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This past weekend, Escoffier Online International Academy celebrated its 2016 graduating class online and our own Candy Wallace delivered the commencement address. Candy considers it to be a tremendous honor to have been asked to speak to the students, but it’s no surprise that they would invite her. After all, she has had close ties to Escoffier. In 2014 she was inducted into Disciples of Escoffier, and has been serving on the Advisory Committee of the Auguste Escoffier Schools of Culinary Arts.

During her 12-minute talk, Candy reviewed her own culinary career and how, 24 years ago, she came to launch the then-new profession of personal chef. For Candy, it’s all about having options throughout your career. You may start on the line in a restaurant and love the demands and hours of that job. But maybe 10 years in or 20 your priorities change. Candy wanted to create an option for culinarians who wanted to continue to cook for people to be their own boss, have their own business, focus on their dreams–but in a way that suits their changed lifestyle or interests.

In her address, Candy emphasized the value of learning in the course of a culinary career. She told the graduates that if they’re entering the industry in a restaurant to learn something everyday. To volunteer to take on tasks. To keep your mouth closed and do what you’re asked and do it with joy. The time will come soon enough when your skills catch up with your opinions and your opinion will then be valued by a time-pressed executive chef.

And, throughout your career, she said, “Read, watch videos, travel if you get the chance. Developing a global palate is a lifelong journey that you’re going to enjoy. Get out, look around, taste, and talk to the farmers and chefs and fishermen you encounter in your travels and learn.”

Candy also did a special call out to one of our valued APPCA members, Beth Volpe of Savory Eats by Beth in Glendale, California. Beth, she said, had joined APPCA and launched a successful personal chef business but wanted to have official culinary credentials, so she asked Candy for advice. Candy suggested Beth enroll in the Escoffier Online International Academy. Beth did so the next day and now she was one of the graduates Candy was congratulating in her commencement address. “She kept her word and did the work. I’m proud to call her my colleague,” Candy said.

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It turned out that shortly after the delivery of the address, Candy received this note from Beth:

Hi Candy,

At 8:00 am this morning Joe (my husband) and I settled in with our coffee to watch Graduation.  I was very excited for him to hear you speak and put a name to the face.  You are obviously my mentor and he has heard me talk forever about you and your success. Your speech was so fantastic and outlined your journey and the culinary path of being a personal chef. Needless to say we both about fell off the couch when you mentioned me. And at the same time started tearing up. We were so shocked and so humbled and proud. I can’t thank you enough for such a mention. I feel so honored and am still in awe. You have certainly made our day, our month, our year. 

I had my family watch this graduation ceremony not knowing that I would be mentioned and they too were thrilled.

Thank you for remembering me.  You changed the course of my life and allowed me to make the dream come true.

With warmest regards and XOXO

Beth

We hope that as you search for your culinary direction you consider all your options–there are so many now–and that a grounded education is your first step. And if your journey is to become a personal chef, that you get in touch with Candy at APPCA so that she can help guide you on your path and give you the help you need to establish and run a thriving business. We hope that watching her address below gives you the inspiration you’ve been looking for to take your next steps!

Are you considering a culinary career? What is your passion when it comes to food and cooking? Is being a personal chef an option for you?

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

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Since becoming a personal chef in 2011 APPCA member Dan Vogt has chosen his own path for operating his business. Instead of traveling to client homes to cook, he’s always opted to use a commercial kitchen for cooking and then delivers their meals.

“It’s completely custom, but I can do the cooking on my own time and I’m not bothering anyone in their home,” he explains. “I thought if it were me, I wouldn’t want to have someone in my kitchen clanging around pots and pans. I just want someone to make what I want and bring it to me. And because I rented a commercial kitchen I could service many more clients.”

Vogt’s focus has been on a clean eating approach, using local, organic ingredients as much as possible. Based in Long Branch, New Jersey, Vogt works with a broker for farmers markets in Pennsylvania who is himself a farmer. Based on what’s available, Vogt designs his menu.

