Given the size of our national APPCA membership, Candy had suggested years ago that members gather regionally to better get to network and share information. The MidAtlantic Chef Chapter, or MARC, has long been an active and tight-knit group with a membership currently at 19. In April they announced a new slate of officers:

Keith Steury

President: Keith Steury of The Food Sherpa

Treasurer: April Lee of Tastefully Yours

Secretary: Katie Enterline of The Grateful Table

The first agenda item will be identifying a date to meet for their fall gathering–a potluck at member Iva Stanic’s home in Olney, Maryland. Then, of course, if the big two-day Spring meeting for 2018 that Steury hopes will include a trip to a pick-your-own working farm in Virginia.

Why join a member chapter? Well, Steury, whose business is based in Arlington, Virginia, explained that he joined the MARC chapter a few years ago.

“Before that I was a member of the APPCA, but I did not really have any meaningful personal connections to other chefs who were also running their own PC businesses,” he said. “Joining this group has helped me to make these connections and has proved very valuable to me. I am hopeful that we will continue to provide support to both current and potential new members during my tenure as chapter president.”  

Katie Enterline

In his own words, Steury’s plans for his tenure as president include:

  1. Providing cross-referrals for new business: This is something that we already do a lot within our chapter and it is really a great thing. There are ebbs and flows in everyone’s businesses and times when we could all use a new client. Referrals are an excellent way to accelerate this process. This is also a very nice feature for new members and those new to the personal chef industry, because it gives them an immediate connection to potential new clients and the support of other chefs in the process of acquiring them.
  2. Supporting each other and helping each other to succeed:  The APPCA provides a solid foundation and frame-work for how to run a successful PC business, but there is also room for each individual chef to modify things to fit their unique preferences. The chapter provides a great forum for discussing ideas, tips, pitfalls, and related information about running a PC business. There are a lot of smart people with creative ideas in the chapter, and they are open and willing to share this information with their fellow chefs.  This helps everyone to improve their businesses and be more successful. 
  3. Being aware of market changes and how to differentiate ourselves as personal chefs:  I am amazed at how much things have changed since I started my PC business back in 2007. Back then, the concept of a PC was still pretty novel (at least here in Northern VA). Now, not so much. In addition, there is a lot more competition in the marketplace, so I think that makes our job more challenging. Now more than ever, I think it is important to be educated about the market and to take the time to identify and explain how we as PCs differentiate ourselves from these other options. We save our clients valuable time, we provide a custom experience/solution (to often complex problems), and we do it all while cultivating a meaningful relationship with a focus on excellent customer service.

April Lee

We wish the MARC chapter a productive and fulfilling year! If any of you would like to start a chapter in your region, please reach out to Candy and she can help you get it up and running!

Do you know any fellow APPCA members in your community or region? How do you network with other personal chefs–or do 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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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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Pudwill Berry Farms Honey Crisp Apples2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Candy Wallace has been on a commencement speech roll. Earlier this spring she delivered a virtual graduation address to the students of the Escoffier Online International Academy. Then on June 17 she was the keynote speaker at the Art Institute of California in San Diego’s commencement.

It’s no surprise that the founder and executive director of APPCA would be asked to give graduating students–and not specifically the culinary students–just entering their new chosen profession words of wisdom and advice. After all, Candy has been a leader in the culinary industry for decades. She’s seen it all and done it all–and created a career path that has drawn hundreds upon hundreds of people looking for a way to better control and direct their lives and find success and happiness.

So, what did she tell these graduates, whose degrees ranged from fashion, web design, photography, and advertising to media arts and animation and culinary arts?

She told them that the first thing they needed to do was make a plan. “Not having a plan is like throwing yourself off a cliff and trying to knit a parachute on the way down,” she said. “That’s not so good. You need a roadmap to avoid the pitfalls of cliff jumping.”

You start, Candy said, by defining where you want to go–in 10 years or next year. This plan is where you create a place for your dream to live.

Then, she noted, you have to figure out how to get there. “Know that you don’t know it all yet.” And she advised them to search out resources for learning more. And throughout, to stay humble and stay determined.

Find a mentor, she advised, someone who can help you, push you, encourage you, and be honest with you while you’re learning and growing.

