Nicole Gaffney

This time last year, every Sunday night for several weeks I, along with APPCA chefs across the country, watched Food Network Star with a vested interest. One of our own was in the competition. Every week, APPCA member Nicole Gaffney undertook a grueling challenge and she outlasted almost all the competition. No, she didn’t win but she made it to the finals and made us proud.

So, I thought it would interesting to check in with Nicole a year later and find out how that experience impacted her life and career. I was moved by Nicole’s personal and professional growth, as was Candy Wallace, APPCA’s founder and executive director.

“This career path was designed to be a personal chef “umbrella” under which the owner operator develops and offers services and skills that represent the chef/owner’s own level of expertise and personal preferences and specialties. No two personal chef businesses should look alike. And the process of operating a personal chef business is in a constant state of evolution,” said Candy.

“Nicole’s evolution is profound and we are not only proud of her journey but also excited for her since she is at a point in her journey, post-food TV, that she has taken a good hard look at her life and experiences thus far and has re-prioritized her needs, her truths, and her goals.

“Reading this interview,” Candy added, “reconfirmed my commitment to continue to provide training and support for individuals who choose to build a culinary career that reflects who they are, what they need to provide for themselves and their loved ones, and where they choose to go on their professional and personal journey.”

Stomping the grapes

APPCA: How has your life changed a year after your run on Food Network Star?

Nicole Gaffney: It’s changed a lot and also is still very much the same. I have a brand new kitchen – so that has changed the way I cook and interact with food, as my old kitchen was cramped and uninspiring. My career path has changed, which I’ll elaborate on in the next question. But mostly, my attitude has changed. I went in to FNS knowing completely who I was, and feeling really confident in that. But after the show had ended, I didn’t know which way was up. Full disclosure: I had accepted my loss and was able to put it in perspective on the surface, but deep down I was devastated. I put my heart and soul (not to mention my life on hold) into a competition I had dreamt about entering since I was a kid. So having made it all the way to the end, and then coming out of it with essentially nothing was heartbreaking. This past year I experienced a lot of growing pains as a result, but I’m happy to say I’ve come out of that funk and feel a lot better about who I am and where I’m at in my life.

APPCA: How has your business changed? Are you still a personal chef? Are you still teaching?

NG: I’m no longer working as a personal chef. As much as I loved my clients, and loved running my business for five years, I began to feel like it was holding me back from pursuing what I really wanted out of life. I felt creatively stifled by the restrictions each client had in their diet, and rather than creating food that made me excited, I was expending all of my energy problem solving on their behalf. I was providing them with a valuable service and it was paying the bills, but I started to feel like I had hit a wall. I always felt much more gratified when I taught someone to cook as opposed to when I just cooked the food for them. I am still teaching through a few different local cooking schools, demos at food festivals, on my blog and YouTube channel. I have my hand in a lot of different pots right now and am working on monetizing the most time-consuming ones.

APPCA: Are you watching the current season? What are you looking at when viewing? Are you “virtually coaching” contestants based on your experience with the mentors or with challenges?

On Rachael Ray

NG: I’m actually not! My husband and I made the decision to get rid of our cable around Memorial Day weekend in order to save a little (actually, a lot) of money, but mostly to inspire us to get out and enjoy the summer. It feels really pretentious and hippie-ish to talk about, but I’ve been really happy with our decision. We’ve been spending more quality time together with our family and friends, have been taking sunset paddles on our paddle boards every night, I’ve been learning the ukulele, keeping up with my garden and reading a lot more. I did watch the first episode online, and it brought back a lot of uneasy memories. I have to say I’m rooting for Jay – he’s a Baton Rouge guy, and I have a lot of love for that city (LSU – geaux Tigers!).

APPCA: What opportunities have you gotten as a result of being on the show?

NG: I think the biggest opportunity for me has been the overall name I’ve made for myself and the fanbase I’ve built online. It’s propelled me to be able to grow my blog and my YouTube channel with far more ease than it would have otherwise, and gives me instant credibility to brands and networks.

APPCA: Are you still connected to Food Network? Are you still in touch with some of the people you got to know on the show?

NG: I’m not still connected to Food Network. Unless I become super successful in one of my ventures, then they are contractually entitled to a piece of it. I have stayed in touch with Bobby Flay a bit, he has been very good to me in terms of encouragement to keep pursuing my dream. My other cast mates and I have all stayed in touch with the exception of Lenny. No one has been able to get a hold of him since the last time we were all together for the finale.

APPCA: Are you doing TV?

NG: Yes! I still host a local Philadelphia-based TV show called The Chef’s Kitchen where I get to cook in the kitchen with some amazing chefs. I also will be starting to represent a few different sustainable seafood products on QVC very soon, possibly as early as next week. I also post weekly quick cooking videos to my YouTube channel, Coley Cooks. I’ve found that my husband and I are not alone in the quest to do away with cable tv, and YouTube and self-created online content are very much the way of the future.

Reese's Pieces

APPCA: Now that a year has passed, what do you think you learned about yourself and what you want in your career and life following what was certainly a life-changing experience?

