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This is it! The last week of 2016. We hope it’s been a busy year, filled with exciting challenges, plenty of new clients, and a satisfying work/life balance.

But we also hope you’ve been thinking ahead to 2017 and how you can implement the changes you want to make in all aspects of your life. To do that takes some organization so you don’t get bogged down in the frustrations of the mundane.

We’ve come up with a six-point year-end checklist to help. They’re a mix of big things you can’t afford to ignore, modest but still very important, and things we hope Mom or Dad taught you growing up that are just as valuable in the professional environment as the personal. The idea is to create a foundation of success by taking advantage of the arbitrariness of the end of a calendar year to reinforce the good stuff you should be doing for yourself.

  1. Review and update your business plan: This is more than going over a checklist. This requires deep thought about where you’ve been, where you are, and what you want for next year. What are your priorities now? Have they changed? How do you go about meeting them? Do they involve new marketing strategies? New skills development? A new direction or emphasis in your service offerings? What can you do to implement them? Putting down some concrete steps to achieving your 2017 goals gives you a running start come January.
  2. Change over your annual file system: It’s so much easier to go through life having your essential documents organized–especially anything related to taxes and business records. Everyone has their system. Some still using paper. Some on the computer or in the cloud–or a combination of both. Just take the time to start your 2017 files so you have what you need easily at hand.
  3. Organize financial records for taxes: Fourth quarter taxes are due next month and perhaps your accountant, if you have one, has already sent you forms to complete before you meet to get the 2016 lowdown. This is the time to go through those well-organized files and gather your documents so you can pull everything together to file your taxes. If you’re new to having your own business, ask your accountant what expenses are deductible, how to track mileage, and how to write invoices. If you use Quickbooks, you can print out a record of your income and expenses and use that as a blueprint.
  4. Review your equipment: As a chef, your tools are among the most essential investments you make in your business. Do you need anything new or repaired? Are there utensils you lug around unnecessarily that load you down and you can get rid of? Could you use a better system for hauling your equipment? Do your knives need sharpening? Do your uniforms need refreshing? Hey, does your car need a tune up or new tires? That counts, too!
  5. Review your menus: How regularly do you update your menus? Certainly, clients will have favorite dishes you’ll need to keep in your repertoire, but it’s a good idea to refresh dishes so no one–including you–gets bored. It’s also an opportunity to challenge yourself with new skills and flavor combinations, not to mention wow potential new clients with your versatility.
  6. Say thank you: Before the year ends, get out some nice stationery and send thank you notes to clients. They’re the reason you have a business. Your letter of appreciation is an old-world gesture that will go a long way in letting them know how much you value them and their business.

We’re looking forward to an exciting 2017 and hope you are, too! Candy, Dennis, and I wish you a very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

What is on your end-of-year checklist we haven’t mentioned? What exciting plans have you got for 2017?

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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Whole Foods announced its top 10 food predictions for 2017. Their predictions came from Whole Foods Market’s experts and industry leaders who source items and lead trends across the retailer’s cheese, grocery, meat, seafood, prepared foods, produce and personal care departments, and spot trends for the retailer’s more than 465 stores.

Here’s what they expect:

Wellness Tonics – The new year will usher in a new wave of tonics, tinctures and wellness drinks that go far beyond the fresh-pressed juice craze. The year’s hottest picks will draw on beneficial botanicals and have roots in alternative medicine and global traditions.

Buzzed-about ingredients include kava, Tulsi/holy basil, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, medicinal mushrooms (like reishi and chaga), and adaptogenic herbs (maca and ashwagandha).

Products from Byproducts – Whether it’s leftover whey from strained Greek yogurt or spent grains from beer, food producers are finding innovative – and delicious – ways to give byproducts new life.

Coconut Everything – Move over coconut oil and coconut water – coconut flour tortillas, coconut sugar aminos and more unexpected coconut-based products are on the rise. Virtually every component of this versatile fruit-nut-seed (coconuts qualify for all three!) is being used in new applications. The sap is turned into coconut sugar as an alternative to refined sweeteners; the oil is used in a growing list of natural beauty products; and the white flesh of the coconut is now in flours, tortillas, chips, ice creams, butters and more.

Japanese Food, Beyond Sushi – Japanese-inspired eating is on the rise and it doesn’t look anything like a sushi roll. Long-celebrated condiments with roots in Japanese cuisine, like ponzu, miso, mirin, sesame oil and plum vinegar are making their way from restaurant menus to mainstream American pantries. Seaweed is a rising star as shoppers seek more varieties of the savory greens, including fresh and dried kelp, wakame, dulse and nori, while farmhouse staples like Japanese-style pickles will continue to gain popularity.

The trend will also impact breakfast and dessert, as shoppers experiment with savory breakfast bowl combinations and a growing number of mochi flavors like green tea and matcha, black sesame, pickled plum, yuzu citrus and Azuki bean.

Creative Condiments – From traditional global recipes to brand new ingredients, interesting condiments are taking center stage. Once rare and unfamiliar sauces and dips are showing up on menus and store shelves.

