WS-5

You’ve met APPCA member Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine. We’ve written about this Dallas-based personal chef before. She recently sent us a note about a client whose dietary needs posed real challenges to her skill set. But instead of turning them down, she turned it around, did a lot of research, and ended up having a learning experience that she says has made her a better chef. We thought you’d be interested in her dilemma and how she solved it–along with a couple of recipes she created for them. 

I have started cooking for the most difficult client (menu-wise) that I have ever had in all the time I’ve been doing this.  They are delightful people (thank heavens!) and enjoy everything I cook for them.  Personally I think it’s as much about the service as it is the food with this client, but just my thought.

Here’s what they do not eat:

  • No sugar
  • No onions, beets, carrots, etc. – no root vegetables
  • No pasta, potatoes, rice, wild rice, quinoa, farro, barley, or grains of any kind (but they eat about 1 to 1 1/2 pieces of bread a day) – no bread crumbs, panko, etc.
  • No beans or lentils
  • No mayonnaise or yogurt
  • No honey, agave, etc.
  • Very little cheese – some fresh mozzarella, ricotta, etc.
  • Very little soy sauce/Worcestershire sauce

They will eat a little butter, olive oil, sesame oil, avocado, artichokes, sour cream, olives, and miso. And a bit of salt. They’re not on the Paleo plan, or gluten-free, but just have consulted with a nutritionist and are going by those recommendations. This couple is probably in their 60’s and they look great, so I guess it’s working.

I did a cooking class for this couple’s children and spouses, and they started talking to me that night about cooking for them. I told them I needed to do some research before I could commit. I didn’t want to start cooking for people on such a special regimen unless I had at least a good handful of recipes in my “arsenal,” especially since it would be a once a week gig. And she told me they liked to eat beef (usually a steak) out, so for me to focus on ground turkey and chicken recipes, along with side dishes. Also some fish dishes, although they like to grill salmon. Thankfully it’s summer, so lots of great veggies abound now.

Green Beans with Toasted Pecans_edited-1

I started going through all my side dish recipes, chicken recipes and the few ground turkey recipes I have.  Then I hit the Internet, combing through recipe after recipe, and communicating with the client to double-check on permissible ingredients. After three days (almost solid) of research, I was pretty proud of the fact that I had come up with about five pages of possible entrees and side dishes for them. My brain was fried, though! I also talked to a fellow personal chef here in town for whom I’ve worked with on some dinner parties, and who probably has more experience with special diets than I do. Even she was stumped!

Here are some of the things I have come up with:

  • Zucchini Lasagna: Made with slices of zucchini for the noodles, ground turkey, fresh herbs, tomato sauce and paste, and a little fresh mozzarella
  • Stuffed Bell Peppers with Ground Turkey and Vegetables
  • Marinated chicken: They like to grill so I’ve found some good recipes using garlic, olive oil, fresh citrus juices, and some that are “rubs” to put on the chicken. I also suggested chicken thighs, as they can be more flavorful. I have some more Asian-oriented marinades as well, since Asian food tends to be more healthy (sometimes) and uses things like fresh ginger, soy sauce, Worcestershire, Sriracha, etc.
  • Baked Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks with Lemon
  • Baked Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Caramelized Onions
  • Roasted Multi-Color Cherry Tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil_edited-1

  • Baked Chicken Breasts with Lemon, Cumin and Mint
  • Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Lemon and Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Turkey Lettuce Wraps with ground turkey, spices & Sriracha, wrapped in lettuce leaves to eat
  • Forty Cloves of Garlic Chicken: a whole chicken roasted with 40 cloves of garlic, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper
  • Trout in Foil with Jalapeños and Lemon: A big hit!
  • Roasted Broccoli with Garlic
  • Steamed Green Beans with Toasted Pecans
  • Cucumber, Onion and Fresh Dill Summer Salad

Cucumber Dill Salad-2

For fish, I prepare it and they like to bake it off, so I do fish in foil, and fish in parchment paper. They were eating tilapia (which, I’m sorry, is “starter fish” to me) so I made them some snapper and halibut and they thought it was the greatest thing in the world!  Parchment is great because you can layer aromatics like fennel, lemongrass, etc. and just use a bit of olive oil and  lemon with maybe something like capers and you   can’t go wrong.

When a recipe calls for onions, I use green onions. I double-check the recipe to see if green onions would be a good substitute and in most cases I can use them, but have to use a lot to make up for the quantity of what would be ½ cup of chopped onion, as an example.

That’s just a few ideas. I also thought about roasting plain chicken breasts or thighs but making flavorful sauces to go on top of them. I have an “Aji Verde” sauce with cilantro, jalapeño, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, cumin and sour cream that is really good. And using ingredients like fresh lemon juice/sliced lemons, mustard (Dijon and regular), miso and similar type things helps flavor up chicken.

The best part of all this is that it has truly made me a better chef. Most of the recipes I have made for them are new to me, but I can tell pretty much whether or not it will be at least somewhat tasty. All that research I did is really good to have and may help me in the future. I am sure there are some APPCA chefs who might think this is a piece of cake but it was really a “let’s raise the bar” moment for me. Guess a lot of my clients have been more “comfort food” oriented, and even the healthy eaters weren’t this strict.

I am more confident each time I cook for them and they are terrific about feedback. They have liked pretty much everything I have cooked and I’m not even halfway through my five-page list yet!

Bell Peppers-1_edited-1

Stuffed Peppers with Ground Turkey and Vegetables

Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 green bell peppers, tops removed, seeded, and chopped
1 pound dark meat ground turkey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 zucchini, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 cup fresh spinach
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Italian seasoning, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In skillet over medium heat, cook turkey, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt and pepper, until turkey
is evenly browned. Set aside.

Heat oil in same skillet and cook onion, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers, and chopped pepper tops until tender. Add drained canned diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Add spinach and cook until spinach is sufficiently wilted. Stuff green peppers with skillet mixture.

Put peppers in oven and cook approximately 40 min.

Pistachio Chicken-3_edited-1

Pistachio-Crusted Chicken

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts, finely ground
3/4 teaspoon salt (DIVIDED USE)
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced sweet onion

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grind nuts in food chopper. Mix nuts in pie plate with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. If chicken breasts are large, pound to thin them.

Dredge chicken breasts in egg mixture, then pistachio nuts. Press nuts firmly into chicken with hands. Place chicken breasts on plate or tray and refrigerate 30 minutes or longer (helps “set up” the nut mixture to adhere to chicken better).

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in pan and cook chicken breasts, 2 minutes per side. Remove chicken from
pan.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté diced onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Sauté onions until browned.

Place chicken in baking dish, top with sauteed onion, and bake 15 minutes or until thermometer inserted in thickest portion of chicken registers 160 degrees and juices run clear.

Have you been faced with client dietary requests that knocked you out of your comfort zone? What did you do? Say no or figure it out?

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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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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