NG: I think my biggest lesson in all of this is to care much less what people think of me. Being a young personal chef, I was always so concerned with keeping up appearances, staying PC, not wanting to offend anyone, and being seen as trustworthy, professional, and polished. I used to get really upset over any negative criticism I received online or anytime I would lose a follower. I would try to think about what I did or said that made someone dislike me, and then try not to ever do that again. I realized through this whole process that it is impossible to win over 100% of the population and I will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I learned to stay truly authentic to myself, and at times that means being opinionated, super sarcastic, having a potty mouth, and just generally being weird. I stopped being so concerned with having to uphold this perfect persona in order to maintain a business that focused on people pleasing. At the end of the day, the people who do like me will appreciate it, and those who don’t… well, I stopped worrying about them.

teaching

In terms of what I want out of life and my career, I mostly stopped being a personal chef because trying to maintain my business while pursuing these new ventures was detrimental to both. I was spread too thin and my clients always took precedence over anything else. They owned me, and my loyalty to them caused me to miss out on some really neat opportunities. The transition hasn’t been an easy one, but nothing worthwhile ever is. My goal continues to be teaching. It is my mission to boost confidence in home cooks, and to inspire them to cook as locally, seasonally and sustainably as possible. I believe that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. I’m not quite sure where this path will lead me, but I’ve learned to be much more excited about the journey than the final destination.

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Ed Fluck

Long before the general public really understood the term, Edward Fluck became a private chef. Certainly the wealthy among us have had butlers and cooks, but it was only around 25 years ago that they started bringing private chefs into their households.

Chef Ed Fluck, known to all as “Chef Ed,” a longtime member of APPCA, had been cooking professionally for 15 years when he was recommended for the position of private chef to Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons. More than 42 people were interviewed for the job, but Chef Ed was less concerned about the competition than the actual match.

“You have to make sure the match is perfect because it’s like a marriage. You live on site and are with the family constantly,” he explains.

That meant that he also, delicately, interviewed Charlotte Smith, Rankin Smith’s wife, during their initial meeting, asking her why they wanted to have a chef at that point in their life. He liked her response. First, she said, they wanted to do more entertaining for charities and hosting out-of-town guests. Second, she just didn’t like dealing with the kitchen and wanted to stay away. “I found that very refreshing,” Chef Ed recalls. “She was honest and not playing games.” It turned out she also needed someone to manage the house and staff of six. That intrigued him. It was a new challenge and something he looked forward to.

Appetizer

But he also did his research and, to his satisfaction, found that many of the staff had been there for more than 10 years—so he didn’t see it as a situation in which the client was going through a lot of employees.

Chef Ed worked for them for six years, until Rankin Smith passed away and his widow moved to Florida. During that time, he learned that not only did he and the staff have to conform to Mrs. Smith’s schedule—so did their guests. If lunch was scheduled for 12:30, not even their guests could request lunch an hour later. As she told him, “You’re not a short-order cook.”

“She was very tough but we got along very well. Even so, you always have to remember–even when they take you on vacation—that they’re your employer. You still have to make sure they’re taken care of,” he says.

scallops

As a private chef, Chef Ed explains, you’re dedicated to the client. You’re just working for one family and the tasks in his case not only involved cooking, but all the shopping, managing the household (“I logged in every phone call that came in.”), banking, and car maintenance. No, he didn’t do that himself, but hired and supervised those who did.

Chef Ed points out that the standards for a private chef are exceptionally high. “The people I worked for could eat anywhere in the world, so I had to learn to do everything in the kitchen exceptionally well. As a private chef you’ll have a brief career if you limit what you make.”

He was in his 40s when he worked for the Smiths, and Chef Ed enjoyed living on the property, although “it was kind of like being 16,” he jokes. “I’m not in my own house, but I wanted to be respectful of their privacy, so I’d call when I’d go out and come in. I wanted Mrs. Smith to know everything that was going on in her home.”

After leaving the Smith household, Chef Ed went to work for another couple of prestigious families, as well as taking on personal chef clients—but at, what he calls, “a more high-end level, going into the homes a couple of times a week to create meals that would be served that day, not frozen meals for reheating.”

pork

Even today he still has a private chef client, but no longer lives on the property. He has the household keys, does the cooking for the family a couple of days a week, but also runs a successful weekend event business in Atlanta, sans preset menu.

Chef Ed passes on some advice for those interested in becoming private chefs:

  1. Get as much experience as possible before starting down the road to being a private chef. The deeper your background is in cooking, the better. The question I get asked the most is, ‘What is your specialty?’ You need to be able to do everything well. In the six years I was with Rankin Smith I cooked over 6,000 meals. If you aren’t able to do anything and everything to a very high standard, people will grow tired of your ‘specialty’ cooking. It’s like going to the same restaurant every day for six years.
  2. Research your potential employer. You don’t want to work for ‘a name.’ You’re going to work for and live with people. Knowing about them as people and employers is more important. You could end up working with someone who becomes a great lifelong relationship, or you could end up in a job where you are on call 24/7 and get run into the ground. And when that causes you to leave, you can create a stain on your reputation.
  3.  If you’re working full time in one family’s home 40 to 50 hours a week, the more positive life experience you must demonstrate–i.e., responsibility, trustworthiness, and confidentiality, the better. The earlier in your life you make the decision to hone these skills the more valuable you are to your employer and the better chance you have to create the work you enjoy. Your prospective employers are looking for someone who can handle a great deal of responsibility, evaluate situations with balanced, seasoned judgment, and who has the ability to relate to all the other people in their orbit –- from the highest status to the lowest — in order to build solid relationships of trust and competence. Only in that way can that a household run smoothly every day. I read an article about private chefs/house managers and it said the average age of the chef was 50 years old.

tart

My approach was to get “as much experience as I could as young as possible,” Chef Ed says. “I was captivated and excited about learning everything I could in as many different venues as I was able. During my 30’s, I put in my 10,000 hours of refinement,” he said, referring to Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, the 2008 book’s “10,000-hour rule”–the number of hours of practice needed to acquire mastery of a skill. “I didn’t think about being a private chef until the opportunity presented itself. Things were different 30 or 40 years ago. The business was not as bright and shiny as it is today.

