Candy and I have been talking about all the various issues that crop up for personal chefs over the holidays. So we have several posts planned to help you get through the season and do some planning for the coming year. For this post, we look at catering over the holidays.
“If you’re a personal chef who includes catering under your business umbrella–or you’re making the leap this year–then the holidays can be a time when you’re booking fewer Monday through Friday meal service cook dates and instead booking more cocktail and dinner parties through the end of the year,” said Candy. “There’s no more critical time to have a plan and strategy for catering these very special events. Perhaps your clients don’t have optimal kitchen facilities for prepping the dishes. Then you need to book commercial space. No doubt you’ll need special equipment. You’ll have to come up with a formula to have the right amount of food–and know what kind of food works best in a buffet and how to plan portions. You need to know how to display and present your dishes and tables.”
Candy realized that the best source for all this advice was already pulled together by Chef April Lee of Tastefully Yours. Some of you who attended the 2013 Personal Chef Summit probably heard her make this presentation. But for those of you who weren’t there–or want a refresher–here it is. Many thanks to April for updating her presentation for this post–especially given the busy holiday season!
Let the holiday season begin! Happy Delicious Holidays from Candy, Dennis, and me!
Buffets and Banquets: How to Please a Crowd
By April Lee
Planning and Organization: More than just date, place, time, and number of guests
Here are the basics you need to address:
- Client’s budget (add 5 percent overage for unexpected expenses)
- Additional help (sous chef, assistants, bartender, etc.)
- You must have everything spelled out in the contract, including what you are NOT providing, because you don’t want any surprises the day of the event, such as your client asking you if you brought table linens, champagne glasses, or other party supplies/equipment.For large events, you need to include the expense for renting a commercial kitchen, which may include extra fees for refrigerated storage of prepared food.
- Onsite visit is mandatory. Here’s what to look for:
- Availability of equipment/rental of equipment
- Access, layout and flow
- Where to set up staging and holding areas
- Where to store supplies
- Where electrical outlets are located
- Access time
- Parking availability
Equipment: Another key component of planning and organization
- Insulated Food Carriers (Cambro) – food safety first and always
- Instant-read thermometers
- Chafers/Steam Tables and chafing fuel
- Warming Trays
- Buffet Servers
- Insulated coolers
- Freezable ice sheets
- Folding 6-foot banquet tables
- Platters & Bowls (all sizes, shapes): White ceramic is best
- Butane lighters
- Table sign holders
- Extras! You need to bring extras of everything so make sure you’re able to transport not only all the food, but all of the equipment.
What Kind of Food: What works and doesn’t work on a buffet?
- Long braised or slow cooked meats (e.g., Beer Braised Short Ribs, Baby Back Ribs, Osso Buco, etc.)
- Casseroles (e.g, Lasagna, Smoked Salmon and Asparagus Strata, Moussaka, etc.)
- Meats with gravies or glazes
- Sauced meats with rice, mashed potatoes, pasta (Moroccan Lamb Stew, Beef Stroganoff, Coq au Vin, etc.)
- Contrasting textures from different cooking methods
- Contrasting colors
- Balance between cold and hot foods
- Balance between expensive and inexpensive foods (always place more expensive dishes toward the end of the buffet)
What Doesn’t Work:
- Fried foods, in general (e.g., tempura veggies, fries, etc.)
- Foods which are runny (e.g., au jus, brothy dishes, etc.)
- Foods which require extra utensils (e.g., seafood forks)
- Clashing cuisines and overpowering, unbalanced flavors
- Foods of the same color
- Foods of the same texture
- Rare to medium rare beef or delicate seafood in chafers (these items will always overcook just sitting in food warmers)
How Much Food: These are the standard minimums for buffets ranging from 25 to more than 100 people.
- 2 to 3 Entrées (meat, poultry, seafood)
- 1 Non-Meat Entrée
- 1 to 2 Hot Starches (potatoes, pasta, rice or other grain)
- 1 to 2 Hot Vegetable (one green, one non-green, 2 textures)
- 1 to 2 Salads
- Bread/rolls (optional, dependent on menu)
- 2 to 3 Desserts
- Beverages and Coffee Station
Biggest Question: Portion Size and Number of Portions
This is, by far, the most important question I get asked all the time: How much of each dish? This is also a most critical aspect to understand; otherwise you could end up (1) underestimating the cost and having to eat the extra expense yourself or (2) overestimating the amount needed and ending up with an enormous excess of food which is not just a waste of resources but will be seen as a waste of the client’s money and unprofessional on your part for grossly miscalculating what was needed for the event.
There are several factors that can affect portion size. These include the purpose of the event (e.g., art exhibition reception versus wedding reception), the age and gender of the guests (younger people eat more), the time of day and length of the event, and any pre- or post-event functions. Mid-afternoon or late evening receptions which aren’t meant to serve as a meal require less food than events which are meant to include full meals (this includes heavy hors d’oeuvres buffets).
