What is a recipe? According to the ginormous reference on one of my bookshelves, The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language, recipe is first defined as “A set of directions with a list of ingredients for making or preparing something, especially food.”

But the second definition is just as interesting: “A formula for or means to a desired end.”

The question is are recipes written in stone or a template for a concept for a dish? Let’s set aside baking–which requires fairly strict adherence to a recipe to result in a bread with the right texture, a cake with the right crumb, etc. How closely do you adhere to a recipe you got from your grandma, chose in a cookbook, or found online?  Do you stick to it the first time to see how it works and riff from there? Based on your expertise, can you see flaws in the ingredient amounts and make adjustments? And how do you expect others to use your recipes?

What does a recipe mean to you?

Eater recently ran an article by Navneet Alang that wrestled with this. Alang points out that cooking is an act of care and that following a recipe can be ritualistic, “the practice of repeating established, sequential steps a comfort when the world feels uncertain.” He likens it to received wisdom or repositories of knowledge. And,  he explains, “There is a reason recipes are passed down from generation to generation.”

APPCA member Lola Dee says, “I have a very difficult time sticking to recipes, I tend to tweak everything and substitute ingredients, using what I have. I think if you use the recipe as a guideline and apply correct methods you can come up with some delicious breakthroughs. However, if you’re cooking institutionally or for a restaurant, you do have to stick to the recipes for consistency, costing, etc.”

I know I can relate to this. I, too, am a recipe tweaker, although with recipes using a technique unfamiliar to me, I tend to follow them precisely the first time to learn.

But an experienced, confident home cook or chef can take the essence of a recipe and turn it into a dish that doesn’t just make do with the ingredients we have or can source–an issue we’ve faced through the pandemic. Their massage of the recipe can be an act of creativity, a way of imprinting oneself on a dish. Or, of course, a adaptive way to address dietary restrictions. We look at a recipe’s construction to learn where to build flavor, how to build body, how to transform texture. We are taking a basic melody and essential instruments and coming up with our own orchestration.

Essentially, the recipe transforms from a directive to a template. A happy guidepost to our own destination.

As personal chef, food blogger, and recipe developer Gina Bean explains:

“Recipe writing is a skill… A good recipe has its place, for sure. But, cooks should make dishes the way they, and their diners, like them.”

What is your approach to using recipes and writing them? Are they set in stone or a template for creativity?

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!

 

It’s been a few months since the country locked down. That means we’ve had some time to rethink how we go about serving clients–and if we’re serving clients.

Brian Kasten of the Supper Solution in Vermont and an APPCA member explains, “When I saw this coming I secured a commercial kitchen that was unused and have done a temporary transition for those clients I have that are immune compromised. One day a week I work out of this kitchen to cover those clients and I am the only one allowed in… Plus I spend two hours re-sanitizing before any equipment is moved in. And then afterwards.”

Kathy Dederich of Chef, Please! in Arkansas and also an APPCA member recounts, “We have a man here who was in the process of opening a restaurant…his plans are on hold, but he’s cooking in a church kitchen for the community. The church pays for the food, but they accept donations. In a twist of fate, the American Legion hall decided to sell their building and, rather than build out the initial space he had selected, he’s hoping to take over the hall…which is a much nicer facility. Talk about serendipity!”

On June 3, 2020, Eater published a story about how New York’s fine dining chefs have done a 180 and have been starting entrepreneurial home businesses. Alejandra Nicolon, laid off as a pastry chef from Eleven Madison Park, is now making bagels with her husband Andre Lev Pavlik, formerly sou chef at Tom Colicchio’s FiDi restaurant Temple Court. Daniel Burns, from closed, Michelin-starred restaurant Luksus, is making meals. Kate Telfeyan, formerly the chef de cuisine at Mission Chinese Food is not only making dishes like cumin-spiced lamb and kimchi stew, but she’s delivering them herself by bike.

As a personal chef, you probably find this sounds familiar and perhaps not quite kosher.