Look for black sesame tahini, habanero jam, ghee, Pomegranate Molasses, black garlic purée, date syrup, plum jam with chia seeds, beet salsa, Mexican hot chocolate spreads, sambal oelek or piri piri sauce, harissa, and adobo sauces.

Rethinking Pasta – Today’s pastas are influenced less by Italian grandmothers and more by popular plant-based and clean-eating movements. Alternative grain noodles made from quinoa, lentils and chickpeas (which also happen to be gluten free) are quickly becoming favorites, while grain-free options like spiralized veggies and kelp noodles are also on the rise. That said, more traditional fresh-milled and seasonal pastas are having a moment too, which means pasta is cruising into new territories with something for everyone.

Purple Power – Richly colored purple foods are popping up everywhere: purple cauliflower, black rice, purple asparagus, elderberries, acai, purple sweet potatoes, purple corn and cereal. The power of purple goes beyond the vibrant color and often indicates nutrient density and antioxidants.

On-the-Go Beauty – “Athleisure” is not just a fashion trend; the style is now being reflected in natural beauty products, too. With multitasking ingredients and simple applications, natural beauty brands are blurring the line between skincare and makeup products, and simplifying routines by eliminating the need for special brushes or tools.

Flexitarian – In 2017, consumers will embrace a new, personalized version of healthy eating that’s less rigid than typical vegan, Paleo, gluten-free and other “special diets” that have gone mainstream. For instance, eating vegan before 6 p.m., or eating paleo five days a week, or gluten-free whenever possible allows consumers more flexibility. Instead of a strict identity aligned with one diet, shoppers embrace the “flexitarian” approach to making conscious choices about what, when and how much to eat.

Mindful Meal Prep – People aren’t just asking themselves what they’d like to eat, but also how meals can stretch their dollar, reduce food waste, save time and be healthier. Trends to watch include the “make some/buy some,” approach, like using pre-cooked ingredients from the hot bar to jumpstart dinner, or preparing a main dish from scratch and using frozen or store-bought ingredients as sides.

Fresh oven-ready meal kits and vegetable medleys are also on the upswing as shoppers continue to crave healthier options that require less time.

The USDA’s food price outlook shows modest increases for 2017. According to the USDA, supermarket prices are expected to rise between 0.5 and 1.5 percent. Despite the expectation for declining prices in 2016, poultry, fish and seafood, and dairy prices are expected to rise in 2017. These forecasts are based on an assumption of normal weather conditions throughout the remainder of the year; however, severe weather or other unforeseen events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts. In particular, the drought in California could have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy, and egg prices. Also, a stronger U.S. dollar could continue to make the sale of domestic food products overseas more difficult. This would increase the supply of foods on the domestic market, placing downward pressure on retail food prices.

What food trends are you expecting for 2017? What are clients telling you they’re interested in?

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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Dennis and Christine

Christine Robinson and Dennis Nosko of Boston’s A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service have long focused on creating healthy meals for their Massachusetts clients. That includes working with families living with dementia. As the population ages and diseases like Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body dementia, Vascular dementia, and others are on the rise, personal chefs like Christine and Dennis can provide a foundation for enabling patients to stay healthy and stay home longer, while also helping caregivers, who live with the stress and anxiety of constantly caring for a declining spouse or parent, with nutritious meals and one less responsibility.

We asked Christine and Dennis to share their experience of serving clients with dementia and their advice is spot on.

Over the years we have had several clients with memory impairment. One of the main concerns of the family is generally how to keep a loved one in their own home for as long as possible, as long as the care level is up to par. 

Food and proper nutrition is a huge component in a dementia patient’s quality of life. Balanced meals can allow physical and emotional health to improve. That’s where personal chefs come in. But it is NOT an easy task and it may not be for you. However, for those who feel up to the challenge, you can make a huge difference in the life of a family dealing with dementia. 

When clients contact us to work with their family members with dementia, it is usually the children, hoping to keep their parents in their own home. Many times they’re out of state and this can pose some logistical questions. You need to figure out who is the “point” person and make one source of contact so that there is less confusion. We find that there is usually a family member who has good information about the physical health of the actual client and that is generally the person with whom you want to deal.

We always try to make the food all about the client recipient, following any dietary restrictions but making food they seem to enjoy. Keeping them fed is most important.

Not every job works out. You can have a spouse who does not want the service, or the person with dementia does not want other people around. In these cases, you have to evaluate if you are doing more harm than good. While there is no clear cut answer for every case, you want to err on the side of what will keep the client the happiest, even if it means ending the cooking relationship, recommending someone else, or even cooking at a close relative’s home for them to deliver.

Here’s what we recommend when taking on a family with a member who has dementia:

1) Establish whether another person coming into the home is going to be a benefit or a distraction. In-home meal service can either be a huge help or a stranger in the house can cause the family member with dementia extra stress…find out how they would respond. Many times a new person in the mix doing something different can be a welcome thing…but don’t be afraid to ask up front. Also test the waters to make sure how the other family members living in the house, usually a spouse, are going to feel about more help…the dignity and wishes of both parties are equally important.

