Dennis and Christine

Christine Robinson and Dennis Nosko of Boston’s A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service have long focused on creating healthy meals for their Massachusetts clients. That includes working with families living with dementia. As the population ages and diseases like Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body dementia, Vascular dementia, and others are on the rise, personal chefs like Christine and Dennis can provide a foundation for enabling patients to stay healthy and stay home longer, while also helping caregivers, who live with the stress and anxiety of constantly caring for a declining spouse or parent, with nutritious meals and one less responsibility.

We asked Christine and Dennis to share their experience of serving clients with dementia and their advice is spot on.

Over the years we have had several clients with memory impairment. One of the main concerns of the family is generally how to keep a loved one in their own home for as long as possible, as long as the care level is up to par. 

Food and proper nutrition is a huge component in a dementia patient’s quality of life. Balanced meals can allow physical and emotional health to improve. That’s where personal chefs come in. But it is NOT an easy task and it may not be for you. However, for those who feel up to the challenge, you can make a huge difference in the life of a family dealing with dementia. 

When clients contact us to work with their family members with dementia, it is usually the children, hoping to keep their parents in their own home. Many times they’re out of state and this can pose some logistical questions. You need to figure out who is the “point” person and make one source of contact so that there is less confusion. We find that there is usually a family member who has good information about the physical health of the actual client and that is generally the person with whom you want to deal.

We always try to make the food all about the client recipient, following any dietary restrictions but making food they seem to enjoy. Keeping them fed is most important.

Not every job works out. You can have a spouse who does not want the service, or the person with dementia does not want other people around. In these cases, you have to evaluate if you are doing more harm than good. While there is no clear cut answer for every case, you want to err on the side of what will keep the client the happiest, even if it means ending the cooking relationship, recommending someone else, or even cooking at a close relative’s home for them to deliver.

Here’s what we recommend when taking on a family with a member who has dementia:

1) Establish whether another person coming into the home is going to be a benefit or a distraction. In-home meal service can either be a huge help or a stranger in the house can cause the family member with dementia extra stress…find out how they would respond. Many times a new person in the mix doing something different can be a welcome thing…but don’t be afraid to ask up front. Also test the waters to make sure how the other family members living in the house, usually a spouse, are going to feel about more help…the dignity and wishes of both parties are equally important.

2) Conduct a thorough client assessment, hopefully in person, and with a caregiver or family member other than the spouse present. Learn what type of dementia the loved one has–it could be Alzheimer’s, but it could also be any number of other types of dementia, which have different symptoms and progression. You can learn more about them on the Alzheimer’s Association website. Find out about medications and other health conditions that can be helped or exacerbated by certain foods. Cranberry juice, leafy greens, and flaxseed, for instance, do not go well with coumadin and other blood thinners. Make sure that any family members seeking your service are provided with copies of the assessment. Seeds, nuts, gassy vegetables, onions, and acidic foods should be explored on paper and in reality. Repeat favorites and get rid of textures that are not working. As the disease progresses and medications change, you will have to revisit this to make adjustments. 

3) Pay close attention to textures and tastes. Something as simple as a blueberry skin can be a distraction and texture issue for a patient. Have any caregivers/family members keep track of favorite items, but especially items that are not being eaten. Sometimes a switch from a ground meat to a solid piece can make all the difference. Sometimes, as the disease progresses swallowing becomes more difficult and textures become crucial so patients don’t aspirate food. But each person is different. Keep notes and be amenable to changes. This is not a time to be the creative chef, but to listen closely to a client’s needs.

4) Pay attention to the spouse and his/her likes and dislikes. Many times the person without dementia is the lesser focus. They are going through a difficult time seeing the love of their life slip into unknown territory. Ask about their favorites. Make a treat just for them. Talk to them. So much conversation is focused on the patient that the other person can feel left out, especially if the kids are spearheading the need for the personal chef. Everyone counts and should be part of the experience.

5) Expect that these cook dates will probably take extra time. Plan for it and expect to talk. Take advantage of the moments of lucidity and talk to the client about stories and what they may suddenly be remembering. Be prepared for the opposite as well, when they ask the same question repeatedly or talk to you as if you were a family member no longer with them. Ask their caregiver the best way to respond. Often, it’s just to go along with them and their conversation without correcting them.

6) Don’t try to become the savior. At the stage you are entering their lives, there is rarely a turnaround and no special meatloaf or spice combo is going to be the cure all. Enhance for nutrients where you can, and ask the family if there are any holistic things they want to try, such as cooking with coconut oil, or grassfed meats. As long as it does no harm, take their lead.

7) Expect that you will cry after more than one cook date.

8) Expect that you will get some great, funny, wonderful stories when they talk to you.

9) Don’t be offended by anything that the client may say to you. Dementia works in odd ways and people who would never use coarse language can come up with some doozies. It is part of the condition and please realize it is NOT directed at you.

10) Be flexible and compassionate. Anticipate that things can change on a daily basis and you may be making more or less food as needs fluctuate.

This is a hard job, not for everyone. But cooking for these families can be the most rewarding job. You really can make a difference but don’t enter into it without realizing that a part of your heart will forever hold these families as very dear.