“We developed the personal chef concept almost 30 years ago specifically to provide a legitimate alternative career path for professional culinary workers who found it difficult or impossible to work in traditional commercial kitchen situations yet chose to support their families using their culinary skill and expertise,” explains APPCA founder and executive director Candy Wallace. “We worked with state and city governments to develop a template to assist chefs and cooks in setting up and operating legitimate, successful businesses as personal and private chefs which meant operating within the safety and licensing requirements of their particular municipalities so the industry could grow and contribute to the benefit of clients who required or desired the service and the financial stability of the chef owner/operator.”

Candy points out that food preparation in residential kitchens being delivered to client’s homes or businesses is illegal in all 50 states in the U.S. Operating with a municipal or State business license, specific local Food Sanitation certification and Specific General Liability Insurance coverage is also required.

So, if you’re not already a personal chef and certified, please, she says, pay attention to these important requirements before you proceed.

“In our current reality of the Covid-19 virus, cooking for clients in your home or their home at this time is dangerous from a potential virus transfer standpoint but also from a legal vulnerability standpoint. If any of your clients or their extended family members become sick, you are a big target,” Candy emphasizes. “If you have no liability insurance coverage, you are cooked. If the health department or city administration departments in your city or state choose to pursue you, they will, and you will find yourself in a morass of red tape that will prevent your being able to open another business.

“Please think before you act.”

Candy suggests that instead you locate a licensed commercial kitchen and deliver safely and legally from it. Protect yourselves by being aware of local requirements and cover your bases.

“I have been a professional chef, author, educator and advocate for many years, and have dedicated my life to the industry I love,” Candy says. “Please be careful, keep safe, be strong, and be kind, support your colleagues, and most of all, be proud of your craft.”

What have you been doing with your business since the lockdown? Have you discovered some useful workarounds to serve 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!

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!

 

Over the years one thing I’ve learned from APPCA executive director Candy Wallace is how important client care is. By nature Candy is someone who is generous to others and loves surprising them with treats. But she’s also a smart businesswoman–and letting clients know how special they are to you is an important aspect of successfully running your business.

That’s why this time of year I like to offer ideas and recipes for edible gifts that you can make to give to clients for the holidays. Whether you make them or use them as inspiration for treasures you dream up, it should be a pleasure to offer a token of your appreciation you know your clients will enjoy, along with a sweet note that expresses that appreciation and your excitement about working with them in the coming year. And it’s also a smart gesture to make to potential clients you’re trying to win over.

The treat I’m offering you this week is something you can make now and store away for a couple of months. Pickles, of course, are a delight to many. These pickled watermelon gherkins are very special, if only because they’re so compellingly unusual. I got this recipe from my friend chef Kelli Crosson of A.R. Valentien in La Jolla, California, who I first made them with to give out at a big annual fall food event, Celebrate the Craft.

First, something about watermelon gherkins. These heirloom gherkins are known by numerous names, including Mouse Melons, Mexican sour gherkins, Cucamelons, and Cuka-Nuts. They’re treated as cucumbers, but technically they’re a different genus so they’re more like “honorary” cukes. They’re tiny, about the size of a grape, and look just like ultra-mini watermelons. They’re terrific for pickling, but you can enjoy them raw, add them to a salsa, or even to a cocktail. The question, of course, will be if you can find them in your city or town. If you have a specialty market that services restaurants, that would be the first place to look. And farmers markets, since farmers across the country do grow them. But hurry, as the weather co0ls, they’ll become harder to find this season.

Start, of course, with sterilized half-pint glass jars and lids. Then begin adding the herbs and spices. Slice and distribute the serrano chiles. Then add the little gherkins, followed by a classic pickle brine of water, distilled white vinegar, sugar, and kosher salt that has been brought to a boil.

(And if you’re a pickling geek, check out this stainless steel confectionary funnel I use to inject the water/vinegar mixture into the jars. It gives so much control with hot liquids!) Screw on the lids and place the jars into a water bath. Once they cool, label the jars and store in a cool, dark pantry until you’re ready to gift them.