AP versus EP: This is a crucial concept to understand. In order to make accurate cost estimates, “as purchased” (AP) versus “edible portions” (EP) calculations must be made before you make a formal job quote to your client. AP refers to how you buy any particular ingredient (e.g., whole, untrimmed beef tenderloin). EP refers to the finished product result after you have prepped and cooked it. So, with a whole beef tenderloin, for example, you’ll lose a great deal due to waste/trimming plus shrinkage from cooking, perhaps losing as much as 20% of the total raw weight to get to the finished product. This means that the yield (the EP) is only 80% of the total raw weight of the meat. If you want to serve 100 people 4 oz. of tenderloin, then you will need 400 oz. or 25 pounds EP (which is after it is prepped and cooked). But you will need to buy about 31 pounds AP of untrimmed whole tenderloin in order to get your yield of 25 pounds EP (31 x 0.80 = 24.80). Obviously, other proteins which don’t require much trimming, e.g., boneless, skinless chicken breasts, will have a smaller percentage of loss, maybe 10%, so your calculations will depend on the type and cut of protein.
AP versus EP calculations affect everything, however, not just proteins. If you buy 1o pounds of romaine lettuce heads, you will end up with about 8 pounds or less after you discard the outer leaves and the tough ribs. With grains and pasta, the numbers go the other way: 10 pounds of dry pasta will yield almost 18 pounds of cooked pasta. It is essential that you use the food production charts (sample charts below) to help you estimate the amount of each type of food to buy in order to meet the needs of your client’s event without miscalculating either the cost or amounts. There are very detailed and definitive AP vs. EP charts available in catering handbooks and food production textbooks. (References listed below Food Portion/Quantity Chart below)
When preparing entrée buffets (lunch or dinner), you’ll need half-size portions for all entrees (3 to 4 ounces per person EP) and half-size or smaller portions for sides, depending on the number of sides offered (2 to 3 ounces per person EP) and whether there will be dessert as well. Most guests want a taste of everything so will tend to take half-size portions (or smaller in some cases, like lasagna).
Hors D’Oeuvres and Appetizer Dinner Buffets
These, of course, are the most time-consuming and labor-intensive food. They’re the most difficult food to transport safely and the most space-consuming food to store. So, choose time-efficient recipes–not just easy ones. It’s okay to use purchased products as part of the display, but remember that quality is first and foremost, the end product must be top notch, and use high-end resources.
The number of selections and number of pieces per person is dependent upon the type of event being catered:
For one-hour receptions: 4 different foods, 6 to 8 pieces per person
For longer lunch or dinner receptions (2 to 3 hours): Minimum of 6 different tastes, 10 to 12 pieces person or 12 to 15 pieces with desserts
For food not in pieces, such as soft cheeses, spreads, dips, terrines, and pates, plan on 1 ounce per person.
Display and Presentation: We eat with our eyes first!
Delicious food is one component of catering. Making it look not just appealing but irresistible is another. Here are some things to keep in mind as you design your presentation:
- Think color: Contrasting food colors and boldly colored fabrics, not just tablecloths. Fabric remnants are wonderful display accessories.
- Think height: Vary the height of platters and trays; use vertical containers or displays for food; tilt cold trays/platters on two corners towards guests. Glass blocks (used for showers and basements) from the hardware store make beautiful and stable risers for heavy bowls and platters. Wrap sturdy boxes in brightly colored or iridescent wrapping paper to use as risers for lighter platters and baskets.
- Think textures: Vary cooking methods for differently textured foods; use different fabric textures on the table(s)
- Think space: Don’t crowd food; leave 18 inches for each dish; set off food against white space for a clean and uncluttered display
Think WOW! Here are some resources for getting inspired to make your presentation pop!
Take a look at websites which feature beautiful hors d’oeuvres or small plate foods. These can include your favorite tapas restaurant or catering industry supply vendors, because seeing professionally designed small ware or miniature food items (chocolate shells, baked cones, etc.) will inspire you. You’ll get an instant idea of what your own creations will look like, presented in creative and eye-catching ways. They may even give you new ideas for appetizers that you can offer to your clients. The following companies have particularly well-designed sites with great photos which will excite and motivate you:
- Albert Ulster Imports (www.auifinefoods.com): Edible food vessels (savory and sweet), decorations, glazes, personalized chocolates, molecular gastronomy supplies, etc.
- Restaurant Ware (www.restaurantware.com): “Fashion for Food” – specializing in small ware: plastic, bamboo, glass in every shape and size. There’s no way you will peruse this site without coming away with new ideas!
- Appetizers USA (appetizersusa.com): Over 200 different hors d’oeuvres from which many hotels, caterers, country clubs, and other foodservice companies order. Can order by tray, not by the case.
