Well, we’re at the precipice of month three of 2017. What actions did you lay out in your 2017 business plan to build your personal chef skills? Have you acted on them yet?
Now, you’re probably assuming we’re talking about cooking. And, yes, that’s a part of it. But being a successful personal chef involves more than cooking skills. It involves marketing yourself and your business. Gaining financial literacy so you actually make a profit. Broadening your social skills to be able to engage with clients and potential clients. Maybe it’s developing a specialty and attaining the critical knowledge of that area of specialization to deliver on it to clients.
With this in mind, here are five ways to build your personal chef skills:
- If you’re feeling that your cooking skills need a boost so you’ll feel more confident and able to expand your repertoire of recipes, enroll in cooking classes. They can be local classes or you can get certified by a cooking school. Our partner Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy offers self-paced Culinary and Pastry Arts programs. In fact, several of our members are graduates.
- Amp up your visibility by building a social media presence. Figure out where your potential people are. Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Pinterest? You don’t have to tackle them all but two, maybe three platforms will start to build your reputation among potential clients. Make sure you take great, well-lit photos of your food and reach out to others (including us) to build connections who can help share your posts.
- Where you live can make a difference in how you shape your business. So, why not reach out to other APPCA members in your city to network? You can exchange marketing tips, resources, and maybe collaborate on projects–catering large special events or backing each other up with gigs you can’t take on.
- Set yourself apart with an area of specialization. Some people focus on dietary specialties–gluten-free or vegan, heart-friendly diets, building athletic strength, disease oriented. Others like to cook for new moms and young families or busy executives or older adults. If there’s a type of diet or a type of client that really excites you, build a business around that–but make sure you have the special skills and insights you need to put you in demand. And that’s a combination of cooking skills and human interaction skills.
- Reinforce what you’ve learned and may have forgotten or weren’t ready to act on. When you joined APPCA did you attend our weekend Personal Chef Seminar at Candy’s home in San Diego? If you didn’t, this intensive course will give you a vast array of information, tools, and insights into running your business that you’ll leave excited and energized. If you did attend years ago, how about going back for a refresher course? With some experience behind you, you may discover some gaps you’re ready to fill. And Candy can offer you suggestions within the context of the seminar based on your evolved needs. The next seminar is March 11-12 and the following one will be held in May.
We can help you with any of these five tips. Get in touch with Candy to discuss the Escoffier culinary program. Get in touch with me to get some help with social media (or take a look at past posts here and here and here). If you’re looking for local APPCA members to network with, go on our forum to reach out or our APPCA group page. Or ask Candy for a list of local members to contact. Get input from colleagues on specializing in both of these groups–or, again, Candy. We’re here to help you succeed!
What steps are you taking to rev up your business? How can we help you?
Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.
And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!
Social media is great. We love it and are avid users. I spend a lot of time creating and curating content for our accounts and are tickled that we’ve seen our following grow.
But Facebook and Twitter in particular are no substitute for the intimacy–and privacy–you get on our APPCA forums. Here is a place where you can speak freely without worry that you’re going to get flamed or spammed by strangers. It’s a place where you can interact with colleagues on a range of issues that are deeply important to you.
Our forums are divided into a variety of categories, including Private Discussion, Virtual Water Cooler, Recipes for Succe$$, Sources and Resources, Special Diets, Tips and Techniques, Marketing, Techie Stuff, and Serving Senior Clients. If you have a special issue, there’s a forum to address it. You can add attachments to your post and create tags. And it serves as a terrific archive of resources.
But–and this is a big but–it only works if our members participate. So, here are six reasons you should make a habit of visiting and posting on the forums.
- You can get important questions about your business answered by your peers. Are you concerned about pricing or packaging? Has a client hit you with an issue that you don’t know how to respond to? Are you leaning toward moving your business from your clients’ kitchens to a commercial kitchen? Do you need to come up with a special menu for a client’s medical condition? Are you unsure how to figure out portions for a catering event? Are you going to teach a kids cooking class for the first time and need advice? You pose a question and your personal chef colleagues are bound to have feedback for you.
- You can network and really get to know colleagues in your area you may not have met or colleagues in cities across the country. We all know how beneficial networking is in general, but, for example, here it’s not uncommon for our members to reach out to others in their service area with referrals.
- You can totally brag on yourself to those who will appreciate your success. Did you just get a TV gig or an award? Did you score a great new client or catering gig? Are you bursting because one of your clients wrote the most flattering letter of recommendation? You have a built-in audience of support on the forums.
- You can get a heads up on potentially fraudulent “clients.” We hate to talk about scams but there’s an underbelly of unscrupulous people (think Nigerian princes) who approach unsuspecting personal chefs with a too-good-to-be-true proposition. Experienced personal chefs have received these missives (typically someone overseas who is coming into town and wants to hire you as a personal chef but the money exchange is suspect) and can give you the low down on whether what you’ve received is legit or you’re being played. You want to tap into that on the forums.
- You can brainstorm marketing ideas and ways to get new clients. It can open new avenues you may not have previously considered and you can get help (or give it) to nail down the specifics.
- You can bitch and moan over whatever is bothering you in the company of sympathetic colleagues. You’ve had a bad day. A client gave you a hard time for no good reason. Your kid and your mom are both sick and you’re wiped out. Whatever it is, you have the attentive ear of your peers and can get virtual hugs when you need them the most.
- You can be the expert. All of you who have been at this awhile can share your expertise with those who are newer to the career. Or if you come to being a personal chef from an arena where you have useful expertise in marketing or finances or media, you can provide expertise to colleagues who need a hand.
We know how incredibly busy you are. Sometimes it feels like getting on the computer at the end of a long day is just one more task than you have the time or energy for. But using the APPCA forums is an investment in your career and a benefit we want you to take advantage of so that the hive mind can create more success for you and everyone else who is a part of our APPCA family. If you haven’t given it a try, get on and introduce yourself. If it’s been awhile since you’ve participated, Candy and I urge you to return. Let’s talk!
