Monthly Archives: February 2011

Day Five in Decatur

It’s hard to believe my time here is coming to a close. It’s been busy, exhausting, and, most of all, exciting. I feel so lucky to have had so many stars align that led to my being here, and not just taking this course but taking it now, with this instructor, in this city, with these classmates.

I had the nerdiest happy moment of all time this morning. I had nabbed my morning coffee and was walking down the hill to class. I first was laughing (maybe even out loud) that school was delayed two hours here today because of snow. Check out the blizzard that hit us today:

Anyway, I was walking down the hill, happy to be warm, have delicious Starbucks in my hand, and listening to my iPod. A Blonde Redhead song came on, which somehow seemed to be the perfect song at that moment, then one of D’s songs from Lazrus came on. I felt like some kind of iPod commercial, walking down the street bundled up, clearly headphones under my hat and smiling from ear to ear. I guess I just had this weird ah-ha moment when I realized I am designing my life, doing exactly what I want to be doing and I feel very lucky — and not for the first time and not just because of this whole personal cheffing thing.

Today was a speed course through a book I fortunately read ahead of time. Local personal chef Rosemary led us through 100 pages of culinary theory in about three hours — no small feat. Not to mention 75% of the time seemed to be on cuts of meat and every morsel of information that goes with it all (Do YOU know how acids affect gelatinization? I do.)

We then all went back to Cook’s Warehouse where we ate lunch that was prepared last week by our instructor, frozen, thawed and then heated (just like we will do for most of our clients). The meat eaters chose from one of two variations of gumbo and I enjoyed some brown rice (actually meant for the gumbo-eaters) and a big ol’ helping of kale-chickpea-casserole. I didn’t expect the care and consideration that went into the non-restaurant meals I have eaten this week despite my e-mail exchanges with Cathy ahead of time and I’ve been really happy to have something to eat!

After lunch, Rosemary, our guest instructor, taught the class how to make pot roast in the pressure cooker. I’m not the most familiar with pressure cookers (or pot roast) but hearing dry beans can be prepared in minutes vs. soaking them overnight, rice can be made in only a fraction of the 45 minutes it usually takes and it can make many meat dishes I may have to cook that much easier has it on the top of my kitchen wish list.

The gang then split in half for the afternoon. I stayed behind with three other classmates too cook three recipes and package them under Rosemary’s guidance while the other five students went back to class to learn packaging and freezing with Cathy. Tomorrow morning we’ll change places. M and I teamed up and got to work. We had to make some adjustments and took a little longer in order to accommodate little ol’ me!

We all made pasta primavera, then M and I prepped everything, but cooked separately the other two dishes. I replaced the meat with portabella mushrooms in the ginger glazed pork stir-fry and replaced chicken with tofu in my half of our cacciatore dish. I even brought my tofu press from home and everyone got to see how awesome it is.

It was really strange to be cooking in a totally foreign kitchen, but I better get used to it! I guess the good thing will be that I will be bringing my own pots, pans, utensils, etc. into the kitchens I’m cooking in, so I should know where everything is! Hopefully…

I think the veg dishes turned out great and you could only barely tell which one was meat and which was one was tofu in the cacciatore dish — I should have shaped the tofu or something! I was glad I was able to show people what a tofu press is — it is just so much easier and fast than balancing tofu between soup cans or the other ways we’ve all tried to drain it.

By the time we were done cleaning up, I’m pretty sure the activity of the last four days hit us all. After a bit of a vino break with M, I ended up heading out to dinner with T and her son, who had taken a bus four hours (one way) to see his mom for a mere 36 hours — what a good son!

We went to nearby Leon’s, which I’ve been wanting to check out all week because of the fries (‘pub frites’) I heard about, involving about a dozen dips to choose from. We went with massaman curry sauce, goat cheese fondue sauce and smoked tomato ketchup dipping sauce. All were delicious and I all but abandoned my ever-so-healthy arugala salad and warm chickpea salad to devour as many fries as possible.

Tell me if I’m crazy, but Casey totally looks like Henry Thomas from E.T. (and other fame) right?


