That thing that I do…Part 2
After reading the manual that USPCA sent to me about how to build a Personal Chef business, I rushed down to city hall and applied for my business license. I didn’t have any clients and sure wasn’t going to tell my boss that I was systemically plotting how to quit one job to take on another. With every pay check for about two months, I bought equipment for the business. I bought the cheapest things that I could find, not understanding what kind of wear and tear I was going to put on them. Boy was the first year an eye opener about what a beating my equipment was going to take.
When I had all the equipment that I thought I was going to need, I handed in my month’s notice at work. The head chef was disappointed I was quitting (they usually feel that way about slave labor). He said that my job was there waiting for me when my business failed. FAIL??? That wasn’t in the manual and certainly not in my business plan!! Kiss my…well you know…I have never gone back.
The premise of this job is based on what is called a cycle menu. Hospitals, schools and businesses that feed their employees are all based on this system. A cycle menu repeats it self anywhere from 5 days to weeks on end. The USPCA model is based on 5 days.
Once I get a call to enlist my services I do a face-to-face interview with the client and sometimes a room full of relatives and onlookers. I bring a food survey that has evolved over the last 8 years, a new client packet, and a Service
Agreement... I have the client fill out the survey to see what their food preferences are and then we discuss what their expectations are. Sometimes what I can provide is not exactly what they are looking for. I have the client sign the Service Agreement for several reasons. I really am not looking to lock anyone into a relationship that might not work for them. I want them to understand that I am there to cook-not let their dog out, answer their phone, receive packages from UPS or baby-sit their children or elderly relatives. I am there to cook. I also tell them what they can expect from me and what I expect from them; no bounced checks and no canceled services less than three days before their service date unless it’s an emergency. I need their vital statistics and an E mail address so that I can E mail them a prospective menu.
When I go home I put their preferences into a special computer program set up just for Personal Chefs and then start looking through the program’s recipes that might interest the client. If the client is not a picky eater I can send them at least 10 choices that include, beef, chicken, seafood, pork and vegetarian entrees. When I E mail the suggested entrees, I ask them to pick 5 main courses. I usually reserve the right to choose their side dishes according to what they have chosen for their entrée.
I will use a couple as the example of how the service works. Since they pick 5 entrees, I cook 5 different things but 4 portions of each entrée. That means they are now eating from the cycle menu where the week repeats. So for example if I make Chicken Cordon Bleu, I make four of them. Two of the Chicken Cordon Bleus are in one package and the other two in another package. Each package has a label telling the client what is inside, the thawing and reheating instructions, the date the dish was made and how many portions are inside. So there will be two packages of Chicken Cordon Bleu. In all the clients will have 10 sets of two entrees and then 2 sets of a side dish that will go well with an entrée?
I do the shopping for the clients menu the same day that I cook. I bring my own equipment so that I don’t have to use anything that belongs to the client. Besides, I am used to my own knives and keep them extremely sharp. I like using my own equipment.
When I arrive the there are two things that I do first. I always and I do mean always open up the oven door to be sure that the client is not storing their bread or pots and pans in the oven. When all is clear I get the oven turned on. The second thing that I do whether or not I need to is get a pot of water boiling. I then carry in all the groceries and equipment and do my thing.
Doing what I do is like being a “line” cook in a restaurant. The object is to get everything to get done in a timely manner without burning down the kitchen. I can usually keep 4 burners going at all times while prepping for what is next.
I wanted to call everyone’s attention to a great blog and Podcast by my friend Mark Tafoya at The ReMarkable Palate. If you go to his blog you can click on to his link for his podcasts. They are both interesting and educational. Mark recently did an interview with John Moore from The United States Personal Association. He is the Executive Director. You will learn more about the USPCA and how many Personal Chefs there are industry wide . You will also get a link to find yourself a Personal Chef for any occasion.