Good luck and have fun wowing your clients and their guests this holiday season!
Are you making the leap into catering for the holidays this year? What are your biggest concerns? If you’re experienced, what are your tips for newbies?
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.
Photos courtesy of April Lee
About a year ago APPCA member and personal chef Shelbie Wassel of Shallots Personal Chef Service in Baltimore got a call from a gentleman who asked her if she remembered him from one of her classes that he had attended with his wife. “I did remember them,” she says. “He was asking what I was planning on teaching the following semester and told me that my class had changed his life! He and his wife began cooking at home and had subsequently changed his diet for the better, and had become passionate about cooking! It was an activity he could share with his wife and it brought them closer. He has become one of my biggest fans! Wow! It makes me feel like a rock star!”
Need a reason to teach cooking classes? That pretty much sums it all up, don’t you think?
Okay, let’s stipulate up front that teaching is not for everyone–for a variety of reasons. Maybe you are uncomfortable standing up in front of a group of people and feel cooking for others by yourself in a kitchen is enough. Maybe you don’t have time. Maybe the idea of showing others how to do what you have perfected is not your idea of a pleasurable experience. You all can move on.
However, if you’ve been toying with the idea of teaching cooking classes but weren’t sure of what is involved and need gentle encouragement from colleagues, we’ve got some tips for you to help you make that satisfying leap.
Our experience is that many personal chefs have developed multiple income streams which complement their personal chef services, one of which is teaching cooking or demo classes since we believe personal chefs are by their very nature teachers. After all, we teach our clients how to use our services effectively and efficiently. We also teach them how to make healthy choices and to pass that information on to their children so they can grow up to be healthy adults. We answer client’s questions about food sources, cooking techniques, and recipes regularly. So, to my mind it makes sense to teach officially and be paid to pass along that knowledge–or donate that expertise and support to a non-profit group that needs our skills and expertise to help people in need.
These classes or demonstrations can take place in the client’s home, at a local venue, a vocational cooking school, a community college, or a demonstration kitchen facility. The size, layout, and facilities will determine whether the class will be a demonstration or hands on.
Think about it, you could hold cooking class dinner parties or luncheon’s in a client’s home. You could do event demos at fairs or market openings–or market tours followed by a demo. You could hold classes in a community center, a farmers market, a rental kitchen–even your own kitchen. You can certainly teach adults, but you can also teach kids and teens–or families. One woman I know holds brunch cooking classes on her boat in the San Diego Bay.
Member April Lee of Tastefully Yours, also in Baltimore, has been teaching cooking classes for 30 years, starting with after-school cooking classes for kids with the county government. “I’ve taught everything from basic cooking skills to cuisine-based classes to customized classes dealing with special diets,” says April. “I’ve also taught classes dealing with party appetizers, holiday dinners, and theme dinners. I teach because I love sharing my passion for cooking with others and I don’t want people to think that cooking is mysterious or to be intimidated by it.”
April’s venues have ranged from using commercial kitchens in county-owned facilities to teaching in client homes or a commercial kitchen she rents. Marketing the classes for the county is done through the county’s course catalogs. For private classes, she says it tends to be word of mouth. “I taught a series of Asian cooking classes several years ago, starting with a tour of Asian markets and introducing students to various produce, sauces, and other ingredients. From that point on, word got out about my classes and I’ve had a steady following ever since. I’m currently developing a new set of fun classes and will market them to my personal chef clients as well as my students in about a month–just in time for people to buy gift certificates for the holidays.”
Beth Volpe of Savory Eats by Beth in L.A. is relatively new to the business but she’s been teaching grilling classes to adults and teens in client homes. “I actually love teaching because I love to share what I know and what I learn,” says. “I started the grilling class because a client I do dinner parties for wanted to learn to grill. I don’t market. They come to me through my website, referral, or Thumbtack [a site that lets you find professionals to handle various jobs].”
Beth charges an hourly rate with a minimum of two hours, plus the cost of food. If you’re teaching for a local government organization or community college, the rates are likely to already be established and are probably not very high. Shelbie, who has been teaching cooking classes for more than 20 years often teaches a class or two every semester at the local community college, which dictates the prices. But, she points out, each student pays her directly at each class for the cost of the groceries. She charges students of her private classes–dinner party classes, demos for women’s groups, etc.–based on the number of students, the menu, and the location. “A class of 12 could begin at $60 per person and go up,” she explains. “A private class for one could be $250.”
Shelbie uses Facebook to promote her group classes. The community college handles marketing for her cooking classes with them–although she also promotes them on Facebook. “I also keep a running email list of interested students and alert them to upcoming classes. Occasionally, I receive inquiries through my website from folks wanting private classes or dinner party classes and I keep a Word document handy that I can send them with some examples of classes I’ve taught in the past.”
