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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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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It has been a little over a year since we last checked in with member Carol Borchardt. Carol owns A Thought For Food Personal Chef Service in the Memphis, Tennessee area and also has a thriving food blog called From A Chef’s Kitchen.

Carol told us all about how she began her food blogging venture in this How I Fell Into Food Blogging post. We asked Carol to give us an update on how everything was going with developing a food blog as an additional source of income and the other creative avenues she’s pursuing in addition to her personal chef business.

As you recall, I had a slow start and at first hit some roadblocks with my food blogging endeavor. However, I feel everything is now coming together rather nicely.

To recap my journey, I became intrigued with the idea of having a food blog after reading Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write for Food. I read her book because I was doing a biweekly food column for our local daily newspaper that involved recipe development, writing and photography.

After a fall in a client’s kitchen three years ago put me out of commission for a six-week period, I decided that was a good time to start my food blog.

However, my original concept, which was based on my love of cookbooks, seemed to confuse everyone. Most people thought all I did was rework and republish cookbook recipes. I got worn out explaining that wasn’t all I did so I decided to rebrand and change direction two years ago to my current focus, From A Chef’s Kitchen.

Earlier this year, my newspaper column was discontinued due to budget cuts and layoffs at the newspaper. I was a little relieved about that because it enabled me to spend more time on my blog and now I’m beginning to see the fruits of my labor:

  • My traffic is increasing nicely. I have just over 70,000 unique visitors (an important metric brands use that indicates new visitors) to my site each month.
  • The competition is fierce, however I’ve been able to work with a number of brands on sponsored posts.
  • Ad revenue I receive each month has replaced approximately three cookdates and it continues to grow. This is passive income I earn just by having people visit my blog. I still love my personal chef business and clients, but it’s wonderful not to have to stand on my feet all day for that income!
  • I’m now a paid contributor to Parade Magazine’s website, Community Table. I was fortunate to be accepted because they generally like contributors to have at least 10,000 Facebook followers. My From A Chef’s Kitchen page is just over 7,300, but they liked what they saw on my blog. I’m able to post articles and recipes but have been doing mainly collections of recipes such as:

There have been some real eye-openers since I began blogging. I really didn’t pay that much attention to food blogs until I read Dianne Jacob’s book. However, the fact that food blogging is an entire industry and can be very lucrative was an eye-opener such as:

  • There are several paid membership websites by food blogging pros where they share their knowledge and resources.
  • There are countless food blogging conferences around the country, which, I’ve attended several. At one of the conferences, I had the privilege of taking a workshop with one of the best food photographers in the business, Helene Dujardin.
  • Brands work with food bloggers as a cost-effective way to “influence” their readers to buy their product. These are referred to as “sponsored posts.” The brand pays the food blogger to develop a recipe and post for the product. This can be extremely lucrative for food bloggers–especially if their blog is popular.
  • There are ad networks that manage ads on your website enabling you to receive passive income. I’m with MediaVine.
  • There are affiliate sales programs where you earn a commission if someone clicks on an affiliate link on your blog and buys the product.

However, two of the biggest eye-openers were, the amount of time required to be successful and that as a food blogger, you wear many hats. If you want to be successful, you have to treat it like a business and build your brand. Obviously being a good cook is important, but you have to be everything else including the writer, the photographer, the programmer and the promoter. As the promoter, you have to be on top of all the social media trends and how to stand out in a sea of food bloggers. I’m at a point where I’m considering hiring a virtual assistant to help me with the social media.

My biggest challenge has always been and continues to be social media; I’m not a very outgoing person. However, the only way to grow your blog is through social media so I just do it and try not to think about it. There is still more I could be doing to grow my blog such as doing food videos, but my personal chef business still takes up a significant amount of my time.

I really love that as a food blogger, I can be as creative as I want to be. I always enjoyed developing recipes prior to becoming a personal chef and then developing them for my clients. Food blogging is a way to share them with the world and it has solidified my identity as a personal chef.

Becoming a publisher and photographer has taken a lot of time and there have been numerous struggles along the way. Shortly after writing How I Fell Into Food Blogging, I went through a particularly discouraging period because my traffic was not growing. I really wondered if I should keep doing this. Some of my photos never get to my blog because I don’t consider them good enough and I’ve wasted an entire day. However, I get right back at it and remake the dish or photograph it again. It’s all about not being a quitter.

As far as what’s next, I’ll continue working as a personal chef, however, I’ve scaled back to working three days a week when possible. I’d love to do a cookbook of my own or be the photographer for one.

Seven years ago when I shot my first food photo for the newspaper, I never dreamed a well-known food photographer would tell me my photos were good. Anyone can do what they set their mind to.