“I like the world I have created for myself,” he says. “I never thought of it as unique, just a world where I was comfortable and happy and able to do what I loved.”

Are you intrigued about being a private chef? What skills do you need to hone to get there?

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.

Photos courtesy of Edward Fluck

 

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Classes

Cooking Classes

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

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

Chefs Barge Cruise

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

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

Chefs at the Mediterranean

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

Pintxos in San Sebastian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monica at Academia Barilla

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

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

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

Spiced Lamb Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate

From Monica Shoemaker

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

Serves 4

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

lamb stew ingredients2

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

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

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

Lamb stew ingredients in pot

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

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

Lamb stew

Photos courtesy of Monica Shoemaker.

 

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eprewitt

So many chef stories begin with childhood anecdotes of cooking with grandparents or just being born with a passion for food. For Silver Plum Personal Chef’s Elizabeth Prewitt, preparing food started simply as a post-college bargain with her parents. After graduating from Auburn University with an industrial design degree, she moved back to the family home in New Orleans. The deal was that they would buy the food if she would cook it–not necessarily because she had proven skills, but because they were working hard at their consulting business and didn’t get home till late. They needed someone to make dinner.

You could call that her first personal chef gig.

Smoked Trout & Endive Puree Canape

Smoked Trout & Endive Puree Canape

Prewitt was self taught, with the help of her parents’ subscriptions to Cooking Light and Cooks Illustrated (“I have no idea why they had these subscriptions,” she joked.). She muddled along with those and chefs from Food Network. Until Hurricane Katrina hit. Then she and her parents headed a bit north to Kentucky where her sister lived in Louisville. And it was then that she decided to attend culinary school at Louisville’s Sullivan University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2007 with a specialty in baking and pastry arts.

“I’ve always loved the arts and creative expression,” Prewitt explained. “Cooking is a way for me to be creative three times a day. I like doing things I’m good at and the more I cooked and baked the better I got. And, it’s a way to help people.”

During this time, she’d had a long-distance relationship with the man who would become her husband. He lived in Chicago, so eventually Prewitt moved there to be with him. She’d already done the restaurant shift thing, having worked at New Orleans’ famed Commander’s Palace and Louisville’s Proof on Main. “I had worked in enough restaurants to know I didn’t want to do that,” she recalled.

Quinoa Salad with Almonds, Lime, & Cilantro

Quinoa Salad with Almonds, Lime, & Cilantro

So, instead she took jobs that would give her steady daytime hours that would allow her to spend evenings and weekends with her husband. She worked for awhile with a jewelry designer, then as a receptionist at an architecture firm. But when the recession hit and she got laid off, she did some research on Sullivan University’s website and learned “that personal cheffing was a thing.” The university offered a degree in this but Prewitt thought, “shoot, I could do that.” She found APPCA through Sullivan, became a member, and launched her business in 2010.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

Today, it’s thriving, thanks to a lot of word of mouth and a dynamic website filled with her beautiful food photography. She focuses on higher-end clientele, emphasizing high quality and customization. “I want to give my clients the experience of fine dining on their schedule in their home,” she said. She specializes in bi-weekly and monthly service and special events. “And I’ve been very successful doing that. I just stick with my strength.”

Prewitt also has a food and travel blog, onehundredeggs.com, which features recipes and her travel stories.

Cardamom Citrus Cake with Mango Jam and White Pepper Crunch

Cardamom Citrus Cake with Mango Jam and White Pepper Crunch

One thing that Prewitt feels has given her an advantage in her business–which is currently running a waiting list–is the fact that she’s a trained pastry chef and baker. “I definitely think it gives me an edge, especially for dinner parties. I can make an amazing dessert for a client that works with the savory meal I’ve created.”

Prewitt is sharing with us a simple holiday treat she makes for friends every year.

Crispy Chocolate-Mint Guys
From Elizabeth Prewitt, Silver Plum Personal Chef

Makes about 50
 
These could not be simpler.  They’re a fantastic way to use up any leftover melted chocolate, if you ever have any.  Take care when adding the peppermint oil, as one drop too much can make them taste unbearably minty.

10 ounces good-quality chocolate (not chocolate chips)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil (not extract)
2 cups (about 4 ounces) puffed rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies), or a little more if needed

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Chop the chocolate into 1/2 inch pieces, leaving about a third in larger 1 inch pieces (which will help temper the chocolate).  Place all the chocolate in a medium to large microwave-safe bowl.

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Heat the chocolate in the microwave on high for 45 seconds.  Remove and stir (it will not be very melty yet).  Continue microwaving in 10 to 15 second increments, stirring after each one, until the chocolate is mostlymelted, but a few large lumps remain (this is important to help the chocolate temper properly; do not fully melt it in the microwave).

When chocolate is heated enough, remove from microwave and stir gently until all lumps melt.  This may take a minute or two.  It’s okay if all the chocolate doesn’t melt, just remove those lumps after stirring.

Stir in the peppermint oil in 1/16 teaspoon increments (it’s easiest to add such a small amount with a dropper or pipette), tasting after each addition, until chocolate has a noticeably minty flavor.  Add the oil until you’re okay with the flavor.  Note: peppermint oil is potent, and adding too much can make these taste unbearably minty, but you do want it to be a little too minty right now — just a little —to account for all the cereal you’re going to add.  (If you accidentally add too much oil, melt some more chocolate and stir it in.  Solved.)

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Add the cereal and stir until fully coated, using extra cereal if necessary.  Spoon out onto a wax-paper-lined sheet tray in bite-sized mounds, a shy tablespoon or so per mound.