Henry Thomas:

He totally looks like him right? He said that he’s been hearing lately that he looks like Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but I think (personally) that my Henry Thomas is more right on.

Crazy that tomorrow is it! We’ll do our class in the morning, then wrap up in the afternoon and head out to the airport. Fingers crossed I have a MUCH more boring flight than I had on Sunday and I get to Orlando to meet up with D and the bear at a decent hour. At least it’s supposed to be — gasp — 60 there!

Day Four in Decatur

Yet another busy day today, jam-packed with info about marketing, networking and, in general, how to let my world know what the heck a personal chef is. Though I have a bit of experience dealing with marketing, press releases and the like, it was great to brainstorm with people (and offer my two cents in the press release department if nothing else — hope it was helpful!).

First, I forgot to mention, it was kind of awesome to Skype with my sister and at least two of the three boys. Anthony didn’t stick around long, but I got to make eyes at and talk to a confused and wide-eyed Alexander.

Anyway, far too busy today to talk to hardly anyone but my classmates. We heard from a former student who now is running a successful personal chef business — but does things a little different than our instructor. It was nice to hear how someone else does things and have the reassurance that there is no set formula and we all have to be smart but do what works best for us.

For lunch we headed over to nearby Cook’s Warehouse. HOLY CRAP. Yes we made salad and pizzas and got to see the kitchen where we’ll be cooking tomorrow. And we got to look at all kinds of crazy amazing cooking gear. Tons of appliances, gadgets, utensils (who knew there were so many whisks!), and tons of stuff a person never really needs, but really, really wants.

Here are a few shots:

It was pretty tough to focus after filling up on salad and pizza, but we made it through the day. Then finally, FINALLY I made it to the quaint little yarn shop. Turns out it wasn’t as little as it looked! The front part was little, then the rooms kept going and going and going. Of course I couldn’t resist — I bought two skeins of yarn (putting back the one I REALLY wanted and only getting two to make something) and had to buy myself needles since I didn’t bring any. Again, no clue how I’m going to fit all this stuff in my bags.

I thought it was pretty funny that there was a kit called “Culinary Colors.” I was lucky that my new pal M is apparently an extremely patient person — I couldn’t make up my mind and she didn’t even bat an eye. She made a purchase too, so for some reason that made me feel better about indulging myself.

For dinner, M, T and I headed to the amazing Cafe Alsace, just a couple of doors down from my precious Starbucks. The owner is a lovely woman from Alsace, France. She and T — who just got back from Germany about a week ago — chatted about the towns in which they lived in both French and German. M and I didn’t have much to contribute to that conversation…

I guess that’s probably when I looked around the room to realize my former French teacher sister would probably go crazy in there, buying all of the little French things for sale — including some authentic items from Alsace.

We split an amazing bottle of wine and the ladies each enjoyed the special of the night — a chicken crepe with a curry bleu cheese sauce, served with French green beans and lentils. I had two vegetarian choices and was talked into getting the spaetzle, which was delicious but a pretty heavy dinner after a pizza lunch. It really was good, but part of me wishes I would have gone with the dish involving noodle pinwheels, roasted vegetables and a light tomato sauce. The casserole of fresh noodles, spinach, mushrooms and cheesiness really was delicious though.

Though we had zero room left, I decided I had to try their house made honey lavender ice cream. It was pretty crazy sweet, but really, really good. The ladies also tried some kind of cinnamon chocolate tort with vanilla ice cream, which they said was really good too.

Tomorrow we do some cooking and get to chat with yet another area personal chef who does things a little differently. This week is going by a little too fast for me, but it’s not over yet!

I’m way to pooped to proofread this post, so please excuse any mistakes (I’m just glad/proud I actually have followed through with my plan to blog every day!)

Day Three in Decatur

Just a quick one tonight, as I’ve had a long busy day and should probably already be sleeping! Today was full of taxes and licensing and insurance and…are you sleeping??? Well, we weren’t! It’s that stuff that many people leaping into this kind of thing have no clue about — and we had a lot of questions. I only had SOME clue about it all and was happy to learn/determine I’ve made some pretty good choices so far and got some guidance so I can make some good choices in the future.

