Often on Friday or Monday on Facebook, we’ll ask our members what’s on for the weekend or, afterwards, what they did that can inspire us. When Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine in Dallas responded on a Friday that she had a gig at the Dallas flagship Williams-Sonoma store doing a cooking demo, we just had to learn more. The demo went wonderfully and Anne sent us a wrap up of how it came to pass and how it went. More importantly, though, she also talked about why it was so important for her–and other personal chefs–to do this.

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On a recent day off I was wandering around Williams-Sonoma, finally getting around to spending some gift cards I’d been hoarding. I ran into a friend of mine who I thought still worked there. In the process of catching up she asked, “Didn’t you graduate from culinary school recently?” I said yes and she immediately pulled over the assistant manager and said, “You need to talk to her!” So, long story short, they asked me to put in an application to do cooking demos/teach classes on my schedule. I did it because I don’t have a full roster of PC clients and could use the money. Okay, and I was thinking, “STORE DISCOUNT!”

By the way, I didn’t know that Williams-Sonoma has a chef card you can register for online if you’re in the business. It offers a 20 percent discount. My friend told me about it when I went in, so tell everyone about this!

I chatted briefly with the assistant manager about some details and sent a follow-up e-mail a few days later, thanking her for her time. In fact, when I was there, they asked if I could do a demo the next day, but I was already booked to be a “sous chef” with a friend of mine from school who had a dinner party. But at least they were interested. When I didn’t receive a response to my e-mail, I called the assistant manager two days later and she apologized for them not getting back to me. They wanted me to meet the manager, and she had been tied up with reviews, etc. all week. But she made it clear that they were very interested.

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She then called me back, said their guest chef for the weekend had cancelled, and asked if I was available (I had a dinner party that cancelled) so I said YES and went in to chat about details. I then went home and put together a menu which I e-mailed to her.  They sent me home with one of their cool cookbooks, so I figured it would be prudent to try and use some of the recipes from it (“good PR”). So the chicken and the potatoes are from their book.

They left the recipe quantities to my discretion.  They said the store would be packed that day because of their Artisan Market (some local specialty vendors will have tables set up).  And it’s just a taste, so I doubled most of the recipes and quadrupled the asparagus dish, since it’s so cheap right now. They said not to go over $150; think I spent a total of $75, roughly.  And yes, the reimbursed me for the food cost. Here was my menu:

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Chicken & Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry

Gratineed Asparagus with Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

Roasted New Potatoes with Rosemary & Bay Leaf

“Fragole Al Marsala” (Strawberries in Marsala wine)

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Before the day of the event, I sent out an email to friends and family, inviting them to attend and noting the menu.

It went really well! I posted pictures on my Facebook page that a friend was kind enough to take for me. It got off to kind of a slow start because I’m not familiar with the store, so I had to keep going to the back for equipment and foodstuffs they had told me not to buy. But, I finally got it all together.

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And once I got rolling it was great!  Customers came and went. At one point I even had to reel them in by asking if they wanted something to eat. Once I got on a roll, though, I had them hooked. Everyone said how good the food was and that I was a good “Williams-Sonoma rep” by saying that two of the recipes had come from the book that was on display up front with me. I think I was responsible for selling three cookbooks. Some even bought some stuff in the store, and I made sure to tell the manager that. I did get to meet the actual manager (my contact being one of the assistant managers) and am hoping to hear from her about my application to teach cooking lessons. My contact did come up and say later that afternoon that everyone was noticing what a great job I was doing; that really made me feel good!

I couldn’t wear my chef jacket; it was just too hot and it’s very bulky. And I didn’t have a chance to get my menu printed and laminated; that would have been a great idea. I do that for dinner parties and such, but just ran out of time for this event. Since I wore my chef pants and black T-shirt, with Williams-Sonoma apron, I (luckily) thought at the last minute to paper clip (didn’t have anything else on me!) my business card to the front of my apron. People still thought I worked for W-S, but I was able to tell them no, that I am a personal chef.

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While it was still crowded I was able to pass out my business card to a good handful of people. I didn’t get anyone asking me much about my business so it wasn’t the greatest marketing day, but still, I was out front and chatted to a bunch of folks.

I think any PC who has the opportunity to do cooking demos (even if not paid) at places like Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, or some other store should jump on it! It is a terrific marketing opportunity. Every opportunity I got, I would tell people that I am a personal chef. Surprisingly (to me) I didn’t get a lot of questions about “what is a personal chef.”  Maybe people were too busy shopping or didn’t want to stop. They were, however, interested in the food!

Any time a PC can be in the public eye like this is a golden opportunity and you can make the most of it. Having completed culinary school, I felt fairly confident in what I could do. Plus, I have done many cooking classes and demonstrations before, so confidence isn’t really an issue. You do have to put yourself out there and be gracious, smile, talk to folks, etc.  So, it’s also a good chance for someone who may be a bit on the shy side to get some experience talking in front of a group. I had to read a “culinary book” in school (not a cookbook) and I chose Paula Deen’s “It Ain’t All About the Cooking.” I think that is what applies here. So you can cook, right? We all can, as personal chefs, but when you run your own business, as we do, you have to be able to do it all– marketing, cooking, taking care of your books, figuring out technology and how it can help you, networking, etc.

I would definitely say that all of us PC’s should at least market themselves at high-end cook stores like W-S. I am SO lucky that all this happened and that I had the time.

I heard back from Williams-Sonoma afterwards and they were very pleased with my gig as guest chef. They said they’ll be in touch about my application to work there part-time as cooking instructor. Woo hoo!

Have you been thinking about different ways to market your business? Have you done demos at retailers like Williams-Sonoma?

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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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.

4 Comments »

  1. Did they offer you a discount for teaching the class? I’ve heard some william sonom as offer outside chefs 50% off to come and teach classes for them.

    Comment by Heather — September 18, 2015 @ 3:57 am

  2. I just stumbled upon this post and thought I should reply. I got a call today from Williams-Sonoma to be a guest chef this weekend! I was thrilled and hope it goes well. Just recently graduated from the French Culinary Institute and starting my own business. Thanks for sharing your experience!!

    Comment by Yara — November 9, 2015 @ 4:44 pm

  3. Caron Golden

    Congratulations, Yara! That’s so exciting! Please let us know how it goes for you!

    Comment by Caron Golden — November 9, 2015 @ 4:56 pm

  4. […] Marketing Your Business Through Williams-Sonoma Chef Demos: Member Anne Blankenship explains how she got into doing demos at the retailer and how it works. […]

    Pingback by 2018 is Coming! Are You Ready? | Personal Chef Blog — December 11, 2017 @ 3:44 pm

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