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Let sit briefly, about 15 minutes.  If properly tempered, the chocolate will begin to firm up.  If not, place in refrigerator until set.  Even if they don’t look perfect, they’ll still taste the same.

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Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Prewitt

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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Periodically, we invite our members or friends to guest post in this space. I marvel at what member Beth Volpe of Savory Eats in Southern California does with her Thanksgiving turkey. The way she bones and butterflies–it is a marvel of technique and her timing is the perfect example of exquisite planning that allows her to enjoy the day with family and friends. So, I asked her to explain to us how she makes it. And she surprised me with an additional recipe, which I think you’ll love. So, here is Beth:

Chef Beth Volpe

Savory Eats by Beth opened for business in January 2014. I had the fortune to take my classes in the warmth of Candy Wallace’s home and kitchen in San Diego. I am currently enrolled in Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy and have one year left towards becoming a Professional Culinarian. I have been cooking as long as I remember. I do it because I love it and it is who I am. I have three regular clients I cook for weekly and they are wonderful! I cater small dinner parties frequently and I teach cooking classes. Like all of us, I have done the work to get here and it has paid off.

Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday. I love the way the house smells when everything is cooking. When I was working in the corporate world I did not have time to prepare a full Thanksgiving dinner without being totally exhausted Thanksgiving Day. So for the past 10 years I have figured out a way to make my Thanksgiving meal two days before so that I would have the holiday to enjoy with my 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. One thing to note, in order for the turkey to fit in your oven and on a rack or the slotted top of your broiler pan, the turkey can be no larger than 14 lbs. Here is how I do it.

Over the years I have tried every variety of turkey out there (aside from hunting one down). In the end, they all taste the same after my process. So nowadays I generally purchase a nice frozen turkey. My process starts on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I butterfly the turkey. That requires cutting out the backbone and the tail. I reserve these parts to be used later in the making of my gravy. Reserve the gizzard, heart and neck. Once the backbone is removed I remove the tiny breast bones on each breast. This makes carving easier. Turn the bird over, stand on a stool so that your weight is above the turkey and press hard on the center of the breast. The breastbone must be broken in order for the turkey to lay flat. You will hear it crack. It’s at that point that I take the bird to the sink. It will be very floppy.

Butterflied turkey prep

Once I butterflied my first turkey and actually saw what was left inside the cavity, I was convinced that I would never again stuff a turkey. Sure we clean the inside well; however, there are the liver, kidney parts, and other “things” inside that cavity that just don’t wash away unless you open the bird up. Once cleaned I put the entire turkey into a brine (recipe to follow). It sits overnight or about eight hours. On Wednesday, I remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well in cold running water for five minutes. Dry the turkey with paper towels. It’s important to get as much of the moisture possible off of the bird. Place the bird on a cooling rack set in a rimmed cookie sheet, uncovered, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. This is an important step because the chill dries the skin and creates a nice crispiness when roasting. I also make my gravy and my dressing on Wednesday. Come Thursday all that is left is to pop the turkey into the oven. I actually place the rack with the turkey over one of the large foil square pans full of my dressing. When the turkey cooks, the juices from the turkey drip into the dressing. So you get the great turkey flavor stuffing the turkey provides without the risk.

So, here we go:

BRINING

Tuesday – Butterfly the turkey, reserving all of the parts that you remove (minus the liver). Those parts get tossed into a roasting pan along with garlic, celery, and carrots to caramelize for the gravy.

Make your brine – I use brining bags from William Sonoma. They are worth every penny.

2 gallons water
1 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons black peppercorn – whole
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves

Add all ingredients to the brining bag and seal. Massage the mixture to dissolve the salt and sugar. Once dissolved, place your cleaned, butterflied turkey in the brine. Remove as much air as possible. Seal the bag and into the fridge it goes. There it will stay overnight for 8 hours.

Wednesday – Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine and bag. Rinse the turkey well for 5 minutes to remove the brine.

These instructions are without the dressing.

Cover a large jelly roll pan with foil (if you don’t like cleaning the pan) and place a cooling rack or the slotted top of your broiler pan on top of the foil. Place your turkey breast up on top of the cooling rack. Make sure all parts of the turkey fit on the cooling rack. You may need to tie the leg joints together to keep the thighs and legs in place. See Photo. Back into the fridge this goes for up to 24 hours. Do not cover.

Thursday – Pull out your bird. Be careful because there will be fluid in the pan and you don’t want to spill. Take the tray to the sink and pour off any accumulated fluid. Brush the turkey with turkey fat, duck fat or butter. Season with salt and pepper.

This turkey will literally take around 80 to 90 minutes to cook. I cook it hot at 450°F. I turn my turkey front to back after 40 minutes. Continue to cook until your instant read thermometer reads 175° in the thickest part of the thigh. Let rest. Carving this turkey is a breeze.

Roasted turkey

Chef Beth’s Thanksgiving Roulade
(Boneless Turkey Breast stuffed with Cranberry and Bourbon Compote, Turkey Leg and Thigh Confit, and a simple dressing wrapped in Puff Pastry)

Serves 5 to 6

I have been wanting to create a recipe for an elegant turkey dinner with all the flavors of Thanksgiving minus the carcass. This recipe was created in about a week. It took me two tries to get the outcome I was hoping for. I knew it the minute I tasted it. I hope you enjoy it!

The following items must be prepared before your start rolling.

TURKEY LEG AND THIGH CONFIT
6 peeled fresh garlic cloves
¼ cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Zest of one large lemon
8-9 cups duck fat
2 turkey legs, 2 turkey thighs, skin on
Fresh sage leaves
4 peeled fresh garlic cloves

In a food processor grind the first 6 ingredients. This will be your rub.