Here some other sage nuggets of advice she gave these graduates:

  • Commit to learning something new every day.
  • Know that you can’t learn everything on the clock so you need to do it on your own time as well.
  • Make mistakes. It can be frustrating and embarrassing but admit to them and learn from them. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.
  • Be patient with yourself and stay realistic.
  • Keep your eyes open for opportunities and see challenges as opportunities in disguise.
  • Be kind to the people you encounter along the way and give credit to those who help you.
  • Learn about the world, especially through travel. Be adventurous and curious–and share your own culture.
  • Participate in your community.
  • Nurture the friendships you make over the years. Keep loved ones close to you.
  • Honor your parents. They started you on this journey and have been your biggest cheerleaders.

And, finally, she told the graduates, “Stop along the way to enjoy your life. Press the party button!”

You can listen to the full eight-minute speech here:

What were the best words of advice you received when you launched your career? What do you wish someone had told 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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CandyWallaceAPPCAheadshot (low rez)

This past weekend, Escoffier Online International Academy celebrated its 2016 graduating class online and our own Candy Wallace delivered the commencement address. Candy considers it to be a tremendous honor to have been asked to speak to the students, but it’s no surprise that they would invite her. After all, she has had close ties to Escoffier. In 2014 she was inducted into Disciples of Escoffier, and has been serving on the Advisory Committee of the Auguste Escoffier Schools of Culinary Arts.

During her 12-minute talk, Candy reviewed her own culinary career and how, 24 years ago, she came to launch the then-new profession of personal chef. For Candy, it’s all about having options throughout your career. You may start on the line in a restaurant and love the demands and hours of that job. But maybe 10 years in or 20 your priorities change. Candy wanted to create an option for culinarians who wanted to continue to cook for people to be their own boss, have their own business, focus on their dreams–but in a way that suits their changed lifestyle or interests.

In her address, Candy emphasized the value of learning in the course of a culinary career. She told the graduates that if they’re entering the industry in a restaurant to learn something everyday. To volunteer to take on tasks. To keep your mouth closed and do what you’re asked and do it with joy. The time will come soon enough when your skills catch up with your opinions and your opinion will then be valued by a time-pressed executive chef.

And, throughout your career, she said, “Read, watch videos, travel if you get the chance. Developing a global palate is a lifelong journey that you’re going to enjoy. Get out, look around, taste, and talk to the farmers and chefs and fishermen you encounter in your travels and learn.”

Candy also did a special call out to one of our valued APPCA members, Beth Volpe of Savory Eats by Beth in Glendale, California. Beth, she said, had joined APPCA and launched a successful personal chef business but wanted to have official culinary credentials, so she asked Candy for advice. Candy suggested Beth enroll in the Escoffier Online International Academy. Beth did so the next day and now she was one of the graduates Candy was congratulating in her commencement address. “She kept her word and did the work. I’m proud to call her my colleague,” Candy said.

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It turned out that shortly after the delivery of the address, Candy received this note from Beth:

Hi Candy,

At 8:00 am this morning Joe (my husband) and I settled in with our coffee to watch Graduation.  I was very excited for him to hear you speak and put a name to the face.  You are obviously my mentor and he has heard me talk forever about you and your success. Your speech was so fantastic and outlined your journey and the culinary path of being a personal chef. Needless to say we both about fell off the couch when you mentioned me. And at the same time started tearing up. We were so shocked and so humbled and proud. I can’t thank you enough for such a mention. I feel so honored and am still in awe. You have certainly made our day, our month, our year. 

I had my family watch this graduation ceremony not knowing that I would be mentioned and they too were thrilled.

Thank you for remembering me.  You changed the course of my life and allowed me to make the dream come true.

With warmest regards and XOXO

Beth

We hope that as you search for your culinary direction you consider all your options–there are so many now–and that a grounded education is your first step. And if your journey is to become a personal chef, that you get in touch with Candy at APPCA so that she can help guide you on your path and give you the help you need to establish and run a thriving business. We hope that watching her address below gives you the inspiration you’ve been looking for to take your next steps!

Are you considering a culinary career? What is your passion when it comes to food and cooking? Is being a personal chef an option for 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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Here we are again. It is almost the end of the year, and the beginning of what could very well be an exciting, successful, enjoyable new year for your personal chef business and your life.

CandyWallaceAPPCAheadshot (low rez)

 

To help make that happen, APPCA’s executive director Candy Wallace believes it’s wise to sit down and do a review of the past year and make plans for what you want to create in the new year. This way, you are working a plan of your own design rather than being passively at the service of whatever circumstances present themselves over the course of the year.

Here are her recommendations:

Review your current biz plan

Ask yourself: Are you enjoying your business?  If not, can you:

  • Adjust your schedule.
  • Adjust your product or service.
  • Set higher goals.
  • Set more realistic goals.
  • Evaluate if the business model you’re using is right for you.