Are you doing anything professionally to augment your personal chef business? It doesn’t have to be writing. It could be studying to be a nutritionist or becoming a recipe developer for restaurants or corporations. What makes your heart sing?

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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APPCA member Judy Harvey has spent her career feeding people in one way or another. A child of the South, specifically Georgia, Judy came of age on Southern food, eventually launching a career in food service. She honed her cooking skills at home, feeding her family, but got back into the workforce when her kids reached school age as the food service manager at their private school. Yes, Judy was the “lunch lady” at a school that had previously had no food service. For 12 years Judy ran the cafeteria and planned and prepared all of the school’s in-house events–activities like sports banquets and alumni banquets. And then she was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis, which felled her with pain and what she describes at debilitating fatigue. This was a turning point for her, both in terms of her health and her career. And it’s when she discovered personal cheffing. Today, Judy runs her own business, The Dinner Lady Personal Chef Service, serving central New Jersey. And, what a surprise, it now focuses on people with health issues. Why don’t I let her tell the rest of her story herself. You’re sure to be inspired.

When I was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis I started to rethink what I was doing and began researching how to start a home-based catering business. In my research I discovered personal cheffing, which I had never heard of at the time.

I decided that this was a much easier business plan and would give me more time to focus on my health. I left my job and jumped right in to learning every thing I could about my new endeavor and also about my disease. I didn’t want to take the pharmaceuticals that were being recommended by my doctors and wanted rather to focus on a healthy lifestyle and nutrition as medicine. I became gluten and sugar free. I cut back dramatically on dairy and also added more organics to my diet.

As my business started to pick up, I found that many people were searching for a chef because of a newly diagnosed health issue and needed a dramatic change in their diet protocol. Purely co-incidentally I had fresh knowledge and understood what they were going through and a had a familiarity in how to cook for them. Of the nine regular clients that I have, seven are gluten free and out of the nine only one client eats a regular diet without restrictions.

So I sometimes call my business extreme personal cheffing! Each client has a very specific diet protocol that I follow. And it seems to be the niche that I have found for my business.

I am willing to work with any clients special dietary needs. I do a lot of research to find exciting meals that fit into their protocol so that they don’t feel like they are deprived. In the beginning of my journey I did see a few different naturopathic doctors who offered dietary advice. Clients sometimes provide me doctor or nutritionist recommended diets. But mostly I use the clients’ dietary guidelines and research online. Blog post are great places, especially for paleo dishes. I use Paleo Grubs a lot, and downloaded their ebook. Paleo often fits into several different profiles, like gluten free.

A book that I found useful for a MS client is Wahls Protocol.  This client also gave me literature generated by their doctor which included some recipes. 

Gluten-Free Crab Cakes

I recently had a client who could eat only 600 calories a day. That was a challenge!  It required 3 ounces of lean protein and 12 ounces of vegetables with each meal. And NO fats at all.

It’s not just about eliminating things from your diet, it’s also about adding things like herbs and certain foods that can help our bodies repair. The changes in my diet have absolutely helped me. I am pain free as long as I adhere to it. I was on the verge of taking a very toxic pharmaceutical and was on a  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug everyday.  I don’t take any meds now, unless I cheat. Then maybe an NSAID for one or two days.

When I meet new people and they discover what I do, inevitably I get asked, “What’s your specialty?” My answer is, “Whatever you’re eating!”

Below is a recipe to look forward to for next fall:

Fall in a Skillet

Fall in a Skillet
From Judy Harvey
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons bone broth
1/2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Soy sauce or Liquid Amino Acids to taste
2 cups collards, kale, or other greens, chopped
4 sprigs fresh sage or rosemary

Directions

1. Place oil and broth in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Mix in potatoes, mushrooms, pepper, squash, garlic, and shallot.
3. Season with soy sauce or amino acids, and salt and pepper to taste
4. Cook 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until potatoes are tender.
5. Mix greens and herbs into skillet.
6. Continue cooking 5 minutes until greens are wilted.

How did you decide to become a personal chef–or are you considering it? What kind of clientele do you want to serve?

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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APPCA member Gloria Bakst is a personal chef who specializes in cooking for any medical condition and good health. Among the conditions she focuses on is cancer. We asked her to contribute a guest post here to explain her background, the challenges of working with clients who have cancer, and the discoveries she’s made that have helped them. She generously agreed and even provided us with photos and a soup recipe that she makes for clients undergoing chemo and radiation. If this is an area you are interested in focusing on in your business, you’ll want to read this.

I’ve been doing healthy cooking for the past 40 years. It has been a slow evolution of being educated and applying it to my recipes. I started by taking private macrobiotic cooking classes, which then developed into starting a small catering business.