Have you signed up for the our Personal Chef Forums? If not, what’s holding you back? If so, what’s been the biggest help you’ve received from participating?
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!
Happy New Year! As chefs, you know how important it is to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry. So, we’ve pulled together a round-up of eight food trend forecasts for 2016. You may not want or need to follow all of these for clients, but here’s what they’ll no doubt be exposed to when dining out–and that can lead to requests in their kitchens or for events you cater.
Clean Eating: “Free-from” for all (gluten, soy, lactose, etc.) falls into this category, as does organic, natural processing, flexitarian, and greens in the Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends list for 2016.
Veggie-Forward Menus: The Specialty Food Association created a top 10 list of trends on the 2016 horizon–everything from veggie-forward menus to no waste and supermarkets for super health.
Snack Attack: Innova was very busy with trend predictions. Here’s a list of global trends they produced for the 2015 Anuga Show held in Cologne, Germany. The top 10 includes the growing trend of snacking, marketing to millennials, high-quality convenience, and an emphasis on texture.
The Return of Lard: Lard is back. Escargot is back. So are beets. Say goodbye to sriracha and embrace the heat of harissa and gochujang, according to the Sterling Rice Group’s list of 14 trends. They see the end of GMO’s and more local, transparent sourcing. Like, The Specialty Food Association, they, too, see no waste and a focus on vegetables.
Old-World Ingredients and New Vino Vehicles: From Whole Foods we get a top 10 list that runs the gamut from plant-based everything to wine in cans. In the sustainability folder, we get consumers interested in unusual seafood and cuts of meat. Fermented foods are going to be big. So are heirloom ingredients, dehydrated foods, and Old-World flavor adventures.
Substance Over Sizzle: Zester Daily brings its Top 6 Food Trends for the year, leading off with the movement for healthier food, and noting the importance of sustainable diets, food literacy, supermarkets as health hubs (see The Specialty Food Association above), raw milk cheese being hot, and an increased consensus by the experts on what to eat.
Plants are the New Meat: I love this food trend interview with food writer Bonnie Wolf on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. She notes that vegetables have moved to the center of the plate. We’ll see more dried beans, peas, and lentils. And, like Innova’s predictions, she sees millennials as the trend movers and shakers.
Get Outta Here: Now for food trends famous chefs would like to see retired, from Thrillist. You can probably relate to some of these. Tired of deviled eggs? How about molecular gastronomy? These chefs are. They’re over tweezers (use your fingers!), smoked cocktails, and calling everything “farm-to-table.” So long, kale (really?). And, let’s end it here, get outta here with food trends!
What’s on your 2016 food trend list? Will anything above influence how you create recipes and menus?
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.
Candy and I have been talking about all the various issues that crop up for personal chefs over the holidays. So we have several posts planned to help you get through the season and do some planning for the coming year. For this post, we look at catering over the holidays.
“If you’re a personal chef who includes catering under your business umbrella–or you’re making the leap this year–then the holidays can be a time when you’re booking fewer Monday through Friday meal service cook dates and instead booking more cocktail and dinner parties through the end of the year,” said Candy. “There’s no more critical time to have a plan and strategy for catering these very special events. Perhaps your clients don’t have optimal kitchen facilities for prepping the dishes. Then you need to book commercial space. No doubt you’ll need special equipment. You’ll have to come up with a formula to have the right amount of food–and know what kind of food works best in a buffet and how to plan portions. You need to know how to display and present your dishes and tables.”
Candy realized that the best source for all this advice was already pulled together by Chef April Lee of Tastefully Yours. Some of you who attended the 2013 Personal Chef Summit probably heard her make this presentation. But for those of you who weren’t there–or want a refresher–here it is. Many thanks to April for updating her presentation for this post–especially given the busy holiday season!
Let the holiday season begin! Happy Delicious Holidays from Candy, Dennis, and me!
Buffets and Banquets: How to Please a Crowd
By April Lee
Planning and Organization: More than just date, place, time, and number of guests
Here are the basics you need to address:
- Client’s budget (add 5 percent overage for unexpected expenses)
- Additional help (sous chef, assistants, bartender, etc.)
- You must have everything spelled out in the contract, including what you are NOT providing, because you don’t want any surprises the day of the event, such as your client asking you if you brought table linens, champagne glasses, or other party supplies/equipment.For large events, you need to include the expense for renting a commercial kitchen, which may include extra fees for refrigerated storage of prepared food.
- Onsite visit is mandatory. Here’s what to look for:
- Availability of equipment/rental of equipment
- Access, layout and flow
- Where to set up staging and holding areas
- Where to store supplies
- Where electrical outlets are located
- Access time
- Parking availability
Equipment: Another key component of planning and organization
- Insulated Food Carriers (Cambro) – food safety first and always
- Instant-read thermometers
- Chafers/Steam Tables and chafing fuel
- Warming Trays
- Buffet Servers
- Insulated coolers
- Freezable ice sheets
- Folding 6-foot banquet tables
- Platters & Bowls (all sizes, shapes): White ceramic is best
- Butane lighters
- Table sign holders
- Extras! You need to bring extras of everything so make sure you’re able to transport not only all the food, but all of the equipment.
What Kind of Food: What works and doesn’t work on a buffet?
- Long braised or slow cooked meats (e.g., Beer Braised Short Ribs, Baby Back Ribs, Osso Buco, etc.)
- Casseroles (e.g, Lasagna, Smoked Salmon and Asparagus Strata, Moussaka, etc.)
- Meats with gravies or glazes
- Sauced meats with rice, mashed potatoes, pasta (Moroccan Lamb Stew, Beef Stroganoff, Coq au Vin, etc.)
- Contrasting textures from different cooking methods
- Contrasting colors
- Balance between cold and hot foods
- Balance between expensive and inexpensive foods (always place more expensive dishes toward the end of the buffet)
What Doesn’t Work:
- Fried foods, in general (e.g., tempura veggies, fries, etc.)
