April Lee

Don’t you love the revealing moments people share about themselves that make you admire them all the more? I saw a post APPCA member April Lee shared on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that made me rush out a note to her asking if I could use it as the basis of a post here. Not only did April, owner of Tastefully Yours in the DC-Baltimore area, agree, but she shared even more information for me to put together here for you. I’d like to think of it as the inspiration we all need to do what we can in our communities during this pandemic. So, this is from April:

During this pandemic when it’s become extremely dangerous for older people to go out, I’ve been boxing up meals and delivering them to the senior citizens I know who can benefit from some well-made, nutritious meals. While I and many here are professional personal chefs, anyone can set aside an extra portion or two to offer to others. I have friends who are nurses and first responders. They also need ready-to-eat meals. So, consider reaching out to people you know (this is important as you cannot cook out of your home for strangers because of liability issues and health department regulations). But cooking for friends or acquaintances is fine and very much appreciated now. Just please be extra vigilant in following food safety guidelines when cooking, cooling and storing food. And maintain social distancing.

I wear a mask and gloves always when going out. I call the person to let them know when I’m coming. I call/text again once I arrive (just to make sure they are at home) and then leave the boxed meals in a bag at their front door. I will not leave food if they cannot bring it inside their home as I wave from inside my car.

I’ve been giving free meals to low-income senior citizens and families in my county every week since February of 2017. Because I work out of a leased commercial kitchen, I am able to do this. I would NOT encourage personal chefs who don’t have a commercial kitchen to even try this because it is in violation of all sorts of codes and regulations. Even if you’re giving the food away, you can’t cook out of your own residential kitchen. It’s been a good project for me, a way to use up extra ingredients and not waste anything. Many of my clients found out what I was doing and pay me a little extra to help offset my expenses for the groceries and containers for my “guests” (versus my paying clients). People like the idea of helping their community in a very direct way.

My suggestion for others to set aside portions of their home-cooked meals is because there is such a great need right now for ready-to-eat meals. Senior citizens, especially those who are elder orphans, are particularly vulnerable now because they don’t have family members checking in on them. And, as I said, first responders, nurses, doctors, hospital staff workers (think about all the minimum wage workers who are doing all the janitorial and housekeeping work in these hospitals), all need to eat after working days and shifts on end.

Again, I don’t want to give the impression that people can start providing meals to strangers. They absolutely cannot. HOWEVER, they can set aside a couple of portions of the dinners they are making for friends and acquaintances they know who could benefit from a tasty, nutritious, well-prepared meal. Many of the moms and dads who are still out there working because they must, would appreciate having dinner delivered for their families. Parents who are home with their young children now because daycare and schools are closed are struggling to balance getting their work done, taking care of the kids, helping them with online classes, and tending to household chores. You’d be amazed at just what a batch of freshly made chocolate chip cookies can do for a friend or acquaintance who’s overworked, over stressed, and sleep deprived. There are so many ways we can help and, now is the time for us to share our bounty and our talents with those in need.  Not everyone knows a first responder, but everyone knows someone (probably many someones) who are pushed to their max right now. A prepared dinner is manna from heaven for these pandemic weary folks.

What kinds of service are you providing your community or your extended family these days? Send us your story!

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 or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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How’s everything going? Are you still able to work with clients or have some cancelled for the shelter-at-home duration?

If you’re using this time to make changes in your business, how about staying in your clients’ line of vision–and the vision of potential clients–by sending out a weekly newsletter?

The newsletter could be as simple as a weekly note via email that checks in on your clients, lets them know what’s going on with you (yeah, you’re not all that busy either but perhaps you’re noodling around with new recipes, working in your garden, starting a cookbook…), shares links to health or food news, and perhaps offers a recipe or two. Just design it so that the content is broken up into easily consumable pieces, bold type where useful, along with bullet points and links.

But that same content could also be part of a more designed, formal e-newsletter, using Constant Contact, BenchmarkCampaignMonitor, MailChimp, or some other platform. Depending on your distribution, these could be free to use or modestly priced.