Pickled Watermelon Gherkins are itty bitty flavor balls–crispy with a little saltiness, a hint of clove, and a pleasing hit of heat on the palate.

Pickled Watermelon Gherkins
from Kelli Crosson of A.R. Valentien

Makes 2 pints

1/2 pound watermelon gherkins, washed with stems removed
1 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 serrano chile, halved
4 garlic cloves
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1. Wash and sterilize two pint jars and lids, per manufacturer instructions.
2. In a non-reactive saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar to a boil.
3. Meanwhile, divide the serrano, garlic, clove, bay leaf, mustard seed, and peppercorns between the jars, and pack with the watermelon gherkins.
4. Pour hot brine over the gherkins, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace.
5. Close the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
6. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for at least two weeks before eating the pickles. After opening, store in the refrigerator.

What do you make for clients–or potential clients–for the holidays? 

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!

This falls under the category of “there’s no proof but it just feels right:” Talented cooks love to share what they do. They are often innate teachers.

If I’m wrong, forgive me. But if you’re a personal chef and you find yourself instructing your kids or friends in the kitchen… well… And perhaps you should consider releasing that inner teacher to the world–and earn some money while doing it.

Not sure if this is your thing or if you’ve got game? Round up some friends for a cooking session and try it out. Then find an organization that could use a volunteer to teach kids cooking or teach adults in transition for housing. I’ve done both, bringing an understanding of how to cook low-cost but healthy meals, complete with recipes and it was very satisfying.

With that under your belt you could go in several directions.

APPCA member Shelbie Hafter Wassel of Shallots Personal Chef in Baltimore actually started teaching classes before she became a personal chef.

Shelbie Wassel

“This was years before social media,” she said. “I ran an ad in a local rag, taught a series of three ethnic cuisine classes. Years later, after joining the APPCA, I met a fellow chef here in Baltimore who was giving up her teaching gig at the community college and she suggested that I apply. The reality is that community colleges are dying to get instructors for adult Ed classes. Just contact them and offer your services. The pay isn’t great, but it can become a marketing tool for other jobs. I loved my students and found it rewarding!”

Angela Felice Cerezo of Amore Kitchen in San Diego teaches cooking classes for kids along with adults. “I do kids cooking camps because I used to be a school teacher,” she explained. “I include lessons in etiquette, nutrition, cleanliness, and more. I mostly teach Italian cooking classes.”

Perry E. McCown of Thyme is Precious in Roseland, California, is also interested in working with kids. “I am in the process of writing a plan to teach a group of kids (10 aging from 5 to 10) a few skills leading to a meal they can own and make for their families in the future. An educate and empower kids in the kitchen class. Probably a salad, dressing, pasta with chicken and a sauce… maybe cookies or a pie…”

Depending on your situation, you could teach from your home or a client’s. In fact, one of your personal chef services could include cooking class parties. Of course, you need to research your local jurisdiction to find out what the rules are.

And, while Amazon has effectively caused the closing of many local housewares shops, chains like Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma still offer cooking classes, which means they need teachers. Check those out, as well as any local shops in your area.

What should you charge? Wassel explained that it depends on the menu. “Unlike my PC clients who pay chef fee plus groceries, I usually charge a flat fee,” she said. “I think about my grocery bill and factor in my time and the amount of students. It also depends on my crowd. Are we talking homemade pizza for kids or a sophisticated menu for adults? Adding a wine pairing requires an expert (which I am not), so that’s another element.”

You could also research cooking classes in your area to learn the going rates and work backwards from there in terms of pricing your food and expenses, not to mention time.

For any of this you’ll need to market your new services. Tell your current clients. Tell your friends and family. Promote it on Facebook and other social media. Certainly set up a new page on your business website that outlines your class offerings. And as you start teaching, post lots of great photos.

Clearly, this isn’t a comprehensive guide to teaching cooking classes, but think of it as a way to turn on a light bulb in your head for launching a new business line. As we grow closer to a new year, you’ll want to be considering how you want to shake up your business and find additional ways to bring in income under your personal chef umbrella.