- Foods which are runny (e.g., au jus, brothy dishes, etc.)
- Foods which require extra utensils (e.g., seafood forks)
- Clashing cuisines and overpowering, unbalanced flavors
- Foods of the same color
- Foods of the same texture
- Rare to medium rare beef or delicate seafood in chafers (these items will always overcook just sitting in food warmers)
How Much Food: These are the standard minimums for buffets ranging from 25 to more than 100 people.
- 2 to 3 Entrées (meat, poultry, seafood)
- 1 Non-Meat Entrée
- 1 to 2 Hot Starches (potatoes, pasta, rice or other grain)
- 1 to 2 Hot Vegetable (one green, one non-green, 2 textures)
- 1 to 2 Salads
- Bread/rolls (optional, dependent on menu)
- 2 to 3 Desserts
- Beverages and Coffee Station
Biggest Question: Portion Size and Number of Portions
This is, by far, the most important question I get asked all the time: How much of each dish? This is also a most critical aspect to understand; otherwise you could end up (1) underestimating the cost and having to eat the extra expense yourself or (2) overestimating the amount needed and ending up with an enormous excess of food which is not just a waste of resources but will be seen as a waste of the client’s money and unprofessional on your part for grossly miscalculating what was needed for the event.
There are several factors that can affect portion size. These include the purpose of the event (e.g., art exhibition reception versus wedding reception), the age and gender of the guests (younger people eat more), the time of day and length of the event, and any pre- or post-event functions. Mid-afternoon or late evening receptions which aren’t meant to serve as a meal require less food than events which are meant to include full meals (this includes heavy hors d’oeuvres buffets).
AP versus EP: This is a crucial concept to understand. In order to make accurate cost estimates, “as purchased” (AP) versus “edible portions” (EP) calculations must be made before you make a formal job quote to your client. AP refers to how you buy any particular ingredient (e.g., whole, untrimmed beef tenderloin). EP refers to the finished product result after you have prepped and cooked it. So, with a whole beef tenderloin, for example, you’ll lose a great deal due to waste/trimming plus shrinkage from cooking, perhaps losing as much as 20% of the total raw weight to get to the finished product. This means that the yield (the EP) is only 80% of the total raw weight of the meat. If you want to serve 100 people 4 oz. of tenderloin, then you will need 400 oz. or 25 pounds EP (which is after it is prepped and cooked). But you will need to buy about 31 pounds AP of untrimmed whole tenderloin in order to get your yield of 25 pounds EP (31 x 0.80 = 24.80). Obviously, other proteins which don’t require much trimming, e.g., boneless, skinless chicken breasts, will have a smaller percentage of loss, maybe 10%, so your calculations will depend on the type and cut of protein.
AP versus EP calculations affect everything, however, not just proteins. If you buy 1o pounds of romaine lettuce heads, you will end up with about 8 pounds or less after you discard the outer leaves and the tough ribs. With grains and pasta, the numbers go the other way: 10 pounds of dry pasta will yield almost 18 pounds of cooked pasta. It is essential that you use the food production charts (sample charts below) to help you estimate the amount of each type of food to buy in order to meet the needs of your client’s event without miscalculating either the cost or amounts. There are very detailed and definitive AP vs. EP charts available in catering handbooks and food production textbooks. (References listed below Food Portion/Quantity Chart below)
When preparing entrée buffets (lunch or dinner), you’ll need half-size portions for all entrees (3 to 4 ounces per person EP) and half-size or smaller portions for sides, depending on the number of sides offered (2 to 3 ounces per person EP) and whether there will be dessert as well. Most guests want a taste of everything so will tend to take half-size portions (or smaller in some cases, like lasagna).
Hors D’Oeuvres and Appetizer Dinner Buffets
These, of course, are the most time-consuming and labor-intensive food. They’re the most difficult food to transport safely and the most space-consuming food to store. So, choose time-efficient recipes–not just easy ones. It’s okay to use purchased products as part of the display, but remember that quality is first and foremost, the end product must be top notch, and use high-end resources.
The number of selections and number of pieces per person is dependent upon the type of event being catered:
For one-hour receptions: 4 different foods, 6 to 8 pieces per person
For longer lunch or dinner receptions (2 to 3 hours): Minimum of 6 different tastes, 10 to 12 pieces person or 12 to 15 pieces with desserts
For food not in pieces, such as soft cheeses, spreads, dips, terrines, and pates, plan on 1 ounce per person.
Display and Presentation: We eat with our eyes first!
Delicious food is one component of catering. Making it look not just appealing but irresistible is another. Here are some things to keep in mind as you design your presentation:
- Think color: Contrasting food colors and boldly colored fabrics, not just tablecloths. Fabric remnants are wonderful display accessories.
- Think height: Vary the height of platters and trays; use vertical containers or displays for food; tilt cold trays/platters on two corners towards guests. Glass blocks (used for showers and basements) from the hardware store make beautiful and stable risers for heavy bowls and platters. Wrap sturdy boxes in brightly colored or iridescent wrapping paper to use as risers for lighter platters and baskets.
- Think textures: Vary cooking methods for differently textured foods; use different fabric textures on the table(s)
- Think space: Don’t crowd food; leave 18 inches for each dish; set off food against white space for a clean and uncluttered display
Think WOW! Here are some resources for getting inspired to make your presentation pop!
Take a look at websites which feature beautiful hors d’oeuvres or small plate foods. These can include your favorite tapas restaurant or catering industry supply vendors, because seeing professionally designed small ware or miniature food items (chocolate shells, baked cones, etc.) will inspire you. You’ll get an instant idea of what your own creations will look like, presented in creative and eye-catching ways. They may even give you new ideas for appetizers that you can offer to your clients. The following companies have particularly well-designed sites with great photos which will excite and motivate you:
- Albert Ulster Imports (www.auifinefoods.com): Edible food vessels (savory and sweet), decorations, glazes, personalized chocolates, molecular gastronomy supplies, etc.