Each offers templates that allow you to pretty easily create a design. You can set up a format that offers a box for any news you want to promote, such as a guest post for this blog, a new Facebook group you’ve launched, volunteer/community work you’re doing, or a new cooking demo you’ve released on YouTube. You could have another that offers a recipe with a photo. If you have a niche service, like cooking for athletes or expectant moms, you could have a section with relevant health news and links to stories with the details. And, of course, you should have a permanent section that describes who you are, where you are, the services you provide, and how to contact you, etc. Fill it with great photos, but keep enough white space in the design so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

When I was still writing my blog, San Diego Foodstuff, I prepared and sent out a weekly e-newsletter using MailChimp to both promote it and my other work as a food writer. I ran an excerpt from the new post on the top left, food community news on the top right (a cookbook author coming to town, classes people I knew were teaching, food events, etc.), and below that a photo and description of my latest story for the San Diego Union-Tribune’s food section with a link to the story. If I had won an award, that was placed on the lower left above the block that had information for how to get in touch with me and then a description of my work. And, of course, I included any advertising I had and a photo of my dogs–because why not? (Also create an easy way for people to unsubscribe because realistically not everyone on your subscription list will want to receive it.)

You should also include any social media links you have: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest.

Why so much information? Because you’re marketing yourself at a time when you need to keep your clients engaged and plant seeds in the minds of potential new ones. Because you may be looking for new opportunities under your personal chef umbrella to teach classes, cater events, write food articles, or be on local television.

You may think, well, I have a half dozen clients. I’m doing fine. Why should I bother writing a weekly newsletter? Well, how about broadening the possibilities and sending it to local news producers, local newspaper editors, or influencers who could help you find new clients or other food-related gigs? If you’re on social media, you can even announce you’re launching a newsletter, describe the type of content you’re planning and encourage people to sign up for it.

These are weird and challenging times. If you and yours are healthy and you can carve out some time, why not design and start sending out a collateral via email that can help you rebound once the world reopens? If you’re concerned about your business, this is another tool in your toolbox to help it come back. And if you’re one of the lucky ones who is still busy, congratulations. But you know you should always be thinking ahead. A weekly newsletter can help you stay at top of mind with those with whom you already have a relationship and launch new relationships with those you want to impress with your skills.

How do you promote your business? Have you been writing a newsletter to clients?

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 or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Dennis Nosko and Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service

Last week APPCA member and friend Christine Robinson wrote a Facebook post that articulated what so many of us are feeling these days–boredom with the routine at home, irritability with the constraints, and yet a total understanding that it was all necessary. So, I asked Christine who, with her partner Dennis Nosko, operates A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service in Boston, Massachusetts, if she’d like a different challenge, guest writing a post for her fellow personal chefs. I’m so glad she embraced this because what she wrote below is so meaningful!

I had heard from a lifelong friend sometime in mid January that she was concerned about this virus popping up in China and had I heard. I researched the rumblings and decided that it would be a good idea to just prepare a little bit (anyone knows my least little bit is over the top) because we all know when you prepare and over plan, nothing happens.

Spanish-Style Chicken Thighs

Needless to say, here we are. We have been in business for 20 years and have seen downturns, trends, situations, busy times, lean times, but everything always balanced out. This, this is one for the history books as we navigate the biggest challenge our world has faced in recent history.

When everything started hitting we made sure to let clients know how vigilant we were and that we understood their fears. We have had about five clients hang on for the duration, all people who stay at home under most circumstances, have some special needs, and have spacious enough homes that we can practice safe distancing and bring in as few items as possible. Cleaning frantically has become the norm and taking our temperatures and announcing numbers has become second nature. We keep in touch with other clients who have taken this time off to email, trade some recipes and just check in with no mention of business concerns, rather human concerns. We love our people and want to see everyone on the other side.

Right now is the time for our best ideas to be put forth, to brainstorm, to get creative.

I started a Facebook page almost a month ago called ChefDemic—we are just over 250 members. We became concerned with people’s abilities to cook from what they had available in their freezers and pantries, and also wanted to address food waste and using what you have on hand. Our intent is to amp up on demo videos (our son bought us a tripod to use for videos) and to move over to a YouTube platform and continue this. The sense of community on the page is very strong and we have regular posts from members showing off their own creations. When we have not been available to offer advice in a timely manner, 10 odd people will address a member’s concern. Much more than the food advice, is the distraction, the humor, and the support for our members has built a wonderful, creative group.

Mixed Vegetable with Cabbage, Peppers, and Broccolini

This has also spurred talk of online cooking class parties or instruction.