For lunch we headed down the street to Taqueria del Sol where I had two delicious veggie bean tacos with a side of turnip greens. And I couldn’t pull myself away from the salsas, guac and crazy gooey cheese dip — so much so that when the gang got up to disperse and get coffee, our instructor said something to the effect of, “No rush though, Kirsten. You can stay and finish eating chips and stuff. ” Yeah… (A friend, whose husband grew up in the area, warned me about how addictive the cheesy stuff was and she was right! Thanks for the head’s up, B!) The place was PACKED but our food came within about 2 minutes of our group of 10 sitting down. They have their system down, for sure.

We all grabbed some tea and coffee from Dancing Goats and I managed to have some willpower as I passed the yarn shop (being on the phone with D definitely helped).

Back in class, we managed to fight our way through the rest of our learning about business-y stuff and took our second of two tests for the day. I was a bit braindead by then, but I don’t think I’m going to fail. 🙂

At the end of the day, I grabbed a quick glass of wine with a couple of my classmates, then I headed to the Dekalb Farmers Market with T and M. Cathy (our teacher) has been talking about it, but I had no idea what I was in for. What an incredible resource for anyone — whether a home cook or a personal chef (especially a personal chef!). There were bulk spices and beans, giant containers of everything from soy sauce to poppy seeds, every variety of most fruits and vegetables (have you ever seen five or six kinds of pears at once?), and an incredible selection of fresh meat and seafood — if you’re into that kind of thing. 🙂 And let’s not forget the breads, baked goods and amazing tarts and things.

I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking:

There was a bit of a buffet in the cafe area of the market and we decided to go for it. There was one whole side that was mostly salad bar and the other had hot dishes, bean salads, etc., as well as such items as samosas, pastas and pizzas. I loaded on a little bit of everything — as you can see — and decided it would be worth it even if I couldn’t get to everything.

Among the items on there are a big ol’ salad with homemade Asian ginger dressing, curried chickpeas, roasted plantains, roasted winter vegetables, sweet and spicy lentil salad, broccoli/potato casserole and pesto ravioli. I refuse to reveal how much I managed to eat…

I’m really getting to know a couple of the women in class and we’re having a great time. It’s nice to meet some interesting people and find out how much we’re all alike — in our food and our ‘regular’ lives. Tomorrow we’re onto marketing and whatnot — should be a fun day. I can’t wait to get into the kitchen on Thursday though!

Day Two in Decatur

Today was remarkably different from yesterday, but just as interesting/exciting. I tossed and turned a bit last night, but was up and at ’em, waltzed over to Starbucks first thing and found my way to class just before 8. We are a class of 9 plus our energetic, hilarious, and b.s.-free instructor, Cathy, who has been an area personal chef for more than a decade. She didn’t have the good fortune of attending a class to teach her the ins and outs of personal cheffing, but had to learn it all the hard way (or at the very least the extremely interesting way!) and has since helped to develop the course I’m taking.

A bit of a side note — the office building in which the academy rents a conference room for the class used to be a bank and the conference room itself used to be the bank vault. No, really — the door is still there, with its big ol’ emblem. And if you stomp on the floor there’s no question there’s steel under that thin layer of carpet.

The class is full of all kinds of characters, including those who’ve been laid off due to the economy; a recent divorcee looking to supplement her alimony checks after nearly three decades as a wife and mother; a portrait painter hoping to supplement his income; a recently retired army colonel just back from Europe; a former executive chef and chain restaurant franchisee hoping to do some enjoyable and meaningful work as he lives with a serious illness; and those looking to create a custom menu for their lives.

We’re a chatty and friendly bunch — so much so that our class is a bit behind already, something quite out of the ordinary according to the woman at the helm. That speaks to the casual nature of the course in general and the fact that we’re all so excited and interested — there are just so many questions!

We’re all at different stages in our business plans and development, but it’s really incredible to be in a room with a collection of folks all working toward a very similar goal. We all have different points of view, different concerns and fears and questions that span every topic imaginable. I can’t fathom walking away from this week without every possible topic I could dream up being addressed.