2) Conduct a thorough client assessment, hopefully in person, and with a caregiver or family member other than the spouse present. Learn what type of dementia the loved one has–it could be Alzheimer’s, but it could also be any number of other types of dementia, which have different symptoms and progression. You can learn more about them on the Alzheimer’s Association website. Find out about medications and other health conditions that can be helped or exacerbated by certain foods. Cranberry juice, leafy greens, and flaxseed, for instance, do not go well with coumadin and other blood thinners. Make sure that any family members seeking your service are provided with copies of the assessment. Seeds, nuts, gassy vegetables, onions, and acidic foods should be explored on paper and in reality. Repeat favorites and get rid of textures that are not working. As the disease progresses and medications change, you will have to revisit this to make adjustments. 

3) Pay close attention to textures and tastes. Something as simple as a blueberry skin can be a distraction and texture issue for a patient. Have any caregivers/family members keep track of favorite items, but especially items that are not being eaten. Sometimes a switch from a ground meat to a solid piece can make all the difference. Sometimes, as the disease progresses swallowing becomes more difficult and textures become crucial so patients don’t aspirate food. But each person is different. Keep notes and be amenable to changes. This is not a time to be the creative chef, but to listen closely to a client’s needs.

4) Pay attention to the spouse and his/her likes and dislikes. Many times the person without dementia is the lesser focus. They are going through a difficult time seeing the love of their life slip into unknown territory. Ask about their favorites. Make a treat just for them. Talk to them. So much conversation is focused on the patient that the other person can feel left out, especially if the kids are spearheading the need for the personal chef. Everyone counts and should be part of the experience.

5) Expect that these cook dates will probably take extra time. Plan for it and expect to talk. Take advantage of the moments of lucidity and talk to the client about stories and what they may suddenly be remembering. Be prepared for the opposite as well, when they ask the same question repeatedly or talk to you as if you were a family member no longer with them. Ask their caregiver the best way to respond. Often, it’s just to go along with them and their conversation without correcting them.

6) Don’t try to become the savior. At the stage you are entering their lives, there is rarely a turnaround and no special meatloaf or spice combo is going to be the cure all. Enhance for nutrients where you can, and ask the family if there are any holistic things they want to try, such as cooking with coconut oil, or grassfed meats. As long as it does no harm, take their lead.

7) Expect that you will cry after more than one cook date.

8) Expect that you will get some great, funny, wonderful stories when they talk to you.

9) Don’t be offended by anything that the client may say to you. Dementia works in odd ways and people who would never use coarse language can come up with some doozies. It is part of the condition and please realize it is NOT directed at you.

10) Be flexible and compassionate. Anticipate that things can change on a daily basis and you may be making more or less food as needs fluctuate.

This is a hard job, not for everyone. But cooking for these families can be the most rewarding job. You really can make a difference but don’t enter into it without realizing that a part of your heart will forever hold these families as very dear.

Have you been cooking for clients with dementia? What has your experience been?

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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Turkey Roulade

For many of us Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. Why? Most likely because we gather with people we care about over a great meal–without the pressure of exchanging gifts.

That’s not to say there aren’t other pressures, especially if you’re a personal chef and catering the holiday. Over the years we’ve written a lot on Thanksgiving–offering tips and recipes. So, for this Thanksgiving week post how about we revisit a few of these posts? Below are links to our best Thanksgiving tips and recipes. And at the end is a recipe for a multi-grain salad that can be a great side dish for the holiday meal–and easily be adapted for the vegetarians and vegans at the holiday table.

Chef Suzy Brown's roasted Thanksgiving goose

Chef Suzy Brown’s roasted Thanksgiving goose

Straddling the Holiday Service Dilemma: Can you possibly take on a catering gig or do extra cooking for Thanksgiving for clients and not fall asleep at your own holiday table? It’s a classic personal chef tug of war but APPCA’s founder and executive director Candy Wallace has some pointed suggestions for making this work so you can get the best of both worlds–provide your clients with service and enjoy the holiday yourself.

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Beth Volpe’s Thanksgiving Turkey Two Ways: Undecided about how to prepare your turkey/s or how to get the dinner on the table so you can enjoy it with your loved ones? APPCA member Beth Volpe of Savory Eats figured out a way to make her Thanksgiving meal two days before so that she would have the holiday to enjoy with her family. “I make a brined, butterflied turkey, the gravy, the dressing, and the cranberry sauce the day before. Come Thanksgiving Day, all I do is slide my turkey in the oven and pour myself a glass of wine.” Beth offers her method of brining the turkey and has an additional recipe for a sensational turkey roulade.

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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!

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Now how about a Thanksgiving dish that’s also healthy? Grains are always a favorite of mine and grain salads are a no brainer–but have you thought of combining grains in a salad?