- Restaurant Ware (www.restaurantware.com): “Fashion for Food” – specializing in small ware: plastic, bamboo, glass in every shape and size. There’s no way you will peruse this site without coming away with new ideas!
- Appetizers USA (appetizersusa.com): Over 200 different hors d’oeuvres from which many hotels, caterers, country clubs, and other foodservice companies order. Can order by tray, not by the case.
Good luck and have fun wowing your clients and their guests this holiday season!
Are you making the leap into catering for the holidays this year? What are your biggest concerns? If you’re experienced, what are your tips for newbies?
Photos courtesy of April Lee
You’re busy chefs and are probably always looking for great ways to save time, money, and ingredients. I frequently post what I think are marvelously clever and useful kitchen hacks on our Facebook page to give you some ideas to tuck away for your use. Today, I’m writing up half a dozen that I’ve seen and used. Periodically, I’ll post more as I collect them. And if you have any to share, send them along with photos!
1. Preserved lemons: This Moroccan staple is brilliant added to pasta, salads, dressings, and proteins like scallops and poultry. And they’re ridiculously easy to make. All you need is a large glass jar, about 7 or 8 Meyer lemons and sea salt. Slice the lemons down the long end almost half way, turn it a quarter and do it again. Stuff the inside with salt. Grab that end, turn the lemon upside down and repeat so both ends are stuffed with salt. Place the lemon in the impeccably clean jar and repeat with as many lemons as you can fit into the jar and still screw on the lid. A lot of juice will come out. That’s fine. Keep the jar of lemons on the counter for a month, periodically turning it over and back to make sure the juice is covering the top. After a month, you can use the lemons in pasta dishes, in rice, salads, sauces, with fish or with Moroccan-style dishes. Keep the jar in the refrigerator and the lemons will last for months.
2. Freezing ginger: I don’t know about you, but fresh ginger root can be frustrating. You buy a knob to use for a dish and then you still have leftover ginger that, despite your best intentions, doesn’t get used and eventually shrivels up and gets tossed. Enough of that. The Kitchn has a great approach. I learned I could peel a hand of the root, grate it, measure it off in teaspoons, and freeze it. But I changed it up a bit and made it even easier. I didn’t peel the root and instead of grating it, I pulled out my mini food processor, quickly sliced up the large hand, and ground it as fine as I could. Then I used a mini cookie scoop, which measures about a teaspoon, and before I knew it I had more than a dozen scoops of ginger on a parchment-lined pan. I put the pan in the freezer. Two hours or so later when the pieces were hard, I placed those now-frozen ground ginger rounds in a quart freezer bag so I can have what I need when I need it. And sans waste.
3. Dried dill: My mom has a Persian friend who has taught us all sorts of great recipes–and one fabulous trick. She uses a lot of dill so her way to always have what she needs on hand is to slowly dry bunches in the oven and then package it for storage. Wash and dry dill fronds. Cut off the thick stems and place the smaller fronds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in a 225-degree oven. Periodically move the dill around to make sure the air is circulating around all the pieces. Depending on how much you are drying it can take from half an hour to hour until they’re just stiff and crunchy. Remove from the oven and let cool. Then carefully crumble the leaves over a clean sheet of paper so they don’t fly all over your counter. Pull the ends of the paper together so the dill settles into the middle and you can easily direct it into a container, where you can store it in the pantry, or into a freezer bag. This also works for other herbs, like mint and parsley.
4. Vacuum sealing with straws: Unless you have plenty of counter space for large vacuum sealers, this little hack will save you space and money. About $1.50 will buy you a package of straws that can serve a multitude of purposes, including vacuum sealing freezer bag contents. Air is the enemy of freezer storage and as talented as you may be in strategically manipulating bags to push the air out of them, using a straw is way simpler and more effective. Simply fill your freezer bag with what you’re storing, insert the end of a straw and seal the top around it. Then suck in until the plastic tightly encircles the contents. Quickly pull out the straw and finish sealing. Your frozen product will have a much better chance of lasting longer and without freezer burn.
5. Homemade vanilla extract: For years I’ve bought large bottles of vanilla whenever I’ve gone down to Tijuana. It’s inexpensive and very good. But recently a friend of mine gifted me with a beautiful bottle and a long, thick vanilla bean with instructions to fill the bottle–with the bean in it–with vodka, brandy, bourbon, or rum. Vodka, she says, gives the cleanest flavor. Then let it sit in a cool dark cabinet or pantry for six weeks. At that point, your extract is ready to use. And you can keep adding more alcohol to top off your bottle as you use it. She claims the single bean will give pure vanilla extract for 25 years. Mark your calendar.
6. Bacon by the slice: How often do you need just one or two slices of bacon to add to a dish (or make for yourself)? Here’s a great way to access a single slice at a time that I learned from The Kitchn. Buy a package of bacon, separate and roll up each slice individually. Get out a small baking sheet and line it with parchment. Place each little roll on it and put it in the freezer. Once they’re hard (I know; this is like the ginger–but, hey, it’s a great and versatile technique), remove and toss into a freezer bag. Grab that straw from hack 4 and vacuum seal the bag. Next time you want to add a little bacon to a vinaigrette, you’re all set.
Have a great kitchen hack of your own to share? Post it here or send it to email@example.com with a photo so we can use it the next time we post a collection of hacks.
A little over a week ago, we came across this piece from The Kitchn about how to help you cook faster. Since time is money for a personal chef, we posted this on our Facebook feed. Then we got to thinking about tips even more specific to personal chefs–ways that you can focus more on the important stuff, the quality of the food you prepare, and less on the more admittedly aggravating stuff that you have to do to expedite your time.
