chef skills? Have you acted on them yet?

Now, you’re probably assuming we’re talking about cooking. And, yes, that’s a part of it. But being a successful personal chef involves more than cooking skills. It involves marketing yourself and your business. Gaining financial literacy so you actually make a profit. Broadening your social skills to be able to engage with clients and potential clients. Maybe it’s developing a specialty and attaining the critical knowledge of that area of specialization to deliver on it to clients.

With this in mind, here are five ways to build your personal chef skills:

  1. If you’re feeling that your cooking skills need a boost so you’ll feel more confident and able to expand your repertoire of recipes, enroll in cooking classes. They can be local classes or you can get certified by a cooking school. Our partner Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy offers self-paced Culinary and Pastry Arts programs. In fact, several of our members are graduates.
  2. Amp up your visibility by building a social media presence. Figure out where your potential people are. Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Pinterest? You don’t have to tackle them all but two, maybe three platforms will start to build your reputation among potential clients. Make sure you take great, well-lit photos of your food and reach out to others (including us) to build connections who can help share your posts.
  3. Where you live can make a difference in how you shape your business. So, why not reach out to other APPCA members in your city to network? You can exchange marketing tips, resources, and maybe collaborate on projects–catering large special events or backing each other up with gigs you can’t take on.
  4. Set yourself apart with an area of specialization. Some people focus on dietary specialties–gluten-free or vegan, heart-friendly diets, building athletic strength, disease oriented. Others like to cook for new moms and young families or busy executives or older adults. If there’s a type of diet or a type of client that really excites you, build a business around that–but make sure you have the special skills and insights you need to put you in demand. And that’s a combination of cooking skills and human interaction skills.
  5. Reinforce what you’ve learned and may have forgotten or weren’t ready to act on. When you joined APPCA did you attend our weekend Personal Chef Seminar at Candy’s home in San Diego? If you didn’t, this intensive course will give you a vast array of information, tools, and insights into running your business that you’ll leave excited and energized. If you did attend years ago, how about going back for a refresher course? With some experience behind you, you may discover some gaps you’re ready to fill. And Candy can offer you suggestions within the context of the seminar based on your evolved needs. The next seminar is March 11-12 and the following one will be held in May.

Enjoying lunch and some San Diego sunshine at a recent weekend seminar

We can help you with any of these five tips. Get in touch with Candy to discuss the Escoffier culinary program. Get in touch with me to get some help with social media (or take a look at past posts here and here and here). If you’re looking for local APPCA members to network with, go on our forum to reach out or our APPCA group page. Or ask Candy for a list of local members to contact. Get input from colleagues on specializing in both of these groups–or, again, Candy. We’re here to help you succeed!

What steps are you taking to rev up your business? How can we help you?

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

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Cocoa Buckwheat Crepes1

Two weeks ago we featured a wonderful post by APPCA member Jim Huff, describing the development of his recipe for his Nutella Banana Bread Bread Pudding. Recipe development is a key part of being a personal chef as you adapt ideas into dishes that both represent your culinary point of view and address client preferences or dietary needs. Maybe you have a concept in mind—transforming a traditional dish with gluten into something equally delicious but gluten free. Or you love a concept for a recipe but the ingredients either aren’t seasonally available or not regionally available.

So, you work it. You substitute ingredients, adjust amounts, and eventually voila! You have your your dish. But sometimes you give it a good try and it fails. Dismally. Then what? Well, you keep going to find a solution or—if it becomes clear the original concept is a nonstarter—you just move on. Here’s an example:

Will Gustwiller is a chef I know in San Diego. He started out as a truffle maker, which is when we became acquainted. But his interests were broader and he started branching out, incorporating chocolate of all kinds into savory dishes. His place, Eclipse Chocolat, started hosting special chocolate dinners. About four years ago he moved to a larger space in a nearby neighborhood which gave him the opportunity to create a sit-down cafe with a regular menu.

I joined him one day while he was working on a new concept for a savory cocoa buckwheat crepe. Not unlike your own kitchen when you’re experimenting with dishes, we had a hell of a time with a variation Gustwiller was trying with the crepe. He wanted to make it both vegan and gluten-free. The gluten-free part we had down. We were using buckwheat after all. But we found that soy milk and going egg free just didn’t work. Not only did it not come together well, it tasted dreadful. So, out that batch went. We tried some other options but they, too, failed. It was clear this wasn’t the day this recipe was going to turn vegan so we moved on and went back to his tried-and-true batter with dairy. You’ve probably had that experience in one way or another, too.