We are taking this time at home to rest our minds, deal with our own health, get out and walk, and allow ourselves to fear the uncertainties, while taking some time to regroup mentally. Menus for clients are being revamped, we are cooking for ourselves, concentrating on balanced meals rooted in foods that boost immunity. I have managed to maintain a 20-pound weight loss I started on shortly after my surgery at the end of October and so has Dennis. Documenting this journey could be another direction we explore.

Filling for Burrito Bowl with Bison and Spinach

As far as the future, our plans are to focus on the very cornerstone of the personal chef industry, something we all know, to sense and execute customized food in the safety of the client’s home with attention to quality personally managed for them. I see a trend of gatherings being more special and possibly more frequent as we are all learning to celebrate the little things, as no one wants to miss out on any moment with loved ones  ever again. I envision a time when the RSVP lists are going to be packed with ‘YES! We will be theres,” and fewer, “Can’t make its.” While that may take time, we are willing to rework our model to fit the client needs.

Be well and be safe. You are our people and we love you, too.

How are you coping with sheltering at home. How are you thinking about adjusting your business for the future?

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 or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

 

 

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What Brings You Joy as a Personal Chef?

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , April 6, 2020

As everyone’s all too well aware, we’re caught up in pretty anxious times right now, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. Your clients are so lucky to have you help them through it with delicious and nutritious meals. We also hope those of you who for various reasons aren’t engaged with your clients right now are taking care of yourselves, sheltering at home, and working on new strategies for re-opening your business.

Back in the day, APPCA’s executive director Candy Wallace created this career path to give chefs an alternative to working a restaurant line–to be able to follow their own joy when it comes to working in a kitchen. Being a personal chef enables professionals to create the kind of business that works for them and their lives–to make food that inspires them, to help others, charge fees they deem appropriate for their services, and create their own hours. Some also elect to take on additional, related opportunities, like catering, teaching, and writing, under their personal chef umbrella.

When everything comes together, we find that chefs are creating a life for themselves that brings them joy. It may be the independence of directing their own business. It may come from their clients in the form of appreciation. It may be pride in what they’re accomplishing creatively. Or it’s the grace of knowing they are helping others.

We’re often in conversation about how to do things better–be more efficient, get more clients, update menus. But can we take a moment and share what brings you joy as a personal chef? We don’t talk about that nearly enough and we surely need it now. We asked participants in our Facebook group and business page what about being a personal chef brings them joy. Here’s what they had to say. Sound familiar?

Jennifer M. Grawburg: “When someone really thanks me for bringing joy to their lives whether it’s a memorable birthday or just easing the everyday grind by providing dinners each week. I’m truly thankful for amazing clients.”

Christina Hamilton Snow: “The smile on the face of a client that with my help, lost 90 lbs and is no longer pre diabetic.”

Dennis Nosko and Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor

Christine H. Robinson: “When a tiny child who hates everything likes something I make….”

Natasha Layne: “When we create tasty and healthy dishes it does something to not only our spirit but to the spirit of the person we’re cooking for. I love taking some degree of stress away from a busy family or a person who’s worked a long hard day.”

Debbie J. Elder: “The chance to meet new people from all over. I focus on private dinner parties for visitors to the city.”

Erin Tripp: “The freedom to work by myself, when I can… and receiving accolades at the end of the night, isn’t so bad either! 

Jim Huff: “Just this week I was stuck at a client’s home waiting for a towing service (stupid chef trick I locked my keys in the car) my client, who I haven’t seen in two months as he started new job, felt so bad for me he offered to heat up some “delicious food” and join him for dinner! Of course he was referring to what I had cooked for him that day! 

Judy Harvey: “My senior clients that look forward to the food, but more so of me sharing 4 hours with them.”

Shelbie Wassel

Shelbie Hafter Wassel: “When a client, two weeks ago gave me a bottle of wine from his collection… retails at $325. Gulp!”

Evangeline Kochanek: “Seeing clients become healthier and feel better 

Julie Handwerker Cicero: “When my client tells me I got her eat vegetables!”

Cammie Read: “When I get texts like ‘I’m sitting here enjoying my children while your food bakes. Thank you for giving me this time’ or when an overwhelmed mom is faced with so many allergies to eliminate and texts ‘thank you for taking his allergies and still creating food for us without missing a beat. You rock!’ I am honored to cook for so many wonderful families. My favorite one from a client ‘i appreciate you.’ It means so much to just feel appreciated.”
Heather Raymond McFadden: “I love when I get the chance to see my clients enjoy the healthy food I make. Their expressions say more than any words 
At APPCA we love that we can support all personal chefs achieve their goals and find joy in their work. Please let us know if there’s something we can do to help you, especially now!
What brings you joy as a personal chef? What do you hope to achieve in the future?