Finances

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Do you keep and maintain a Profit and Loss report? Do you know the nuts and bolts of your finances? Examine your year-end P&L to look for ways to improve your finances next year.

  • Identify Total Revenue: Is it consistent over the course of the year? Is it enough to meet your goals?
  • Identify Pricing: Are you charging what you need to make a profit?
  • Identify and prepare for Quarterly Tax Payment Liability: Are you putting funds away for each quarter’s tax payment?
  • Identify Total Expenses/Overhead: Can they be trimmed? Can you find less expensive ways to finance them? Will you have new or increased expenses in the coming year in the form of employees, insurance, fuel/transportation, food prices, equipment?
  • Identify Profitability: What is the balance between your revenues and expenses?
  • Identify Special Business Needs: Do you have a budget for unplanned opportunities or needs like promotional banners for an event or classes to elevate your skills?

Re-evaluate income streams

  • Consider a possible price increase:
    • Did you low ball your pricing to get new clients?
    • Do you need to revise your pricing to reflect your value, your expenses, increased costs?
  • Consider offering more and different services: Could your clients use additional services, like catering or cooking classes?
  • Can you take on more clients: How can you bring in more clients this year?
  • Are you interested in new income streams: Many personal chefs do more than offer cook dates for clients. They offer product demonstrations, cooking classes, catering, writing, and other food-related services. Maybe there’s something else you’d like to do under your personal chef umbrella.

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Administration Review

Are your satisfied with these?

  • Software support
  • Staffing
  • Contract services
  • Public relations/Promotion

How would you rate your marketing efforts?

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  • Are you engaged enough in professional networking?
  • Is your Web presence/SEO/design in need of an update?
  • Are you actively promoting yourself via social media and/or a blog that gives you and your business exposure?
  • Do you have and always carry business cards?
  • Do you need help in learning how to better market your business?

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How would you rate your business skills?

  • Do you feel confident in the various aspects of operating your business?
  • Could you benefit from training in different arenas, such as managing finances, marketing, public speaking, writing, or even cooking?

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Personal Finance review

  • Are you building your savings or depleting it? Can you establish a monthly savings structure? If you can’t save because your revenues and expenses aren’t aligned, go back to re-evaluating your business finances and income streams.
  • Are you engaged in financial/retirement planning? What steps can you take to build your finances now and in the future?

Personal Life Plan

Are you enjoying your life? If not and it’s related to work:

  • Review your work schedule and figure out how to make changes that better suit your lifestyle as it is or want it to be.
  • Make a vacation plan.
  • Schedule family time.
  • Commit to regular recreation/exercise/continuing education opportunities.

Remember, that as APPCA members you have a number of resources to assist you in improving your business. That includes regular weekend Personal Chef Seminars in San Diego. Many members take the seminar as they are launching their business, but we welcome established members, who are interested in revisiting topics and getting input in revving up their personal chef business. Our next seminar is January 16 and 17. For more information, visit our website.

We wish all of you a very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Happy New Year 2016

Do you do an annual review of your business and life? What other issues do you take into account as you look ahead to the new year?

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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Because personal chefs are instrumental in assisting clients address health issues through diet, we’ve asked members who actively create special diets to help the rest of us understand them. It’s the first step in learning more so that if clients approach you with special dietary needs your first instinct will be to say, “Yes, I can help.” This week Monica Shoemaker of Home Plate Personal Chef Service in Portland, Oregon, is introducing us to the basics of the anti-inflammatory diet.

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Creating beautiful meals for busy families, professionals, individuals is not all we do as personal chefs. People often come to us with health issues that they recognize can be made better by the foods they eat. And often times, they aren’t able to cook for themselves or don’t have the energy to do so because of an ailment or serious disease. That’s where we come in. The anti-inflammatory diet seems to be the latest trend that I think is going to stick around for a while. Created by Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard-educated pioneer of integrative medicine, and based on the Mediterranean diet, this approach to nutrition is centered around his belief that certain foods cause or fight systemic inflammation. He views inflammation as leading to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and heart disease. To reduce the risk of age-related disease, Weil counters it with healthy fats, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, a lot of water, and limited amounts of animal protein, except omega-3-rich oily fish.