As Candy notes, classic personal chef service cook dates are unique in that you are transporting ingredients and often a mobile cooking kit to prepare your clients’ custom-designed meals in the safety of their kitchen. Organization is key because you’re preparing multiple entrees and side dishes in a residential kitchen–and you have to do it in a timely and safe way.
So, below are 11 tips that Candy has compiled that should help you make the most of the time you spend in the kitchen so you can stay cool and collected and make your clients happy.
1. Menu plan not only from a standpoint of a full range of taste and textures, but also from a standpoint of stove time and available appliances.
2. When you get to the kitchen, set the oven to 375 degrees and leave it at that level for the day. Adjust the time to finish cook rather than the temperature.
3. Finish entrees and even some sides in the oven to free stovetop burners for searing and sauteeing.
4. If your client enjoys pulled pork or braised entrees, use a slow cooker for the entrée. Need more burners? An electric pressure cooker can actually be used as an additional burner, and can be used for multiple purposes during the cook date. You can make stocks in a pressure cooker in about 15 minutes.
5. If you cool it, store it in 2-cup containers and freeze it, you can defrost, enhance it and use it on a future cook date for the client’s enjoyment.
6. Making fresh marinara for your client? Double the recipe, cool it, and store it for an entrée on your next cook date.
7. Take a pasta cooker with a drain insert on a client cook date for multiple uses. You can blanch vegetables for side dishes while building layers of flavor in the water that can then be used to cook pastas or starch side dishes.
8. To expedite cooling, place several half sheets or quarter sheets in the freezer. When removing hot food from the stove or oven, spread or pour the food onto the chilled half sheet and place on a rack on the counter top to cool.
9. When packing your car always transport proteins and perishables in your vehicle in a cooler or a personal chef choice of a soft-sided thermal bag on wheels with a telescopic handle along with blue ice for safe transport.
10. Buy a 10-pound bag of ice on your way out of the grocery store to use as an ice bath for cooling food at the client’s kitchen.
11. If the client’s kitchen isn’t well ventilated you may want to purchase several small battery-operated fans for the counter top to circulate air AROUND The area where you are cooling entrees to expedite the process…remember NEVER direct the air directly at or onto the food that is being cooled.
What are some of your tricks for efficiently working your cook date? Please share them below in the comments section!
Being a personal chef does not strictly limit you to preparing meals for clients for them to eat throughout the week. Personal chefs can wear a number of other hats, including catering. And while your food may be just as tasty when you store it in a container as when it’s served on at the table, when it comes to creating a dinner party or other event, you need some additional skills in your arsenal.
One of them is the art of plating.
New York City APPCA member Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist prides himself on his plating skills. He’s been a personal chef since 2004 and, as he says, “I still pinch myself now and then to make sure I’m not dreaming that people pay me to pursue my passion for cooking.”
Jim takes great pride in listening to his clients’ wants and needs and responding to them to ensure they are getting what they expect. As he says, “While being a business owner I have parameters and the ability to say no, but I maintain that flexibility is the most important part of the personal in being a personal chef.”
As we all know, there’s not much that motivates us to work harder and with more pride than a compliment from a client. Jim gets these regularly. Most recently, he says that after a dinner party he catered, “The host said that everything was delicious and well-presented and that he was impressed with my creativity and talent as a chef. While I enjoy being paid nothing makes one feel better than hearing compliments like that.”
We want you to get that same buzz of excitement from praise, so Jim has written this piece for us that shares his successful plating philosophy.
Recently, I was involved in a discussion about plating for dinner parties, how to balance the needs to make the food look awesome vs. the need to get the food out while it is still hot. In a commercial/restaurant kitchen with a staff this is probably a no brainer. It’s not as easy in a client’s kitchen designed for family convenience. In the beginning stages of my business I fretted over this and finally developed a formula that works for me and has pleased my clients.
In a simplified form my philosophy is to wow them with a great looking appetizer/first course and an interesting appearing dessert. Not that the courses in between should be sloppily served, but frequently the main entrees are a modest serving on the dinner plate atop or alongside the side dish. A sprinkling of a chopped herb, a dusting of paprika, droplets of flavored oil or drizzle of balsamic glaze can provide a decorative as well as a taste-boosting factor to the basic plate.
Based on the hostess’ preference we often plate the Wow First Course and have it on the table when the diners arrive at the table. This provides a great way to bring the conversation to a halt and get people seated and eager to start their meal. Other hostesses prefer everyone to sit and then service to begin. This also provides for switch in the conversation to the food and its appearance. Either way, we eat with our eyes first and this is the ice-breaker for what is to come.
The first example, my Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Napoleon is playing up the values of color and elevation. By choosing to alternate red and golden beet slices we have actually enhanced the strength of the brightness of each color. Garnishes such as the puree, the chopped pistachios, microgreens, and pistachio oil take the plate beyond just a vessel to eat from. Obviously white plates are the easiest to show off color.
The second example brings the plate more into the picture, White Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto. The plate’s leaf shape and color offset the bland color of the white asparagus. Keeping everything flatter, closer to the vessel keeps the plate in focus. The reddish brown of the Crispy Prosciutto draws the eye across the plate making it seem larger than it is. The garnishing elements of baby arugula, chives, and breakfast radishes are there to provide that sharp visual contrast to the blanched asparagus. It is finished with a simple Lemon/Garlic/Chive Vinaigrette to provide a subtle hint of yellow and green with a sprinkling of lemon zest for a flavor boost. Not shown in the picture are antique salt dishes, each filled with Himalayan pink salt for dipping the radishes.
I apologize for the third picture being out of focus but I think the idea is clearly represented with the Steamed Artichoke with Cherry Tomato & Red Onion Salad. This was a way to add pop of color to a food vessel that under the best of circumstances looks tired and/or worn out: the steamed artichoke. This is bumped up by topping it with an Heirloom Cherry Tomato & Red Onion Salad.