Have you been cooking for clients with dementia? What has your experience 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!

We regularly feature member chefs in this blog and when we do, we like to have photos of both them and their magnificent food. But you’d be surprised at how many people don’t have what we consider to be one of the most essential marketing tools for a food business. It made us think that it was time to remind our members that to grow their business there are certain basics they need to invest in–whether it requires time, money, or both. They won’t guarantee that you get new clients, but not having them certainly puts you at a disadvantage.

We asked members via Facebook what their most essential marketing tools were and we got three answers: car magnet, word of mouth, and a great website. We can’t speak to the effectiveness of a car magnet but certainly a good website is a must. As for word of mouth, well, there’s nothing better. But word of mouth is a result of good marketing and great delivery; it’s not something you can generate on your own.

So, here are the five marketing tools we think are essential for personal chefs to employ–and these are just the minimum.

A good photo of yourself and a variety of beautiful photos of your food. If a reporter or blogger gets in touch and wants to do a piece on you, unless they can send over their own photographer you have to have photos available that they can publish. If you’re teaching a cooking class or doing a demo at a store, they’ll want photos for promoting the event. The food photos have to be sharp, well lit, and well composed.

Oven-Roasted Artichokes

Oven-Roasted Artichokes

 

Chef Carol Borchardt's Cornish Game Hen with Clementine Glaze

Chef Carol Borchardt’s Cornish Game Hen with Clementine Glaze

You must have a photo or two of yourself that is also sharp and well lit and shows you off as a professional and who you are. And the photos must be large enough/have high enough resolution so they don’t look fuzzy when enlarged. Need a primer on shooting good photos? We have you covered in this guest post by APPCA member Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food.

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Shelbie Wassel

Business cards. Attractive, professional-looking business cards must be on you at all times when you’re out and about. Keep them in your wallet, keep them in the pocket of your chef jacket, keep a bunch in your car. Just keep them with you. They must include your name, your business’ name, contact information (including your website URL and Facebook page URL), what you do, and the region you serve. Don’t be shy about using both sides of the card.

A Facebook page. Let us rephrase this, an active Facebook page. We’re all about social media, but we recognize that time can be an issue. If you can, use Twitter, use Instagram, use LinkedIn. But above all, use Facebook and post regularly (at least a couple of times a week) because it’s both a more intimate and expansive way to let potential clients see what you’re doing and learn more about you. It’s an opportunity to reach out to others and show off your talents, brag about your work, and learn how you can help others. Join a group and network. And what do you need for a good Facebook page? See above. Good photos.

Brown Bag

Your chef’s coat. We’ve written about this before. Your chef’s coat tells the world who you are. Wear it into a market and people will ask what you do. Wear it on public transportation and it’ll generate conversation. In short, it’s a no brainer to wear it in public when appropriate–and, of course, keep the pocket filled with business cards to hand out to fellow customers or the butcher or fish monger or farmer.

Angela Rose

Natalie Lewis

A good website. Yes, we finally got there. But what does “good” mean? According to APPCA member Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor, it’s “Ease of use, key word driven on search engines, no ads, not mucking it up…all info transparent and straightforward….pricing, etc right on there…this may be an East Coast thing, but people don’t want the back and forth…we tend to move quickly and if info is vague, we move on to the next….”

For Carol Borchardt, it means thinking about who the customer is going to be.

“The customer/client of a personal chef is most likely going to be affluent, sophisticated, well-traveled and educated. I cringe every time I see typos on a PC website in addition to incorrect capitalization/lower case usage,” she says. “A website in late 2015-2016 needs to look clean, modern and flow well. Even the colors and fonts have to say 2016! Many of our clients probably have their own business websites, so they know what works, what doesn’t work and what looks good. Music is nice when you’re serving a dinner for two, however, music on a website can be a dead giveaway and startling if someone is doing a little web surfing to find a personal chef while at work. Websites also need to be “mobile-friendly,” as the vast majority of people no longer sit down at a computer to search for something–they do it on their phone or tablet. Google now penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly. My site is not “mobile-friendly” at this point and I’m not worried about it because I stay busy. If a new PC can not afford to have a website professionally built, there are simple platforms such as WordPress or SquareSpace to put together a nice-looking website.”

A Thought for Food

We actually have even more basic requirements–because, surprisingly, they are often missing. They include your name, where you are located geographically, what services you provide, a simple way to contact you, and the mention that you are an APPCA member and inclusion of the logo (to give you credibility). You are asking people to invite you into their home. They must know who you are and have confidence that you are legit.

These five marketing tools are the building blocks for getting attention and getting hired. Do a great job and at that point, you gain good word of mouth from clients. And get featured in media. And asked to do cooking classes or demos. And all the other things that make up your own aspirations. It’s all about being the quintessential professional who takes pride in his/her skills and accomplishments.

What are your essential marketing tools? How are you promoting yourself and your business?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Look up professional organizations in the Encyclopedia of Associations and you’ll have to go through quite a long list–some 23,000 national and international organizations. If you have a job or a business, it’s likely there’s a professional society or trade association you can join.