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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So, what week of the coronavirus shut down are we in? I’m losing track. How about you? What I do know is that many of us have lost work and are trying to hold things together–both financially and emotionally. So, here’s a suggestion: put your talent to work in a different way and hold online cooking classes.

Already I’m hearing about APPCA members trying this out. In fact, member Shelbie Hafter Wassel shot me a message inviting me to take a look at her new video on Facebook, which she later uploaded to YouTube, shot by her husband Jerry. Here she offers a couple of recipes for making fish. Check it out!

So, here’s what I’m thinking. You have clients. You have recipes. You may have limited access to groceries but no doubt you have a fridge and freezer packed with food. Why not learn to use a new technology while you have some down time, engage your current clients, social media promote the heck of your video classes to get new ones when this crisis ends–and maybe even make some money while you’re at it?

Money? You can earn money making a video? Well, there are at least half a dozen platforms that could enable you to earn some money holding online cooking classes. Let’s discuss.

Skype: You probably are already familiar with Skype. So, why not use it for an interactive online cooking class? You can charge a fee and share recipes for the class ahead of time so your participants can follow along. Maybe you teach a knife skills class with recipes based on various skills you teach. Or perhaps you create a meal kit for clients and include this interactive online class to teach them how to use it?

Google Hangouts Chat: You can do the same thing on Google Hangouts Meet as with Skype. Take a look at this invite from San Diego chef Jason Roehm, who regularly teaches via this platform. The class is live, followed by recipes. He charges $25 for a two-hour class and sells the tickets via a link to Eventbrite.

Patreon: Here’s how this website describes itself: “Patreon powers membership businesses for creators by giving them the tools they need to acquire, manage, and energize their paying patrons. With a subscription-style payment model, fans pay their favorite creators a monthly amount of their choice in exchange for exclusive access, extra content, or a closer look into their creative journey.”

As The Street describes it, “Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables fans (or patrons) to pay and support artists for their work. For producers of videos, webcomics, music, podcasts and more, Patreon is a way to earn extra money on what might otherwise be free content, and allows fans to contribute to their favorite artist’s platform.”

The site allows creators to set up monthly, subscription-style payment tiers. Creators can also charge an upfront payment instead–and that remains permanent. Your “patrons” can join by creating an account and pledging money to you, with subscription options sorted by different payment tiers or per-post options for content. According to their site, Patreon takes 5% of the amount paid to creators in fees. Creators keep some 90% of their revenues, with an additional 5% going to transaction fees.

Vēmos: Vēmos allows creators to host interactive classes that enable participate to engage with you. You can sell tickets to attend your virtual class to earn income from your home. Vēmos uses Stripe Connect. This allows ticket sales to be deposited directly into your account as soon as sales role in. They don’t charge a monthly subscription fee. Instead, a 10 percent fee is added to the consumer buying the ticket, with a maximum fee of $9.95 per ticket. You select the price point for each ticket for the class. Vēmos has a step-by-step guide for starting an event.

Zoom: I hate to say it, but if you haven’t heard of Zoom in the last few weeks you’ve been living under a rock (and probably safer there). Zoom has become the default platform for video conferencing for the coronavirus shelter at home worker. But why not make it work for you for earning some money with virtual cooking classes? It’s free. It’s easy to sign up. Perhaps use Eventbrite to sell tickets and then you can round up your students at the time you teach the class.

Now you may not make a ton of money doing this, but every little bit can help. Plus, you learn a new tool and can flex your muscles working on a new angle to promote yourself and your business.

Have you started doing video cooking classes? What’s your experience been like?

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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In the coming weeks, Candy and I will be working to developing suggestions for ways in which you can keep yourselves whole during this coronavirus shutdown. We know many of you are worried about how to make ends meet. Here’s what Candy had to say this week:

First things first. I suggest that APPCA members file for a Small Business relief loan immediately. Here’s how to get the information. Contact all of your monthly financial obligations including cellphone carriers, internet providers, all utilities, car loan holders, landlords/mortgage lenders, and student loan lenders, for example, to see what kind of disaster relief they are offering.