The sheer simplicity of the presentation focuses everyone’s attention to a classic table setting. The dish is served on glass plates over the dinner plate and charger and coordinating placemats on a glass table top. The diner eats the artichoke petals, which are marinating in the salad’s vinaigrette, as well the salad. Heartier appetites dig out the heart and enjoy that as well.
The next picture is of a Hummus Trio hors d’oeuvre. Sometimes the simpler vessel highlights the color contrasts. We have Classic Hummus in the center with basil leaves peeking out, Edamame & Cilantro Hummus on the left with a radicchio leaf, and finally Roasted Beet & Horseradish Hummus with endive petals.
On the subject of color coordination, a dessert buffet provided a happy accident when we were able to use a glass tray to show off the fabulous tablecloth while highlighting the Raspberry Nutella Tarts. This shows that massive quantities can also have that wow factor in the sheer number of items on a given vessel.
And finally a busy plate of mini desserts provides an array of sweets that have individual eye appeal. Clockwise from the top are: Key Lime Pie Shooters, Red Velvet Whoopie Pie, Brownie Drowned in Ganache with a Raspberry, and a client-provided chocolate chip cookie.
Truth be told we don’t often have the opportunity to pre-plan all our presentations when working with a new client if we have not seen their choice of dinnerware. In my experience I’ve had to deal with blue Wedgewood prints, gold-encrusted florals, black and white Paisley, purple pebble appetizer plates, even once Dineresque Beige Melamine! That means I have to draw on a good eye and some of the approaches mentioned here to create a visually exciting presentation on the spur of the moment.
In a nutshell, my philosophy is to visually wow them at the beginning of the meal, meet their expectations with hot tasty entrees and sides, and then wow them again at the meal’s end with colorful desserts that don’t promote that end-of-the-meal laden feeling.
How have you honed your plating skills? Have any additional techniques to share?
One of the issues that often comes up for personal chefs is how to get the most bang for the buck on food. And, of course, it’s just as true for clients and cooking class students. As a food writer, I get asked this question all the time, so I thought I’d pull together some ideas that may resound with you and that you can share with clients. Even if you do the lion’s share of cooking for them, it can’t hurt for those who are interested to have some tips for how to spend food money wisely–and reduce waste. While this can entail a healthy dose of frugality, we’re not talking coupon clipping here–and it doesn’t mean there isn’t room to splurge. It’s just a matter of knowing how to make the best decisions based on eating habits, budget, and health concerns. Sometimes a little splurging is actually good for you and not reckless, especially if you’re balancing it with cost-savings in other places.
Some of these ideas are really obvious (especially if you’re a chef) but are things we tend to forget or let slide, so I’ve included them here for you or to share with clients and students. And, if you have suggestions of your own, let’s hear them with a comment below! Share your knowledge so we can all benefit!
Where to Splurge:
- Buy good cuts of meat, only in smaller portions. I like to go to Whole Foods and buy a small piece of Wagyu skirt steak to grill. It doesn’t cost much but it’s delicious. When it comes to pork, I enjoy the richness of Berkshire pork, which you can find at a quality butcher.
- Buy good quality olive oil for finishing, sauces, and dressings. When heat is involved–sautéing, frying, etc., less expensive vegetable oil is fine–often preferable–but use good quality olive oil for the flavor. Also try avocado oil for flavor finishes, too. Remember to store oil in a dark, cool place to maintain quality, but don’t hoard it since it will go rancid or just lose the intensity of its flavor.
- Buy roasted chickens and use them to help you make other meals faster–like tacos or soup. Save the bones and unused meat for making stock.
- Buy organic produce, but if you have to prioritize, go with produce without a thick peel you don’t eat – lettuce, berries, etc. as opposed to avocados. Here’s a list of the “dirty dozen”–produce you should spend those organic dollars on.
- Buy vanilla beans, but only to use when the vanilla flavor is the star in the dessert. Store the beans in vanilla extract to impart more flavor to the extract, or store the beans in a bowl of sugar.
- Buy small pieces of good cheese. Buy chunks of parmesan or cheddar or mozarella, not pre-grated. If you have a food processor you can easily grate the cheese if you need large quantities.
- Invest in good basic kitchen tools: knives, graters, peelers, and salad spinners. It makes cooking much easier and may encourage you to do more if you’re not fighting your ingredients. And take care of them. Make sure your knives are well sharpened.
Where to Budget:
- Buy whole chickens instead of parts and cut them up yourself. Double wrap and store pieces in freezer. Be sure to mark the package with what the item is and the date so you can use it before it gets freezer burn. Also, dark meat is less expensive and has more flavor. Save parts like the back, wings, drumsticks and use them to make stock.
- Don’t buy skinless, boneless chicken packages. If you’re not going to buy a whole chicken, it is cheaper to buy the whole parts and remove the skin and bones yourself. If you see bulk packages of chicken parts (skin and bones intact), buy them and divide into meal-sized portions and freeze.
- Buy cheaper cuts of meat, like lamb shoulder instead of loin for chops, or pork butt–basically cuts in which you’re talking about muscle. The meat will be tougher but you can do a nice slow cook or braise to make the meat more tender and flavorful. These cheap cuts are the best for stews and soups as well. And don’t buy pre-cut “stewing meat.” Buy the whole piece and cut it yourself so that you have pieces that are the same size and will cook evenly. You’ll save money and get a better result in your dish.
- Eliminate meat from your diet two or three times a week and instead make dishes with beans, rice, lentils, and other grains or legumes. Experiment with quinoa, couscous, farro, wheat berries, polenta and other grains. Try using whole wheat pasta. Use meat to flavor dishes, not as the centerpiece of the meal.
- Don’t buy pre-packaged produce. Peel your own carrots, wash and chop your own lettuce. The only exception may be spinach, which is a real pain to clean.
- Buy bags of popcorn kernels instead of packaged flavored popcorn and pop it yourself.