But the good news is that this is still a wonderful dish. The crepe has minimal sugar so not only does it work well in savory dishes, it doesn’t overwhelm a sweet dessert filling (like the strawberries I intend to try the recipe out on). Once we reverted back to the original recipe, it took less than an hour to get all three components together and ready to eat. One of the secrets to its success is filling the crepe, folding it into quarters, then putting it in the oven briefly to crisp the pancake’s edges. The result is a firm crepe with a hint of cocoa. The creamy shallot filling is sweet from the caramelized shallots and Riesling but just a bit tart from the crème fraiche. Topping it off with the mushrooms adds another dimension of flavor with a little bite from the fresh green onions. It’s rich, but not overwhelmingly so for a first course. This is definitely something you should make if you’re catering dinner parties or brunch.

Savory Cocoa Buckwheat Crepe with Shallot Filling and Mushroom Sauce
from Will Gustwiller
Serves 4

This crepes make a terrific first course for a dinner party or main course for brunch.

For crepe:

Ingredients
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup skim milk
1 1/4 cup water (thin as needed)

Making the crepes

 

Whisk together ingredients and strain to remove clumps. Since there’s no gluten, there’s no need to rest the batter but you can refrigerate before using if you want to make it ahead of time.

Heat a nonstick sauté or crepe pan, spray with a little vegetable oil. Ladle in about a quarter cup of the batter and swirl it around the bottom of the pan. Depending on the pan size you may need to add a little more batter. When the edges start to curl and the crepe has set, flip it over and let it finish cooking briefly, then flip onto a plate. You can separate the crepes with wax paper. (You can also freeze cooked crepes, layered with wax paper.)

For shallot filling:

Ingredients
1 cup shallots, diced
1/4 cup butter
1 cup Riesling wine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
salt to taste
1/2 cup crème fraiche

Caramelize shallots in butter and deglaze with the wine. Remove from the heat and finish with remaining ingredients. Set aside.

Shallot and mushroom sauces

For mushroom sauce:

Ingredients
1 cup + cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup + Riesling wine
4 green onion tops, sliced
salt to taste

Sauté the mushrooms in a pan with plenty of room. Deglaze with wine and season to finish. Top with green onion slices.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F. On a flat crepe, add a couple of tablespoons of the shallot filling and spread the filling over the entire crepe. Fold into quarters. Place on a baking sheet and put into the oven for five minutes. Remove and plate the crepes. Top with the mushroom sauce and serve immediately.

Adding mushroom sauce

Do you have a recipe you’re still trying to perfect? Share your story! Maybe a colleague has an idea for getting it to work.

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

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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La Cocina Que Canta

One of my favorite food writing jobs was contributing to Rancho La Puerta’s blog and app. Every month, I would go down to their cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta, and participate in a hands-on class taught by a renowned cooking teacher, restaurateur, or cookbook author. One month it was Deborah Madison and it was memorable. For one thing, it was pouring rain, so the usual routine of participants first going to the magnificent garden just outside of the cooking school and picking the produce before returning to cook had to be scratched. But that was okay because the plan for that day was to make soup.

The kitchen

So, 15 of us sat around a long table and Madison led us through what you could call the soup-making journey—10 basic steps that most soups require, a concept she developed for her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, a book she’s just updated and reissued. See, while recipes are wonderful, being liberated from them to make delicious soups through inspiration and basic knowledge is something any cook or chef aspires to. Of course, we had seven of her recipes on hand to guide us in the kitchen that rainy day—from Red Lentil Soup with Lime and Spinach to Quinoa, Potato and Spinach Soup with Feta Cheese (recipe below).

New Vegetarian Cookbook

Not familiar with Madison? You should be. A chef, writer, and clearly talented cooking teacher, she was among the first contemporary chefs to develop the farm-to-table menu style now so popular among restaurants across the country. With Greens restaurant in San Francisco, where she was the founding chef in 1979, Madison established a career that has led to more than a dozen cookbooks (which have earned awards from IACP and the James Beard Foundation among others) and writing assignments from Saveur, Cooking Light, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, and Garden Design.