On our Facebook group page, member Holly Verbeck shared her experience with contacting every business she has bills with:

“DROP your personal and business expenses QUICKLY!

I’m adjusting NOW to the fact business/income will be down for 90 days or so.

I just got off the phone with every company I pay a bill to.

– Verizon ‘suspended’ my account for 30 days (=ZERO due this month w/ no changes to my service!!)

– NY Times dropped my paper subscription by HALF for one YEAR!

– my utility company dropped my bill by 20% for one YEAR!

– Sirius XM dropped my bill by 30% for one YEAR!

The list goes on…

I’m dropping all my expenses and haven’t reduced services!

This makes it a helluva lot easier to pay the mortgage!

Call…call now…call everyone, chef. Ask them what they can do to help reduce your payments while your business is impacted! And SHARE your results with other chefs!!”

Then, how best can we serve our current client base and/or secure new income stream sources? With all the restaurant closings chefs all over the country and restaurants have converted to production cooking and either pick up or delivery from licensed commercial kitchens.

However, your client base relies upon and appreciates the personal commitment and custom designed programs designed by and provided by their personal chef. Members with access to commercial space can convert to 100 percent delivery to avoid exposure for their clients and for themselves. Come up with promotions you can afford to do to spark more interest. Perhaps an extra dish with meals? A discount on a future catering gig?

Adding on or providing separate services like shopping for clients, if feasible in your city, could provide income.

The biggest challenge for personal chefs right now is securing product. You may find that your usual local markets are out of your usual items because of the panic run by customers. While this is likely temporary–officials stress there is no shortage of food–it can be inconvenient right now. Here are some options:

  • I found that shopping for produce with the closure of the farmers markets in our area was a challenge (although in San Diego the Little Italy Mercato just announced a limited market with stringent entrance rules).  I turned to Chefs Garden, which delivers fresh-picked, customer-selected amazing produce via FedEx in a cooled shipping carton.
  • Check in with local farms to learn if they are creating CSAs to sell their produce. If you haven’t heard of them, CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Many farms have subscription CSAs. You sign up and then pick up or have delivered a box of the farm’s produce weekly or every other week. Farms that usually sell directly to restaurants are now instead opting to sell directly to customers. So find out if this is an option in your locale.
  • Contact farms directly or go to their Facebook page to learn if they are holding temporary farm stands.
  • If your city has a restaurant warehouse, a Costco Business Center, or wholesale markets–not just for produce but also seafood and other proteins–find out if you can buy from them.
  • I’ve seen on Facebook offers from people who participate in community gardens make offers to the general public to share produce. Check this out.

If you have encountered other options, please share them with us below! Or contact Caron at caron@goldenwriting.com so she can share them.

What changes are you making to your business to adapt? What could you use help with?

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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We Can Do This!

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , March 16, 2020

How’re you doing? Coping with the chaos? Our chef members are the rocks of their communities. In times of disruption there may be nothing more important than to have focus, a strategy, pragmatism, and, yes, optimism. Every state and locale is experiencing this coronavirus pandemic differently so far but what we have in common is to critical mandate to protect ourselves and our society by following CDC guidelines and keeping up with federal, state, and local direction.

APPCA’s founder and executive director Candy Wallace has been through tumultuous periods before–from recessions to 9/11 to other pandemics. Naturally, she has a great perspective on what we’re going through now and advice for member chefs.

I have been struggling with this situation, like you, for weeks, watching it evolve so that I could offer realistic recommendations and suggestions to support our personal chef members.

This is even more challenging than the financial challenges of 2008 with the gravity of a global pandemic. Safety from contagion is paramount. Peace of mind, professional leadership, and stability are vital to prevent panic. Personal chef clients hire us because they need/want our assistance and guidance, so how can we continue to be useful in the present situation?

Let’s address first what we are dealing with: A fear of food source instability that’s causing panic buying, fear of exposure, and a lack of comprehensive information and/or direction from our government to name a few. Let’s not forget anxiety and the collapse of our way of life when it comes to employment, healthcare, education, sports/entertainment outlets, and organized face-to-face religious support and worship.

Let’s be honest. We are in a state of chaos where the parameters change with the fluidity of liquid mercury so the ability to adapt service for clients while remaining safe is the quandary.

What do we know with certainty at this point?  Not much. But this is no time to panic. We’re smart; we’re resourceful. And we’re among the luckiest of our citizens. So, let’s make use of it. How? Think of this period as a time to prepare, do your best to help clients and your families, and plan for the future–because this will resolve and life as we knew it will resume.