Massage the rub into your turkey legs and thighs. Place in a bag and let sit (preferably) overnight; however for this recipe I only let them marinate about 1 hour.

Prepping

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Heat the duck fat on the stove until melted.

Transfer the legs and thighs to a deep Dutch oven. Add a couple springs of fresh sage and 4 whole peeled garlic cloves. Pour melted duck fat over the turkey. Make sure all of the legs and thighs are submerged. Cook this for 3-4 hours uncovered. You want to make sure the turkey is very tender and cooked through.

Cooking process

Remove from oven. Let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours. Keep in the Dutch oven and transfer to fridge when cool and cover. The confit is complete at this point and ready for use. It can stay in the fridge for a few days.

To prepare the confit for the roulade, gently reheat the confit in its fat on the stove and only when warm, carefully lift out the legs and thighs. Remove the meat from the bones and process in your food processor (pulse so that you have control) until coarsely ground.

Confit off the bone

Add enough gravy from the roasted turkey to give it a spreading consistency. You will have leftover confit to enjoy.

CRANBERRY/BOURBON COMPOTE

4 cups fresh cranberries (should be equal to one bag at the grocery store)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup bourbon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Toss everything into a small saucepan and cook at medium-low heat, stirring periodically. Reduce until you get to a compote consistency. Remove cinnamon stick and process the mixture in a food processor until smooth. Refrigerate

Compote

DRESSING

I used a very simple recipe that I found on Epicurious. I needed something relatively plain but with all of the traditional ingredients…parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, all from my garden.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish
1 pound good-quality, day-old white bread, torn into 1″ pieces (about 10 cups)
2 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 1/2 cups celery, sliced in 1/4″ pieces
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 250°F. Butter a 13x9x2-inch baking dish and set aside. Scatter bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until dried out, about 1 hour. Let cool; transfer to a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, melt 3/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add onions and celery. Stir often until just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add to bowl with bread; stir in herbs, salt, and pepper. Drizzle in 1 1/4 cups broth and toss gently. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk 1 1/4 cups broth and eggs in a small bowl. Add to bread mixture; fold gently until thoroughly combined. Transfer to prepared dish, cover with foil, and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of dressing registers 160°F, about 40 minutes. DO AHEAD: Dressing can be made 1 day ahead. Uncover; let cool. Cover; chill.

Bake dressing, uncovered, until set and top is browned and crisp, 40-45 minutes longer (if chilled, add 10-15 minutes).

PREPPING THE ROULADE

I use a ½ skinned, boned turkey breast (Reserve bones and skin for another use.) and 1 sheet of puff pastry dough.

Lay turkey breast skin side down (sans skin) on a long sheet of plastic wrap to aid in rolling the roulade later.

Prep breast

It’s important to make sure that the turkey breast half is uniform before pounding. So, it may be necessary for you to butterfly a portion of the breast that is thicker. Place in plastic bag and pound to ½-3/4 inch thick. Turkey breast halves are not symmetrical. You may need to do some trimming. Use the turkey tenderloin to fill in open spots.

Roll roulade

Spread an even coat of the cranberry compote all over the breast.

Spread the confit in an even layer over the compote. Press down.

Spread an even layer of the dressing over the confit. Press down.

Do your best to maintain the integrity of the layers.

Use the plastic wrap to roll the turkey breast. Parts may fall out the sides but don’t worry. You will stuff them back in and use the plastic wrap to form the roulade. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 to 12 hours.

It is now time to wrap the roulade with puff pastry dough. You will need only one sheet per half breast. Roll it out very thin (1/16 to 1/8 inch). Make sure your roulade will fit on the pastry sheet and be fully covered front to back. You will need a couple of inches on each side. Remove the plastic wrap from the rolled breast and cover the breast with the pastry sheet. On the sides, cut away extra dough (it won’t cook through) and seal the ends by tucking them underneath the roulade. Place on a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Remove and make fine cuts into the pastry diagonally across the top. Brush with an egg wash and bake in a 350° preheated oven for 1 hour or until crust is golden brown and turkey registers 165°.

Bake roulade

If there are fluids around the roast, carefully discard them. Allow roulade to rest 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully slice and serve with gravy and the remaining Cranberry Bourbon Compote.

Elegant, the whole dinner in one roulade! Mission accomplished!

Turkey Roulade

What’s your favorite way to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey? Please leave a comment for Beth and let her know your thoughts or ask her a question.

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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Many of us in the business are comfortable cooking with grape leaves (think dolmas) and any number of herbs. But are perilla leaves in your wheelhouse? These broad, serrated aromatic leaves are a part of the mint family, native to the mountainous regions of Asia. Somehow, they found themselves in Northwest Arkansas, where APPCA member Kathy Dederich of Chef Please! Ltd. is based.

Kathy and her husband relocated to Bella Vista, Arkansas from Chicago. She brags that the region was listed as one of the top places to retire in the U.S. as well as one of the country’s safest cities. Just south is Walmart’s headquarters. Nearby is Tyson Foods and JB Hunt. The area has now reached a population of half a million and Kathy is proud that their food culture has evolved to the point that four local chefs have cooked at the James Beard House. One was a semifinalist.

Kathy has been cooking since she was a kid. Later, married and working at the family printing company, she enrolled in The Cooking & Hospitality school known as CHIC and later acquired by Le Cordon Bleu. She earned her degree with presidential honors and while still at the printing company first started cooking professionally for a friend from cooking school who was the in-house catering manager for a downtown law firm. The friend needed help serving outside catering clients, including Roger Ebert and, her all-time favorite, Ray Charles. The light bulb went off by then and Kathy has been a personal chef since 2007, when she joined APPCA and landed her first weekly client, a woman with Alzheimer’s Disease whose children wanted to keep her in her home. She was with them for over three years until moving to Arkansas.