On top of our instructor’s advice, insight and 15 years of working through the details of what makes an efficient and successful personal chef tick, she’s got all kinds unbelievable stories that, though they make us laugh, are truly invaluable bits of info and — I’m sure — frustrating situations she had to face.

Like the fact that you might want to mention to clients up front that neither they nor their children can be in the kitchen on their cook day — or you might end up running a counseling service while slaving away in the kitchen. (I mean, if they want to pay me for my time, I have no problem throwing back some wine and chatting, but they won’t have any dinner on the table at the end of the day!) Perhaps you should say up front that you’re not going to open the door for anyone, so if they leave you will not let the plumber in, sign for packages or deal with solicitors.  Or, hard as it is to believe, please don’t leave your toddler granddaughter with me when A) I don’t know she exists and B) I don’t know you’re leaving. (True story!)

We popped across the street to a lovely little French restaurant called Cafe Lilly where we all either ate soup or salad and half a sandwich for lunch. Though the tomato dill soup sounded great, it was made with chicken stock, so I went with the grilled veggie sandwich and field greens salad with a cup of hot tea. I think I was hungrier than I thought — I wolfed it down.

About half the class then walked down the street to get some coffee at Dancing Goats. The coffee was really rich and delicious and the decor reminded me a lot of Argo Tea, which I frequented when I lived in Chicago.

Along the way were — of course — more interesting and colorful shops.

I also passed a cute little yarn shop named Sheepish (I seem to have a nose for sniffing them out no matter where I go!), but it isn’t open on Mondays. Perhaps that’s for another lunch break later this week.

By the end of the day, just after five, I was pretty pooped. More than you would think after ‘just’ sitting and listening all day. It’s a different type of tired than chasing after the kids all day, but equally mentally draining (I’m afraid this blog post won’t be quite as well-spoken as I hope yesterday’s was — and even that was after a day of traveling). The fact that I have been slowly tapping it out over the course of two hours says enough.

For dinner I  joined two others for sushi across the way at Sushi Avenue, next to Cafe Lilly, and it was delicious. A little hot sake and miso soup was just what I needed on a drizzly and cool Georgia night after a long day.

On the agenda for the week is the renowned Dekalb Farmer’s Market, which is open daily until 9 p.m. Word on the streets is the hotel shuttle will take us there, and we can buy several years’ worth of spices for under $20 (where I can fit this into my luggage, I haven’t yet determined).

Just across from the building our class is in is the restaurant Watershed, owned by the Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers, which has a good reputation so I’m told. Though the rest of the menu looks delicious for meat-eaters, the lone “Hot Vegetable Plate” isn’t really selling me. But we’ll see.

Funny as it sounds, I’m looking forward to a day of learning about the real meat of the business side of personal cheffing, including taxes, marketing, etc. tomorrow. This morning when Cathy said each day students arrive later and later and by the end of the week are mush. I think I’m only starting to understand why, but I do believe I’ll be a happy pile of mush. The good news is I’m only getting more excited to start this venture and hopeful for what’s to come.

Day One in Decatur

Today I left home with a belly full of breakfast from Toast, a bit of exhaustion and the anticipation of warmer weather. It has been a day of adventures — to say the least — and I figured I might as well use the blog to keep friends and family posted on the life and times of a would-be personal chef set loose on the outskirts of Atlanta.

I got squeezed into my window seat and watched people trickle on board as the seat to my right remained empty. Then, as the doors were practically closing, a man in a red and white hat came bumbling down the aisle, mumbling to himself.

Please, no, god there is no room for…crap.

With the strong scent of cigarettes and cheap beer wafting feet in front of him, my buddy for the next two hours plunked himself down next to me, continuing to mumble. He was short on teeth, long on chatter and it turns out Bud Light is his drink of choice. He actually ordered one, but then only had cash, so he said, “I’ll give her the money and she can put mine on her card.”

Um, what’s that now?

“Chivalry is not dead,” he tells me. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Confused, I politely say my bloody mary mix is sans booze but he doesn’t get it, mentioning over and over again during the next hour and a half that he is going to be buying my drink.