I have no doubt that when the chaos settles and the fear factor is reduced, personal chefs are going to be a big part of the recovery process and an enormous asset for a population that wants to get well and maintain  a healthy lifestyle. So stay in touch with your current and past clients, offer services that don’t put you in any jeopardy, and be a resource of advice and tips on being safe in their home kitchens in an epidemic and they will rely on you in the future.

What do I advise?

  • Wait. Watch. Pay attention. Rest. Exercise. Eat well. Keep safe. Remain calm.
  • Prepare to react quickly when we have real and reliable information.
  • Use this opportunity to update your recipe files and develop new healthy recipes.
  • Help current clients by updating them on ways to stay safe and offer support through communication and information.
  • Use social media to communicate your presence and commitment to the well-being of your clients and your community. Post current information impacting resources that impact your specific area so they will turn to you as a reliable source of information and support.
  • Stay in touch with your professional colleagues to glean and share information, suggestions and support.
  • Stay in touch with us–we have our forums and Facebook page and group that are all great resources for sharing information and comparing notes.

Let’s face it, our world is changing. We are in what I refer to as a breakdown across the board of Epic Proportions, and yes, I intentionally capitalized those last two words. We must be part of the equally Epic BREAKTHROUGH that is on the other side of this dreadful current reality.

In order to survive as professional personal chefs and rebuild our businesses and industry we must choose to be part of the change, be able to adapt and address the realities that are in the process of revealing themselves, and act quickly implementing a new service model when we have enough real information to determine direction.

In the next week stay safe, rest, reflect and recharge your batteries. And be sure to let us know what you need from us and keep us posted on what’s happening in your community!

Are you still able to work with clients? What kinds of challenges are you facing and how are you resolving them?

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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Asparagus Season is Almost Here!

Filed under: Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , March 9, 2020

When you were a kid were the food seasons really seasons? Did you have to wait for summer for tomatoes and corn? For fall for apples and chestnuts? For winter for citrus and root veggies? And for spring for asparagus and artichokes?

It seems that with our global economy comes global accessibility year-round to otherwise seasonal food–unless you’re committed to cooking and eating locally. That means that for many of us we can have what we want when we want it, as long as we’re willing to eat food shipped from other countries.

But wasn’t the anticipation of the first of the season produce or seafood or even flowers pretty thrilling? So, here it is March and while I can certainly find asparagus in my local supermarket and Trader Joe’s somehow its appearance at my farmers market or in the display areas for the seasonal produce just makes me happier and more eager to take it home to cook. And it’s almost time!

Back in the day, asparagus was exotic and pricey. At least pricey for my family. I may have first discovered them in their canned form, which is so not a winning introduction. Canned asparagus is overcooked and kind of slimy. But fresh asparagus! Oh, that’s another matter entirely. Especially grilled or broiled.

Now over the years two questions about asparagus persist:

1. Pencil thin or thick? (As if my preferred medium girth weren’t an option.)
2. Eat with your fingers or your fork?

I’d love to know your favorite way to prepare them and hope you’ll share them below. The way I enjoy them the most requires medium girth and a fork at the table–because I cut the asparagus into two-inch pieces. You see, I love them sautéed in olive oil and garlic, before being caramelized by lemon juice, and tossed with toasted sesame seeds and sea salt.

This is the simplest of dishes and yet, to me, is all about the asparagus and how well it marries with each of these few ingredients.

Here’s how it goes down: Wash the asparagus and then snap off the tough, woody bottom end. Slice into two-inch pieces (or as close as you can get). Mince a couple of cloves of garlic. Lightly toast a couple of teaspoons of white sesame seeds. Get a nice juicy slice of lemon (I use Meyer lemons from my garden but a conventional lemon is fine, too).

Now pull out your favorite sauté pan and place it on the stove over medium high heat. To be honest, I have a Scanpan wok that I’ve had forever. I rarely use it for Asian cooking (I have a “real” wok for that) but love to sauté veggies in the Scanpan wok because the flat bottom perfectly fits one of my ceramic stove’s front burners and the swooping sides give me more cooking room.

Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and let it heat up a bit, then add the garlic. Once you can smell the garlic’s aroma, add the asparagus. Stir it in to coat with the oil and garlic.