- Buy produce that’s in season and have a plan for it (i.e., menus) so it doesn’t spoil. Also think of ways to use the whole fruit or vegetable. Beet tops, parsnip tops, and other root vegetable greens are delicious steamed or sautéed. They can also be included in stock. Stick brown bananas in the freezer to use later for banana bread or to make a smoothie.
- Jars of dried herbs are pricey and often lose their flavor sitting on the shelf exposed to light. Instead, plant herbs, even in pots. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, basil, mint (always plant mint in a pot because it spreads fast) are easy to grow.
- If you have room in your freezer, store flour, sugar, beans, etc. in there so you don’t have to toss food because bugs got into the container.
- Make your own convenience foods. If you’re cooking, make enough for two meals. Make large pots of soup or stew and freeze it in serving-size containers. You can do the same with chicken or proteins other than fish. Welcome to your new frozen food dinners.
- Make your own pizza. Dough is easy to make and can be frozen. Then it’s just a matter of grating cheese and having your own combination of toppings. Instead of tomato sauce, use sliced tomatoes and fresh basil.
12. Learn a couple of cooking techniques that can give you flexibility in making quick meals. For instance, you can quickly brown chicken parts in a large Dutch oven on the stove, add layers of sliced onion, garlic, olives, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, etc. with herbs, a dash of wine or stock, cover and cook in the oven at 350 for about an hour. Make rice or other grains and you’ve got your meal. Alternately, use diced tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini for a different flavor combo. Make roasted tomato soup and the next night add seafood to the soup with a few slices of lemon. Now you have cioppino. Do you enjoy the flavors from roasting vegetables? You can turn any combination of roasted vegetables into a quick and easy soup. And, that goes for leftovers.The leftovers from the roasted squash you served with chicken one night can be added to stock, simmered and then pureed to make soup the next night.
In the Market:
- Have a plan. Make a list. Check your calendar to see when you’ll actually be home to eat. A lot of the produce and dairy you buy gets tossed away because you don’t use it before it goes bad. Knowing how you’ll use what you buy and that you’ll be able to eat it will prevent you from wasting money.
- Shop the store’s perimeter–that’s where the produce, meat and dairy tend to be. The middle aisles, with the cookies, prepared foods, and snacks are the most dangerous and expensive places in the store. Stick with your list.
- Shop ethnic markets. You’ll find interesting, even unusual produce, often for less than the big chain supermarkets. If you don’t know what an item is or how to prepare it, ask someone who works in the store or a fellow customer. I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful recipes that way. And, I’ve found great deals on duck legs, lamb, fish, and other items at ethnic markets.
- Again, buy produce that’s in season. If there’s a great deal on a particular vegetable you enjoy, buy in quantity. You can use it to make soup; you can even freeze it. And, it’s less expensive than buying packages of frozen vegetables. If Roma tomatoes are on sale and you like tomatoes, buy several pounds, slice them in half lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and roast. Romas have a hearty texture but they don’t have great flavor; roasting brings out the sugars. Roasted tomatoes are perfect for soup, pasta sauce and cioppino. And you can freeze them.
- If you like to shop farmers markets but find them too pricey, try shopping at the end of the market. Sometimes farmers will give shoppers a deal so they don’t have to schlep inventory back.
- If you’re single, go in with friends on deals for bulk purchases when buying at Costco, CSAs, etc.
- Become friends with your butcher and your produce guy/gal. They can direct you to good deals, tell you about the product, and offer suggestions on how to use it. If you feel like making stock from scratch, ask your butcher if he/she can give you beef or lamb bones. Roast the bones, add onion, garlic, root vegetables, salt and pepper and, of course, water, to a big pot. In a couple of hours you’ve got stock for making a lot of different meals. Package them in one-cup and quart containers so you can add a little or add a lot to make soup or a stew. And don’t forget to mark them so you know what the container is and how old.
What are your favorite strategies for smart food purchases? Where do you splurge? Where do you save?
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The walls in my office are covered with ceiling-to-floor bookshelves that house a life-long collection of cookbooks. Trips to local farms and farmers markets can be inspiring. Walking through your own backyard garden or the produce section of your local market can inspire as well. But those serious, thoughtful chefs who created cookbooks from their own perspective, level of expertise, and commitment—sometimes over the course of years—have inspired many home cooks and professional chefs, me among them.
For some of us, our first foray into cooking may have been making a beloved recipe created by Grandma—even better, with her help. Perhaps our initiative earned us the gift of a cookbook—the classic Joy of Cooking or if we were really young, a Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook.
As our tastes matured and interests broadened, many of us expanded our library—but we still find ourselves returning to favorites because we love the style, techniques, and the world they create. Chef Art Smith, for instance, loves the cookbooks of Edna Lewis, Alice Waters, and Julia Child for a very fundamental reason. “They’re simple, sophisticated, clean, and fresh.” I couldn’t agree more.
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli told us that her favorites include Fannie Farmer, The Zuni Café Cookbook, The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook, The Cake Bible, Provence 1970, and Sunday Suppers. “They’re good eats. Simple cuisine,” she says.
As the holidays draw near, we know that there’s nothing like an inspirational cookbook that chefs enjoy—to have for themselves or to give as gifts to other chefs or home cooks. So we asked you to suggest some of the cookbooks that have inspired you the most—at any point in your life—and here are some of the contributions we received.
Pete McCracken (aka Chef Pierre) of Porterville, Calif., listed a diverse group of cookbooks, many of which will be familiar to you (and perhaps had slipped off your radar). His tops are Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman, Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, Molto Italiano by Mario Batali, and the Italian home cooking bible Silver Spoon from Domus—now in a new edition published by Phaidon Press.
Jeanne Millar of Jeanne’s in the Kitchen in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a huge fan of The Best Make-Ahead Recipe from the editors of Cooks Illustrated Magazine. “It’s great for the personal chef business since the majority of what a personal chef prepares are meals made ahead of time so that all our clients have to do is heat them when they’re ready to eat them,” she raves. “This cookbook reveals some of the secrets to make-ahead dishes. They have reengineered the recipes to withstand storage and reheating so the food always tastes fresh and flavorful.”