Do you teach cooking classes? How did you get started and how has it evolved?

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!

Ask a personal chef for his or her pet peeve and the answer may just be the irritation of people calling them caterers.

“It’s over 20 years in and people still refer to me as a caterer,” said longtime APPCA member Phyllis Segura. “For 20 years I’ve been correcting them. A personal chef, a private chef, is not a caterer.”

“Happens to me too,” said Jodi Giroux. “Same person over and over, ‘How’s your catering business?’ My same response, ‘My personal chef business is going well, thanks!’ I may/may not give another explanation of the difference. Also, people refer me as a caterer on the local Advice site pages. STOP…I’m a personal chef! I’ll just add my website.”

If you’re a personal chef and this aggravates you, too, maybe we should have some definitions at the ready. You, as a personal chef, prepare custom meals for clients in their homes or in a rental kitchen for them to reheat and enjoy throughout the week or whatever your arrangement is. You often create menus tailored for specific needs–from cancer diets, anti-inflammatory diets, low fat or gluten free diets to cardio, paleo, vegan or vegetarian diets. Some of you are trained dietitians or nutritionists. Others of you have developed an area of specialization. But the word “personal” is there for a reason.

Catering may be a service under your personal chef umbrella but it’s altogether different. It’s preparing food and drink for a one-time event.

As chef Renee DuBose explained, “Catering is a whole other beast that requires offsite kitchens, special licenses, permits, and a crew of many talents. Plus, you get into the rental arena for tables, dinnerware, etc. You need multiple contracts…..who’s liable for specific situations, set up, break down, clean up, trash hauling, the list goes on. It is a much more intense job, but you also get volume which can balance costs.

“My mind gets all tangled up thinking about it all,” she added. “I don’t think people, in general, really take into consideration all the things needed to make a large party gig happen. I have much respect for caterers, but personally am not equipped to handle it as a solo chef.”

Of course, not all catered events are massive. Perhaps you have a personal chef client who wants you to cater a special anniversary dinner party or a holiday brunch. We have members who include that kind of service, along with others, such as teaching cooking classes.

APPCA members Christine Robinson and Dennis Nosko of A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service have actually come up with a way to clarify the distinctions between their personal cheffing and in-home catering.

“Most view caterers as those who service parties or dinners rather than those who prepare off-site and finish when they arrive so we say we cater small parties,” said Nosko. “I tell them we are not full-service caterers and explain. We also send out IHC How it Works.”

He explained that the IHC is a word document they send out to people along with their menus. “We have one document designed for our personal chef side and another for our In Home Catering. The IHC How it Works document will let them know about a deposit… what part of the process that we do and what is the responsibility of the client. After this, we will direct clients to rental companies and waiter/bartender service providers if necessary.”

Dennis Nosko and Christine Robinson Accept Chef of the Year Award from Candy Wallace

Of course, Robinson often has to address a very different irritating issue: sexist assumptions.

“Dennis and I are partners in life and in business ….there are still those who hire us who assume I am the assistant and I have heard many people say in 20 years, ‘Thank you Chef Dennis….and Christine….,'” she said.

She’s not the only one. “happens to me ALL the time!,” said Carol Crikelair Taradyna of The Occasional Chefs. “My new husband and I just laugh now. I started the business 12 years ago down here in Forida. He joined me a few years back when we first met. I could be at a job for hours. He walks in and they swarm all over him saying, ‘Hello, Chef!'”

But, that’s an issue for another post…

Shelbie Wassel

As member Shelbie Hafter Wassel of Shallots Personal Chef Service joked about the personal chef versus caterer confusion, “I get it! But, hey… we could be called worse!”

Chefs, have people referred to you as a caterer? What’s your response?

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!

Do You Need a Mentor?