Since then, she’s been thinking about how to incorporate some of the area’s indigenous ingredients into her dishes. Perilla leaves were an immediate go to.

perilla leaves close up

“Perilla leaves grow wild in the area,” she notes. “Usually I make Korean sesame leaves, which includes garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, sesame seeds, ground red pepper, and a bit of sugar. I use them as a carrier for rice. Some people eat it with meat.”

But it occurred to Kathy that they would be a terrific candidate for pesto. Instead of using pine nuts, she uses black walnuts–also native to the area–as well as local goat cheese in lieu of Parmesan.

perilla pesto

“The result is quite nice,” she says. “There is a lot of oil in the walnuts so not as much olive oil is needed. The perilla leaves are not nearly as strong as most mint, so it’s not overpowering.

Interestingly, Kathy uses the pesto primarily with rice instead of pasta because, she explains, Arkansas is one of the top rice producers in the country. She also includes sun-dried tomatoes from her garden, using–what else–the Arkansas traveler variety. Enjoy this as a side dish with chicken.

photo 5

Kathy has generously given us her recipe for all of us to enjoy:

Perilla Leaf Pesto
From Kathy Dederich

Ingredients
2 cups perilla leaves
1 cup black walnuts, toasted
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces goat cheese
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.

Perilla Pesto with Rice

What’s your favorite recipe that incorporates local 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.

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Nicole Gaffney

We’re all a little too aware of the way personal chefs have been portrayed on reality food shows. The producers have long had a habit of selecting wackadoodle folks who have nothing in common with the craft and career path we’ve honed. So, when we learned that APPCA member Nicole Gaffney was selected as a finalist of Food Network Star, we knew that finally we’d be well represented to the public.

Nicole didn’t let us down. Indeed, she did us proud. On Sunday night we watched the finale with bated breath, hoping that as one of the three finalists in this long road she’d prove the winner. Unfortunately, viewers–in all their wisdom–selected cowboy Lenny.

On Rachael Ray

In our eyes, though, Nicole is truly a winner–and she knows it, too. Out of tens of thousands of applicants she was selected to compete. She made some gaffes (who didn’t!), but she learned from them. And, she was a trouper. Remember Episode 3’s Cutthroat Kitchen challenge when she got a spice grinder to grind her meat for spaghetti and meatballs and then, in the middle of making her dish, she was sent to stomp grapes? Who else could channel Lucy Ricardo and turn grape stomping into a charming comedic routine? That was our Nicole!

Stomping the grapes

“You have to be slightly insane to do a competition like this,” she laughed back then.

In that same episode, she came out of whatever shell they judges felt she’d been locked in and helped create a zany Hershey’s commercial selling Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, trilling her Spanish R’s like a nut in her blue poncho–and helped win the challenge.

Reese's Pieces

Nicole’s Coastal Cuisine point of view (our Jersey girl “Food Network Star de la Mare”) was consistent, week after week. Okay, she had to get over her self-acknowledged “resting bitch face,” and find her bubbly side. And she did. She came to be at ease in front of the camera. The turning point came in week six, when Giada told her to just let go and stop being wound up so tight. “Be who you want to be.”

Green screen dreams

That was what she told call-in viewer Traci from New Jersey on finale night. “When Giada told me I was wound up too tight, I realized I needed to relax.”

Presentation counts for a lot, clearly, on a television show. But the food can’t fail. And in every challenge, Nicole’s food was praised by the mentors. They loved her food from the first–from her sesame-crusted tuna with spicy soy glaze that was her introduction to us, her couscous salad that chef Alex Guarnaschelli had to follow her on, her spicy pork kabobs with pineapple that she demoed at Knott’s Berry Farm, her fried frogs legs with spicy tamarind glaze and cucumber mango slaw along with her desconstructed s’mores dessert in Las Vegas, and even her spicy shrimp and vegetable lettuce wraps–even though it wasn’t a hit with the little kids. Okay, there was that brush up over prosciutto versus serrano ham–but let’s just let that go…

Vegas pool party

When Bob opened that first red envelope on finale night and it turned out that Nicole had hit third place, you could see the disappointment on the part of the judges and Susie, who told her, “I’ve always thought the world of you and just seeing you today so elegant and such a lovely person… It would have been a pleasure to have you join this family.”

With Robert Irvine

Bobby Flay told Nicole that she had a natural ability to be on camera. “I was rooting for you all the way. This is just a bump in the road to your success.”

And here Nicole showed all the class she’s demonstrated throughout the competition. “It’s been a huge dream of mine. It was life changing. I’ve grown so much as a person and learned so much about myself. Maybe I’ll get to be on TV someday.”

Ronnybrook Milk Bar

Nicole, no doubt your dreams will be realized. But whatever you do and whatever path you take, you’ve already shown the world what a real personal chef can do and be. You’ve been one of the best ambassadors for our career that we could dream of. Bobby’s right. This is just a bump in the road. Your journey is just beginning and there are great things in store for you! We will avidly be reading your blog Too Full for School to learn what’s up next!

#teamNicole

What did you think of Nicole’s run on Food Network Star? Is there a cooking show you want to audition for?