As a trained personal chef and nutritionist, over the past several decades I’ve cooked for, counseled, and supported individuals seeking to improve their health, lose weight, manage special diets or health conditions, and recover from disease or surgery.

My menus range from macrobiotic to heart healthy, with a focus on flavor and freshness. My current company, Chef Gloria B, continues to offers my personal chef services, including healthy meal preparation customized to clients’ needs, as well as cooking classes and grocery tours.

From 1997 to 2004, while working for Abbott Labs, at ZonePerfect Nutrition, I advised more than 100 people daily on the Zone diet and lifestyle. My weekly “Cooking With Gloria” column on the ZonePerfect website was followed by a quarter million people. I have created hundreds of recipes for health, which have appeared in the Weight Watcher’s Grilling Cookbook, Weight Watchers Meals in Minutes Cookbooks, The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook, and The Healing the Heart Cookbook. These recipes and my approach to a balanced lifestyle have been published by McGraw Hill in my book, ZonePerfect Cooking Made Easy (September 2006).

In 2011, a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer contacted me regarding doing personal chef work for her. She introduced me to Thea, her nutritionist, who had many years working with patients with cancer. Thea gave me a list of foods my client could not have. I cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner her and it was very challenging because in addition to the restrictive nature of the diet, her taste buds kept changing. However, since I happen to be a person who loves food challenges I was game to figure out how to keep her eating and eating well; it makes me more creative!

I had many opportunities to discuss cooking for cancer clients with Thea. I worked with this woman for four years until she unfortunately passed but I continue to get more clients who have cancer and use Thea’s list whenever I cook for clients. I also got involved with the Cancer Nutrition Consortium. However, I have learned through the years that different nutritionists have different points of view regarding cancer patients and food. I have introduced myself to the nutritionists at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Joslin Diabetes Center. Many are fearful of imposing what they think would be beneficial to the patients because it is restrictive and for fear that the patients wouldn’t eat. Many feel that just feeding cancer patients, because they get so thin, is the most important thing to do.

I have worked with many patients who have liver, brain, throat, lymphoma, and other cancers. The important thing is to find out as much as you can regarding their taste buds at the moment and work at finding creative solutions that will taste delicious and be beneficial.

Because of my background in macrobiotic cooking, I make a bone marrow soup that Thea told me about. This soup is so helpful to all cancer patients’ going through chemo and radiation because it helps to prevent nausea and has all the food important to their health at this time. No, it won’t help them put any weight on but patients aren’t going to gain weight anyway during this period. At least when they have these foods, they are getting excellent nutrition without any negative side effects.

The most important nutrition advice I can give to anyone cooking for anyone with cancer is NO DAIRY OR SUGAR! There is much more but if anyone is interested they can contact me at gloria@chefgloriab.com.

I get emails from all over the country asking me if I know anyone in their area who could help them. I would like to put together a list of personal chefs who understand how to cook for cancer patient and be able to give referrals.

I feel like this has been my life’s mission. I personally gave up sugar when I was 23 and became lactose intolerant at 37. I really feel as though each step of my journey was about healthy delicious cooking. It’s kept changing as life has taken its course.

Bone Marrow Soup
From Gloria Bakst
Yield: 4 quarts (about 4 days worth of soup)

This soup is intended to nourish the blood. Gloria suggests buying everything organic and from Whole Foods Market. The best bones to get are organic, hormone free, antibiotic-free, beef or bones. Use all the vegetables your client likes in small quantity, it fills up a large soup pot. While she lists vegetables, herbs, and spices below, other optional ingredients are shitake mushrooms, ginger, and various herbs.

Ingredients

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds beef marrow bones, organic
Purified water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or more
½ tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary or more
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley or more
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 bunch small sized beets, boiled with skin removed
1 large bunch beet greens, chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 large leek, finely chopped
1 bunch baby bok choy (or more)
1/2 to 1 whole burdock root, peeled and chopped (can be found at Asian markets)
2 chopped carrots (or more)
1 bunch baby kale
2 parsnips, peel and chopped
5 fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped (or more)
Himalayan sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions
In a large pot, place the bones and cover them with purified water. Add thyme, rosemary, parsley, oregano, basil, and garlic. Cover the pot and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Cut the vegetables into small pieces and place in the pot, along with the turmeric. Cook for an additional 40 to 60 minutes. Add Himalayan sea salt, pepper, and taste.

Remove the bones. They can be given to your client to suck on if they wish.

The soup can be pureed if you wish after it is cooked. Some clients want a smooth consistency. Others like the vegetables in small chunks. This soup can be frozen.