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That’s a preventative approach, but the diet can also be employed to treat issues clients already are dealing with. Stress, lack of exercise, smoking, can all lead to inflammation. Inflammation occurs naturally when there’s an injury. For those with diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, joint pain, and auto-immune conditions like fibromyalgia, the anti-inflammatory diet can be a salve and calm the body. Common culprits to avoid are sugar, wheat, dairy, and too much red meat. I know what you’re thinking… no fun! But it’s our job to create delicious and creative ways to prepare foods that nourish and heal when the challenge arises. Eating an array of colorful fruits and vegetables that are loaded with antioxidants can ward off the oxidative stress put on the body, as well as avoiding salt, and refined and processed foods. We can add beans, nuts, olive oil, onions, salmon, tuna, anchovies, and other cold-water fish to the client’s diet. What we’re stressing here are fiber, anti-oxidants, monounsaturated fats, and omega-3-rich foods.

Additionally, there’s a theory that too much acid-producing food can cause inflammation and that increasing alkaline-promoting foods can counteract negative effects and promote better health. Alkaline foods are primarily fruits and vegetables. And, no, that doesn’t rule out citrus. Fruits like lemon are acidic in their natural state, but when metabolized by the body, they have an alkalizing effect and healing can occur more rapidly.

I have a client for whom I’ve been cooking for six years now who has multiple sclerosis. When he first came to me he had consulted with a naturopath and a nutritionist about how to manage his newly diagnosed disease. Not only does he take medication, but they recommended an anti-inflammatory diet which can improve symptoms and slow the progression. They provided me with a list of foods, herbs, and spices that are acidic and a list of foods that are alkaline. With that information, I was able to customize menus for him that influence good health. In addition to that, I recently cooked for a new client who is a breast cancer survivor and hired me to cook for two other families going through chemo and radiation. She wanted them to have a month’s worth of meals just as she had when she was undergoing her treatments. She said that it was such a blessing to have lovingly prepared meals for her family that were nutritious and ready to eat.

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I feel that it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves about the anti-inflammatory diet, and other health conditions that can benefit from healing foods. Since special diets are a large part of our business. What’s great about our jobs, is not only do we get to do what we love, we also provide a service that people really appreciate. We help clients by giving them nutritious meals and we help them save time so that they can do the things they love.

You can easily find information about anti-inflammatory diets on the internet and there are a lot of great books on the subject. It’s very important to ask our clients to consult with their doctor about their health, but this is a way of eating that everyone can benefit from.

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Here’s a recipe that I created and have made for clients for years. It is quick and simple to make. It has fresh ginger, which is anti-inflammatory, as well as the other components. This was my son’s favorite soup when he was young and still is.

Vietnamese Chicken Ball Soup

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

8-10 cups chicken broth
1 ½ pounds ground chicken
1 knob (about 3 tablespoons), fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons tamari
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups snow peas, sliced on the bias into thirds
2 cups shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, sliced on the bias
2 green onions, sliced on the bias
3 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Bring the broth to a boil while assembling the meatballs. Gently mix the ground chicken, ginger, sesame oil, tamari, cilantro, and salt and pepper. Form into a 1½-inch ball, roll in cornstarch, shake off excess, then drop into the boiling broth. I do these one at a time and drop them into the broth as I make each one. It goes quickly. The cornstarch helps keep them together. The meatballs are somewhat loose, but they firm up in the hot broth.

Add the sliced carrots, let them cook for a few minutes, then add the shiitakes. Cook for a few more minutes, then turn off the heat. Add the snow peas and green onions once it starts to cool a bit, otherwise the snow peas will get overcooked. Add the spinach. Garnish with a little chopped cilantro and serve.

This freezes well too!

Vietnamese Chicken Ball Soup

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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.

Jim Huff with APPCA executive director Candy Wallace

Jim Huff with APPCA executive director Candy Wallace

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.

Beet Goat Cheese Napoleon

Beet Goat Cheese Napoleon

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.

White Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto

White Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto

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.

Artichoke with Tomato Salad

Steamed Artichoke with Cherry Tomato & Red Onion Salad

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.

Hummus Trio

Hummus Trio

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.

Nutella Raspberry Mini Tarts

Raspberry Nutella Mini Tarts

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.

Dessert Plate

Mini Dessert Plate

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?

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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We’re only a month into the new year. How are you doing with those resolutions you made for achieving new career goals? Have you honored your commitment by signing up for any new classes or workshops?

If you’re in the mid-West and eager to jumpstart your career as a personal chef, you’re in luck. I’ll be in Chicago Feb. 15 and 16 conducting a two-day training seminar filled with detailed instruction and analysis to help you successfully launch your business in the shortest time possible.