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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Chef Nancy Cordi

Temecula, Calif., has long been farm country. And where there are farms there’s bound to be good food, especially in Southern California, where the weather and crops take a page from the climate of the Mediterranean. Nancy Cordi, who grew up north of Temecula, just outside of L.A. in Torrance, comes from a Middle Eastern family. “I was born and raised around happy, beautiful people who surrounded themselves with laughter and, of course, fantastic cooking,” she says. “I was always drawn to cooking at a young age and as I got older, I wanted to carry on the traditions of Middle Eastern cooking, which later evolved into Mediterranean foods.”

Nancy found that many countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea use quality, healthy ingredients in their foods, bringing life into their dishes without masking the flavors. Since she couldn’t travel as often as she’d like, she decided to bring the Mediterranean to California, focusing on the foods of Greece, Lebanon, Israel, and Italy.

Like many people who found their way into life as a personal chef, Nancy originally was working the traditional 40-hour-a-week corporate job and catering on the side. That lasted for about five years. Then less than a year ago, she and her husband Edouard relocated to Temecula. After 21 years of corporate life, Nancy liberated herself and dove into cooking full time, “proudly becoming a certified personal chef through the APPCA,” she says. Her new business is Mediterranea, a Personal and Private Chef Service.

“This catapulted me to a whole new level,” she marvels. “Within a year I have gone from personal chef to also being the chef at a shop where I prepare fresh, healthy, grab-n-go lunches in their kitchen. I am now specializing in vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and paleo diets, all with that fantastic Mediterranean flare! I’m finally living the dream of making a positive impact on people’s lives by creating dishes using fresh local produce and focusing on reducing sodium levels while keeping my food vibrant and healthy by eliminating preservatives as well.

“I’m very thankful to the APPCA for offering this opportunity to become certified and giving me the boost I needed to take my skills to the next level. I’m a blessed woman and now proud chef!”

Nancy has given us a couple of refreshing summer recipes to share here for her Stuffed Grape Leaves and Classic Middle Eastern Hummus:

Nancy Cordi's Grape Leaf Lunch

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Yield: About 50 pieces

Ingredients

50-60 fresh grape leaves or 1 16-ounce jar of brined grape leaves (Note: brined grape leaves are packed by weight so the quantity will vary from jar to jar.)

1 cup olive oil, divided into 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1 cup dried garbanzo beans
1/2 cup julienne sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Juice of two lemons

Preparation

Soak  garbanzo beans in salted water overnight or simmer beans for 1 1/2 hours until they are twice their size. They must be soft and tender before draining.

Rinse brined leaves well to remove brine and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1/2 cup olive oil. Add rice, garbanzo beans, sun-dried tomatoes, cumin, mint, salt, garlic powder and juice of 1 lemon. Stir for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the filling to cool.

Line the bottom of a heavy saucepan with 2 or 3 grape leaves, using the broken or torn ones for this.

Rolling the grape leaves: Place a leaf with the stem towards you on a flat surface. The underside of the leaf, with the raised veins, should be face up. Using the point of a sharp paring knife, cut out the stem of the leaf. Overlap the bottom 2 sections of the leaf toward the center.

Place a tablespoon of filling in the bottom center of the leaf, just above where the stem was. Fold the bottom section up to cover the filling. Fold in the sides toward the center. Continue rolling the packet upwards toward the top of the leaf.

Place the rolls in layers in the saucepan, seam side down. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil over the grape leaves and enough water to cover them by an inch. Place an inverted heat-proof plate on top of the rolls to keep them submerged in the water. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour or until leaves are tender and the rice filling is cooked through.

Before serving, squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the grape leaves.

Nancy Cordi's Stuffed Grape Leaves

Classic Middle Eastern Hummus

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 cup dried garbanzo beans
1/2 cup grape seed oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon tahini (optional but recommended)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup raw pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

Soak  garbanzo beans in salted water overnight or simmer beans for 1 1/2 hours until they are twice their size. They must be soft and tender before draining.

In a food processor, add drained garbanzo beans, grape seed oil, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, and garlic powder. Blend until smooth. Taste and add a pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice if needed. Set aside.

In a small skillet, toast pine nuts on low heat until slightly golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Add hummus to a bowl or platter and sprinkle smoked paprika and pine nuts on top. Finish with olive oil. You can also garnish with chopped parsley.

  Nancy Cordi's Hummus

———–

Pitch

It isn’t every day that a personal chef gets this close to hitting the big time. And, yet, APPCA member and personal chef Nicole Gaffney has made it to the final three in Food Network Star. It was a nail biter of an episode. Still in New York at the Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen, each of the four remaining contestants were tasked with creating a 30-second video promo of their proposed show. Food Network execs Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson would review the promos and greenlight three of them to go on to produce a pilot. This pilot would be viewed by all of us at home. Then we get to vote and select the competition’s ultimate winner.

Nicole was up first with her promo highlighting her proposed show on global coastal cuisine. Susie like the camera comfort and down home style Nicole showed, but worried that without global expertise, which Nicole admitted she lacked. Bob, too, was concerned that her concept was too broad, and thought it should be narrowed to American coastal cuisine, which Nicole knows.

The moment of truth came after the other three contestants faced Bob and Susie with their promos and Sara was eliminated. That placed Nicole with Lenny and Luca in the final three and off they were to film their pilots, which were to feature their point of view and expertise.

And who was the Food Network director of these pilots? Robert Irvine. “I hope this isn’t going to be an episode of Pilot Impossible,” Nicole joked.

Nicole focused on Louisiana coastal cuisine for her pilot, “My Coastal Kitchen.” She got off to a shaky start by nervously reciting recipe ingredients and Irvine stopped her cold. He wanted more of her, not an ingredient list. More stories. And, importantly, he asked her if she was having fun, to which she retorted, “Not as much as I should!” This is about fun, Irvine reminded her–and that simple tip revved up her energy levels. By the time we saw the actual pilot, Nicole had fully mastered her presentation of New Orleans-Style “BBQ” Clams, telling charming family stories, taking swigs from a bottle of beer, and offering some terrific cooking tips. She was on!