But why? You pay an annual membership fee and what does it give you? Most experts agree on six basics:

  • Industry information and professional development opportunities
  • Networking opportunities
  • Professional credibility
  • Mentoring
  • Job listings
  • Industry best practices
  • Scholarships

Not all organizations offer everything, of course. You have to read up on the organization you’re considering and learn what they offer and if that’s meaningful for your goals. And, you should try to talk to those who are already members to learn about their experience with the group.

At the risk of sounding self-serving, as one of those groups, we’ve worked with thousands of members over the years. As the profession of personal chef has grown and evolved, we like to think our perspective has evolved with it (not to mention what we offer). And while it feels like everything you need to know about your profession is available to track down online–that joining a professional association is irrelevant these days–in fact, we feel that it’s more important than ever. All of us are searching for community, whether it’s via Facebook or what we used to call chat rooms (remember AOL?). All of us are looking for critical business information–how to deal with clients, how to add a new service, what are the latest trends. Having a group of people to call on who are part of a community, who are familiar with the issues you’re going through, and who can help you grow in your profession is invaluable. So is access to information. The question is, though, is the group you’re considering going to be the right fit?

We thought we’d help you figure out this path with some questions for you to ask yourself that should help you decide.

1. What do you wish to accomplish by joining a professional association?

We know that membership in a national or international trade association can give stability and credibility to a new business and elevate the professional impression of that business through the strength and reputation of the association. There’s also strength in numbers. A solid membership base means more opportunities to locate and interact with peers who can contribute to your success. At a basic level it shows you have a certain level of expertise. At a deeper level it also gives you connections to tap into.

2. What type of benefits and support are you looking for?

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Some people join an organization just to put it on their resume or website. It gives that immediate credibility we’ve already cited. But others appreciate a specific list of benefits. These could be access to an online knowledge base, materials like business forms that help with better managing the business, the opportunity to attend continuing education conferences or webinars, support groups via online forums, business visibility through a website or mobile app, professional coaching, access to professional insurance, software systems, website construction, links to industry information sites… The list can go on and on. You need to evaluate what’s most important to you.

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3. What are your expectations of the group?

You have to dig deep for this one–especially since this is one of those things that tends to depend on how much you’re willing to participate. Most association members will say that the more they put into a group by using its resources, participating in events, and interacting with other members the deep their level of satisfaction and the more positive the impact on their businesses and careers.

4. What are you willing to give back to increase the value of the organization?

Initially, your expectations will probably run to “what can they do for me?” But in all honesty, much of those benefits comes from other members who feel such a close connection with the organization and fellow members that they’re doing a lot of the giving. Do you need advice to clarify how to respond to an uncomfortable situation with a client? Certainly whoever is running the organization can respond, but it’s just as likely if you’re asking this on a forum that a fellow member will help–or two or three or more. Perhaps members in your community are teaching classes or mentoring colleagues. In time, one of those members could be you–if that’s important to you. And you know the old saying, the more you give, the more you receive.

Member Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food, who is generous with business advice and photography expertise

Member Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food, who is generous with business advice and photography expertise

We’ve had this experience with many of our members. Our forums are filled with people who are eager to ask questions and eager to offer help and advice. Our conferences are populated with members who offer to teach colleagues in their area of expertise. Many of these members have bonded over the years.

Dennis Nosko and Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor

Dennis Nosko and Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor

One business is A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef, whose chef/owners are Dennis Nosko and Christine Robinson. The Lexington, Mass.-based duo is one of the longest-running personal chef businesses in the greater Boston area. They joined in May 1999 and, as Christine says, “Fifteen years later, when you look forward to renewing membership, that speaks volumes. We are home.”

Christine believes that even though she and Dennis aren’t “joiners” their APPCA membership has given them a wealth of support. “We’ve gotten business guidance in the form of education and support, peer support, access to special benefits like liability insurance, leaders who understand what we do and how it works.”

Christine and Dennis also have thrived on the opportunity APPCA has given them to share experiences so that “we can learn from each other. They’ve built a community to support its members–giving longtime members recognition and allowing them to help guide newer members. From minute one we were invited in to ask questions, compare notes, build the business, receive educational materials, get continuing education, keep up on business and food trends, and get to know colleagues.”

As an organization member, Christine advises people who are newly joining a professional group to make their presence known on forums, ask questions, and keep asking until you get the answer you need. “Get to know the people who do what you do! We’re an eclectic bunch but we really understand each other. Solitary business owners can be lonely. This is our office!”

Indeed, the pros call it networking–but with the right group, what you’re nurturing are long and warm friendships that are both professional and personal.

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So, what is it you’re looking for? If by answering these questions you locate a professional trade association that meets your needs–and you join–you could be embarking on a life- and career-changing journey that gives you the opportunity constantly learn about your industry and how to improve your business. Even more, it will provide the means to meet, interact, support, and enjoy a whole new world of people who appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish and are looking for the same from you.

What are you looking for in a professional association? How can we best meet your needs?

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.

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.

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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!

From left: Dennis, Christine, Candy, Javier, and Jim

From left: Dennis, Christine, Candy, Javier, and Jim

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.