What is your area of specialization? If you don’t have one, are you becoming interested in serving niche clients?

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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Carol Borchardt is one of APPCA’s greatest success stories. She’s an in-demand personal chef, who dug deep and expanded her talents to include writing and food photography. In fact, she’s helped us with gorgeous photos for our Facebook page and upcoming new and improved website. Carol understands the value of smart marketing through photography and social media. And she’s melded both to launch the delightful food blog, From a Chef’s Kitchen. I asked her to tell the story of how she got into blogging and how she’s turned it a strategic way to promote her business and even add new revenues.

Carol Borchardt

We eat with our eyes first and everyone loves to look at beautiful images of mouthwatering food. I have always been fascinated with food photography and all that goes into producing those beautiful images. However, it wasn’t too long ago, whenever I attempted to photograph something, the result was nothing short of awful.

As part of reaching out and getting to know people in my local food community to promote my personal chef business, I got to know one of the food columnists at our local daily newspaper. She asked me to help with a project, loved the recipes I submitted for it and subsequently asked me to do a biweekly food column containing a recipe and write-up for the newspaper. I had never done food writing before but thought it was pretty cool to be a personal chef and newspaper columnist. I would get paid and the newspaper would allow me to mention my personal chef business at the end of every column so I figured…why not.

As part of the arrangement, the newspaper was going to send a photographer out for each column. However, with my cooking schedule and where I live, scheduling cooking, styling and photographing the dish was nearly impossible. After two complicated sessions, I decided to take the photo myself. The photo was not very good, however it passed and the newspaper was happy to let me take all photos after that.

Suddenly, I was a food photographer too, which was pretty interesting because my knowledge of photography in general was quite limited.

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Because of my new sideline gig as a biweekly columnist for the local newspaper, I wanted to learn more about food writing. I came across Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write For Food. Her book is a great resource for anyone interested in writing a cookbook, doing freelance food writing and, of course, food blogging, which is how I became intrigued with it. It intrigued me because I love to create new recipes and being able to share them with the world seemed so rewarding. However, my personal chef business kept me extremely busy so I wasn’t able to delve into the process.

Then, two years ago, I was sidelined from my personal chef business due to an injury. I tripped and fell in a client’s kitchen, fracturing my right kneecap. I couldn’t work or drive for six weeks. It was during this time I realized that someday my personal chef career could end for any number of reasons. Having already experienced severe office job burnout prior to becoming a personal chef, I knew there was no way I could ever go back to work in an office. I felt I needed to have something to fall back on that I was passionate about.

Oven Roasted Artichokes with Roasted Garlic Butter

Oven Roasted Artichokes with Roasted Garlic Butter

That’s when my “real” food blog was born. I say “real,” because I had a small blog section on my business website, but it got very little traffic. I knew absolutely nothing about how to promote it; I didn’t even have a Facebook account until a few months before my accident. My food photography had progressed to a point where FoodGawker.com and Tastespotting.com were accepting some of my photographs so I received traffic there. Because their editors carefully curate those sites, having photos accepted was very encouraging to me.

Warm Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad (8)

This salad took me four afternoons / four attempts to photograph it in a way I was happy with it. FoodGawker put in on their Instagram feed last Monday (117,000 followers!) and I nearly cried.

So, with tons of time on my hands during my recovery period, I decided if I were ever going to delve into food blogging, it was the time to do it.

Because a food blog is nothing without great photography, I first immersed myself into learning everything I possibly could to improve my photography through reading books, watching online video workshops and by studying great food photography.

I then researched how to start a food blog and looked at hundreds of food blogs.

I knew nothing about social media but knew I had to learn it in a hurry because it’s one of the main ways to promote a food blog. Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, StumbleUpon, and Google+ were all mysteries to me so I had to start figuring them out.

 I knew nothing about WordPress (a popular blogging platform), website design or search engine optimization (SEO). For my personal chef business website, I had always let pros at APPCA do it. This, however, I was determined to learn from the ground up, and it wasn’t long before I learned what the “white screen of death” was.

Grilled Citrus Chili Shrimp with Mango Pineapple Salsa

I also knew nothing about how to make money with a food blog—I just knew people did it because they published their income and traffic reports.

But, as with all journeys, they begin with the first step. My original food blog concept, which was based around my love for cookbooks, seemed to confuse everyone. Most people thought all I did was rework cookbook recipes. (Branding experts advise having a clear, definable focus.) The concept worked for Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks fame, but it wasn’t going so well for me. Three graphic designers couldn’t come up with the right logo for me so I worked until midnight many nights trying to design one myself on professional software I knew nothing about.