Between us, we’ve come up with a handful of tips for aspiring cooking teachers:
- You must be 1000 percent organized. Know your recipes and ingredients. Know what to do if something goes wrong–because inevitably it will and you’ll have to prove to your students that there are fixes.
- You’ll always need more equipment than you think you do (i.e., sheet pans, mixing bowls, cutting boards) because you usually can’t stop to wash them while teaching.
- Keep your recipes and jargon uncomplicated. You probably don’t know what level of cooking experience your students have.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse so you are comfortable talking in front of people while performing tasks. Be sure you time yourself so the class is completed within the time allotted.
- Instead of providing printed recipes at the class, offer to send them to students later to keep them focused on what you’re doing.
- Prep ahead of time to keep things during class moving. Call on volunteers to help and pass things around the group to keep them involved.
- Have anecdotes relevant to what you’re cooking? Use them!
- Know how to charge so you make money. If you’re volunteering or working for a non-profit with limited funds, accept the gig with the knowledge that you’re doing it for personal reasons. Otherwise you want the highest WOTDF (walk out the door fee) you believe you can charge. We tell chefs not to leave their homes for less than $250 per cook date, so you need to figure out how that translates for cooking classes. Remember to factor in the cost of groceries, and cost of extra labor (such as an assistant to help you clean up as you’re demoing).
- If you’re on social media, use it tenaciously to market your classes, along with the rest of your business.
- Most important: bring high energy and enthusiasm! If you can’t be enthusiastic about teaching, don’t do it. If you’re enjoying yourself, your students will, too. They’ll care, they’ll hear, they’ll feel empowered to go home and try it themselves. Which is the whole point of this, right!
And, remember, APPCA members are here for each other. We have lots of great conversations about teaching classes and other business-related issues on our forums. Feel free to log in and ask away–or offer your own input to others. I often chime in as well.
Do you aspire to teach cooking classes? What is your pressing question? Do you teach? Give us a tip or two based on your experience!
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.
We love that our members feel such an attachment to APPCA and kinship with one another that they find it beneficial to participate in regional chapters. One such is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter, or MARC. They get together to exchange information, bring in speakers to learn about new concepts, and hold cooking demos.
Earlier this month, 17 APPCA members gathered for a MARC meeting at chapter president April Lee’s home. We’ll let her describe what transpired:
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter (MARC) of the APPCA held its first meeting of 2014 this past weekend. We had a blast and great turnout with 17 people in attendance, including several new members. We had several speakers who inspired and motivated us with great ideas: Lynne D’Autrechy, President of Buzzquake.com, talked to us about Internet marketing, how to increase traffic to our websites, and reach more potential clients. Bernard Henry (star personal chef and APPCA member, but with a CFO background) spoke about basic financial and accounting tips and how to set up our own businesses. Rufus Knight (husband of member Laura Knight, of A Knight’s Feast) talked about how to enhance our websites visually and contextually, as well as how to make them more useful for our clients and for ourselves. Our to-do lists just got longer but with fantastic ideas!
We also had two great cooking demos: Cindy Shepard (Cindy’s Home Cooking) showed us how to use sous vide circulators for our meal service and dinner party clients. This is a very popular cooking method being used in all the high-end restaurants now. Most of us were unfamiliar with how sous vide works, but were impressed with the results, especially with how proteins, which are easily overcooked (such as fish), can be cooked perfectly and held for hours at just the right temperature. Amazing!
Shelbie Wassel (Shallots Personal Chef Service) demonstrated one of her favorite go-to client entrees: Parchment Paper Salmon over Fennel, Leeks and Carrots. Her delicious pairing of the flavorful vegetables topped with salmon filets roasted beautifully in the oven and made a very pretty presentation in the parchment pockets. For those of you who know Shelbie, you can imagine how much fun we all had during her demo … hehehe!
Everyone enjoyed the sous vide steaks, sous vide salmon, and the parchment salmon with vegetables as part of the potluck dinner which followed the meeting.
Oh, yes … the potluck dinner that follows every MARC meeting. This is actually why we have the meetings: so that we can have a great party afterwards with wonderful food and drink. Just take a look at the photos and you’ll know that a very good time was had by all! (On top of that, April says, several of the members got together the night before the meeting for dinner and then met the day after the meeting for dim sum. “Doesn’t take much to get personal chefs together to enjoy good food and drink,” says April.)
A HUGE THANK YOU to all the members who took precious time out of their busy schedules to spend a day (or two) with colleagues. This chapter is as active and vibrant as it is because of all of you! Big hugs all around!
For those APPCA members who are interested in joining MARC, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I am so proud and happy to be associated with this group because it is comprised of wonderful people. We are a very lively, collegial, and supportive group and we care very much about helping each other … plus we LOVE sharing great food and wine, and having fun together!