Paleo Winter Tacos

Paleo Winter Tacos

“My niche is gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free,” he explains. “I work with doctors, with whom I’ve created alliances, to address specific diets. My meal plans can meet everyone’s needs.” 

For years, Vogt called his personal chef business Food by Dan. It’s attracted both locals and vacationers at the Jersey shore. He works with NFL athletes and consults with their dietitians to optimize their nutrition. Vogt also partners with about six doctors in New Jersey. He does weight loss and lifestyle coaching with people trying to lose weight, often in partnership with local gyms.

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But recently, Vogt had a brainstorm. He re-conceived the business and changed its name to Hello Chef. The biggest change was opening a quick-service storefront, also called Hello Chef, on December 7, with hours from 9 to 3 Monday through Saturday. It features breakfast, lunch, and cooking classes, while also Vogt also prepares his custom meals for clients in the back. People can come in and pick up prepared meals, they can eat in (Hello Chef  seats 25), and they can set up a private dinner with Vogt, including a farm-to-table dinner party at the restaurant.

Because Vogt doesn’t have the overhead of serving and bussing staff–it’s just himself, his wife, and a dishwasher–expenses can be kept down and he can cook client meals. Eventually, he’d like to hire a line cook who can put together dishes Vogt already has prepped so he can focus more on the business–not in the business. That’s a big difference to him.

Vegan Black Eyed Pea Hash with Acorn Squash Bowl and Pomegranate Guac

Vegan Black Eyed Pea Hash with Acorn Squash Bowl and Pomegranate Guac

Vogt saw a huge need for this kind of quick service food option in Long Branch. “In our area, there are places where you can get good food, but it’s limited. They tend to be stuffy, high-end places where entrées are $35 to $40. Most folks can’t afford that,” he says. “I think it’s unfair. People should be able to eat real food. I want to make high-quality food at a reasonable price. So I came up with the idea of having a quick-service place with fresh real food. It’s more expensive than other quick-service places, but people understand they get what they’re paying for.”

So, is the storefront the focus of Hello Chef? No. In fact, Vogt, says, it’s basically a way to market his personal chef services. He tells of a customer who came in for breakfast, but after learning about his personal chef services, ended up spending about $200 by ordering 10 customized dinners and a couple of quarts of soup.

High Brow Breakfast Stack

High Brow Breakfast Stack

One recent Friday night, he hosted a girls night out with all-you-can-eat appetizers. He had 25 people at the event at $60 a person. “It’s a way to promote our real business, which is meal plans,” he says. “That’s our whole push.”

“We get summer beach crowds in Long Branch, and we’ll be marketing to those complexes,” he says. “Imagine planning a vacation and having food ready in your fridge when you arrive.”

He’s also talking to investors about launching a healthy food truck business by this summer. And, Vogt is working toward opening multiple locations with the idea of franchising some day.

Vegan Cranberry Apple Crisp

Vegan Cranberry Apple Crisp

Are you trying to develop ways to expand your personal chef business? Vogt has a few tips for you:

  1. Give thought to your goals. Everybody’s business goals are different. Do you want to build something that self sustains or something where you’re your own boss? Think about it. There’s a big difference. For me, it’s something that self sustains.
  2. Get creative. Consider how you can do something different to market your business. Trade your skills with a gym to get in front of clients. You can’t be stingy with it. Build that sense of trust with people and they’ll tell everyone about you.
  3. Marketing is what it’s all about. You can have the best food in the world but if no one knows about you, nobody’s going to care.

Do you have a unique approach to running your personal chef business? Let us know if you need any help or advise!

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.

Ed Fluck

Long before the general public really understood the term, Edward Fluck became a private chef. Certainly the wealthy among us have had butlers and cooks, but it was only around 25 years ago that they started bringing private chefs into their households.

Chef Ed Fluck, known to all as “Chef Ed,” a longtime member of APPCA, had been cooking professionally for 15 years when he was recommended for the position of private chef to Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons. More than 42 people were interviewed for the job, but Chef Ed was less concerned about the competition than the actual match.