After hitting numerous roadblocks, I decided to rebrand last summer and change my name to what it is now—From A Chef’s Kitchen. I knew I was doing the right thing when one of the first people I told about the change said, “Now THAT tells me who you are!” I tried a graphic designer one more time and my logo came together quickly and painlessly.

Fast forward to today and I’m having a ball. I absolutely love the process of recipe development, styling the dish and nailing a mouthwatering shot. I love being able to share my recipes and passion for food with the world. It’s very gratifying receiving comments from readers who made a recipe and it’s become their new family favorite.

Through social media and particularly Pinterest, my traffic is growing nicely. Many of my posts are written from my viewpoint as a personal chef. I’m also using my food blog to help promote APPCA and personal chefs in general with my monthly “Menus” posting.

I don’t plan on giving up my personal chef business any time soon, but ways I’m turning my blog into a secondary business is through:

  • Ad revenue
  • Affiliate marketing (commissions are earned by helping to sell other people’s products)
  • Recipe development / sponsored posts for companies. So far, I’ve worked with Calphalon, Weight Watchers and Australis Barrmundi for compensation. However, companies such as Oxo and NordicWare send products for review and I’ve also been able to add some free cookbooks to my collection.

Many food bloggers develop a product to sell such as a self-published cookbook, other food-related book or meal plans. I would like to do that someday. I hope to start doing freelance food photography work and am looking into becoming a certified food stylist.

Cuban Chicken Black Bean and Quinoa Bowls

Cuban Chicken Black Bean and Quinoa Bowls

I’m still a little shy about putting myself out there with my recipes and photography but I’m growing more and more confident about it each day.

If you enjoy photography, writing and recipe development, I highly encourage you to look into food blogging. As a mentor of mine in the food blogosphere said, “Start, and then learn.” That’s what I did!

Have you been wanting to start a blog? What’s been holding you back? If you have one, please add your link in the comment section below and describe what you’re doing.

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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laid back - business2

We’ve talked recently about the importance of marketing, including taking your expertise to video and television. So I was tickled to see one of our members, Jes Thomas of Soul Food: A Personal Chef Service in Knoxville promoting her TV appearances on Facebook. If you want to learn how she has made this leap, read on.

Jes has only been a personal chef for a year. “I have always loved eating, which led me to the path of cooking,” she says. “I have been leading college ministry at my church as well as homeschooling my children. Now that they are older I have freer weekdays. I honed my skills in cooking because of all the events and gathering related to church and community. People always asked if I would ever open a restaurant but that is too much of a headache. The joy comes from people who feel ‘filled,’ both physically and emotionally. I love when my food helps them. Personal chefs combine all the best parts of cooking for others. My customers have a need and I get to fill it in a personally fulfilling way.”

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Jes came to food through her work in advertising and public relations for a year following college, where she earned a BA in Mass Communication and a Masters degree in Religions Education. At the firm, Jes worked in departments with food clients and learned about gourmet foods because she was in charge of ordering the upscale lunches for client meetings in New York City. Around that time she also started baking and collecting recipes as well as take random cooking classes at kitchen stores. When she moved to her small town in Appalachia, she began to explore “cooking from scratch” because their rural town didn’t have many restaurants or specialty grocery stores. She used videos on foodnetwork.com for more education. And she spent a week in New York City at the Institute of Culinary Education, learning to make croissants, bagels, and pretzels, as well as a boot camp for gourmet cooking.

Last year, Jes took the APPCA certificate class with Candy Wallace. Part of the training included learning how to contact media outlets, which complemented her knowledge of how to write press releases. Jes says her strategy was to make her free website as professional as she could without paying for extra bells and whistles. She set up social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and About Me and then started following all the major news people in the closest city where she wanted to work. “I was hoping some of them would notice and follow me back,” she explains.

Jes got her first break when she saw that the ABC affiliate, WATE, asked the audience to send in news ideas. “I wrote up a press release about myself and the business and emailed it to the hosts of Good Morning Tennessee,” she says. “Then I tweeted the hosts and let them know I sent them the e-mail. They wrote me back and said they were interested. Within a few weeks, I was interviewed about the business.

“That is how I landed my first regular client,” she says.

 

After that, Jes pursued the WBIR, the NBC affiliate, because they had a kitchen on set. She sent another press release to the producer, tweeted her, and she wrote back. After her first on air appearance, the producer asked if Jes would be interested in coming back. “I have been there monthly since then. It would be great if it were a paid gig, but I will take the free publicity any day!”

Garlic potatoes

Here’s the link to her latest WBIR appearance, during which she made the garlic potatoes above: http://www.wbir.com/news/local/five-at-four/garlic-potatoes/216399268

As anyone who has done this knows, it can be tricky to cook on air while holding a conversation with the hosts. Jes acknowledges that it takes a lot of practice.