Filed under: Business Strategies,Training , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , March 25, 2019

Throughout each phase of your career you no doubt will need advice, someone to bounce ideas off of, a role model, and inspiration. We think of mentors as older, experienced people who help young professionals with their wisdom and advice. But take a look at this definition by Oxford Dictionary of a mentor: “an experienced and trusted advisor.” It’s that simple.

If you’re just starting out as a personal chef, no doubt you could use a mentor to guide you through starting this kind of business and career. Advising you on how to get clients, how much to charge, how to market yourself, how to deal with cranky clients or those who don’t communicate well with you.

But it’s possible that even an experienced personal chef could use a mentor. Times change—and change quickly. If you’ve been in business for 20 years maybe you want to shift what you do and how you do it. Perhaps you want to add catering or food writing or food styling to your personal chef umbrella but don’t know how to get started. Or you’re happy with your business but think you could do more. You may need advice in how to market yourself in 2019 compared to what you did in 1999.

So, what should you look for in a mentor? What should you expect?

First, pinpoint what you need. Are you a newbie and need overall help in figuring out how to get started? Do you need coaching in marketing yourself? Do you need coaching in branching out into another aspect of being a culinary professional?

Now before you seek a mentor, consider what options you already have in gaining the information and coaching you need. If you belong to APPCA you have a leg up. You have Executive Director Candy Wallace to turn to, who is the queen of expertise in this industry. You have this blog, which we fill with helpful posts on a wide spectrum of business-related issues for personal chefs. And you have both our Personal Chef Forum and our Facebook Group.

Still need a mentor? Then consider what you’re looking for in that person. According to Forbes, it’s not about finding a mentor with the most years of experience or the biggest title or profile. It’s about finding someone with the knowledge and experience you need—someone who has been in a similar situation to you and has worked their way through it.

  • You want to find someone you can trust—since that person will be privy to what you share about your business. And you need to be just as trustworthy.
  • You want someone who will challenge you to improve, who may ask tough questions of you and will provide honest feedback.
  • You want someone who has the time to talk with you. Maybe it’s weekly or maybe it’s monthly. Or something else. Do you get together in person or by phone?

Now what should you expect? A mentor won’t solve your problems. That’s on you. A mentor is there for guidance and ideas, for reassurance and critique. Perhaps he or she could make introductions or referrals. Let’s say you want to do some public speaking or chef demos and this person is a pro at these skills. Perhaps that person can do a little instruction (not cooking) in social media or photography or public speaking. Make sure you aren’t too needy or demand too much time, recognizing that this person is bound to be quite busy. But if they put you off repeatedly you probably need to move on to someone else.

Then comes the most crucial part: how do you find the person?

Again, APPCA can be a great resource. There are so many talented people who are members. You no doubt could find someone through your membership. Post a request on our forum. Ask Candy for a suggestion and referral for someone in your area or even outside who has the expertise you’re looking for.

Scroll through our Facebook business and group pages or our Twitter feed to identify individuals who are addressing what you need and reach out to them with a note introducing yourself and your situation with a concise explanation of what you’re looking for. Ask if you can set up a call or meeting to discuss a mentor relationship. Try to come up with at least a couple of people and don’t be discouraged if they tell you they don’t have the time to help. It’s all about finding the right person.

And, remember to pay it forward. Once you push your way through your brick wall, bring someone else along who could benefit from your knowledge and experience.

Have you had experience with a mentor or as a mentor?

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!

 

 

Colleagues, Not Just Competitors

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 4, 2019

Our friend and colleague Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine in Dallas sent this guest post. As a freelance writer who relies on referrals for much of my business I could easily relate her conviction that the very people who I could consider “competitors” are also the best people to recommend me for a gig that may not be right for them or that they’re too busy to take on–and that I could reciprocate in this as well. It’s also just good karma and makes life richer. Take a read and think about your relationships with personal chefs in your locale. If you don’t already know one another perhaps it’s worth reaching out and befriending and assisting one another. 

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Henry Ford.

