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?
What Works:

  • 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)

*Figures compiled from “Food for Fifty” by Mary Molt, 13th Edition and “Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen” by Nicole Aloni

*Figures compiled from “Food for Fifty” by Mary Molt, 13th Edition and “Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen” by Nicole Aloni


Microsoft Word - GRAINS YIELD CHART.docx

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 ( Edible food vessels (savory and sweet), decorations, glazes, personalized chocolates, molecular gastronomy supplies, etc.
  • Restaurant Ware ( “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 ( 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 to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

Photos courtesy of April Lee

Last month life and career coach (and chef) Nicole Aloni helped us discover our values in the first post in her three-part series, Three Keys for Personal Chefs to Enjoy More Balance and Fulfillment in 2015 (heck, any year) for à la minute. Together the three posts in this series guide us in how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of our life–from our careers to our relationships. Nicole feels that these are some of the most valuable skills she shares with her coaching clients. Nicole is a long-time friend of APPCA and has given inspiring programs at several of our national meetings.

Nicole Aloni

This month Nicole addresses:

Part 2: How to Identify and Manage Your Internal Saboteurs

by Nicole Aloni

The new year is a time to reflect and re-evaluate, to consider goals, and re-think our priorities. This three-part series offers an overview of some of the most valuable skills I share with my coaching clients. These can be powerful tools for discovering how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of your life–from your career to your relationships.

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. — Martha Graham

Are you sometimes —perhaps often— aware of thoughts zooming around the periphery of your mind that put you on edge? Quick critical blurts that remind you of how: inept, short, old, selfish, ignorant, childish, overweight, weak, etc.— you are? Or the voice that says, “You’re toohomely, unrealistic, inexperienced, untrained, ordinary, boring—to even THINK of attempting ­­­some goal or dream you long for.”

This is the language of your internal saboteur. Your saboteur can be a man, a woman, an animal, a reptile…anything. There can be one main offender or there may be a posse. You can recognize the handiwork of a saboteur by how it makes you feel—small, disheartened, maybe even hopeless. Their critical monologues always make you doubt yourself and are expert at stirring up fear and anxiety.

Neuroscientists have done remarkable work in recent years uncovering the influences that have created these critical voices we all hear. You may eventually want to check out some of this research. But for now, it’s important that you learn the practical skills necessary to recognize and manage your internal saboteur. This begins by gaining insight into how these critters work and where they hang out. These are the first steps to developing the ability to recognize just who is talking when your head is buzzing with negative junk. Then you can begin to set the saboteur’s opinions aside from your authentic, powerful self.

A life coach can help you do some special exercises designed to identify your saboteur (I sometimes refer to them as gremlins). However, in this article I will show you how to get some clarity about this issue on your own. It’s a great opportunity to start on the road toward a more fulfilling and joyful life—with a lot less backchat.

My chief saboteur looks like a cross between Bob Hoskins as Scrooge and a Roald Dahl troll. His name is Rex and he speaks in a raspy, cranky growl that I can imitate when needed. He always has a crafty little sneer on his face. Rex commonly reminds me that I’m too old to- (fill in the blank). I first noticed him using that barb when I was about 37.

Through work with my first coach, I identified Rex and then learned a number of saboteur management strategies. One of my favorites is to focus on making him as small as a flea and dropping him into a spice bottle. I screw on the lid and put that harmlessly squeaking jar in the back of my closet. Or, if he’s been especially fierce, I may stand on my balcony and throw the bottle into the ocean where his squeaky protests grow quieter as he floats further out to sea. Depends.

Clients have shared some their fabulous saboteur dialog with me which ranges from, “You don’t know anything” to “Whoa boy, you better keep your head down or they’ll figure out who you really are!” to “You’re not interesting enough to get that _____.” The following is a Saboteur Discovery Exercise to help you start listening for your own “gremlins.”


Once you have completed that exercise you will be ready to start putting this knowledge into practice. Listen for those voices and when they creep in, use the strategies you developed in the Saboteur Discovery Exercise to put a headlock on your saboteur.

What steps are you taking this year to improve your career and life in general?

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

Nicole Aloni

Why have we chosen the path of personal chef? A few reasons come to mind. We love to take care of others. We love cooking. And we want control over our careers so we can live a more fulfilling life on our own terms. But, even with the best of intentions and drive, we’re people and we often come up short in meeting our goals and living our dreams. The new year is a time of reflection and re-evaluation, of setting new goals and re-motivating ourselves for the future. So, we’re lucky that life and career coach (and chef) Nicole Aloni has offered to write a three-part series to guide us in how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of our life–from our careers to our relationships. Nicole feels that these are some of the most valuable skills she shares with her coaching clients. Nicole is a long-time friend of APPCA and has given inspiring programs at several of our national meetings.

