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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Michele Coulon’s Apple Pie

Yield: 1 Pie

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

Pre-heat conventional oven to 450°.

Make pastry and set aside.

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Pastry from Michele Coulon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Sourdough Popovers
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 6 popovers

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Salient highlights of my career

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

My experiences as a contestant on Food Network

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

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

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

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

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