“I practice cooking at home and explaining it.  My first few segments, I practiced the ‘script’ in my head and tried to think of all the points I wanted to cover.  You’ll notice in a couple of the segments, Russell Biven, the co-host, jokes around with me. I must say, that did distract me and I lost my train of thought. There are actually quite a few blunders I have made, but I have done a lot of teaching in different subjects so I have learned to ad-lib!

“I took public speaking in college and grad school. I still get nervous about messing up, but I think that is what keeps me on my toes. I am up front every week at my church of about 100 people doing announcements and a lot of that is ad lib with my husband. Keeping thing light hearted and fun is my goal.”

At this point, Jess has a few local shows under her belt: Live at 5 at Four on the NBC affiliate, Fox in the Morning in Knoxville, and Good Morning Tennessee, which has invited her back–even though they have no kitchen. “The great thing is now I have connections on these shows, so if I want to do something different with the business I can get in touch with them and have a place to promote it.”

Have you done television spots to promote your business? How did you find your way in? How has it helped your business?

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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Since becoming a personal chef in 2011 APPCA member Dan Vogt has chosen his own path for operating his business. Instead of traveling to client homes to cook, he’s always opted to use a commercial kitchen for cooking and then delivers their meals.

“It’s completely custom, but I can do the cooking on my own time and I’m not bothering anyone in their home,” he explains. “I thought if it were me, I wouldn’t want to have someone in my kitchen clanging around pots and pans. I just want someone to make what I want and bring it to me. And because I rented a commercial kitchen I could service many more clients.”

Vogt’s focus has been on a clean eating approach, using local, organic ingredients as much as possible. Based in Long Branch, New Jersey, Vogt works with a broker for farmers markets in Pennsylvania who is himself a farmer. Based on what’s available, Vogt designs his menu.

Paleo Winter Tacos

Paleo Winter Tacos

“My niche is gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free,” he explains. “I work with doctors, with whom I’ve created alliances, to address specific diets. My meal plans can meet everyone’s needs.” 

For years, Vogt called his personal chef business Food by Dan. It’s attracted both locals and vacationers at the Jersey shore. He works with NFL athletes and consults with their dietitians to optimize their nutrition. Vogt also partners with about six doctors in New Jersey. He does weight loss and lifestyle coaching with people trying to lose weight, often in partnership with local gyms.

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But recently, Vogt had a brainstorm. He re-conceived the business and changed its name to Hello Chef. The biggest change was opening a quick-service storefront, also called Hello Chef, on December 7, with hours from 9 to 3 Monday through Saturday. It features breakfast, lunch, and cooking classes, while also Vogt also prepares his custom meals for clients in the back. People can come in and pick up prepared meals, they can eat in (Hello Chef  seats 25), and they can set up a private dinner with Vogt, including a farm-to-table dinner party at the restaurant.

Because Vogt doesn’t have the overhead of serving and bussing staff–it’s just himself, his wife, and a dishwasher–expenses can be kept down and he can cook client meals. Eventually, he’d like to hire a line cook who can put together dishes Vogt already has prepped so he can focus more on the business–not in the business. That’s a big difference to him.

Vegan Black Eyed Pea Hash with Acorn Squash Bowl and Pomegranate Guac

Vegan Black Eyed Pea Hash with Acorn Squash Bowl and Pomegranate Guac

Vogt saw a huge need for this kind of quick service food option in Long Branch. “In our area, there are places where you can get good food, but it’s limited. They tend to be stuffy, high-end places where entrées are $35 to $40. Most folks can’t afford that,” he says. “I think it’s unfair. People should be able to eat real food. I want to make high-quality food at a reasonable price. So I came up with the idea of having a quick-service place with fresh real food. It’s more expensive than other quick-service places, but people understand they get what they’re paying for.”

So, is the storefront the focus of Hello Chef? No. In fact, Vogt, says, it’s basically a way to market his personal chef services. He tells of a customer who came in for breakfast, but after learning about his personal chef services, ended up spending about $200 by ordering 10 customized dinners and a couple of quarts of soup.

High Brow Breakfast Stack

High Brow Breakfast Stack

One recent Friday night, he hosted a girls night out with all-you-can-eat appetizers. He had 25 people at the event at $60 a person. “It’s a way to promote our real business, which is meal plans,” he says. “That’s our whole push.”

“We get summer beach crowds in Long Branch, and we’ll be marketing to those complexes,” he says. “Imagine planning a vacation and having food ready in your fridge when you arrive.”

He’s also talking to investors about launching a healthy food truck business by this summer. And, Vogt is working toward opening multiple locations with the idea of franchising some day.

