When did you get your start in the kitchen? Personal chef and APPCA member Suzy Dannette Brown of The Brown Bag Personal Chef in Felton, Calif., wishes she had photos of herself at age four when she first started cooking. “I come from a long line of cooks,” she says. “In fact, my great grandmother had a cooking show in Montana–long before Julia Child.”

Suzy 1 (2)

Suzy’s first job was as a busboy at age 16 at the Ridgemark Country Club in Hollister, Calif., where she was raised. In less than a year she’d worked her way up to third cook on the line. Ambitious, she manned the snack bar before school, then hustled back after school to cook. On Sundays she’d work brunch, take a few hours off, and then return to run the dinner crew. That stopped when a new chef was hired who didn’t like women in the kitchen.

Suzy's unofficial debut at 16 as a "personal chef"

Suzy’s unofficial debut at 16 as a “personal chef”

While she’d intended to go to culinary school, she did what she thought was practical and ended up going to college for her degree in architectural computer-aided design, or CAD, and then got a series of corporate jobs. But that ended in 2006 and she returned to her true love, the kitchen.

“I decided life is short and I wanted to get back to cooking. I thought I wanted to launch a catering company, but while doing research I stumbled across APPCA. I ordered some of their books. I met Candy (Wallace) and I liked the program. I fell in love with everybody and haven’t looked back. Now I run a personal chef business serving Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Monterey, and San Benito counties in Northern California.”

Long self taught, Suzy decided to take culinary classes at her local junior college and when she took a nutrition class she had her “aha” moment. “That’s when I knew what my direction would be,” she says. Time wasn’t her friend when it came to going the traditional route for her BA, so she enrolled in the Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts, which allows her to go to school remotely. When she finishes in December, she’ll be certified as a holistic nutrition consultant.

A variety of Suzy's dishes

A variety of Suzy’s dishes

Building her business didn’t come easily. She admits she struggled for the first few years. “But then it just turned around and exploded my fourth year and it’s been a crazy train,” she laughs. She attributes a lot of her success to avid networking and promotion.

“Networking is extremely important but not all groups will work for you,” she acknowledges. “You have to take the dollar signs out of your eyes and realize that our business is about building relationships first. If you continue to show up and be a part of your networking group and take yourself out of it by helping others, it’ll come back to you. The important thing is to get your name out there and be generous with referrals. Offer to do market cooking demos. Donate dinners at fundraisers.”

Suzy loves being a personal chef mostly because she likes the people she works for. “I enjoy visiting with them and being a part of their family–because in doing this work I become an extended part of the family. I appreciate helping clients with dietary needs and restrictions. That’s why the nutritionist component is so compelling to me. Plus, it’s broadened my spectrum of cooking.

“I love having something different to do everyday,” she says. “Being a personal chef is great because I get to follow my own path.”

Suzy has given us her calzone recipe below:

Vegetable Calzones
From Suzy Dannette Brown
Yield: 3 calzones

Basic Pizza Dough
1 package yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
8 ounces warm water, 110°
1 cup whole grain flour (I use spelt or wheat)
1cup all purpose flour (I use Einkorn)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
¼ cup of favorite fresh chopped herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, chives)
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a small bowl or measuring cup dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Let stand until bubbly, about 10 minutes.

In a food processor pulse flours, spices, and herbs four to five times to combine all ingredients. Add olive oil to yeast mixture. While processor is running pour yeast mixture in slowly and with a steady stream until a dough ball forms.

Turn dough out on a well-floured surface. Knead just enough to combine dough into a nice ball. Rub with olive oil and place in a clean bowl. Cover with a tea towel, place in a warm spot, and let it rise.

Basic Pizza Sauce:
1 medium onion, chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, left whole
5 to 6 medium tomatoes, quartered (I love Kumatos or Cherokee Chocolates)
½ cup Fume Blanc
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (I will use a 18 year)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon or so dry oregano
Pinch or so of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste<
Fresh basil

Rough chop onion and toss in a large sauce pan that has olive oil heated over medium heat. Caramelize onion until golden brown. Toss in garlic and continue to sauté.

Add tomatoes and wine. Deglaze pot. Let tomatoes and onions continue to cook until they break down and a sauce starts to form. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and oregano.

Place tomato sauce in food processor. Add tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and a handful of fresh basil. Pulse until well combined and smooth. Set aside.<

Note: If sauce seems a bit loose for pizza sauce, place back into pot and reduce down to desired consistency.

Basic Vegetable Calzone Filling:
10 ounces (284g) fresh spinach cooked down and squeezed free of water
12 ounces (170g) artichoke hearts, chopped
2 to 3 small zucchini, sliced into 1/4” half moons, slightly sautéed to help remove moisture
1 large red onion, sliced and caramelized in olive oil
Feta: I use a goat/sheep
Fresh mozzarella, grated
Manchego or any of your favorite hard cheeses, grated

Making calzone

To make calzone:
Preheat oven to 500° F. Divide dough into three balls and roll out into circles. Spoon some sauce on dough. Add enough mozzarella to cover 1/2 of the dough.

Layer vegetables on cheese. Top with an ounce or two of feta and mozzarella. Fold over and seal. Create a hole on the top to release steam.

Brush with olive oil, manchego cheese, salt and pepper. Bake on a pizza stone at 500° for 12 to 15 minutes.

Note: For a client, par cook for about 8 minutes. just enough to get the dough firm. Remove from the oven and let cool. Then package for freezing. They freeze better par cooked than fully cooked.


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Caron Golden


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. Avatar

    I had the pleasure of working with Suzy during her “corporate” days. So happy to see the hard work and determination that she demonstrated then now paying off in so many tangible and intangible ways. Awesome!

    Comment by Dave Alexander — March 18, 2014 @ 1:28 pm

  2. Avatar

    I have become a better cook, more nutritiously conscience, better at food and beverage pairing since Suzy began this portion of her career. She is gifted in the kitchen, and has a true passion for those who suffer from food related allergies and diseases.

    Comment by Carole Appling — March 18, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

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