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These two-day seminars (upcoming ones will be held in San Diego in March, Baltimore in April, Chicago in May, and back in San Diego in June) are geared toward individuals wishing to enter the personal chef industry. The seminar blends two disciplines—culinary and business—to help you set up and operate a legitimate personal chef  business that reflects your specific level of expertise and requirements for what you want your business to look like. We’re talking about:

  • ·      Determining what level of service you wish to offer and to whom
  • ·      How to find clients and how to serve them
  • ·      Deciding what format you want your business to take
  • ·      How to register your business name with your state and address local licensing and regulatory requirements
  • ·      How to set up and maintain company records, accounting, tax liability, etc.
  • ·      How to conduct an effective assessment of clients needs and wants to enable you to custom design a palate-specific program
  • ·      Client service, scheduling, menu planning, and pricing

Plus, we provide you—included in the seminar fee—printed educational materials and a full year’s membership in APPCA so you can turn to the organization for mentorship and enjoy the visibility we provide via our Find a Chef searchable database and mobile app. And, you’ll receive a certificate of completion.

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Of course, there are some personal chefs out there who already have launched a business—maybe six months or a year ago or even longer—and need this kind of educational experience because they now know what they don’t know. And they need help. We welcome you and we also welcome APPCA members who want to polish their business skills or simply kick their marketing and/or client services up a notch.

Like all our seminars and books and software and the annual Personal Chef Summit, this weekend seminar brings with it the 20+ years APPCA has devoted to positioning the personal chef industry to the professionally validated status it enjoys today. We provide the only culinary-professional owned and operated (and award-winning) trade association specifically training and representing personal and private chefs.

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I believe it’s time well spent to recharge your batteries and reinvigorate your efforts, whether you’re a trained chef or proficient home cook who is adept and confident in the kitchen, but is at a loss when it comes to creating, setting up, and operating a small business. Time is money when you’re establishing a business, so why spend six months reinventing the wheel and making avoidable mistakes when we can help you get started on the right foot?

The February seminar in Chicago will take place on Saturday, Feb. 15 from 8:30 a.m.  to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 16 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Renaissance Chicago O’Hare Suites Hotel, 8500 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. For more information, go to www.personalchef.com, call 1-800-644-8389, or send an email to info@personalchef.com.

What are your professional development goals as a personal chef? How are you trying to reach them? Please leave a comment and let us know.

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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As personal chefs one way to market your business is by showing off your food in mouthwatering photography. But all too many of us wind up with blurry and poorly lit shots of dishes that in real life were spectacular. One of our APPCA members, Chef Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food, took this challenge to heart and learned everything she could about quality food photography. If you check out her website you’ll see she’s become quite the expert. We asked her to share her insights with you and she generously wrote a guest post with seven tips for better food photography.

Seven Tips to Better Food Photography
by Carol Borchardt

1. Study Good Food Photos
First familiarize yourself with what really beautiful food photography is. Websites such as FoodGawker.com and Tastespotting.com feature some of the best food blog photography on the web. Any food blog that has earned a “Saveur Sites We Love” badge will have exceptional photography (Saveur.com/siteswelove).  Some of the most renowned food photographers have a portfolio of their work on their websites:

·      Matt Armendariz

·      Penny De Los Santos

·      Aran Goyoago

·      Lara Ferroni

·      Beatrice Peltrie

·      Helene Dujardin

·      Teri Campbell

·      Katie Quinn Davies

·      Sara Remington

When you come across a photo that really appeals to you, study it and determine what it is about that photo that moves you. When you can determine what a good food photo is, you can begin to move your photography in that direction.

2. Understand Camera Fundamentals

 ·      White Balance: It’s called white balance because whites should be white and it can affect the entire color balance of your photo, which in turn greatly affects its visual appeal. White balance settings include Daylight, Shade, Cloudy and fortunately, Auto, which is where I keep mine set. 

·      Exposure: Three camera settings determine the proper exposure:  Aperture (size of lens opening), shutter speed and ISO (a measure of sensitivity to light).  For highest quality, shoot with the lowest ISO possible.

·      Depth of Field: The portion of the image that is in focus and a purely stylistic and artistic decision. This depends on the aperture and can only be achieved with a dSLR/SLR camera.

·      Camera Modes: The easiest mode to begin shooting food is “Aperture Priority (A or Av on the dial).” The camera will control the shutter speed based on the aperture you choose.

·      If all you have is a smartphone camera, helpful apps to make the most of it are:  CameraPlus, VSCO Cam, PicTapGo and Tadaa. If you’re still using a flip phone, you may want consider upgrading.