What are some of the best tips or pieces of information you’ve received as an APPCA member? What could we help you 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.
January is a time of new beginnings and one of them can include jump-starting your business. It’s essential for personal chefs just launching a business, but even a seasoned professional can use a new tip or two. Getting in front of potential customers can open up new opportunities and there are a myriad of successful ways to approach it.
The most obvious would seem to be paid advertising, but that’s actually not something we endorse. As Chef April Lee has said, “Think about how you go about hiring a professional service provider. Do you hire anyone off a flyer? Does anyone? Do you pay attention to paid advertisements?”
What you should invest money in are professionally printed business cards and a professionally designed and written website filled with mouth-watering photos (and no “selfies”). As you know, we can help you with the website.
The rest of your investment should be in time and creativity. Find ways to get out into the community. Make yourself visible and meet as many people as possible who are either in a position to hire you or to refer business to you—or invite you to speak or participate in any of their business or community activities.
Chef Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist in New York, who was awarded our top prize in marketing at our October APPCA Chef Summit, has more than a dozen quick tips to offer:
- · Polish your elevator speech and use it at every opportunity possible. Family, friends, neighbors, etc.
- · Wear your chef coat while shopping for yourself as well as when shopping for clients.
- · Introduce yourself to the department managers of the produce, fish, and meat departments in the stores where you shop. Use you elevator speech in your first meeting.
- · While waiting for the butcher, fishmonger, etc., to prepare your order chat them up about what you are cooking, etc. Oftentimes other customers will hear you and you’ll have an opportunity to use your elevator speech and present them with a business card.
- · Have a website linked to your name in the APPCA Find a Chef Directory.
- · Use social media, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., to connect with people from your past, present, and future. Create discussions about your business.
- · Write a blog that connects to your website and all social media. Write about recipes, events, and menus you have created. Quality pictures are a must!
- · Send out press releases—when you start up, anytime you do anything for a charity event, whenever you want to talk about a new food trend, about whatever is popular with your clients, to feature recipes for an upcoming holiday. Try to get the copy deadlines for these holidays.
- · Send thank you cards to clients when you provide dinner party service or when you fulfill a gift certificate. (Remember a gift certificate gives you two clients to market to.)
- · Write catchy Craigslist ads and post pictures when advertising.
- · About four to five times a year I mail postcards to all clients, past and present. You can use a variety of topics—for instance, you can remind them that school is starting and that your service helps with the tight schedule families deal with or that Valentine’s Day is coming up and that you can prepare an intimate dinner party, or suggest random dinner party ideas (e.g., recipes from any Julia Child cookbook around her b-day).
- · Buy car magnets and bumper stickers that promote your service.
- · Print materials describing all the services you provide to be presented to clients when you are performing an assessment.
Additionally, be sure your email always goes out with a signature offering your business contact information (website, email, phone number, and social media links). And your website, your Find a Chef Directory listing, and any other showcase for you should always have the basics, including your full name, your location, the services you provide, and your background. Personal chefs offer a personal service. Don’t make it difficult for people (or the media) to find you or learn specifically what you do.
And be bold! We had a member some years ago who decided he wanted to reach as many potential clients as possible as quickly as possible. He put on his chef wear and tall toque, put a doily on a silver tray, spread his business cards out on the tray, and set off for the local commuter railway station where he “served up” his cards to hungry, tired commuters at the end of the busy work day. These folks wanted to get home, have an adult beverage, and a good meal. His image and business card went a long way in delivering his message.
Do you have a way with the video camera? Create quality cooking demo YouTube videos that link to your website and social media outlets. Use them to try to get a regular gig on your local television station’s morning show. Are you a good writer? Offer to write a column for your local newspaper. This is especially helpful to the publication if you have an area of specialization like cooking vegetarian or vegan meals or if you combine your chef skills with a degree as a dietician or nutritionist. Chef Donna Douglass of What’s Cooking has done this successfully. She also teaches cooking and nutrition classes and appears at health fairs.
And, if you do have an area of specialization, research organizations that could help direct your services to their clients. Providing meal services to people on special diets can be so rewarding and impactful. New member Chef Lori Himmelsbach of A Chef of My Own in Kentucky googled “hospice,” “oncology support,” “holistic healing of…,” and “gluten-free support” in her area. Then she called the organizations listed, asked for the director of operations or the office manager, and explained who she was and how a personal chef could help their clients.
“I asked if I could send an email giving them more information about my services (including my website), as well as a request to pass this information on to their staff so they are aware of what a personal chef can do,” she explains on one of our forums. “Then I asked if they would like brochures (which I printed at home) to give to their staff or clients. One of my callers has already requested 30 brochures to pass out to her social workers.
“Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone,” Lori says. “As I’m starting my business I ask myself everyday what I can do to increase my income—and then do it!”