Creating a multi-grain salad means you get a more interesting combination of flavors and textures, not to mention colors. It all depends of what you mix together. I love the chew of red wheat berries. They’re perfect with robust vegetables like winter squash and thick-cut portobello mushroom. Quinoa is more delicate and colorful and works well with fruit, red peppers, cheese, beans, and cucumbers. Farro’s nuttiness fits somewhere in the middle. I enjoy combining it with roasted cauliflower, tomatoes, and lots of herbs.

I decided to mix these three up together and add fruit in the form of fuyu persimmons and some beans–garbanzo and edamame–for color, texture, and sweetness. I got some crunch from toasted walnuts and pecans.

A word of advice, here. Combining grains doesn’t at all mean cooking them together. It’s a little extra work, but you must cook each grain type separately. If you don’t, you risk getting mush instead of the individual textures and flavors you’re after.

Also feel free to mix together your own combinations of whole grains. Consider barley, brown rice, kamut, and spelt, among others. And all sorts of other seasonal vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, seeds, and herbs will work well, too. This recipe should be inspiration to create a dish based on what you enjoy and what you find in the markets.

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Three-Grain Salad with Persimmons, Beans, and Nuts
Serves 6 to 8

1/2 cup farro
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup wheat berries
3 1/2 cups chicken broth (or water/vegetable broth for vegetarians)
1/ cup red onion, diced
2 Fuyu persimmons, chopped
1 cup cooked edamame beans (available at Trader Joe’s)
1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted
1 tablespoon Mexican tarragon, chopped

Sherry Vinaigrette
Yield: 1 cup

1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch sugar
pinch salt
pinch ground pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Cook each grain according to directions. For the farro and quinoa, the proportions are like rice: 2 to 1 water to grain. Bring the stock or water to the boil, add the grains, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. You’re looking for the stock or water to be absorbed and the grains to still have a little chewiness. For wheat berries, it’s more like 3 to 1 with a longer cooking time, more like 35 to 40 minutes. It’s okay if the water isn’t fully absorbed as long as the grains are cooked and are a little al dente.

In a large bowl combine the grains with the rest of the salad ingredients.

To make the vinaigrette, mix together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Whisk until the dressing has emulsified. Pour enough into the salad to coat the ingredients, but not so much that in drenches it. Serve at room temperature.

Wishing all of our members and friends the happiest of Thanksgivings! We are so grateful to you!

What will you be doing for Thanksgiving? Catering? Enjoying time with friends and family? Both?

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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Can you believe that Thanksgiving is in less than two weeks? In Southern California, it may be November but as of this writing we’re sweating it out in a heat wave–and turkey and all the fixings seem like a strange meal to be preparing. But it’s here and maybe the grill is better than the oven for the big bird.

If you’re catering your first Thanksgiving and feeling a little dread, relax. Do what you’re so good at as a personal chef: prepare. APPCA’s founder and executive director Candy Wallace is a firm believer in streamlining holiday gigs to keep them from becoming overwhelming. You’ve already done your client assessment, so you know what foods your client and their guests can eat or need to avoid before you planned your menu. And, we’re going to assume that if the meal needs to be vegetarian or vegan, you’ve got experience in that milieu.

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So, really, the biggest things to do are advanced planning and shopping along with mindful prep. With that in mind, Candy offers seven tips to make your Thanksgiving week easier:

  • Make turkey stock to be used in multiple dishes in advance of your event. Roast vegetables and puree in advance to have for a gravy base.
  • Measure and prepackage everything to be used in assembling your recipes. You’ve got that down, of course. Personal chefs are the experts in food packaging and meal storage for clients. But this time, use your skills to set up efficient and smooth assembly of components used to prepare the holiday meal your clients are looking forward to.
  • Are you baking cornbread? Then be sure to pre-measure all dry ingredients, then package and label them. Do the same with the wet ingredients. Same with stuffing.
  • If you’re making cranberry relish, again, pre-measure the berries, dried cherries, etc. and package and label them separately from the liquid components, which you’ll also package. Assemble the relish on the day of service.
  • Vegetables can take a lot of prep. So get that done ahead of time, including any blanching, shocking, and cooling so you can store them and make the recipes with little fuss on the day of the meal. Do the same with your herbs and spices–prep, measure, and store them. If you’re using the same herbs and spices for different dishes, separate them for each dish and mark them.Haricot verte, Escondido FM
  • Clean and prep your bird ahead of time. If you’re dealing with a frozen turkey, be sure you give it enough time to thaw in the fridge. If you’re going to do a wet or dry brine, you’ll need to start that process within a couple of days of the holiday.
  • If space on the stove or in the oven is limited, identify the dishes that can be cooked in advance, frozen, and then reheated for the meal. Many pies–apple and pecan, for instance, as well as stuffing, sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes–can be made ahead of time, wrapped well, and frozen to be reheated briefly in the oven or (except the pies) in the microwave.

Working a day or even several days ahead will save you time, and keep you sane and strong on Thanksgiving and other holiday service. Hey, do it right and you will still be able to enjoy the day yourself!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What dishes are on your Thanksgiving menu for clients? What tips can you share to make holiday catering more manageable?