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While she admitted she doesn’t spend time thinking about the connection between words and food, Madison believes that food is bigger than a recipe and has everything to do with what we are. For her food is a lens through which anyone can view his or her life.

“It has nothing to do with being interested in food, or a good cook, or a lousy one, or a foodie or any of that,” she told me that day. “It has to do with everything we are, starting with nurture or the lack thereof.”

Given her enthusiasm for the bounty of the garden and farm, it makes sense that Madison’s starting point is the contemplative space of her home garden in New Mexico, and the community scene of the local farmers market. In fact, Madison spent time as a market manager and is a big fan of the Santa Fe Farmers Market. “It’s about running into friends, some of whom are the farmers, exchanging greetings and news, maybe sharing a recipe idea for some new squash or other produce, sometimes planning an impromptu dinner.”

One of her books, Local Flavors, gives advice on how to shop at a farmers market, but she also offered some tips for those just venturing away from the grocery store and into the open air:

  • First of all, shopping at a farmers market for the first time is an adventure, and adventures are good for us to have, so go with an open mind and don’t worry.
  • Always make a pass through the market and take a look at what’s there, the prices, the quality, what appeals to you, before you buy. That way you get the lay of the land. As you shop more and more at a market, you may find you have favorite vendors that you always return to—I know I do —but even so, I like to take a look around first just to see what’s there.
  • Do accept tastes and ask questions about foods that may be unfamiliar.  And just because you took a taste of something, it doesn’t mean you have to buy. You’re sampling and informing yourself.
  • If you feel very unsure about what the food you see at the farmers market, for you might well see different varieties than what’s in the supermarket, start with those vegetables and fruits that are familiar, that you already use—carrots, onions, garlic, apples, strawberries. Then maybe choose one food that’s new to you—a white eggplant, a different variety of cabbage, an exotic fruit.

Once you have that produce back home—and maybe it’s a soup kind of day like ours was—Madison has suggestions that include making your own quick vegetable stock from the trimmings you would ordinarily immediately toss into the compost pile, tasting the soup not just for more salt but perhaps acid to create balance (it turns out a little lemon juice can go a long way to creating that “aha” flavor moment), and to just make plenty.

“Soup generally gets better as it sits,” Madison said. “It can make an instant homemade meal when you’ve got a big pot on hand, and, if you give a little thought to the garnishes and textures, you can turn one pot into many soups.”

That’s the über cooking teacher offering practical guidance. But now that we’re into cool, even cold, weather when soups become more than just a flavorful meal but, in their heartiness, are embracing and nurturing, it’s worth thinking about the connections Madison draws between food and our inner lives.

“Perhaps that’s where the magic lies,” she proposed. “Food is really about our larger, deeper lives, and we all have those, whether we’re close to our deeper selves or not.”

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Quinoa, Potato and Spinach Soup with Feta Cheese
From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
Serves 6

“This grain-based soup is light, delicious, pretty, fresh, and very simple to make. And with the quinoa, it’s highly nutritious. What more could one ask of a recipe?” DM

Ingredients
3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 small bunch spinach, stems removed, leaves washed and chopped
8 ounces Yukon Gold or other potato, diced in 1/4-inch cubes
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground, toasted cumin seed
1 teaspoon salt, to taste, and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces feta cheese, finely diced in small cubes
3 scallions, thinly sliced in rounds, including a few of the greens
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 hard-cooked egg, diced (optional)

1. Simmer the quinoa in 7 cups water for 10 minutes. When the quinoa is done, drain it, reserving the water, which you’ll use in the soup.
2. While the quinoa is cooking, cut the vegetables and set them aside.
3. Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan with the garlic and chile, cook for about 30 seconds, without browning the garlic, then add the cumin, salt and potatoes. Measure the quinoa cooking liquid plus water, if needed, to make 6 cups. Add it to the vegetables, bring to a boil, then add the quinoa and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes, then turn off the heat. Taste for salt and season the soup with pepper. Add the cheese, then stir in the spinach and the scallions. As soon as the spinach is wilted, serve the soup, garnished with the cilantro and hard-cooked egg, if using.

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Is there a chef/cookbook author who inspires you? Tell us about that connection!