Everyone eats, so that means everyone is a potential client. It’s just up to you as to how you want to reach out to them. The only thing that limits us as personal chefs is the limits of our own imagination.
What have been your most successful marketing strategies? Please leave a comment and share with your colleagues across the country.
This is the week we traditionally take a look over our shoulder to consider all that happened in the past year before we fill a glass with bubbly and toast the year about to emerge.
For us, it’s been a year of transition, with all the good stuff that accompanies change.
Earlier in the fall we debuted our first mobile app, Find & Hire a Chef, for iPhone. Just last week we launched the Android version. Now it’s even easier for potential clients to find you. Help yourself get found by making sure your profile in our database is complete and lists everything about you and your services that you want to promote.
We’ve developed an active social media presence this year on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. We have twin goals with our activity: to share interesting information with you and to promote what you do. We want to spur conversation, show off your achievements, and give you resources for helping your business. Okay, sometimes, we want to provide a smile or good laugh, too. Please like our Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, and join our Linkedin group—and participate! It’s fun and it’ll help you, too.
Along with social media, our Personal Chef Forums have been bursting with good conversation and useful sharing—as well as some needed venting and bragging. These forums are just for members so they’re a safe place to ask critical professional questions among colleagues or share successes.
We held a rocking Personal Chef Summit in Baltimore in October, along with a number of Personal Chef seminars in cities including Chicago, San Diego, for getting your business up and running quickly. Thank you to speakers April Lee, Bernard Henry, Mark X. Dowling, Randall Sansom, Scott Faber, Thomas P. McNulty, Dr. Fred Mayo, Lou Garcia, Carol Borchardt, Javier Fuertes, Jim Huff, and Cheryl Frazier-Trusty. And congratulations again to chefs Dennis Nosko and Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor, who received the Personal Chef of the Year 2013, to Javier Fuertes of The Dinner Maker for Life Balance, and to Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist for Marketer of the Year! We’re so proud of your accomplishments!
This month I was the guest columnist for CafeMeetingPlace.com (the Center for the Advancement of Food Service Education). It gave me an opportunity to advocate why culinary teachers should consider operating a personal chef business as an adjunct career.
These are just some of the highlights of the year about to end. We’ve got plenty planned for the coming year, including more Personal Chef Seminars and a totally new website. All of this is to serve you, so if you have any suggestions or ideas for how we can do it better, let us know!
Dennis and I are your biggest supporters. We believe in the importance of the work you do and want to help you achieve your goals. Let’s lift a glass to the year we’re leaving and toast 2014! Here’s to a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!
What were your 2013 successes? What do you want us to do for you in 2014? Please leave a comment and let us know. Next week we’re going to showcase, what else, New Year’s resolutions. Please check our Private Discussion Forum — General for Caron’s request for suggestions and tell us what your personal chef resolutions are and why so you can appear here.
Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go personalchef.com to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership and join.
Christmas is tomorrow so I thought I’d look at what makes the holiday so special to so many of us—in fact what makes so many holidays special to us: the food that is so significant a part of our cultural identity. Our traditional foods are how we express our family history and reverence for where we come from all over the world. It’s what brought us together each day with our knees under the family table interacting, sharing, teaching, sometimes torturing, and always celebrating one another as a family.
Food is especially significant at holiday time when many families who have become spread out geographically come together to celebrate their faith and cultural ritual. Preservation of and presentation of family recipes enhances the experience of who we are, where we come from and how we celebrate life within our cultures.
I grew up in a large Eastern European family. Meals were prepared from food we had raised, harvested, or slaughtered, preserved and prepared. When we were not cooking or eating as a family, we were planning upcoming meals and talking about food and family. Most holiday dinners involved a clear soup, two entrees, polenta or home-made pasta, two salads, vegetable sides, and fresh fruit. This meal would be prepared and served for sometimes more than 40 family members and took days to prepare.
It was wonderful to hear your traditions. Kathy Dederich of Chef Please in Arkansas, told us of her childhood travels to her grandparents’ home in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving or Christmas where she loved a dish called suelze. “Grandma would get about four or five pounds of fresh pork hocks and cook them in a pot of water, vinegar, onions, and bay leaves until the meat came off the bone,” she recalls. Clearly, that recipe was lovingly handed down to her. She describes making the rest of the dish by straining the remaining liquid, then grinding the meat and skin, dissolving gelatin into liquid, adding the meat, mixing, and then putting it into molds or bread pans where it sits in the refrigerator to set, resulting in a dish that has a little aspic on top.
This dish resonated with Amber Guthrie of Salt of the Hearth in Colombia, Mo., who recalls her in-laws’ family traditions from Guyana. “You cannot have Christmas without curry (chicken or beef or goat), pepper pot, garlic pork, and black cake. Amber’s garlic pork recipe is included here.
Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist in New York remembers his mother’s descriptions of Pennsylvania Dutch dishes of her childhood, including a fascination with hog maw (sometimes called Pig’s Stomach, Susquehanna Turkey, or Pennsylvania Dutch Goose). “It’s made from a cleaned pig’s stomach traditionally stuffed with cubed potatoes and loose pork sausage, as well as cabbage, onions, and spices.” According to Jim, it was boiled in a large pot of water, like Scottish haggis, but it can also be baked, broiled, or split, then drizzled with butter and served hot on a platter cut into slices or cold as a sandwich. “I remember enjoying this dish at a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant with my grandmother in Lancaster on my first Christmas away from home 44 years ago!,” he recalls.
April Lee of Tastefully Yours in Baltimore was married to a Jamaican and tells us of Christmas breakfasts in her house when her kids were young. “There was ackee and saltfish, fried plantains, bammy, bread fruit, and boiled mashed green bananas,” she says. “Dinner might be curried goat, oxtail stew, rice and peas, sorrel punch, and, of course, Jamaican Christmas Cake, a dark, dense, moist, and very boozy fruitcake.”
And, Judy Harvey of The Dinner Lady in New Jersey, goes back to her southern roots to celebrate New Year’s Day with collard greens and black-eyed peas, along with roast pork shoulder, southern cornbread, and, of course, sweet tea.
On our Facebook page, Lizzy Brown shared childhood memories of waking early and making banana nut muffins, the smell filling the house. “But I made sure to write that recipe in my recipe book and told the kids they would always have it to make for their children.” Joan Angelis remembers her parents making home-made ravioli with ground beef and spinach filling covered in tomato sauce. Croeins Kitchen still makes her grandfather’s stuffing of ground meat, mushrooms, chestnuts, herbs, onion, and sweet potato, while Gladys Valiente has Sopa Azteca or Mexican Tortilla Soup in her heart. Anne-Lise Lindquist-Slocum dreams of Danish roast goose and red cabbage with cognac in the gravy. And, Moira Douglas lives for her chestnut stuffing and Nana’s shortbread.
Each year at Christmas my grandmother would prepare an Eastern European walnut strudel-like creation to everyone’s delight. Povitica. The children would line up out the kitchen door into the dining room to await the removal of these 4-pound delights from the hot oven, just to breathe in the heady scent of walnuts, and spices emanating from the ovens.
Whatever your family recipe is, whether it is a soup, pasta, empanada, tamale, 7-fish dinner, turkey, prime rib, or the culturally questionable green bean casserole, celebrate it and share it with loved ones who look forward to coming together to share memories, stories and food made by loved ones that reflect the family history and identity.
As Grandmother Marta Vinovich always told us, “Respect the harvest, keep it simple, and eat with people you love.”
Happy Holidays to everyone! Cook and eat with your family every chance you get!
From Candy Wallace
Yield: 1, 4-pound loaf
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
¼ cup butter or margarine
1 cup hot milk
4 1/2 cups flour
1 cup milk
4 cups walnuts, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Stir sugar, salt and butter into hot milk; cool to lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast over warm water in large bowl; stir to dissolve. Stir in lukewarm milk mixture. Add 2 eggs and 2 1/2 cups flour; beat at high speed with electric mixer. With a wooden spoon gradually beat in remaining 2 cups flour. Knead by hand until dough is stiff enough to leave side of bowl. Place dough in lightly greased large bowl. Turn the dough over to bring up greased side. Cover with a towel; let rise in warm place, free from drafts, until double in bulk, about 1 hour.
To make filling, brown nuts. In a pot over heat, mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and milk until milk is absorbed. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Stir filling to blend well.
Shape dough; punch down dough. On lightly floured surface turn out dough; cover with bowl and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Roll out to a rectangle 30 inches long by 20 inches wide. Spread with filling, to 1 inch from the edge. Starting from wide side, roll up tightly, as for a jelly roll. With palms of hands, roll back and forth so that roll is even all over. On large greased cookie sheet form roll into a large coil, seam side down. Let rise in warm place until double in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and brush the roll with the melted butter. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until golden. Cool on wire rack. Slice crosswise ¼-inch thick.
From Amber Guthrie
This recipe is from my mother in law. The measurements are estimates since she doesn’t measure.
8-pound pork roast (lean pork not recommended)
5 heads of garlic
30 or so hot peppers
1 cup dried thyme
1 to 2 tablespoons salt
In food processor or blender pulse garlic, peppers, thyme, salt and about ½ to ¾ cup vinegar, just enough vinegar to get it going. Taste. Although the vinegar will overpower, you should taste the flavors of each ingredient. Adjust seasonings. Then add another 1 to 1 ½ cups vinegar and blend some more.
Cut up pork into big chunks. Add marinade and mix thoroughly. Place into a big glass mason jar with lid. Add additional vinegar to cover if need be. Let it sit for three days on the counter, stirring each day.