Vegan Cranberry Apple Crisp

Vegan Cranberry Apple Crisp

Are you trying to develop ways to expand your personal chef business? Vogt has a few tips for you:

  1. Give thought to your goals. Everybody’s business goals are different. Do you want to build something that self sustains or something where you’re your own boss? Think about it. There’s a big difference. For me, it’s something that self sustains.
  2. Get creative. Consider how you can do something different to market your business. Trade your skills with a gym to get in front of clients. You can’t be stingy with it. Build that sense of trust with people and they’ll tell everyone about you.
  3. Marketing is what it’s all about. You can have the best food in the world but if no one knows about you, nobody’s going to care.

Do you have a unique approach to running your personal chef business? Let us know if you need any help or advise!

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.

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Charles Schulman has been in the culinary industry for more than 30 years. He came to the personal chef profession in 2008 after years of working in the hospitality industry–think hotels–and corporate world–think corporate dining rooms, hospitals, and private schools, as well as restaurants and fine dining establishments like country clubs. Based in the Baltimore area, Schulman’s last full-time gig before becoming a personal chef was as a chef for a private school.

At that point he was ready for something new and his wife suggested he look into becoming a personal chef. Years before a co-worker had talked to him about it as a career and pointed him to the APPCA. Schulman finally attended a seminar in Washington, D.C. and liked what he heard. And so he launched his business, Savor Each Flavor.

horsdouerve

Since then he’s had a range of clients and also works part-time for a caterer and sometimes for a fine dining restaurant in Owings Mills. “I’ve learned from every one,” he says. His catering umbrella is broad. He offers dinner parties and receptions, romantic dinners and barbecues, cooking lessons and Hors d’oeuvre parties, and chef/sommelier parties. Much of his clientele comes from client referrals, although he says he’s also experimented with Groupon and Living Social.

buffet

Schulman has shared 10 tips about catering that he’s gleaned from his experience:

    1. Offer a lot of variety in terms of food. Create innovative combinations, especially for brunch.
    2. With bridal showers and baby showers, you get a lot more guests interested in healthy dishes. Be sure to offer egg substitutes or egg whites for omelets.
    3. Make your omelets in front of your guests. You’re creating a show and are entertaining guests, which they enjoy.
    4. Be flexible and know your guests in terms of the kind of food they prefer. Do they tend to prefer lighter, healthier dishes? Do they want you to make their mom’s recipe? Be open to their requests instead of strictly sticking to your menu.
    5. Cater to your client. They’re the ones paying you. They’re the ones eating the food. They’re the ones who will rehire you or give you a great referral.
    6. When hiring wait staff make sure you have good people who you know around you. They’re the first line of defense. Make sure you’re all on the same page. I have meetings before the event to review plate presentation, platter presentation, menu, clients’ rules. At the event, review every single detail before the event starts.
    7. Consider partnering with a wine consultant for an event. And for events for guests numbering more than 15, consider hiring a second chef to assist.
    8. If you’re using fresh herbs, dry them in the oven to preserve them—and you don’t have to toss leftover herbs. Instead you can put them in the freezer. With other leftover produce, you can roast them or otherwise cook them and freeze them.
    9. Have a good strategy for prepping so you don’t spend all your time in the kitchen cooking. Jot down menu items with recipe with a section that accounts for equipment you need and special issues like guest or client allergies to ingredients.
    10. Email clients with confirmation when you’ll be there, the menu, and to make sure that the dishwasher, sink, countertops, stove cleared off. If you come into a clean kitchen and clean house, you leave it the same as you found it.Clean as you go. Clean while guests are eating.

brunchsetup

Schulman also emphasizes the importance of annual planning. From Christmas to New Years, you can find him at his computer going over the goals he has for himself and his business for the new year. And he anticipates a busy January. “I usually have a range of clients then of people who want to change their diets, who decide they don’t want to cook for themselves, or want a chef to come in and cook healthy meals for their families,” he says.

What are some of your best catering tips? What concerns do you have about branching out into catering?

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.

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Me at the end of a work day

One of the most important things that APPCA founder and executive director Candy Wallace likes to stress about why she developed the personal chef path is that is was designed to be a valid alternative career path to commercial cooking situations that drained the creativity and joy out of professional culinarians’ lives. It was created to offer trained pros an umbrella under which they could provide their services and skills–always in a state of evolution.

Sometimes that means leaving it for new opportunities–as our recent conversation with Nicole Gaffney showed. And sometimes it means circling back–as today’s conversation with Tracy Pizura demonstrates. Life takes many turns and Tracy, after 14 years away from being a personal chef to run her own cafe in South Florida, recently decided to return to the personal chef industry, restart her business, now named Summer Rain Cafe, and rejoin APPCA.