When I started my personal chef business 12 years ago, I was so excited to discover that I could potentially do what I loved and be able to make a living. After undergoing the initial training through APPCA, I was fired up about putting into action all the terrific marketing ideas that had been learned during their seminar.  However, my phone didn’t ring off the wall as I had hoped.  This was probably due to the fact that I couldn’t quite let go of the steady paycheck, so was unable to devote all my time and attention to growing a new business.

Reality hit when I lost my paralegal job and was at a crossroads in my career.  I knew if I didn’t give it my all to pursue personal chef business, I would never do it.  I had to focus and concentrate all my attention and waking hours to culinary school and finding clients.  Now was the time to dip into that savings account.

Not ever known for being a “shrinking violet” I contacted two APPCA members in the Dallas area and we met and got to know each other.  I think this was the beginning of my trying to network with other personal chefs in the area and possibly get or give referrals of clients.  One became a good friend, with whom I have worked over the years.  If you are just starting your personal chef business, add to your marketing list of things to do a reminder to start contacting AND stay in touch with other personal chefs in your area.

Clients started slowly trickling in and I found that small dinner parties and catering jobs were more plentiful, so I took what I could get, still working for some of the large catering companies to make ends meet.  At one point I was attending culinary school, cleaning houses, doing odd catering jobs, and working for my fellow APPCA member on occasion while hoping for those clients to start calling.

Looking back at 2018, I know that I have finally achieved what I set out to do – my phone is ringing, I have a full roster of clients, and am actually having to turn business away.  Again, never one to be shy I started contacting fellow personal chefs in the area to see if they could take on any new clients.  In the e-mail exchanges to them I made the point that we are not just competitors for clients, but we are colleagues as well in the same profession.  Lately there seems to be plenty of business to go around, so my thought was “why not join forces and work together instead of constantly competing against each other??”  A novel concept to some, but when you can refer a potential client to a fellow personal chef whom you trust, that client will remember you and be grateful that you have helped them.

Recently I received an inquiry from a lady in North Carolina who wanted to hire a personal chef in Dallas to handle a dinner for her elderly parents.  I was unable to do so but referred her to a good friend of mine with whom I attended culinary school.  I knew his personality would be perfect for what she wanted.  What she wrote back to me after she hired him, is exactly why I am happy to make referrals to those I know:

“Hi Anne,

You really put the personal, into “personal chef.” 

Thank you for being so gracious and so helpful. Yes, we are working with Chef Thomas, and we think he’s a great fit for our parents’ needs.  What a nice and, obviously, talented person he is.

 It was great to have a referral as we were just wingin’ it, being from out of town.  You gave us peace of mind and we’ll always remember that. 

 Merry Christmas.  Best wishes with the holiday parties!

It is good business to know your competitors and what they have to offer so you can ensure you are at the “top of your game” with your own business. I feel strongly about not looking at the personal chefs in your area as just competitors, but as colleagues. When I finally got to meet with the personal chef in Dallas last month with whom I had corresponded, we both agreed that it made sense to be able to refer business to each other if we were overloaded and to keep each other in mind for parties and events if we were unable to do them.  We made “short work” of discussing our backgrounds, our businesses and how we could help each other.  It was an excellent meeting and since we run into each other while shopping many times, we can now say hello and briefly trade stories on our respective businesses and “the good, the bad & the ugly” about our clients.  Being on friendly terms with your colleagues who are also competitors just makes good business sense.

Do you know the personal chefs in your area? How have you helped one another?

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!

Chef Samone Lett is the owner of Atlanta’s Wishful Concepts Catering & Personal Chef Services. She’s an APPCA member and I’m captivated by her tweets. Always looking to feature our fabulous members, I reached out to Samone to ask if she’d be interested in telling her story. It’s a fascinating one, as you’ll read below. We have such remarkable members!

It is hard to recount my journey from a homeless young woman following culinary school  to a successful chef. So, I’ll start from my beginning. As a small girl in Brooklyn, New York, I used to watch celebrities like Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and Jamie Oliver on the Food Network and prayed to God to give me a chance to be on this show as a contestant. Never in my wildest imagination did I see myself as a big chef hosting my own show on television. It’s still an aspiration!