Soon into the flight, I pulled out a book, but it turns out he’s a reader. He breezes through 1 1/2 books with a giant $1.25 sticker on the covers of poorly drawn farm scenes with dogs. He tells me they are romantic mysteries “with just a bit-a Jesus in there.”

I decided I needed to watch something — perhaps headphones will force him to quietly read his book. I’m quite sure I jinxed myself last night when I told D that planes are the one place I don’t like to chat with people. With my headphones on, I start watching the latest episode of Top Chef on my computer. This. Didn’t. Slow. Him. Down. For. A. Second.

I learn about this unnamed friend that he is originally from Michigan but retired to Alabama. His wife (who won’t let him out of the house with a credit card) can’t even boil water, but his son, who owns a bar and grill in Michigan, has a culinary degree. He was confused when, at the end of the flight, he directly asks me what I’m going to Georgia for and when I tell him, he says he doesn’t understand why I didn’t tell him that when he told me about his chef son.

Keep in mind any of this conversation happened as I was watching the show. He would say something, I would hit the space bar to pause the show and turn to him.

What’s that? Mmm hmm. (Turn back to my computer)

Sometimes only 30 seconds went by between interruptions. I tried to come up with a nice way to tell him I would like to watch my show in peace, but came up with nothing. Fortunately, he fell asleep toward the end and I had a few minutes of peace. When he woke up, he was sure to mention that “Atlanta is a lot bigger than Detroit, little girl” and told me he hoped I would find a nice Southern gentleman. I showed him my engagement ring, and said I already had a gentleman and that he did have Southern blood.

I let some people go between he and I on our way off the plane and he started hitting on a nice young woman with curly extensions and a Steelers jacket, who told him she liked him for saying she was so pretty. Whew, that was a long, long flight. I hope by tomorrow I won’t experience phantom wafts of his scent.

Though it took a while due to a stopped train, I navigated the  MARTA system well and made it to Decatur, just a few miles outside of Atlanta. In the few blocks to my hotel, I saw tons of adorable little shops, from kitschy kitchen stores and indie art shops to children’s bookstores and galleries. There is even a Starbucks along the way — which I’ll pass each day on my way to class.

Looking down the main drags were dozens of independent restaurants and only in the distance could I see one block of usual suspects like Ruby Tuesday, BW3 and Outback Steakhouse.

I checked in at the hotel and decided to head out in search of food, starving. The woman at the front desk said anything good in Decatur involves meat, but I might find something at a sushi place. I ignored that suggestion and headed back toward the cute area near the train station, when I happened upon a couple waiting to cross the street. Turns out Edie and Mike are vegetarian and full of suggestions!

I walked around a bit to finish my coffee, then ended up at the place they were heading — Brick Store Pub. I sat at a table near the front, sipping a great IPA out of Pennsylvania, as a table of old friends reunited in the window seat to my left — one of them from Ann Arbor.

I quietly read my personal chef reference manual and people watched. The customers and staff included everyone from grandmothers and families to young couples and hipsters sitting at the bar. I ordered the suggested pierogi primavera, which I tried so, so hard to finish but just couldn’t.

I walked back to the hotel and — when passing the lounge area — was asked to pledge an allegiance to either Green Bay or Pittsburgh (is that right? Whoever else is playing.) And, when forced to choose all I could say was that I used to live in Wisconsin, upsetting half the room.

A man sounding exactly like Borat, but roughly 75 years old, then got on the elevator with me. We shared that neither of us cared much for football, though he then asked if I wanted to have a drink and watch the game. I politely said no thanks as the elevator doors opened and quickly headed in the opposite direction.

Although I know I’ll be so busy I won’t have time (or likely energy), I wish my squeeze was here to explore with me. But I suppose the solitude will help me focus and hopefully I’ll become pals with some of the other students so we can keep in touch and bounce ideas off of each other down the line as we build our businesses throughout the country.

Fingers crossed I sleep more than I could last night. I haven’t been in class more than a decade — I need all the help I can get!