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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Making Changes in 2017? Tell Your Clients Now!

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , , , — Author: Caron Golden , October 24, 2016

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Time passes so quickly–and 2017 will be here before you know it. Hopefully, you’ve been thinking ahead about the next year and any changes you want to implement.

Like price increases. Yeah, that. Have your costs gone up? Many of you have clients pay for food directly, but for those of you who don’t, you need to take a look at your bills and figure out where you are today compared to a year ago. The same goes for expenses like gas, insurance, equipment costs, labor–anything you’re paying for that’s business related. Do your calculations and then inform your clients by the end of this month of your price increase.

No, this isn’t easy, but Candy Wallace, APPCA’s founder and executive director, says the best way to do this is in a letter. Be graceful about it, thanking your clients for allowing you to serve them during 2016. Then announce any changes in service or pricing that will be effective January 1, 2017.

Dom Petrov Ossetra and Hackleback (r)1

You can also take advantage of this communication, she adds, by announcing any special service or foods you’ll be offering during the holidays. This can be a wonderful way to bring in some additional income–through catering holiday parties, cocktail parties, brunches, or receptions or offering special holiday treats. Do you make amazing cooking? Offer to make them for your clients. You can prep cookie dough or appetizers, or desserts and have them frozen and ready to bake off at the last minute. Just price everything out, including how you’ll package them, and include a price card with your letter.

Try to get events booked by the end of October for November and early November for December. The same for any extra baking or cooking you’ll do for clients. You may need to hire extra labor for events and extra cooking so you’ll need time to book that as well as any unscheduled kitchen time if you rent kitchen space.

Kale and sweet potatoes

Kale and sweet potatoes

This is also a good time to think about changes in the focus of the service you want to provide in 2017. Have you developed any new passions for a specific type of food or an interest in serving a specific demographic? This could be young families, older adults with medical conditions, or special diets in which you’ve developed an expertise? If so, add that to your letter. It’s a good way to market your services with people you’ve known and who value what you do. Alternately, it could be a way to gracefully segue from one client base to another.

Anticipating a new year also is a good time to take stock of your happiness quotient. We advocate the personal chef career as a lifestyle as well as professional option. Are you a parent of young children who wants to take more time with them? Are you interested in pursuing more education or travel? Are you reaching a point in your life in which you don’t want to work as many hours? Whatever it is, again, this is the time to chart your course for 2017 and use this letter to let your clients know if those changes will impact them.

As we hurtle towards year’s end, taking the time to focus on business and life basics and implementing changes to help you meet your goals is top priority. If you have any questions, be sure to reach out to Candy for help!

What are the professional changes you’re considering for 2017? 

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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No doubt you’re seeing an explosion of advertising from easy meal prep businesses and your eyes are rolling or perhaps you’re even panicking just a little. Well, Candy Wallace, APPCA’s founder and executive director, is going to talk you off the ledge– if you’re on it. Read why she is adamant that these businesses are no challenge to you:

Here we go again…Almost 10 years ago personal chefs were concerned with potential competition from the “Easy Prep” meal preparation locations such as Super Suppers, Dream Dinners, Dinner Studios, to name a few, popping up all over the U.S.

APPCA said, don’t worry; these franchised “assemble your own dinners” and take them back to your home don’t provide the level of customized meal service prepared from all fresh ingredients to the client’s taste, often in the safety of the client’s own kitchen. In fact, the easy prep meals were assembled from components that came right off the back of a big food service delivery truck and were more often than not pre-prepared components that contained fillers, stabilizers and preservatives, soups that were re-constituted, and sauces that came in cans. NOT the guarantee of all fresh ingredients supplied and shopped for daily by personal chefs and prepared from scratch for their client’s enjoyment.

The easy prep fad came and went fairly quickly and the personal chef career path continued to grow and thrive. This year will mark the 24th year of the introduction of the personal chef career path in the culinary industry. APPCA is proud to have been responsible for its growth, validation as a legitimate culinary career path by the ACF, for having published the definitive textbook for the industry, and for having co-created professional certification for private and personal chefs through the third-party certification partnership with ACF. It has been an exciting time for personal chefs who had the courage to leave the traditional career choices and strike out on their own to build a culinary business of their own that allowed them to support their families and loved ones by cooking, but also allowed them to create a business of their own with the ability to control their own professional destiny.

Now we have several new players on the field and it will be interesting to see how they play out.

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The first new twist is similar to the easy prep premise, but differs in that the components for the recipes that are provided are delivered to the client’s doorstep. Some of these new delivery companies are Blue Apron, Fresh Direct, and Plated. The customer gets most of the ingredients, but still has to prep and prepare each meal using the supplied recipe; the only difference between this business and your customer’s everyday life is simple; they don’t have to shop at the grocery store for ingredients.