But by God’s grace, my hard work and struggle has paid off and today I am a successful chef.

 

I was passionate about cooking as a small child. My father and grandmother taught me how to cook when I was nine, and I continued in the military, when at age 18 I enlisted into the U.S. Army as a Food Specialist and eventually was stationed in Germany. There I was exposed to kitchen management, food service, and cooking for large quantities of people. I later studied the intricacies of this profession at a culinary school. I studied Hospitality Management & Tourism and also graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with a degree in Culinary Arts. After graduating culinary school I took my chef bag began to aggressively pursue personal and private chef jobs. I had a set back in 2004, a year after my graduation, when I ended up homeless. My previous marriage, clients, and business fell apart and I was in a season of instability. I later wrote about it in my spiritual memoir, Lily In The Valley, published in 2007. After remarrying in 2010 the road to rebuilding Wishful Concepts Catering began and I was inspired to focus on my passion for culinary arts full-time.

I also worked in some restaurants in Orlando, but never felt satisfied as I had no direct interaction with guests. I could not know what they thought about the food I made for them. This was why I started my own catering business. I was hooked to the idea of becoming a personal chef given to me by Chef Candy. I relished the idea of running private events.

I worked under a few chefs for some time in Orlando. Wedding planner Michelle loved my work and mentored me to learn the finer details of this business. I learned how to set up a buffet and other plate events from her and still use her ideas in running my own company.

Salient highlights of my career

  • Our company focuses on customer experience and provides friendly services.
  • Besides being a chef, I have a passion to help other women in finding their identity and direction.
  • I have written five self-help books. Lily in the Valley is my autobiography.
  • I have worked hard to find a place in this male-dominated industry. Being a female chef, I also faced lots of discrimination.
  • My company has won Best Wedding award six times in a row from The Knot and have two Couples Choice awards from the Wedding Wire.
  • We are supplying food to the crew on the sets of movies.

My experiences as a contestant on Food Network

Food Network is the most popular channel among food lovers. I always admired this show and the judges who evaluated the dishes made by the contestants. I applied to become a contestant by sending my latest pictures. I was thrilled to pieces when I got an invitation in two weeks’ time. I underwent a tough interview process and was finally selected to be a contestant on Cooks vs. Cons, which aired in August 2017. This is a show where ordinary cooks are pitted against professional chefs with their identities concealed until the show has been completed and it is time to declare the winner.

The name of my episode was Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf. Contestants had to prepare a meatloaf in just 30 minutes, although it takes nearly 45 minutes for this job. It was a highly intense and stressful event where I knew my actions were being filmed and telecast live as I prepared a dish. There were no retakes or time to rectify mistakes and I had to get it right in whatever time I got. It was really tough to keep smiling and listening to the remarks of the men behind the cameras while preparing my dish. Cooking under the pressure of a time limit and in front of the judges was really very tough.

Not being able to stay in touch with family and friends for a long time was also a hard experience for me. But, the nerve wracking experience as a contestant on Cooks vs. Cons helped me in my preparation for the next show, Food Network Star. It was a once in a lifetime experience. It was definitely amazing to meet Chef Carla Hall, Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, and food author and TV host Daphne Oz! I had loads of fun and received love and warmth from the staff and the crew members of this show. They liked me so much that I was again called by Food Network to participate in Food Network Star. I could not believe my luck when I received the call from the channel for this show. I was on Season 14, which aired in Spring 2018. I thank my stars for finally getting recognition for my work as a chef.

Today, business is good and I’m currently focusing on personal chef services as we just moved to Atlanta. No matter what I’ve endured on my journey as a chef and business owner, my faith has consistently provided the resources and people I needed. I share my story from a perspective of showing others that anyone can fulfill their purpose in the midst of challenges and obstacles.

Chefs, you probably have a personal Facebook page but perhaps you haven’t gotten around to setting up a business page. Or you have a business page but haven’t put much effort into populating it or promoting it.

Time to get off the dime.