In this three-part series, Three Keys for Personal Chefs to Enjoy More Balance and Fulfillment in 2015 (heck, any year), Nicole will discuss:

Part 1: Discovering Your Personal Values
Part 2 (in February): How to Identify and Manage Your Gremlins (your internal sabateurs)
Part 3 (in March): Nicole’s favorite techniques for managing stress and enhancing your sense of well being and joy

Discovering Your Personal Values
by Nicole Aloni

We are all on a hero’s journey toward discovering our true life’s purpose—the impact we were born to make on the planet. When we have discovered that path and step in to it, our lives feel full, balanced, and joyous.

To understand and embrace your unique role, it’s essential for you to come to understand what your values are. Firstly—values are not morals. Your values are those energies or qualities without which your life is flat, frustrating, and out-of-sync feeling—and often not as successful as you would like. For example, one of your top values might be receiving recognition/being number one. That is not a moral choice; it is who you are. There is nothing inherently virtuous (or not) in your values. What is important is not the value itself but the degree to which you are fully living it in your day-to-day life.

When you understand your values and then use them as the benchmarks by which you measure all major decisions, your life will come to feel easy, joyous, exciting. You will feel in “flow.” You can wisely assess each decision or opportunity to see whether your top values will be honored or trampled by making that choice and decide accordingly. Making these kind of informed choices will help you find and stay on your own, personal path of flow and fulfillment.

So, it’s essential that you do the work to identify these values that are intrinsic to you—as unique as your DNA. This values discovery is often the work of a focused session or two with your coach. But you can do much of this on your own.

A Values Exercise
Think of a fantastically happy time in your past. Isolate a three- or four-minute snapshot of a time when you felt on top of the world. Were you lying on the beach in Phuket with your toes being lapped by gentle waves? Picking up your baby for the first time? Making a perfect run through powder down a 5-diamond run?

Close your eyes and bring this experience to mind as vividly as you can. Really feel it. Now ask yourself: What made this experience truly marvelous and amazing? Was it my feeling of adventurousness? My sense of mastery? Of independence or vitality? Serenity or the honoring of family? These are values. (Below is a list of some other values that may resonate with you.)

Start your list with the two or three words that are clearly popping out of your experience. Those are values that were being fully honored in that moment. That’s why you felt so alive, plugged-in!

Because our feelings are so complex, most people find it useful to use a string of two or three words to really fully embody a value. And the more absolute specificity and clarity you can achieve, the more powerful this knowledge will be for you moving forward. For instance, consider how different the meaning expressed by the values string of spirituality/love/risk-taking is from spirituality/service to others/intuition.

Ultimately, we are looking for a list of your top 10 values (each probably a string of powerful words as above) that you will order from #1 (most essential to your life, your well-being—this is the one you know you can’t live without) and so on to #10.

This will likely change over time. The order in which you rank your values may shift, and some values may actually slip off the list to be replaced by something new. Lives change. We evolve. And it’s great to check in with this a couple of times a year throughout your life.

Finally, forgive and appreciate yourself just as you are today—about to begin this journey. You are already great!


Nicole is the author of three books about the art of cooking and entertaining: The Backyard Bartender, Secrets From A Caterer’s Kitchen and Cooking for Company. She is also a life and career coach, freelance writer, and teacher.

Nicole completed the diploma course at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris, and then stayed on to work as a chef in France. In California, she owned her own restaurant and directed one of the country’s largest catering operations where she produced events for queens, divas, presidents and Julia Child. Nicole then opened her own high-end catering company, which also produced a line of gourmet food products for fine stores.

After completing her studies at the prestigious Coaches Training Institute, Nicole added whole life coaching for food professionals and others to her career. Nicole helps her clients discover what is possible for themselves and their business. She works with the whole person, bringing into balance the various aspects of life so clients not only reach their potential, but also find deep satisfaction and joy.

She coaches, cooks and entertains in Seattle, WA. You can reach Nicole at and

Values Thought-Starter List
(Keep in mind, the isn’t a shopping list, just a thought-starter. You may identify with some of these or your values may not appear here at all.)

Being the best
Peace of mind
Personal Growth
Receiving Recognition
Risk Taking
Service to others

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