On Christmas morning, spoon out some pork with a slotted spoon leaving marinade behind and pan fry (non-stick pan works best) on med-high heat (be sure to run your vent on high…those spicy vinegar vapors are no joke). Once it’s nice and browned and some of the fat has rendered, lower the heat slightly, cover and allow to simmer until the meat is tender. Add just a smidgen of water and/or tiny drizzle of oil if moisture needed. Once tender, remove lid and allow liquid to cook off. Eat with fried eggs and flata (roti) and drink tea or cocoa. And listen to reggae music! And be Merry!
Note: After 3 days, the pork doesn’t need to marinate any longer. Either cook all the pork or transfer to a glass storage container, store in the fridge at this point, and discard marinade. If you’re using a lean cut of pork, you may want to reduce the marinade time in half (or maybe less, I don’t know, we always use a pork butt….MIL uses an even fattier cut). If you don’t reduce marinade time on a lean cut, I’m not certain, but am afraid you might end up with vinegar cooked pork by Christmas morning (yuk).
What’s your favorite traditional holiday dish? Please leave a comment and let us know. Next week we’re going to showcase, what else, New Year’s resolutions. Please check our Private Discussion Forum – General for Caron’s request for suggestions and tell us what your personal chef resolutions are and why so you can appear here.
Are you challenging to buy gifts for? If you’re a personal chef, probably not. There’s always one more great kitchen tool or gadget you’ve got to have to make your life easier—or at least more fun.
We asked personal chefs to identify some of their favorite kitchen toys, oops, equipment that they can’t live without and thought you’d enjoy as well. Some may not exactly fit into a stocking, but they’re all pretty reasonably priced so you can give them out to colleagues and friends—or hint around to those who love you that you’d like them. They can all be found easily on websites like Amazon.com, Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table, and The Chefs’ Warehouse, but also check out interesting sites like this one that caught our attention—thegourmetgadget.com. And be sure to support your local housewares businesses. We love Great News! in San Diego.
So, with the help of some of your friends, here’s our stocking stuffer list:
Oxo Good Grips tools got a lot of love. Leslie Siegel Guria of Fresh From Your Kitchen in Illinois says that she put their can opener on her gift list. “I made the mistake of buying a fancier one and I’m NOT HAPPY! I also can’t live without my Oxo peeler.”
Johanna Sawallisch Dadsyah and I both agree that an immersion blender is a “can’t live without” kitchen tool. “It would make blended soup so easy!,” she says. I agree. No more pouring hot soup into a blender and risking spills and/or explosions. Some people prefer the cordless version—and they are handy—but you risk running out of juice in the middle of pureeing. Corded immersion blenders also seem to have a bit more power.
Chef Steve Loeschner of Chef Steve Personal Chef Service in New Hampshire has a long list of can’t live without tools, including the immersion blender, but also a digital scale, digital thermometer, cooling fans, and an eight-inch chef knife. But what does he want to find in his Christmas stocking? Mario Batali crocs. “I love the color!,” he says. In fact, once he heard that Batali orderd 200 pairs of the orange plastic shoes because he’d heard they were being discontinued, Chef Steve ordered a pair, too. “Sorry, Santa, couldn’t take the chance!”
Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food in Tennessee touts Universal Knife Blocks. “My mother-in-law got us one of these last year for Christmas. They’re a bit large to put in a stocking, but I’ve been recommending them to every foodie I know. It took up less space than our big, chunky wooden knife block AND you can put whatever knife or kitchen shear you darn please into it. There are thousands of plastic ‘filaments’ or some such things that you can stick your knives into that won’t dull them.”
April Lee of Tastefully Yours in Maryland offered enough suggestions to fully outfit a kitchen. She, too, is a fan of the knife blocks—preferring the Kapoosh ones, which she says are bigger—but also included one of her favorite utensils, the Pampered Chef’s Mix ‘N Chop. “There’s nothing out there that chops and browns ground meats, fresh sausage, etc. so easily and into even small pieces. It’s a must have at home and in your PC kit.”
Lee also loves the Joseph Joseph large colander scoop, saying she, “uses this baby for everything and it’s safe to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s great for frying, too.” The Hamilton Beach 1.7 liter programmable electric kettle is another favorite of hers because tea drinkers can choose the temperature they want and it keeps it at that temperature for an hour. Coffee lovers will enjoy another item on her list, the Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker. “I love this! It makes the best coffee, quick, simple, easy to clean. I gave away my French press after getting this!” And, you’ve got to have the Thermopen instant thermometer. “It’s pricey, but worth every penny,” she says. We agree!
Have we missed something fabulous? Please leave a comment and let us know. Next week we’re going to showcase inspirational cookbooks that you can gift others. Please check our Private Discussion Forum – General for Caron’s request for suggestions and tell us what has moved you and why so you can appear here.