We chatted with Tracy about her journey away and back to learn what the pull is for being a personal chef.

Tracy grew up passionate about cooking, having first started baking when she was about eight. Her grandma would send her handwritten recipe cards with her cookie recipes on them. Tracy progressed to preparing dinner for her family of seven and says she was exposed to the finest of restaurants, which, “motivated me to continuously learn about and how to prepare all kinds of foods,” she says. “With such a large family I had plenty of tasters.”

Healthy Taco Salad

As the oldest of five siblings, she took over meal responsibilities when her parents gambling resulted in their losing all their money. For awhile cooking was limited to things like running hot water over an unopened can of Chef Boyardee in the bathroom sink. When they finally moved into a motel with a full kitchen, she took on the cooking as a joy, never considering it as a career. In fact, she sold insurance for awhile, waited tables, did bartending. Finally, a customer suggested she apply to culinary school. As it happened, he was an administrator of Johnson and Wales University, which was opening a school in South Florida. Two-and-a-half years later she graduated at the top of her class. She also married, got pregnant, and had to figure out how to earn a living while caring for a daughter she had resolved not to place in day care. Enter the personal chef business. “I contacted Candy Wallace after discovering her on the Internet,” she recalls. “She was so kind and giving, she gave me all the support I needed without asking for anything in return. I will never forget her generosity.”

Elegant Edibles, in Jacksonville, Florida, did well, but after Sept. 11, 2001, Tracy decided to return to South Florida to be closer to her family. She closed the business, moved with her four-year-old daughter and husband and focused on her daughter–including homeschooling her. But, she says, an opportunity came her way to open a 16-seat cafe in a condominium, which she did for about a year and a half, while also occasionally cooking for a client (that personal chef bug never did completely leave her).

After separating from her husband in 2008, Tracy needed a better means of financial support for her and daughter Summer that would also be flexible. She found it in a small cafe located in a medical building near her home.

“It wasn’t up to code but I knew I could get is licensed and running. So I took all the money I could off the few credit cards I had and went for it,” she says. “That was six years ago. Summer Rain Cafe, named after my daughter, was the best decision I ever made. Summer and I worked it together. It was her last year of homeschooling and I taught her how to be an entrepreneur.”

carrot cake

But once Summer started high school, the long hours, the daily breakdown, and the cleaning all started to wear on Tracy, who no longer felt that creativity that comes from cooking and developing recipes. So just a month ago she closed the cafe and has returned to her original business as a personal chef, but keeping the name of the cafe for her personal chef business.

“The first thing I did was rejoin the APPCA,” she says. “I am glad to be back and hope to find old friends and meet new ones on the forums and in the area where I live.”

Tracy acknowledges that, “When you own a restaurant you have an overhead you must meet every month. This means you have to focus on making money and some of my most profitable items were sodas, chips and unhealthy snacks. I didn’t like selling those items as I don’t eat them myself. But, business is business and I was there to make money.

“Which leads me to the most important reasons I chose to return to the personal chef industry. I can run a business that is good for the community. It makes money but it truly helps people. I can choose when I want to work and when I don’t. There are new and exciting challenges with each client and I find that most of them want to eat healthier and I am there to help. It is much more creative as you plan new menus every week and are preparing all types of interesting dishes. You can focus on quality ingredients that are better for the planet. Your environment changes constantly so your not going to the same place every day.

“And, most importantly you don’t have the stress of meeting a large overhead every month.”

Because Tracy has always followed the industry–even when she was running the cafe–she has seen how it’s evolved, grown, and become more mainstream. Clients are better educated about food, and she’s found that commercial kitchens give personal chefs opportunities to streamline and cook for more than one family and then deliver meals, which enables personal chefs to compete with meal delivery services. Tracy herself has gained so much experience in the food industry. All this has given her much more confidence in her ability to succeed than she had years before.

Club Sandwich

Under that personal chef umbrella she’s creating, Tracy will certainly do weekly meal service for clients. She’s targeting clients who want to eat and live an organic and sustainable lifestyle–those who shop at farmers markets and prefer locally grown product. She specializes in unprocessed foods that are free of refined sugar, and diets like Paleo and low carb. She’s also drawn to Jewish/Kosher-style cooking and thanks a Jacksonville client for sharing so many recipes with her and teaching her kosher practices that she can use for the large Jewish population in South Florida. But she also is marketing dinner parties and cooking classes.

And, she’s no fool, she’s eying the many yacht owners in the area. “I would not mind a trip through the Caribbean as a perk on the job,” she says.

Where are you in your culinary journey? Are you contemplating career changes? How can we help you figure out next steps?

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.

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