Then be patient and let the asparagus cook for a couple of minutes. Stir and let it sit some more. It takes about six minutes for the asparagus to show signs of browning. You don’t want it overcooked, just a little seared. Then add the lemon juice. Stir and let the juice reduce and caramelize the asparagus. The garlic will turn into brown bits that actually are delicious, not to mention crunchy. Sprinkle the asparagus with sea salt, then toss in the sesame seeds. Mix well. That’s it. Time to plate it.

Sautéed Asparagus with Garlic, Lemon Juice, and Sesame Seeds
Serves 2

Ingredients
2 dozen medium-width asparagus spears (about a pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
Juice from 1/4 lemon
Sea salt to taste

Directions
1. Wash and trim the asparagus to remove the woody bottom. Slice into two-inch pieces.
2. Heat a sauté pan over medium high and add minced garlic. Once you can smell the garlic, add the asparagus. Stir to coat the asparagus with the oil and garlic. Then let it sit for a couple of minutes. Stir and let it sit some more. Continue to stir a couple of more times until the asparagus starts to brown–about six minutes.
3. Add the lemon juice. Stir and let the juice reduce and caramelize the asparagus. Sprinkle with sea salt and stir in the sesame seeds. Serve.

What spring food are you waiting, waiting, waiting for? And how do you love to prepare asparagus?

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Squash blossoms

Winter doldrums, menu malaise… It’s easy to get into a cooking rut. But it’s just as easy to get out of one, too. Especially with spring around the corner. Produce seems prettier and more inviting that basic root veggies. There’s color outside and more color in the markets.

I asked our Facebook page followers what they do when they’re feeling the need for some inspiration for new dishes, techniques, and menus. What is their inspiration? And I got a variety of options to share with you:

  • “I watch Fast Forward cooking shows,” responded Cherylanne Farley. “The Kitchn always has good ideas techniques.”
  • “The Barnes and Noble bargain cookbook area,” is member Carol Borchardt’s inspiration. “Pinterest. Old magazines because everything that is old can be made new again.”
  • “Tasting Table, Plate magazine or Pinterest are my go to’s,” said Jennifer M. Grawburg.
  • “Pinterest,” is Suzy D. Brown’s source of inspiration.

Media, of course, is a great source for food-related ideas. Social media is awash in food images and video. And you should certainly subscribe to daily newsletters that arrive in your email’s inbox from Epicurious, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, Well Done, Cooking Light, the Kitchn, ProChef SmartBrief, and MyRecipes–just to name some of the most obvious. So are the vast array of cooking shows on PBS, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

Marcus Samuelsson learning how to make noodles in Las Vegas

But sometimes you need to get your head out of your computer or device and get out. A recent PBS series that puts out there just how inspirational a hometown can be is chef Marcus Samuelsson’s “No Passport Required.” His second season just concluded but you can find the episodes on demand or the PBS website. Lucky you if you’re from Boston or LA, Philadelphia or Seattle or Houston. Most cities have enclaves of different ethnic groups and watching No Passport Required should give you the itch to explore your city’s Armenian neighborhood, or Filipino or Nigerian or Italian.

Yes, I recognize the irony of suggesting a TV show to get outside. So get outside. You may think you’ve hit all the hot spots of your town but there may be other towns nearby to explore.

Learning from a kind family at next table how to add egg to a Soon Tofu dish at BCD Tofu House in L.A.’s Koreatown.

I asked a chef I know in San Diego what she does when she’s looking for inspiration. She goes on food tours of the city–in San Diego or wherever she happens to be. They take her to markets, restaurants, food stalls, and street vendors. There she can try new flavors, ask questions, and develop ideas for new dishes. I’ve done this myself in San Diego, Los Angeles’s Koreatown, San Francisco, Paris, Quebec City, Vancouver, and Montreal. It can explode your mind and lead to an exciting new approach to your menu.

If you’re not in an area where organized food tours are available, how about gathering up a few friends and day trip somewhere close by? Take a bus or train or carpool to a nearby city for a day of markets and food from another culture? Bring a notebook, take photos, and ask lots of questions of chefs and shoppers? See something you don’t recognize in a bin? Ask someone making a selection about how to use it and how to pick the best quality.

Green almonds from a Middle Eastern market in San Diego

And, if you can’t leave town and you have several different kinds of markets in your town or city, turn that into a day trip and enjoy your region’s diverse offerings. Mark Dietz told us on Facebook he swears by markets as inspiration.

