I spend a lot of time on social media, much of it on behalf of APPCA. I started to notice a lot of interesting tweets coming from an APPCA member, Angela Capanna of Eat Your Heart Out Edibles. She serves South Jersey, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The tweets are engaging and fun. She clearly knows what she’s doing. So I asked her to share her strategy and approach. She generously has–and I hope she inspires you to do more and do it thoughtfully as part of your marketing strategy.

My website is the primary source of new leads for my business, Eat Your Heart Out, and social media has become a significant driver of traffic there – as well as direct inquiries, I might add. As a busy chef, I operate on the KISS principle (keep it short and simple!)…I use two main channels – Facebook and Instagram (eatyourheartoutedibles). I have Facebook set up to auto-post to Twitter (@EYHOEdibles) – two for the price of one! LOL).

I make sure to stay consistent with posting timing; I post by 10 a.m. and again between 5-7 p.m. daily. If I have time, I’ll do a third post in afternoon. That allows me to catch followers’ attention no matter what time of day they’re on social media. Another point of consistency is that I always use certain hashtags with every post. I do roughly the same posts on Facebook and Instagram, modifying if needed for format.

In terms of content, of course the majority of my posts have to do with meals that I am cooking, or recent catering events – always with at least one picture. (Here’s my Grilled Mediterranean Chicken and Quinoa Salad.)

I also try to post something “personal” a few times a week, as that really engages followers. (I have read studies on this, and I find this to be true with people I follow). Overall, with everything I post I try to represent my brand image. What I mean by “brand image” is that I like to keep my posts mostly about food/cooking/personal cheffing/catering, with a few personal posts about me – but never about politics, current events, etc. I always try to keep anything too personal off my EYHOE social media so that whatever I post ultimately points back to my business – food and cooking. I guess you could say that my brand image is one of a creative, somewhat adventurous, chef who takes food, but not herself, seriously.

One approach that I have found to generate a lot of “engagement” is my “Name that Food” game, where I post an unusual picture of a food, and ask my followers to identify it. I also suggest that they like and share the post to get their friends in on the fun – which can result in more followers for me! Then I post the answer, usually the next day, with a “normal” picture of the food, replying to/tagging the commenters to keep them involved. Here’s a close-up of a “Rambutan”, the edible fruit of a tree from Southeast Asia.

Once the prickly skin is peeled away, the fruit reveals a sweet and juicy flesh, with bitter seeds found in the center. The second picture is “the big reveal.”

I also use social media to promote my blog, “Annie’s Anecdotes.” Whenever I have a new blog post, I will post a lead-in and link to the blog on Facebook and Instagram, to generate blog readership.

While making these posts does take a certain amount of my time, I def think it is worth that investment. I love engaging/getting personal with my followers on social media. The best part of social media is the engagement with followers! After all, I am a “personal chef”! love going back and forth with them; their comments are often insightful.

Chefs, are you active on social media? What is your strategy? How’s it working?

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

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

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How long do you spend in front of a display of apples or tomatoes or berries searching for the items for client meals that are just the right size, are unblemished, and with the coloring you consider the right stage of ripeness? In other words, seeking perfection…

Yeah, we all do it. But what you may not know is that all that produce already has to conform to grocery store sizes and qualities. The produce that doesn’t make the cosmetic grade tends to get tossed. Yeah, we’re talking about quirky shaped carrots and oblong yellow onions or really small avocados. According to UNESCO and the Environmental Working Group, 1 in 5 of these fruits and vegetables don’t meet cosmetic standards and go to waste. All of them food we could eat and enjoy.

Now you might find ugly produce at your local farmers market–and you should buy them since there’s nothing wrong with the quality. But here’s another option for your “no-waste” tool belt: Buying from a San Francisco-based food subscription company called Imperfect Produce.


Imperfect Produce was founded in 2015 by Ben Simon and Ben Chesler. Simon had originally founded the Food Recovery Network as a student at the University of Maryland after noticing food going to waste in the cafeteria. The FRN has since expanded to more than 180 colleges and universities across the country. Simon and Chesler decided to scale the concept nationally and to source “ugly” produce directly from farms. They would then deliver it directly to consumers’ homes at a discount. They claim their pricing is about 30 percent less than grocery store prices.

