chicken nuggets2

Chicken Nuggets

Thank you, Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen in San Francisco, for your insights on cooking for clients with special needs:

Special diets are either a major pain in your patootie, or a lucrative niche market where you can shine as a personal or private chef. It’s up to you. The demand is there. How you meet that demand comes down to making an important choice: either fully embrace this ever-growing market or suffer your way through it, because it ain’t going away. I recommend the former. That’s what I did. Now, 10 years later, having built a good reputation in the Bay Area for being a chef that knows his way around food allergens, I’ve found the demand continues to grow and evolve.

The market has become way more sophisticated in the myriad of allergen-friendly products and solutions being offered than when this whole “trend” started (do food trends actually last an entire decade?). As a personal chef you’ll find there’s still plenty of room for pioneering. But we don’t have to venture out alone into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory anymore. We now have strong allies including many great chefs who have done much of the experimenting along the way; failing, succeeding, and discovering new and better ways to offer truly delicious alternatives. No more hippie hockey pucks!

If you still feel the need to roll your eyes whenever a client asks for strictly Paleo, or allium-free, or everything raw, please read on. You might still want to roll your baby-blues, but you might see something different. If you have already embraced special diets as part of your journey as a PC, as challenging as it can be at times, then you might appreciate some of the basic insights I have gained.

Persian Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

Persian Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

The YES List
What you can eat is way more nourishing than what you can’t. Sounds simplistic, I know, but if a client’s focus is on what she CAN’T have, then feelings of being deprived and all of the emotional baggage that goes along with that (punishment, scarcity, loss…..name your poison) grow even stronger. It’s hard to win as a chef in that kind of atmosphere. I found early on that by building what I call a YES list (those ingredients that are allowed/safe to use) and designing recipes from those ingredients only, not only did my clients feel better, but I could shift my focus from navigating the mine field of all of the no-no ingredients to looking only for those ingredients that work. No more guessing. You know that phenomenon where you decide to buy a blue car and all you see are blue cars for the next few weeks? That same mindset sets in when you—and your client—choose to pay attention to only those items on the YES list. Suddenly a world of food possibilities opens up. Because for a restricted diet variety is key, the YES list gave me the opportunity to get really good at knowing my way around flavor profiles, especially ethnic. Speaking of which…

Flavor is King
A restricted diet means flavor is of the utmost importance. What your client CAN eat needs to be really tasty. What gives food its flavor is nutrients. The more nutrients the better an ingredient tastes. Good nutrients come from good soil and good growing techniques. Over-farmed soil or over-processed foods contain very few nutrients, hence a bland flavor. Therefore, making sure the ingredients you choose are the most nutrient dense you can find is essential. I have discovered that by choosing great ingredients, half the battle is won. It also means I don’t have to have complicated recipes. Cooking becomes simple, my labor is reduced, which means my margin increases.

Chilled Squash Soup

Chilled Squash Soup

Flavor profiles. All of my cooking classes, and I’ve done over 40 of them, are geared towards the Allergenista. My main filter is always no gluten, dairy, soy, shellfish, or peanuts—the five most pernicious allergens. In my first few classes I asked myself, “if diets are restricted, how can I enhance the flavors of what CAN be eaten?” I covered three fundamental areas: spices, herbs, and condiments: three worlds of mostly safe ingredients with the possibility of an infinite amount of flavors. Knowing your way around your spice cabinet, the herb garden, and how to turn simple recipes into flavor-enrichening sauces gives you the ability to provide flavors from around the world. Here are some simple examples of what I mean by ethnic flavor profiles:

  • Caribbean: Annato, Chile, Coconut, Ginger, Coriander
  • Chinese: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Chile, Garlic, Ginger, Galangal, Licorice/Anise, Sesame, Sichuan Pepper, Star Anise, Vanilla
  • Eastern European: Caraway, Dill, Parsley
  • French: Lavender, Tarragon, Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Lemon Peel, Parsley

Ten years ago, when I was approached by a nutritionist and long-time friend to start cooking for her clients (she told me that when she gives them their elimination diet they are like deer in the headlights), I quickly saw it as learning a new language. The appeal of providing people with the experience of enjoying familiar foods while using only safe ingredients was great. Discovering new ways to have the look, mouth feel, and aroma be as close to the original as possible was exhilarating. For example, I use organic instant mashed potatoes as a thickener for sauces as opposed to guar gum or tapioca or turn soaked and blended raw cashews into cheesecake or ricotta for lasagna.

Special diets and picky eaters are kissing cousins. As a PC you’re always going to have clients who are very particular about what they eat. Food is emotional. Which means it can feel impossible at times. It also means that food can be connective, fulfilling, and immensely satisfying. Cooking would be easy if it wasn’t for food being so emotional, but who wants that?

Lots of good people are on special diets. Will you be yet another cook who rolls your eyes, or will you be the hero of the day? Your choice.

Chef Tom has great examples of adapting recipes with traditional ingredients into recipes that are allergen-friendly. Click here for a free cookbook. Here’s a sample recipe:

cukes

Cucumbers Stuffed with Smoked Trout Pate

Smoked Trout Pate

by Chef Tom Herndon
Yield: 32 cucumber cups

This recipe, says Tom, meets his basic criteria of no gluten, dairy (milk—but he changed it to vegan mayo), soy, shellfish, or peanuts.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound smoked trout, heads and skin removed, fillets carefully boned
1/4 cup very finely diced onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Fresh lemon juice to taste
2 large English cucumbers (other options are Persian or Lemon cucumbers)

Directions:
1. With clean hands, squeeze and mash the trout into a thick paste in a bowl.
2. Fold in remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning.
3. Spoon a teaspoon into a cucumber cup or serve as a dip with gluten-free crackers or crudites.

Are you beginning to take on clients with special dietary needs? How have you approached your learning curve?

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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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Cooking for Special Diets: Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen gives insights on cooking for clients with special needs. […]

    Pingback by 2018 is Coming! Are You Ready? | Personal Chef Blog — February 19, 2018 @ 1:30 pm

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