She also highly recommends The Visual Food Encyclopedia. “It’s not a cookbook, but a practical guide to food and cooking,” she explains. “It has pictures of over 1,000 ingredients and explains how to buy, prepare, serve, store, and cook them, and nutritional information. It’s a great ‘go-to’ book for a personal chef.”
Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food in Memphis, Tenn., reminisced about her mother’s old Betty Crocker cookbook. “I would page through it as a kid visualizing each dish, wondering what it would taste like and fascinated by the photos and all the information in it. I don’t know what happened to it. I’ve got all of her other cookbooks.
And, of course, there’s the cookbook many of us compile from our own family recipes. Carol started hers around seven years ago, and it includes four generations of two sides of her family. “I love that I can open it anytime and make one of my Aunt Evelyn’s tried-and-true cakes, cookies, or other dessert and not have to search high and low for my grandmother’s banana bread recipe. Not to mention, my mom’s recipes are all in one place. Through cooking my deceased or far-away relatives recipes I feel like I can be with them any time I choose.”
I’m a fan of Deborah Madison, including her latest, Vegetable Literacy, but The Greens Cookbook, no matter how dog eared my copy has become, holds a place of honor on the shelf. I sat on a panel with Deborah in Tucson a dozen years ago where we suggested that chefs actually begin to work directly with the farmers in the region to plan crops and menus that support the well being of both parties. It was a novel suggestion at the time!
I also love Cookwise by Shirley Corriher, who is herself an inspiration. Her book, 10 years in the writing, is a unique work dedicated to answering the question, “Why?,” when it comes to cooking. It’s a thoroughly usable and enjoyable read with legs.
Another inspiration is Yotam Ottolenghi, whose books include Jerusalem and Plenty. They’re sensible, thoughtful, gorgeous, and timeless.
And, if you want some additional inspiration, Chef Raghavan Iyer of 660 Curries and the new Indian Cooking Unfolded suggested vising NPR’s online guide for 2013 cookbooks (which, of course, includes his).
Have we missed a cookbook that inspired you? Please leave a comment and let us know. Next week we’re going to showcase homemade gifts for clients. Please check our Private Discussion Forum – General for Caron’s request for suggestions and tell us what you’ve made or plan to make and why so you can appear here.
Are you challenging to buy gifts for? If you’re a personal chef, probably not. There’s always one more great kitchen tool or gadget you’ve got to have to make your life easier—or at least more fun.
We asked personal chefs to identify some of their favorite kitchen toys, oops, equipment that they can’t live without and thought you’d enjoy as well. Some may not exactly fit into a stocking, but they’re all pretty reasonably priced so you can give them out to colleagues and friends—or hint around to those who love you that you’d like them. They can all be found easily on websites like Amazon.com, Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table, and The Chefs’ Warehouse, but also check out interesting sites like this one that caught our attention—thegourmetgadget.com. And be sure to support your local housewares businesses. We love Great News! in San Diego.
So, with the help of some of your friends, here’s our stocking stuffer list:
Oxo Good Grips tools got a lot of love. Leslie Siegel Guria of Fresh From Your Kitchen in Illinois says that she put their can opener on her gift list. “I made the mistake of buying a fancier one and I’m NOT HAPPY! I also can’t live without my Oxo peeler.”
Johanna Sawallisch Dadsyah and I both agree that an immersion blender is a “can’t live without” kitchen tool. “It would make blended soup so easy!,” she says. I agree. No more pouring hot soup into a blender and risking spills and/or explosions. Some people prefer the cordless version—and they are handy—but you risk running out of juice in the middle of pureeing. Corded immersion blenders also seem to have a bit more power.
Chef Steve Loeschner of Chef Steve Personal Chef Service in New Hampshire has a long list of can’t live without tools, including the immersion blender, but also a digital scale, digital thermometer, cooling fans, and an eight-inch chef knife. But what does he want to find in his Christmas stocking? Mario Batali crocs. “I love the color!,” he says. In fact, once he heard that Batali orderd 200 pairs of the orange plastic shoes because he’d heard they were being discontinued, Chef Steve ordered a pair, too. “Sorry, Santa, couldn’t take the chance!”
Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food in Tennessee touts Universal Knife Blocks. “My mother-in-law got us one of these last year for Christmas. They’re a bit large to put in a stocking, but I’ve been recommending them to every foodie I know. It took up less space than our big, chunky wooden knife block AND you can put whatever knife or kitchen shear you darn please into it. There are thousands of plastic ‘filaments’ or some such things that you can stick your knives into that won’t dull them.”
April Lee of Tastefully Yours in Maryland offered enough suggestions to fully outfit a kitchen. She, too, is a fan of the knife blocks—preferring the Kapoosh ones, which she says are bigger—but also included one of her favorite utensils, the Pampered Chef’s Mix ‘N Chop. “There’s nothing out there that chops and browns ground meats, fresh sausage, etc. so easily and into even small pieces. It’s a must have at home and in your PC kit.”
Lee also loves the Joseph Joseph large colander scoop, saying she, “uses this baby for everything and it’s safe to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s great for frying, too.” The Hamilton Beach 1.7 liter programmable electric kettle is another favorite of hers because tea drinkers can choose the temperature they want and it keeps it at that temperature for an hour. Coffee lovers will enjoy another item on her list, the Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker. “I love this! It makes the best coffee, quick, simple, easy to clean. I gave away my French press after getting this!” And, you’ve got to have the Thermopen instant thermometer. “It’s pricey, but worth every penny,” she says. We agree!
Have we missed something fabulous? Please leave a comment and let us know. Next week we’re going to showcase inspirational cookbooks that you can gift others. Please check our Private Discussion Forum – General for Caron’s request for suggestions and tell us what has moved you and why so you can appear here.