The produce arrives in a recyclable cardboard box–and nothing else–to limit waste. Like a CSA, you can choose from a small, medium, large, or extra-large shipment, organic, all fruit, all veggies, or mixed, with costs ranging from $11 to $13 weekly or bi-weekly for a small (7- to 9-pound) box of conventional produce to $39 to $43 for an extra-large (23- to 25-pound) box of organic produce. And you can customize your order. A few days before your delivery is scheduled to arrive you’ll be notified that you can log in and select from 30 to 40 items what you want–you know, so you won’t waste either. So if you hate beets or want all fruit, you can skip the beets and order citrus or whatever else is available. The site has tips for how to get the most from customizing–for instance, stocking up on items with a long shelf-life and multiple uses, like onions, potatoes, and hard squash that can be used in soups.


Imperfect Produce has already launched in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland, OR, Seattle/Tacoma, Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, San Antonio, and most recently San Diego, where I just experienced it. And in keeping with its mission, any produce that doesn’t go to customers goes to a food bank or other nonprofit. According to the company, it has recovered 30 million pounds since its launch.

While Imperfect Produce tries to source locally, the options vary by the day and week, depending on the seasons and weather. Their company philosophy is “follow the waste” and, they note, since more than 80 percent of the U.S.’s produce is grown in California, this is where they source most of their fruits and vegetables. But, they also source from out of state and Mexico when it’s necessary and seasonally appropriate.

“Our primary focus is reducing waste. Food waste has no borders,” their website notes. “Waste is a problem worldwide, and we do what we can to reduce waste wherever and however we can. In the winter, this means sourcing from Mexico and beyond.”

I got a sample box that contained four Roma tomatoes, a very small head of green cauliflower, a grapefruit, several apples, a couple of small oblong yellow onions, three small avocados, a bunch of carrots, and several small red potatoes. All look very appetizing. I’ve been enjoying the carrots (as has my dog Ketzel, who scarfed one from the counter), the potatoes, and the tomatoes so far.

For those who say, “Keep it local,” I’m with you. First choice is to buy local and from farmers. But I consider Imperfect Produce to be a great tool for those who can’t get to a farmers market or those who live in a climate with limited growing seasons.

How do you buy produce? What do you do to contain waste?

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

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

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Spring will be here in a week–March 20th. While those of you on the East Coast may still be dealing with harsh storms, eventually the chill will give way to warmth and flowers and sunshine. It’s a time of renewal–so what better activity to engage in than a virtual spring cleaning for your personal chef business!

We have five tasks you should take on to rebirth your business:

  • Examine and update your marketing tools: How long have you had the same style of business card? When was the last time you updated your website? Does it have all the critical information necessary for a potential client to find you and be engaged by your offerings (including the basics, like the geographic area you serve, your latest menu, your name, your phone number/email address)? Is it time to replace your Facebook business page cover photo? All touch points should examined–and ask your friends for their input about their effectiveness.
  • Embrace a new social media platform: If you’re already on Facebook, add Instagram and/or Twitter and/or Pinterest. You can do fun new things on each platform that can show off your offerings. Photos are your big sales tool on social media so be sure you’re posting well-lit, appetizing dishes.
  • Sharpen your knives and do a great cleaning on your tools: You probably give your knives a honing when you use them, but how often do you actually sharpen them? If you have to think about it, it’s been too long. And take a look at your other cooking tools. Are they showing signs of wear or grime? Clean them or replace them. And, hey, that includes your chefs aprons, your towels, your knife roll, and even your footwear. Spiff yourself up.
  • Learn new skills: Spring is a time of feeling energized so take that burst of energy and direct it into something constructive. Take an online cooking course from our partner Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy–or, better yet, sign up for a certificate in culinary arts. Or take a cooking class at a local school. Learn new techniques or global cuisines. Experiment with new ingredients. Learn how to take better food photos and how to style your dishes to help with marketing. Take a writing class and start a blog on your site or write a food column for your local newspaper. Learn how to do public speaking.
  • Volunteer in your community: We talk a lot about networking. One way to network without having to “sell” yourself is to get involved in your community. Spring is the perfect time to look around and decide what group/s could use your skills and enthusiasm. Spend a weekend morning serving meals at a homeless shelter. Volunteer at the local food bank. Or do something outside of your food background with Habitat for Humanity or your local Humane Society if you love animals–whatever moves you. You’re helping your neighborhood, meeting new people, and building your resume.

These are just five ideas that should energize you and give you some momentum in building your business or moving it into a direction that excites you. If you have additional suggestions, please add your voice!