“You have to make sure the match is perfect because it’s like a marriage. You live on site and are with the family constantly,” he explains.

That meant that he also, delicately, interviewed Charlotte Smith, Rankin Smith’s wife, during their initial meeting, asking her why they wanted to have a chef at that point in their life. He liked her response. First, she said, they wanted to do more entertaining for charities and hosting out-of-town guests. Second, she just didn’t like dealing with the kitchen and wanted to stay away. “I found that very refreshing,” Chef Ed recalls. “She was honest and not playing games.” It turned out she also needed someone to manage the house and staff of six. That intrigued him. It was a new challenge and something he looked forward to.

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But he also did his research and, to his satisfaction, found that many of the staff had been there for more than 10 years—so he didn’t see it as a situation in which the client was going through a lot of employees.

Chef Ed worked for them for six years, until Rankin Smith passed away and his widow moved to Florida. During that time, he learned that not only did he and the staff have to conform to Mrs. Smith’s schedule—so did their guests. If lunch was scheduled for 12:30, not even their guests could request lunch an hour later. As she told him, “You’re not a short-order cook.”

“She was very tough but we got along very well. Even so, you always have to remember–even when they take you on vacation—that they’re your employer. You still have to make sure they’re taken care of,” he says.

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As a private chef, Chef Ed explains, you’re dedicated to the client. You’re just working for one family and the tasks in his case not only involved cooking, but all the shopping, managing the household (“I logged in every phone call that came in.”), banking, and car maintenance. No, he didn’t do that himself, but hired and supervised those who did.

Chef Ed points out that the standards for a private chef are exceptionally high. “The people I worked for could eat anywhere in the world, so I had to learn to do everything in the kitchen exceptionally well. As a private chef you’ll have a brief career if you limit what you make.”

He was in his 40s when he worked for the Smiths, and Chef Ed enjoyed living on the property, although “it was kind of like being 16,” he jokes. “I’m not in my own house, but I wanted to be respectful of their privacy, so I’d call when I’d go out and come in. I wanted Mrs. Smith to know everything that was going on in her home.”

After leaving the Smith household, Chef Ed went to work for another couple of prestigious families, as well as taking on personal chef clients—but at, what he calls, “a more high-end level, going into the homes a couple of times a week to create meals that would be served that day, not frozen meals for reheating.”

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Even today he still has a private chef client, but no longer lives on the property. He has the household keys, does the cooking for the family a couple of days a week, but also runs a successful weekend event business in Atlanta, sans preset menu.

Chef Ed passes on some advice for those interested in becoming private chefs:

  1. Get as much experience as possible before starting down the road to being a private chef. The deeper your background is in cooking, the better. The question I get asked the most is, ‘What is your specialty?’ You need to be able to do everything well. In the six years I was with Rankin Smith I cooked over 6,000 meals. If you aren’t able to do anything and everything to a very high standard, people will grow tired of your ‘specialty’ cooking. It’s like going to the same restaurant every day for six years.
  2. Research your potential employer. You don’t want to work for ‘a name.’ You’re going to work for and live with people. Knowing about them as people and employers is more important. You could end up working with someone who becomes a great lifelong relationship, or you could end up in a job where you are on call 24/7 and get run into the ground. And when that causes you to leave, you can create a stain on your reputation.
  3.  If you’re working full time in one family’s home 40 to 50 hours a week, the more positive life experience you must demonstrate–i.e., responsibility, trustworthiness, and confidentiality, the better. The earlier in your life you make the decision to hone these skills the more valuable you are to your employer and the better chance you have to create the work you enjoy. Your prospective employers are looking for someone who can handle a great deal of responsibility, evaluate situations with balanced, seasoned judgment, and who has the ability to relate to all the other people in their orbit –- from the highest status to the lowest — in order to build solid relationships of trust and competence. Only in that way can that a household run smoothly every day. I read an article about private chefs/house managers and it said the average age of the chef was 50 years old.