What if your inspiration needs to come from a very specific practitioner? Let’s say you’re interested in taking on cooking for clients with a specific dietary need. Sure, you can turn to the Internet and Pinterest, etc. But how about reaching out to professionals–dietitians or nutritionists, for instance–who can give you some ways you can incorporate specific foods into dishes? Maybe you can have a cook date to learn techniques?

It all comes down to how eager you are to come up with novel resources that ignite that spark of change. Just getting a fresh perspective from another chef or an aisle of gorgeous spring vegetables may send you racing back to your kitchen, eager to develop a new recipe or two for clients.

What’s your inspiration when you are in a culinary rut? 

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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Honey Skillet Chicken Thighs

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 25, 2020

Chefs are nothing if not creative, but sometimes every cook can get into a rut. And there may be nothing that induces a rut more than your basic roasted chicken. We like what we like. We’ve figured out our perfect technique and favorite ingredients and it’s just an easy go to.

But how about dialing it up a little with a slightly different approach, if not for clients perhaps for yourself? As in a skillet chicken with a finger-licking sauce?

This would certainly work for any piece of chicken–including a whole cut up chicken–but I’m partial to thighs. I love their moistness and flavor.

Since I like to caramelize chicken skin with honey on occasion we start here with honey, along with garlic–such a great pairing. To offset the honey’s sweetness I use anchovies. I have a large tin of salted Sicilian anchovies and they’re perfect to mince with the garlic. Meyer lemons are in season this time of year so clearly they, too, factor in.


Finally, butter. Yeah, butter, browned and foamy and nutty. That pulls it all together.

Making this dish isn’t just a matter of throwing the ingredients together and shoving the pan in the oven to bake for awhile. Nope, you have to hover over the stove to build the flavors.

So, pull out your reliable cast iron skillet and add a tablespoon of unsalted butter. While the butter melts over the heat, season the chicken thighs with a little salt and pepper. Then, with butter sizzling, place the thighs into the skillet to sear, skin side down first, then turned to cook for a few more minutes. Remove, along with most of the pan juices, which you can discard (the juices, not the chicken, of course). Add just a bit more butter to the skillet, scraping up the bits, and gradually the stirred butter foams and browns. To that add the honey, stirring it to get it to dissolve, then the garlic and anchovies. Now don’t make a face. The anchovies are fairly indiscernible in the dish, but create this lovely underlying salty umami.

Once the aroma becomes this side of mouth watering, add the lemon juice. Now you’ve got sweet, salty, and tart in a molten sauce. That’s when you add the chicken back to the pan skin side up and continue cooking, spooning some of that sauce over the chicken to baste. You’ll cover the pan to finish it up before running the skillet under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp the skin.

And that’s it. For the effort, you get tender, juicy chicken bathed in one of the best sauces you’ll ever love. Serve it over rice. Serve it over greens. I chose arugula for the spiciness. Then spoon the sauce over it all and swoon a bit.

Honey Skillet Chicken Thighs with Meyer Lemon, Garlic, and Anchovies

Ingredients

4 chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons honey
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 anchovies, minced
Juice from 1 lemon

Instructions

Preheat your oven to broil.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a 12-inch oven-proof pan or cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. While the butter melts, season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.

Sear chicken thighs, skin side down first, until the skin is crispy. Turn and sear again until golden. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the pan juices. Transfer chicken to a warm plate.

Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan or skillet the chicken was seared in over medium heat, scraping any bits left over in the pan from the chicken with a spatula. Stir the butter and swirl the pan occasionally for about 3 minutes as the butter changes color to golden brown and has a nutty fragrance.

Add the honey and stir it into the butter to dissolve. Then add in the garlic and anchovies. Sauté for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the lemon juice. Stir well to create a well-blended sauce.

Return the chicken thighs skin side up to the pan with the sauce. Cook for 5 minutes uncovered in the sauce, occasionally basting the skin with the pan juices. Reduce heat to simmer, cover the skillet with a lid, and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Use a thermometer to measure the doneness. It will be fully cooked at 165 degrees F.

Remove the lid and transfer the skillet to your oven to broil for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the tops of the chicken are nicely charred. Then remove from oven.

Serve over rice or a plate of arugula. Drizzle sauce over the chicken and rice/arugula.

Have you recently been in a chicken rut? How did you change things up?

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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