What is a “spring cleaning” task that you’ve found helps you re-energize your business? What have you been toying with doing that you’re finally going to act on?

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

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

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Photo from Reviews.com

Back in the ’90s, my parents lived in Boston and one of my favorite expeditions when visiting them was to a Newbury St. housewares store I loved. I no longer remember its name–and it probably isn’t there anymore–but back then they had an astounding array of reconditioned knives. I built my knife collection there and still have many of them, including a chef’s knife.

But back in San Diego at Great News!, a much-loved housewares store that finally did go out of business, I bought what immediately became my favorite, go-to, pack-when-I-evacuate-for-a-fire knife. It’s a Wusthof Dreizack Culinar santoku knife. I didn’t even think I needed a new knife until a friend who worked there put it in my hand. It fit perfectly. I have small hands and this knife made me feel for the first time that I had control.

You can talk about materials, craftsmanship, and price–all of which are important. But ultimately if a knife is going to be an extension of your hand, what makes a perfect chef’s knife is very personal.

“My mother-in-law bought me a Wusthof Ikon Santoku because she liked how it looked,” said personal chef and food blogger Carol Borchardt. ‘I’ve been in love with this knife ever since. It feels great in my hand because of the shape of the handle.”

For personal chef Suzy Dannette Hegglin-Brown, it was important to find a great knife guy and build a relationship with him. Hers, she said, is old school and knows what she likes.

“I like a well-balanced knife. I do not like a heavy knife,” she explained. “So my knife is a cross between a Global and a Henkel. The brand is an F. Dick. It fits my hand well. Not too heavy so I don’t get tired… Not so light that I feel like it’s cheap. It is an extension of my own hand. I love this knife. I have two of them. One for home and one for work.”

Photo from Suzy Dannette Heglin-Brown

San Diego chef Christian Eggert is a knife fanatic. He has been collecting them since he was a kid and said he has about 40. For Eggert, the quality of the steel is his first priority. “It equates to the knife’s ability to hold and edge and be resharpened.” However, he suggested that less experienced cooks should go with a Kyocera ceramic knife.

“They need to be careful with the brittleness of the ceramic as far as impact and cuts that require blade flexibility, but the warranty and inexpensive repair far outweighs the cost of a real knife,” Eggert said. “If you go for steel, though, I would recommend nothing less than a S30V or VG10 steel. These hold a true edge and can take a fair amount of abuse. When they want to get to a top layer steel R2 is world class along side D2 or other steels that add resilience and sharpen ability.”

Christian Eggert’s Mr. Itou knife

Then there’s grip. Linen micarta, Eggert said, is the best. “It gets grippy when wet and wears like iron. Ideally it should just about balance on your pointer finger. I like a little weight in my knife so I use a full tang custom (Mr. Itou). But again, even though they are very light, the Kyoceras are the knife I would recommend to most people for their ease of use, edge holding, and they are very light which reduces fatigue overall.”

Of course, a light knife isn’t for everyone and it can take time to get used to it if you’ve been a longtime user of heavier knives. Personal chef Jim Huff picked up an 8-inch Wusthof classic chef knife at Sur La Table because it felt “right” to him (and he got a nice discount as a student taking a class there). But he’s since picked up a Wusthof Pro Chef’s Knife that is much lighter. “I’m still adjusting to using it at home,” he said. “Up till now I’ve always preferred the heavier knives.”

Almost every quality food magazine invariably has stories dedicated to how to buy a good chef’s knife. Do a Google search and dig in. But you might also want to check out Reviews.com’s recent piece that lays out various features that aren’t subjective. They culled a list of 170 knives to 11 top performers. Then they put the knives through a series of tests–cutting herbs, carrots, butternut squash, and chicken. And they found that, just like the rest of us, the test wasn’t going to work as planned since right out of the factory, they would all perform well. Instead, it would be fairly subjective.

“Were we able to grip it comfortably? Was it too light or too heavy? Did the spine rub awkwardly against our index fingers as we chopped? These are the details that can make or break a cook’s relationship with their kitchen knife.”

But, even given the variety of testers, they were able to narrow the field down to some favorites, based on the user’s experience.

For many of us, of course, some of these choices come down to price. For Carolyn Tipton Wold, she went with what she was used to when she was training to become a personal chef and it wasn’t the most expensive. “I have a set of Wusthof and another well-known brand, but they couldn’t hold their edge when sharpened. Professional sharpeners wouldn’t sharpen them because the steel was too soft. I went back to my training knife and for $25, I haven’t been disappointed!”