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My approach was to get “as much experience as I could as young as possible,” Chef Ed says. “I was captivated and excited about learning everything I could in as many different venues as I was able. During my 30’s, I put in my 10,000 hours of refinement,” he said, referring to Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, the 2008 book’s “10,000-hour rule”–the number of hours of practice needed to acquire mastery of a skill. “I didn’t think about being a private chef until the opportunity presented itself. Things were different 30 or 40 years ago. The business was not as bright and shiny as it is today.

“I like the world I have created for myself,” he says. “I never thought of it as unique, just a world where I was comfortable and happy and able to do what I loved.”

Are you intrigued about being a private chef? What skills do you need to hone to get there?

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 Edward Fluck

 

APPCA member Lola “Dee” Dondanville has run her personal chef business, Just Deelicious, since 2012. Her Bullhead City, Ariz.-based company does mostly special occasion gatherings (not much call where she is for weekly service, she says) and supplies healthy lunches for several non-profit organizations. She also writes a healthy food blog called What’s Cooking, Healthy Cooking by Lola Dee. When she told us that she’d been asked to speak at an elementary school career day about being a personal chef, we just had to get her to share her experience. Here it is:

I received a call in January from one of our local elementary school teachers, inviting me to speak at career day at Sunrise Elementary, here in Bullhead City, Ariz., where I live and work. She found my name by googling “personal chef” for our area. My name popped up on the APPCA site, as I happen to be one of the only personal chefs listed in Mohave County, Ariz. She asked me to create a 30-minute presentation for three successive groups of 4th through 6th graders. My assignment was to not only give information about being a personal chef, but to directly relate it to math, science, and English. Of course, I planned on doing some preaching about healthy eating too! Brilliant!

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I was excited and honored to be invited. As it so happens, Sunrise Elementary is a beautiful new school, just around the corner from my home. Once I found the right door and made it through security, I was greeted by some of my fellow presenters, the proverbial butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. I met a doctor, the county coroner, (forensics is a popular career), a lawyer, firemen, EMT’s, a pastry chef from Harrahs, and many others. We made our way into the auditorium to the assembly of the entire student body featuring a pep talk presented by our Parks & Recreation Director, a Bullhead City native.

The enthusiasm and sheer energy coming from a room full of elementary school students is palpable. I began to feel a rush of happy energy just being in their presence. It was near Valentine’s Day, so my bright pink chef’s coat and chef hat with my custom embroidered heart logo that means “Cooking From the Heart” were very appropriate! The kids responded so positively, and were so excited, gazing at me with beaming faces and smiles.

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After the assembly, I was shown to “my” classroom, where I would be making my presentations. As it turns out, I was assigned to the art teachers classroom, and she happens to be the daughter of a good friend and colleague of mine! Janet made me comfortable, and set me up with a table, erasable board, and everything I needed for my presentation.

The first group filed in, all bubbly and excited. The first question I asked the kids was, “So who wants to be a chef?” Almost every single child raised their hand excitedly, which really tickled me. I then began my presentation, covering all my bullet points followed by a question-and-answer period. I shared personal stories, about my background of childhood poverty and divorce, and how my single mother of five was the original Martha Stewart. I described how my Mom/role model did organic gardening, cooking, canning, baking, sewing, crafts, remodeling, and so much more. The kids could relate to this, as many are experiencing hardships in their own lives. They began to open up and share stories of their own. It was very touching!

I was easily able to connect a personal chef career to the value of knowing math by doing examples of math problems for costing meals, and the exact formulas we use to be profitable. Food safety and baking were my examples of science. Vocabulary was utilized by discussing all the words and terms we use in cooking. I emphasized hard work, self esteem, responsibility, business management, marketing, sales, and customer service, in addition to the cooking skills. I, of course, pitched healthy eating and  cooking. My healthy eating mantras for the kids were: “Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Find the ones you like and eat them often” and “Cook real food at home with your family.”