3. Understand Lighting

The right lighting can take an ordinary photograph and make it extraordinary.  Making food look good in artificial lighting is tricky and requires additional equipment and skill. Fortunately, the best lighting for photographing food is natural light and it’s free!

Know where your light is coming from. Side lighting or back lighting is best.  Think of your plate of food as a clock. If the light is coming from 9:00 or 3:00, you are working with side lighting. Back lighting will be coming from 12:00.  Front lighting (6:00) would mean the light source is in back of the photographer, which means the photographer would be blocking much of the light.

Two major lighting rules apply:

·      Turn off the flash if you don’t have the proper artificial lighting. The flash causes glare and it gives food an unnatural look.

·      Never mix artificial and natural lighting; it throws off the color balance.

4. Establish a Photography Work Area

Study and locate the best source of natural light in your home.  Preferably, you want a north or south-    facing  window.  The set-up does not have to be permanent.  Once you’ve established an area in which to work, start gathering basic tools, supplies and props.

 Studio

   ·     Backgrounds: Fashion something, such as a piece of plywood or MDF,  that you can set up to block out what doesn’t belong in your photo such as your sofa. Paint one side white and the other a dark color such as black, brown or green. White lends softness while a darker background is dramatic.

·      Surfaces: Gather fabric remnants for soft surfaces (and backgrounds).  Repurpose old and distressed wood from pallets or fencing, use old cutting boards and metals with a weathered patina such as a well-loved cookie sheet.

·      Gather unique textiles, plates, old silverware, old serving pieces, platters, etc.  Use simple round matte (no gloss) plates and bowls. Avoid patterned plates; white is always a good choice. Square or rectangular plates are very difficult to make look good in a square frame.

5. Pay Close Attention to Cooking and Plating

·      A mouthwatering photo starts with quality ingredients.

·      Read the recipe and visualize the dish. Evaluate whether it will make an interesting subject to photograph. Any brown food is going to be difficult.

·      Make sure prep is meticulous and keep the finished product in mind throughout the entire cooking process.

·      Be realistic with serving sizes. Some food bloggers love to load up plates and bowls. That’s fine for a food blog; however, our clients are looking to us to help them eat better.

·      Go for height. Try to “lift” your food off the plate. Stack brownies and cookies, place proteins on top of the starch or the vegetable. Don’t spread food around the plate; it looks flat and boring.

Salmon & Lentils

·      Garnish, garnish, garnish! Use whole herb springs instead of chopped and sprinkled; it’s a cleaner look that makes a bolder statement. However, the herb sprig should not dominate the photo.

·      Use food as props if the food was used in the dish: A bowl of avocados, cloves of garlic still in the skins sprinkled around, herb sprigs half chopped, etc.

Veg Filo Tart

6. Understand Composition

Think of composition as a group of ingredients required to cook up a good photograph:

·      Orientation  (Vertical or horizontal)

·      Balance (the visual harmony in the photograph).

·      Rule of Thirds is a good rule of thumb. Think of your photograph divided into a “Tic Tac Toe” grid (nine even sections). One of the points (off center where those lines intersect) is generally where you want to place your subject.

ruleofthirds

Chicken Chorizo Red Beans and Rice

·      Create “movement” with triangles. A great food photo keeps your eye moving around the photo in a triangle shape. The triangle can be the plate of food and two props or leaves of basil in a pasta dish.

·      Create “movement” with objects. Show something else going on besides the food just sitting there. Get a helper to hold a spoon of gooey macaroni and cheese being lifted out of the pan, the spatula still frosting the cake, etc.

·      Say it with color. Opposites on a color wheel always work together and a monochromatic look can be very dramatic.  Watch out for colors that clash.  If you wouldn’t wear the combination, don’t have it in your food photo.

·      Avoid “tight” or extreme close-up shots. Zooming in too tight can leave food unidentifiable. Your clients want to see your food as they would see it sitting down to the table, not how it would look two inches from their face.

·      Not every part of the photograph needs to be filled with props. Negative space or space that is left empty can make a very powerful statement.

7. Find a Good Editing Program to:

·      Correct exposure and brightness

·      Lighten shadows

·      Adjust highlights, contrast, color saturation and balance

·      Crop and straighten

·      Sharpen

·      Retouch

There are many free programs, such as Google’s Picasa, GIMP, Paint.NET, and iPhoto on Macs. Your camera probably came with software to do this.

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