Eggert noted that a Kyocera santoku will cost less than $50. Depending on the material, a Mr. Itou santoku will range from $400 to $600. More familiar names, like Kramers, Shuns, Henkels, and the like have a high price based on branding. But, Eggert said, there are far superior knives with a smaller price tag.

Serious Eats has a terrific guide by J. Kenji López-Alt. Here’s his list of things to consider (aside from personal preference). To my mind, these will help get you to personal preference:

  • Style: Do you prefer a slim-and-maneuverable modern gyutou-style hybrid knife, a rough-and-tough Western-style knife, or a more precise and delicate Japanese-style santoku?
  • Design: A good knife should be as fine-tuned as a race car with every aspect, from the curvature of the blade to the weight of the bolster to the shape of the handle, taken into consideration for optimal balance and performance.
  • Craftsmanship: Do the pieces all fit together tightly and firmly? Are the rivets going to fall out or is the blade going to separate from the handle? Is the finish on the handle smooth and pleasant to hold, and is the blade properly honed straight out of the box?
  • Materials: Is the steel hard or soft? Harder steels in Japanese and hybrid-style knives retain edges for a longer time but are tougher to sharpen. Softer steels are easier, but need to be honed and sharpened more frequently. Is the composite or wood in the handle durable and comfortable?

Once you hit all your priorities in terms of these four issues as well as price, then it comes down to how it feels in your hand and how it makes you feel about getting the tasks done with it. (And keep that feel-good condition. Don’t neglect sharpening and honing them!)

What chefs knife do you use and how did you come to choosing it?

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

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

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This past weekend, MARC (the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter) held its annual meeting with Keith Steury as president. In preparation for it, member April Lee of Tastefully Yours Personal Chef Services contacted housewares manufacturer Fagor to learn about any new products and asked if they could give our members a good deal on their equipment.

Fagor Induction Pro Cooktop Black

Well, April got the deal. Fagor is giving all APPCA members in good standing a 50% discount on their stovetop pressure cookers, their electric multicookers (pressure cooker/rice cooker/slow cooker all in one), as well as their portable induction cooktops, with free shipping (offer is limited to two items per person).

Fagor LUXTM Multicooker: 4 qt Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker , Rice Cooker and Yogurt Maker.

The sale is only good through October 24th.

To place an order, you’ll need to use this order form. Click on the form, download it, and complete it. Then send your order to:

FAGOR AMERICA,  INC.
1099 Wall Street West, Suite 387
Lyndhurst, NJ 07071

Attn:  APPCA  50% Offer

Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery. There’s a limit of 2 items of each per order and one order per person.

 

Fagor Duo 8 qt Pressure Cooker

Is this a good deal? Well, here’s what April has to say about the electric pressure cookers:

“The biggest point I made is that using these big, 8-quart electric pressure cookers is a godsend for personal chefs because they free up burners on the stove. Plus, they automatically come to the proper pressure so you don’t need to babysit the units. I may use three of these at once which takes care of three entrees (e.g., Corned Beef Brisket, Thai Green Curry Chicken, and Moroccan Lamb Stew) while I focus on other dishes. In one hour or less, I can have three main dishes done that would have taken 3 to 4 hours if cooked conventionally on the stovetop or in low, slow oven. The Fagor 50% off deal with free shipping is very sweet!”
What’s your favorite cookware line? Are you an electric pressure cooker user?

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

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

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Enjoying lunch and some San Diego sunshine at a recent weekend seminar

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!

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APPCALogofinalhires2

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.

teaching

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Chefs

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!

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New Year fireworks

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.

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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.

Roasted peppers

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.

Einkorn salad

Einkorn salad

 

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!

Kale salad

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.

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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.”

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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

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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.

 

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What Kind of Food: What works and doesn’t work on a buffet?
What Works:

  • 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

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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)

*Figures compiled from “Food for Fifty” by Mary Molt, 13th Edition and “Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen” by Nicole Aloni

*Figures compiled from “Food for Fifty” by Mary Molt, 13th Edition and “Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen” by Nicole Aloni

 

Microsoft Word - GRAINS YIELD CHART.docx

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.

 

fruitkabob

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?

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 April Lee

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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.

Preserved lemons2

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.

Pureed ginger2

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.

Dried dill

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.

Straws

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.

vodka vanilla

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 caron@goldenwriting.com with a photo so we can use it the next time we post a collection of hacks.

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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