Me at the end of a work day

One of the most important things that APPCA founder and executive director Candy Wallace likes to stress about why she developed the personal chef path is that is was designed to be a valid alternative career path to commercial cooking situations that drained the creativity and joy out of professional culinarians’ lives. It was created to offer trained pros an umbrella under which they could provide their services and skills–always in a state of evolution.

Sometimes that means leaving it for new opportunities–as our recent conversation with Nicole Gaffney showed. And sometimes it means circling back–as today’s conversation with Tracy Pizura demonstrates. Life takes many turns and Tracy, after 14 years away from being a personal chef to run her own cafe in South Florida, recently decided to return to the personal chef industry, restart her business, now named Summer Rain Cafe, and rejoin APPCA.

We chatted with Tracy about her journey away and back to learn what the pull is for being a personal chef.

Tracy grew up passionate about cooking, having first started baking when she was about eight. Her grandma would send her handwritten recipe cards with her cookie recipes on them. Tracy progressed to preparing dinner for her family of seven and says she was exposed to the finest of restaurants, which, “motivated me to continuously learn about and how to prepare all kinds of foods,” she says. “With such a large family I had plenty of tasters.”

Healthy Taco Salad

As the oldest of five siblings, she took over meal responsibilities when her parents gambling resulted in their losing all their money. For awhile cooking was limited to things like running hot water over an unopened can of Chef Boyardee in the bathroom sink. When they finally moved into a motel with a full kitchen, she took on the cooking as a joy, never considering it as a career. In fact, she sold insurance for awhile, waited tables, did bartending. Finally, a customer suggested she apply to culinary school. As it happened, he was an administrator of Johnson and Wales University, which was opening a school in South Florida. Two-and-a-half years later she graduated at the top of her class. She also married, got pregnant, and had to figure out how to earn a living while caring for a daughter she had resolved not to place in day care. Enter the personal chef business. “I contacted Candy Wallace after discovering her on the Internet,” she recalls. “She was so kind and giving, she gave me all the support I needed without asking for anything in return. I will never forget her generosity.”

Elegant Edibles, in Jacksonville, Florida, did well, but after Sept. 11, 2001, Tracy decided to return to South Florida to be closer to her family. She closed the business, moved with her four-year-old daughter and husband and focused on her daughter–including homeschooling her. But, she says, an opportunity came her way to open a 16-seat cafe in a condominium, which she did for about a year and a half, while also occasionally cooking for a client (that personal chef bug never did completely leave her).

After separating from her husband in 2008, Tracy needed a better means of financial support for her and daughter Summer that would also be flexible. She found it in a small cafe located in a medical building near her home.

“It wasn’t up to code but I knew I could get is licensed and running. So I took all the money I could off the few credit cards I had and went for it,” she says. “That was six years ago. Summer Rain Cafe, named after my daughter, was the best decision I ever made. Summer and I worked it together. It was her last year of homeschooling and I taught her how to be an entrepreneur.”

carrot cake

But once Summer started high school, the long hours, the daily breakdown, and the cleaning all started to wear on Tracy, who no longer felt that creativity that comes from cooking and developing recipes. So just a month ago she closed the cafe and has returned to her original business as a personal chef, but keeping the name of the cafe for her personal chef business.

“The first thing I did was rejoin the APPCA,” she says. “I am glad to be back and hope to find old friends and meet new ones on the forums and in the area where I live.”

Tracy acknowledges that, “When you own a restaurant you have an overhead you must meet every month. This means you have to focus on making money and some of my most profitable items were sodas, chips and unhealthy snacks. I didn’t like selling those items as I don’t eat them myself. But, business is business and I was there to make money.

“Which leads me to the most important reasons I chose to return to the personal chef industry. I can run a business that is good for the community. It makes money but it truly helps people. I can choose when I want to work and when I don’t. There are new and exciting challenges with each client and I find that most of them want to eat healthier and I am there to help. It is much more creative as you plan new menus every week and are preparing all types of interesting dishes. You can focus on quality ingredients that are better for the planet. Your environment changes constantly so your not going to the same place every day.

“And, most importantly you don’t have the stress of meeting a large overhead every month.”

Because Tracy has always followed the industry–even when she was running the cafe–she has seen how it’s evolved, grown, and become more mainstream. Clients are better educated about food, and she’s found that commercial kitchens give personal chefs opportunities to streamline and cook for more than one family and then deliver meals, which enables personal chefs to compete with meal delivery services. Tracy herself has gained so much experience in the food industry. All this has given her much more confidence in her ability to succeed than she had years before.

Club Sandwich

Under that personal chef umbrella she’s creating, Tracy will certainly do weekly meal service for clients. She’s targeting clients who want to eat and live an organic and sustainable lifestyle–those who shop at farmers markets and prefer locally grown product. She specializes in unprocessed foods that are free of refined sugar, and diets like Paleo and low carb. She’s also drawn to Jewish/Kosher-style cooking and thanks a Jacksonville client for sharing so many recipes with her and teaching her kosher practices that she can use for the large Jewish population in South Florida. But she also is marketing dinner parties and cooking classes.

And, she’s no fool, she’s eying the many yacht owners in the area. “I would not mind a trip through the Caribbean as a perk on the job,” she says.

Where are you in your culinary journey? Are you contemplating career changes? How can we help you figure out next steps?

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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