I am trying to see the big advantage to the customer since this delivery system actually doesn’t altogether eliminate the need to go to the market. They expect them to have some basics–and they still need to shop for other items, like toilet paper, dog food, laundry soap, milk, yogurt, bottled water, ice cream, and wine on a regular basis, so where is the benefit?

ingredients spread out

Unlike the service provided by a personal chef, the “easy prep but delivered to your door” services do NOT customize recipes to the customer’s wants and needs, and the customer must still prep, assemble, and clean up after each dish is prepared at the end of a busy and often stressful workday. Adding to the stress, sometimes the recipes don’t work. Where is the benefit?

The other new kid in town is something described as “Uber for private chefs”…

OK, I’m curious, so I asked the person who called to say they would be supplying clients for all of our chefs in the new future, what Uber for private chefs was, and was he certain he meant private chefs?

It quickly became clear he did not know the difference between private and personal chefs, but he made it clear he didn’t care about knowing what that difference was.

His premise for the business is to supply an app like Uber where a hungry client could go to the app and order a chef to immediately appear on command on site to prepare a meal…

I asked if these “chefs” were really trained chefs, whether they had business licenses, general liability insurance, culinary training, those kinds of fun things, but he said he couldn’t tell me any of that because it was secret. OK…secret…got it.

Next, we have the Airbnb version of the business. This time, the customer is able, through an app, to locate an individual in any city who is willing and purportedly capable of cooking them a meal that the client would go and enjoy in the cook’s home…

Some of these folks, who turned out to be home cooks of varying degrees of skill, have been calling APPCA wanting to get liability insurance through us. Apparently, the start up folks are directing them to us and telling them they can just call and we will cover them. It breaks my heart to turn them away because many of them are truly earnest in their desire to cook for clients, but most of them have no sanitation training, no training at all, no business licenses, no inkling of local regulations and licensing requirements. Someone is going to get hurt or get sick. I could not glean any criteria they must meet to protect the clients that use their service.

I know the internet was supposed to simplify our lives, but this does not appear to be well thought out.

Not everything we do needs to be ordered up on an app, and if all of those fun Silicon Valley start up geniuses are going to continue to create business apps, I wish they would make certain that the business is well conceived, provides a genuine service to the potential customer, and is safe and legitimate.

I know the Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and easy prep instant delivery concept is exploding but the “right now” system isn’t automatically “right” for everyone. And, especially, when it comes to food preparation, the public needs to be careful about who is making their meals, what kinds of ingredients they’re using, how much–if any–expertise they have in meeting special needs diets, and, most important, how well trained they are in food safety.

laid back - business2

So, be very proud of the custom services you offer as personal chefs. You are trained, scratch cooks with
municipal business licenses, safe food handling certifications, and you are carrying $2 million in specific personal chef general liability insurance coverage. The service you provide regular clients is custom designed and palate specific to each client’s wants and needs, including meals specific to a client’s medical challenges. All of the meals are prepared from scratch using only the freshest and safest ingredients available in your locality. We can promise our clients a safe food source.

As personal chefs, you do the shopping for fresh provisions daily and prepare delicious custom designed meals either in the safety of the client’s kitchen or in a licensed, inspected commercial kitchen.

Personal chefs truly provide convenience, delicious custom designed meals, and a degree of personal service and attention to the client’s preferences and desired level of culinary expertise seldom experienced outside the services of a full time private chef.

Let’s see how the new services on the block hold up or evolve…this should be fun to watch.

Personal Chefs ROCK!!!

Have clients been talking to you about these easy prep services? What are you telling them?

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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CandyWallaceAPPCAheadshot (low rez)

For personal chefs just launching their businesses, money can be tight. If you’re in that position–or simply looking for a way to reduce costs–check out this post by APPCA’s founder and executive director Candy Wallace:

Looking to stretch your start-up budget?

Trade outs can help.

Need a logo design but don’t have the funds to hire a designer in your start-up budget?

Offer a trade out.

A trade out is a dollar-for-dollar even exchange of services. Trades have been around for centuries and are a way of providing equal value for both parties providing services.

When I started my business over 20 years ago I wanted advice on developing my reporting, accounting, and tax preparation systems so I could share them with other personal chef start up chefs who would be able to use those systems with confidence. I didn’t have a lot of cash at the time so I approached a tax accountant with an offer for a trade.

My offer was that I would provide personal chef services for three dinners per week during his busy tax preparation season (January through April 15) for him and his three colleagues for one year to match fees for bookkeeping/accounting, personal chef report forms, and tax preparation services. The accountant would pay for the food costs.

Both of us were well pleased with the agreement. It allowed me to receive services that would not otherwise be in my budget at the time.

Advertising was another one of those services where I felt a trade out would be effective and attractive to the trade out partner.

Weekly/monthly local publications are surprisingly well read by residents. These are usually dropped at the door of the residence, and stacked or racked in local coffee shops, grocery stores, car washes, and the local library branch. They do not usually have a food section, so I presented myself at the office of the publication in the area I wished to develop for my services and offered to provide a regular article or recipe featuring a seasonal local ingredient in exchange for a prominent mention of my business and contact information on each of my articles or recipes. The recipes always included the invitation to “Call or e-mail Chef Candy if you have questions about this recipe or ingredient.”