I promote my writing business on Facebook with three pages: my personal page (hey, it’s my personal business), my Goldenwriting page, and my blog San Diego Foodstuff’s page. Plus, I have Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, and Instagram accounts. Am I on and posting all the time? Of course not. I work for a living. But I make sure that I have a regular presence on each. I’m probably most active on Facebook and Instagram. And on Facebook, I’m most active on my personal page and San Diego Foodstuff (not to mention APPCA’s business and group pages).

The point is that social media–and Facebook in particular–hones community and community is what I need to further my business. As personal chefs, you need community, too. You need people to be aware of you and what you do and offer. You need to whet their appetites for your offerings. You need to help them think about their culinary needs or health needs or lifestyle needs.

Despite its flaws, Facebook remains a great option for this.

Now perhaps you’re on Facebook and haven’t gotten much traction from your efforts. Have you considered how you’re approaching it? Have you asked for feedback from fellow personal chefs or friends you trust? Are you trying to engage people or just posting (mediocre) photos of food you’ve made? Are you offering them anything useful? Are you demonstrating to potential customers or partners who you are and what you’re interested in?

Now your Facebook business page isn’t going to save your business. But its got the potential to be a tremendous marketing tool. And, I’m hoping, the tips that follow can help it become just that for you.

  1. Strategize: Consider what you want to get from the time you expend on Facebook. More clients? Of course–but how? Who are your target clients? Families? People with special health needs? Those who want to get fit? Caregiving children of parents who need assistance to stay home? Men or women? Knowing who your audience is will help you better craft your messaging and engagement. It may also help you determine what time to post and how often. Working people probably log on early in the morning or in the evening, for example. One way to learn about who is visiting your page and when is to check your page’s analytics that are in the “Insights” section of the page.
  2. Offer something of value for free: These could range from cooking tips, health news, and food recall updates to recipes. Try subscribing to food site email newsletters and post intriguing news and ideas you get from them to your page. Great resources include Cooking Light, Time Health, Well Done, the Kitchn, Epicurious, and Health.com. But explore the web for others you’re interested in.
  3. Hold a quiz: Not only are they fun, but done the right way they can give you consumer information. Ask people what they’d like to see on a weekly menu, their favorite Italian-style dishes, how they use their slow cooker, their kids’ favorite meals… Maybe quiz them on safe cooking practices. You get the idea.
  4. Post beautiful food photos: We write about this here all the time, but some of you aren’t paying attention. Here’s just one of our posts, written by APPCA member and superb photographer Carol Borchardt. If you do nothing else, make sure your photos are in focus and are well lit. If they look lousy, admit it and don’t use them. Then work on ways to improve them–and you can do this even with a cell phone. Take a look at this piece and think about how you can use these tips for improving your photos. They’re your business cards.
  5. Engage in Facebook groups: One way to bring people to your business page is to participate in relevant Facebook groups so people can get to know you and want to hear from you. They could be food or chef groups (be sure to join and contribute to our APPCA group and Carol Borchardt’s new group Taste Matters). But consider other options, such as a local community group, a group dedicated to discussing health care issues you specialize in, and even totally unrelated groups that engage in topics you’re passionate about–politics, gardening, pet care. The point is you’re meeting people and they’re meeting you. Offer useful information to demonstrate your expertise, ask great questions, let them know what you do. They’ll surely subscribe to your business page–and perhaps generate referrals.
  6. Make sure all critical business info is on your business page: Is your name and geographical location listed? Your services? Your areas of specialization? Do you list your website and contact information? Don’t make people have to labor to find you. It may not be a client. It may be a newspaper reporter who wants to interview you.

Facebook business pages will only be as useful as the time you put into them–and the quality of your content. You can’t stay off for weeks or months at a time. You can’t post lousy photos. And you can’t try to promote your business with it if you don’t engage with others and draw them to it. A Facebook business page has the potential to be a great marketing tool, but only if you master best practices in running it.

Do you have a Facebook business page? What are your best practices and how useful has it been?

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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