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The second group was equally enthusiastic, but by the time the third group came in, they were getting restless, so it took more energy to keep them captive. They were really excited about getting their photos taken and being featured on my blog, Facebook, etc. It made them feel famous, as they all seem to watch TV cooking shows. 😀

I think the most poignant memory of the day for me was from a sweet young Mexican boy, 11 years old, who very seriously told me he needs to take care of his family and look after his mother. He told me his mom is a very good cook and wanted to know if I could hire her if I needed some kitchen help, but told me she does not speak much English. Such a sincere, sweet and caring young boy, trying to help his mom. It really melted my heart.

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That’s about it. I was so jazzed the rest of the day. Being around these kids was so uplifting and fun. I would recommend this experience for any of my fellow chefs if you get the chance. It is both fun and uplifting, and is great marketing as well. As personal chefs, it really gives us validation to be included on career day, alongside other chefs with prestigious careers. It also puts your good name and brand out there for potential bookings. As you can see I hung up my sign and also handed out cards.

Lola Dondanville, aka “Lola Dee” because Dondanville is way too long, 🙂

Are you sharing your personal chef career experiences with the next generation?

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.

While chatting with Chef Bart Dorfman by phone today a topic came up that I have not addressed in the forums for some time, and Bart suggested I do so today, so here it is:

What is the difference between a personal chef service and other home meal replacement, meal delivery service; grocery store HMR pickup service; drive by restaurant pick up service and other HMR (home meal replacement) meals available in the market place today?

Thanks, Bart!

I’ve said many times for many years that what separates personal chefs from pick up or delivery service home meal replacements is the SERVICE aspect of our programs. Many times, personal chefs replace Mom or Grandma in the household from a standpoint of being that person who pays scrupulous attention to what the members of the family WANT and NEED to feel well and to feel supported.
Personal chefs are SCRATCH cooks using fresh ingredients. Personal chefs are giving their clients exactly what they want, exactly the way they want it to be enjoyed WHEN they want it.

Personal Chefs conduct an in depth assessment of each clients’ food preferences not only from a standpoint of what and how they like to eat, but also from a standpoint of allergies, sensitivities and flavor or ingredient prejudices. If a client dislikes an ingredient or is sensitive or allergic to an ingredient, we can guarantee that ingredient will never cross their threshold. I repeat, we can GUARANTEE it!

Delivery services pick up services and home meal replacements are designed and prepared for a broad-based palate and are intended to NOT offend clients who purchase them. In so doing, they actually manage to offend EVERYONE because the food tends to be bland in its makeup and its attempt to not offend anyone. Personal chef meals are palate specific to the client’s taste and the client’s requests.
Personal chef custom designed, palate specific meals taste exactly the way the client wants them to taste and reflect the client’s specific wants and needs. Further, their meals are most often prepared in the safety of the client’s kitchen where the personal chef is the guarantee of safe food preparation for the client’s peace of mind.

In today’s changing and aging population more and more people are being diagnosed with specific medical challenges or are simply reaching the realization that eating food that is NOT prepared from fresh ingredients or sourced from reputable NON GMO ingredients can have a negative effect on their health and well-being. A personal chef will do the research for the client’s needs and source ingredients from local purveyors who guarantee their safety. We are actively working to protect our clients from harm and contribute to their well being and the quality of their lives by providing nutritious, delicious meal support from safe food sources.

Many personal chefs work directly with local organic farms and CSA groups (community sourced agriculture) who provide weekly produce for residents of the community. Not every client will request this type of service, but for those who want to know where their produce, seafood and often meat are being sourced, personal chefs can tell them.

The world we live in is less than friendly sometimes. I have often said that if someone creates a “charm school” for retail clerks they will become very rich, because most retail clerks are surly, disinterested in the client’s needs or opinions and could really care less whether or not the client enjoys the experience of shopping in their establishment.

Personal chefs, on the other hand are actually asking their clients: What would you like, what do you need? I’ll get it and do it for you! Good grief, folks. We are a bright spot in their lives because we actually ask them want they want and then we GIVE IT TO THEM!!

Personal chefs ROCK, and our client’s are wise to be using our outstanding services to ensure their enjoyment of our custom designed healthy delicious meals in the comfort of their own homes and having the time back in their lives to enjoy dining with their family and loved ones.

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