The consistent response to this arrangement provided a large portion of my initial and ongoing client base and actually resulted in a feature article in the business section of the local daily newspaper that generated almost 400 inquiries for service or information about the personal chef business. The business editor’s wife read my column and prepared each recipe. It didn’t cost me a penny.

Trade outs are clean, specific agreements to exchange services dollar for dollar and can be put in writing and signed for protection of both parties.

I actually even traded out live copy radio advertising for my services which were provided for a morning drive DJ who wanted to lose a significant amount of weight. He spoke about his personal chef, the delicious meals, and his weight loss progress on his show daily and the radio station paid for the food so we were matching advertising dollars to personal chef service dollars. Once again, the DJ lost weight and I gained local visibility and picked up clients.

Don’t be afraid to approach a vendor or service provider with the option to trade out. You don’t know what they might need, and the worst response you can receive is No, which we all know that is just a word.

Be creative.

What services could you use that you could turn into a trade out? 

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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chicken nuggets2

Chicken Nuggets

Thank you, Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen in San Francisco, for your insights on cooking for clients with special needs:

Special diets are either a major pain in your patootie, or a lucrative niche market where you can shine as a personal or private chef. It’s up to you. The demand is there. How you meet that demand comes down to making an important choice: either fully embrace this ever-growing market or suffer your way through it, because it ain’t going away. I recommend the former. That’s what I did. Now, 10 years later, having built a good reputation in the Bay Area for being a chef that knows his way around food allergens, I’ve found the demand continues to grow and evolve.

The market has become way more sophisticated in the myriad of allergen-friendly products and solutions being offered than when this whole “trend” started (do food trends actually last an entire decade?). As a personal chef you’ll find there’s still plenty of room for pioneering. But we don’t have to venture out alone into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory anymore. We now have strong allies including many great chefs who have done much of the experimenting along the way; failing, succeeding, and discovering new and better ways to offer truly delicious alternatives. No more hippie hockey pucks!

If you still feel the need to roll your eyes whenever a client asks for strictly Paleo, or allium-free, or everything raw, please read on. You might still want to roll your baby-blues, but you might see something different. If you have already embraced special diets as part of your journey as a PC, as challenging as it can be at times, then you might appreciate some of the basic insights I have gained.

Persian Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

Persian Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

The YES List
What you can eat is way more nourishing than what you can’t. Sounds simplistic, I know, but if a client’s focus is on what she CAN’T have, then feelings of being deprived and all of the emotional baggage that goes along with that (punishment, scarcity, loss…..name your poison) grow even stronger. It’s hard to win as a chef in that kind of atmosphere. I found early on that by building what I call a YES list (those ingredients that are allowed/safe to use) and designing recipes from those ingredients only, not only did my clients feel better, but I could shift my focus from navigating the mine field of all of the no-no ingredients to looking only for those ingredients that work. No more guessing. You know that phenomenon where you decide to buy a blue car and all you see are blue cars for the next few weeks? That same mindset sets in when you—and your client—choose to pay attention to only those items on the YES list. Suddenly a world of food possibilities opens up. Because for a restricted diet variety is key, the YES list gave me the opportunity to get really good at knowing my way around flavor profiles, especially ethnic. Speaking of which…

Flavor is King
A restricted diet means flavor is of the utmost importance. What your client CAN eat needs to be really tasty. What gives food its flavor is nutrients. The more nutrients the better an ingredient tastes. Good nutrients come from good soil and good growing techniques. Over-farmed soil or over-processed foods contain very few nutrients, hence a bland flavor. Therefore, making sure the ingredients you choose are the most nutrient dense you can find is essential. I have discovered that by choosing great ingredients, half the battle is won. It also means I don’t have to have complicated recipes. Cooking becomes simple, my labor is reduced, which means my margin increases.

Chilled Squash Soup

Chilled Squash Soup

Flavor profiles. All of my cooking classes, and I’ve done over 40 of them, are geared towards the Allergenista. My main filter is always no gluten, dairy, soy, shellfish, or peanuts—the five most pernicious allergens. In my first few classes I asked myself, “if diets are restricted, how can I enhance the flavors of what CAN be eaten?” I covered three fundamental areas: spices, herbs, and condiments: three worlds of mostly safe ingredients with the possibility of an infinite amount of flavors. Knowing your way around your spice cabinet, the herb garden, and how to turn simple recipes into flavor-enrichening sauces gives you the ability to provide flavors from around the world. Here are some simple examples of what I mean by ethnic flavor profiles:

  • Caribbean: Annato, Chile, Coconut, Ginger, Coriander
  • Chinese: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Chile, Garlic, Ginger, Galangal, Licorice/Anise, Sesame, Sichuan Pepper, Star Anise, Vanilla
  • Eastern European: Caraway, Dill, Parsley
  • French: Lavender, Tarragon, Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Lemon Peel, Parsley

Ten years ago, when I was approached by a nutritionist and long-time friend to start cooking for her clients (she told me that when she gives them their elimination diet they are like deer in the headlights), I quickly saw it as learning a new language. The appeal of providing people with the experience of enjoying familiar foods while using only safe ingredients was great. Discovering new ways to have the look, mouth feel, and aroma be as close to the original as possible was exhilarating. For example, I use organic instant mashed potatoes as a thickener for sauces as opposed to guar gum or tapioca or turn soaked and blended raw cashews into cheesecake or ricotta for lasagna.