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

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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IMG_0241 (2)

APPCA member Jim Huff of the Traveling Culinary Artist in New York is a self-described Nutella-holic, constantly fiddling with Nutella desserts. He admits that many have been complete failures while others have been just passable, thanks to the Nutella. And there have been some good and a few great. One of the great ones is this bread pudding.

So, how did it come about? As chefs, I’m sure you’ve had what you thought was a great idea for a dish that contains an ingredient you’re passionate about. Then reality hits as you struggle to turn that concept into reality. This bread pudding was no different. Its roots come from banana bread, specifically Kathy Huff’s Banana Nut Bread. Jim’s wife made this on request for get togethers f0r years. The recipe itself was no secret. It came from the Jiffy Mix baking mix box. Unfortunately, by the late ’80s, Jiffy Mix was becoming hard to find and what Jim could find didn’t yield the delicious bread everyone had loved.

“We ordered some directly from Jiffy and by the time we used them up they must have been stale because the famous Banana Nut Bread was never as good as we remembered,” Jim says.

In the meantime, Jim’s grandmother had given him James Beard’s famous Beard on Bread cookbook, which Jim fell in love with. So the Huffs started making the quick breads from the book. 

Then Nutella entered the equation. According to Jim, “The idea for the recipe came from two of these experiments. 1. Nutella Bread Pudding–great concept boring application. Might as well have made good brioche toast with Nutella spread on it!  2. Banana bread with Nutella swirled a la Marble cake. The Nutella ended up gathering itself while baking and the result was more like blobs than swirls!  My quest for a great Nutella Bread Pudding led me to the Internet. I found lots of recipes adding bananas and or chocolate chips, etc.  Then I had an epiphany, what if I used Banana Bread!  I found many bread pudding recipes using banana bread, now to adapt, using bananas, Nutella and Chocolate Chips.”

Nutella Banana Bread Bread Pudding

Good enough, but then there was the quest to turn this concept into individual desserts, something that could be served at the dinner parties he caters.

“We find we get great response for people receiving their ‘own’ self-contained slice of heaven versus an actual slice of something made en masse,” he explains. “So simultaneously my Internet searches included bread pudding in muffin tin recipes.”

The problem was coming up with the right ratio of bread to custard, plus factoring in using muffin tins. Every chef friend and home baker Jim consulted had their own advice–more milk/less egg, soak longer/don’t soak. “A less obsessed person would have moved on,” he jokes.

But eventually, after many failed attempts they finally got the right proportions of bread, custard, Nutella, and banana bread down pat–and they did their testing in oversized muffin tins. The biggest test? How would their son-in-law, also a borderline Nutella-holic like it? But all was well after sending their daughter home with two. His comment after his second bite? “There’s only two?”

Cross section

Jim and Kathy added the bread pudding to their menu, pairing it with vanilla gelato and caramel drizzle. They got their first request for a client party of 10 and plated their new creation over raspberry sauce. Everyone loved it but couldn’t finish it because the portion was too big. So, they’ve downsized it to standard muffin size. And, as Jim says, “They’re always devoured completely!”

The recipe is still a work in progress. The Beard on Bread recipe calls for nuts, which Jim’s omitted. But now he says he’ll be experimenting–with hazelnuts of course.

Nutella Banana Bread Bread Pudding
from Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist
Servings: 6

Use the banana bread recipe you like. We link below to the banana bread recipe found in Beard on Bread, which is what Jim uses.

Ingredients:

6 slices banana bread, ¾”-1” thick
4 ripe bananas
1/3 cup Nutella
3  large eggs
1  cup whole milk
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
1/2  cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Cut the banana  bread into small cubes.

Place onto a baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 5 minutes to create dry stale bread. Cut into cubes and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl mash the ripe bananas with a potato masher. Add in the Nutella and mix with the masher until blended with the potato masher. Add the eggs and mix until blended, add the milk, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Stir.

Once fully mixed add your bread cubes and stir until the bread is totally wet. Let it soak for 10 minutes. Stir again and spoon mix into a 6 cup extra large muffin tins. Sprinkle mini chocolate chips on top.

Bake at 350°F 25 to 30 minutes until set.  Let rest for 10 minutes. Remove from the tins and serve immediately.

Serve with vanilla gelato and a drizzle of salted caramel!

Ready for plating

Do you have a recipe you’re passionate about that took awhile to reach perfection? Share your story!

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

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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