With Robert Irvine

And now it’s up to us. Nicole has two formidable challengers in Lenny and Luca. So, here’s the deal: go to the Food Network Star website and vote, vote, vote. Yes, you can vote up to 10 times. But it has to be done before Wednesday, Aug. 6 at 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Do it! Let’s see one of our beloved APPCA members showcased on the Food Network with her own show!

What’s your culinary perspective? What dishes do you love to brag about?

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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Natalie Lewis

APPCA member Natalie Lewis may have a raging sweet tooth, but she’s deep into savory dishes that she makes for both her personal chef and catering clients. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, with a diploma in French cuisine, the Cincinnati native is a dedicated traveler who has enjoyed enhancing her knowledge of regional and cultural fare. Early in her career she took that knowledge to jobs at upscale catering catering companies and restaurants. Her move to Napa gave her a greater appreciation for local, sustainable cooking and the art of viticulture. Today, she lives with her family in Northern New Jersey.

Natalie's Sweet Pea and Parmesan Salad with Burrata and Capiocola

Natalie’s Sweet Pea and Parmesan Salad with Burrata and Capiocola

Natalie found us like many others–with a desire to get out of the restaurant business she starting researching other career options in the food world and found APPCA through an Internet search. She joined us in 2010.

“The best benefit has been that people find me easily when they do Google searches for personal chefs,” she says. “The APPCA website is one of the first to come up. So I’ve gained a lot of clients this way. The forums are also great, so I can connect with other personal chefs and compare notes.”

Natalie's Crab and Shrimp Avocado Salad with Tomato Coulis

Natalie’s Crab and Shrimp Avocado Salad with Tomato Coulis

Among Lewis’s other passions is her food blog, Natalie’s Daily Crave, where she posts recipes–mostly original–and gorgeous food photography.

The recipe below originated from cocktail appetizers she makes for her catering clients. “I make little bite-size red potatoes stuffed with blue cheese and bacon,” she says. “They’re always a hit at parties so I thought a potato salad with a similar concept would be a crowd pleaser also.”

This salad is perfect for summer picnics and barbecues–and something you can adapt for your own catering clients!

Natalie Lewis' Bacon-and-Blue-Cheese-Potato-Salad-so-delish1

Bacon and Blue Cheese Potato Salad
from Natalie Lewis

  • 3 lb red skin potatoes
  • 6 oz good blue cheese
  • 10-12 strips thick cut bacon
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3-4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh chives
  • 3 heaping Tbsp fresh chopped dill
  • salt and pepper

Clean and scrub outside of potatoes. Cut potatoes in half and add potatoes to a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Boil for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until they are fork tender, but still firm.

Meanwhile cook the bacon and crumble the blue cheese with a fork. Next, make the dressing. In a small bowl add the mayonnaise, Dijon, vinegar, chives and dill. Mix well and set aside.

Once the potatoes are cooked drain well. Roughly chop the potatoes into 1-inch chunks and while warm, pour the dressing over the potatoes. Mix well and add salt and pepper.

Add the crumbled bacon an blue cheese. Top with additional bacon, blue cheese and chopped chives. Can serve warm or cold. Store in fridge 2 days in advance.

*Photos courtesy of Natalie Lewis

—————–

Vegas pool party

So, here we are at week seven of Food Network Star, so thrilled that our own Nicole Gaffney is now one of six contestants and in Las Vegas for a series of new challenges. But, there’s always a wrench thrown into these competitions–and one came this week in the form of reinserting a contestant. Yes, Star Salvation has ended and into the competition returned… ta dah… Luca! Gorgeous Luca, whose English has been transformed.

So we’re back to seven contestant and have two related challenges. The first, taking place in the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace, was with judge/mentor Giada De Laurentiis, who gave each contestant 90 second to describe up to three dishes in a way that would make her hungry. Kudos to Emma, who was the only one to nail it with all three. Nicole, starting with a beef pho, used words like viscosity and unctuous–great in an essay for an English class, but not very appealing or understandable for the general public looking for something delicious to eat.

Moving on, this critical skill was to be on display again for the main challenge–a pool party at the hotel’s Venus pool. Each contestant had an hour to prepare a dish representing their culinary POV and then a minute to pitch their dish to the crowd. Each of the 100 party guests was given three tokens to spend on three dishes, plus they were given what Alton Brown calls the “dial of doom,” a marketing gadget used to measure each person’s reaction to each pitch.

Our Nicole decided to make a seared scallop wrapped in serrano ham, accompanied by romesco sauce. Just one problem. There was no serrano ham and Nicole decided to substitute prosciutto. But, she wasn’t exactly forthright about that in her pitch. “I’m guessing that no one at this party is going to be able to tell the difference between serrano ham and prosciutto,” Nicole said. Well, no one except the judges…

The good news? Alton and Giada liked her pitch, calling it concise and connected to her viewpoint. And, she was grace under pressure as a gust of wind almost swept away her dish during her pitch. But while both judges liked the flavors of her dish, Giada took her down on the misleading description. “I loved the scallops but not the serrano ham,” she said. “Don’t misguide them or they’ll never trust you again.”

It was a good lesson. Gotta make a substitute with an ingredient? Be upfront about it.

Nevertheless, Nicole made the first cut with the top four, with Lenny winning and doing a celebratory belly flop into the pool. Can’t wait to see what next week brings!

Have a favorite summer dish you make for clients? Please share!

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