Special diets and picky eaters are kissing cousins. As a PC you’re always going to have clients who are very particular about what they eat. Food is emotional. Which means it can feel impossible at times. It also means that food can be connective, fulfilling, and immensely satisfying. Cooking would be easy if it wasn’t for food being so emotional, but who wants that?

Lots of good people are on special diets. Will you be yet another cook who rolls your eyes, or will you be the hero of the day? Your choice.

Chef Tom has great examples of adapting recipes with traditional ingredients into recipes that are allergen-friendly. Click here for a free cookbook. Here’s a sample recipe:

cukes

Cucumbers Stuffed with Smoked Trout Pate

Smoked Trout Pate

by Chef Tom Herndon
Yield: 32 cucumber cups

This recipe, says Tom, meets his basic criteria of no gluten, dairy (milk—but he changed it to vegan mayo), soy, shellfish, or peanuts.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound smoked trout, heads and skin removed, fillets carefully boned
1/4 cup very finely diced onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Fresh lemon juice to taste
2 large English cucumbers (other options are Persian or Lemon cucumbers)

Directions:
1. With clean hands, squeeze and mash the trout into a thick paste in a bowl.
2. Fold in remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning.
3. Spoon a teaspoon into a cucumber cup or serve as a dip with gluten-free crackers or crudites.

Are you beginning to take on clients with special dietary needs? How have you approached your learning curve?

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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Pudwill Berry Farms Honey Crisp Apples2

I’m often asked if the produce we buy always has to be organic. Let’s face it, organic usually costs more than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and we don’t all have a budget that can manage strictly organic.

A few years ago I interviewed Urvashi Rangan, project director of Consumer Reports’ Greenerchoices.org. The environmental health scientist believes that it’s a matter of prioritizing. This terrific site is an invaluable resource filled with interesting articles on food products related to health, safety, and other food-related news.

Rangan pointed out that berries, for instance, tend to have very high levels of pesticides. “So organic can get you a lot of value,” she said. “On the other hand if you’re weighing the difference between buying conventional or organic avocados, the thick skin and the fact that avocados may not require as many pesticides to produce means there’s not as great a health value in buying organic.”

She also noted that parents with young children should be aware that organic food in their children’s diet can make a significant different in lowering the amount of pesticide residue they consume. “They’re neurotoxins and when they build up in the body, even at low levels, for a child’s developing brain and neurosystem, reducing the amount of these agents is a much healthier way to go.”

All this, of course, gets back to the main issue. What fruits and vegetables pose the most challenges where pesticides are concerned and which ones are less problematic?

SideBar-TakeAction
There are two websites consumers should pay attention to. The first is a list put out by the Environmental Working Group. This list ranks  fruits and vegetables based on pesticide residue data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The lower the number, the more pesticides. So, you have apples, celery, strawberry, peaches, and spinach in the top five. Asparagus, avocado, pineapples, sweet corn, and onions are at the bottom–meaning they have the fewest amount of pesticides. Less than one percent of sampled onions, for instance, were found to have any pesticide residue.

The EWG’s executive summary is the most direct, with a list of what to buy organic and what is lowest in pesticides. For a quick reference, this is quite useful. The group also has a mobile app for iOS and Android called Healthy Living.

womf_logo_label2
Another group doing some fascinating work in this arena is the Pesticide Action Network. Here you’ll learn that 888 million pounds of pesticides are applied annually in the U.S., averaging three pounds per person. So, what’s on your food? Go to the site and select a product and click. A page will open listing how many pesticide residues are found on that product, what they are and the toxicity risks to humans and the environment. So, click on green beans, for instance, and you’ll find it has 44 pesticide residues–chemical names that are pretty unpronounceable. Some, like carbendazim, are suspected hormone disrupters. Others like diazinon, hit that along with bee toxins, developmental or reproductive toxins, and neurotoxins.

“We have found that folks are grateful to see which pesticides are linked to particular health threats–so the brain, DNA, child, and bee icons have been helpful points of orientation/interpretation,” explained Heather Pilatic, PAN’s spokeswoman. “In sum, pesticides are enormously variable in their toxicity. That’s why we cross-referenced the residue data with toxicological info fromwww.pesticideinfo.org.”

PAN also has a What’s on My Food iOS app.

Altogether, these are a good start for personal chefs who are trying to serve purer food and want to better identify how what they buy will impact their clients’ bodies.

How concerned are you and your clients about whether their food is organic? Have you had to make decisions based on cost as to whether or not to buy organic ingredients?

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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