Online Cooking is pleased to offer an insider's look into the growing personal chef industry. This week, we would like to introduce Heather N. Mader, the owner of Black Radish Personal Chef in Portland, Oregon. Chef Mader graciously offered to share her insights on life as a personal chef with Online Cooking's own Paul Rinehart.
OC: How did you get into cooking and why did you become a personal chef?
CM: I've always cooked, ever since I was a kid. I don't remember ever NOT cooking! I read cookbooks like novels, I watched cooking shows like feature films. I took a leap of faith and finally quit my office job and talked my way into a job as an assistant cook and baker. I discovered that I could keep up with the best of them, which inspired me to then take a job as a cook in a gourmet take out restaurant. A local family heard of my talents and hired me as their private chef. I enjoyed that so much, but felt it was a shame to only share my food with one family. That's where Black Radish was born ... from that intrinsic desire to feed people.
OC: Describe a day in the life of a personal chef.
CM: Recipe research and menu development I usually do in the morning when I'm fresh and clear-headed. I write a shopping list, pack my mobile kitchen, and I'm off to the store to buy my client's groceries. I arrive at the home ready to cook 5 meals. I prepare the food, package and label it, clean the kitchen, and I'm usually done by early afternoon. Then I spend time in my home office marketing my business, networking and responding to e-mails and phone calls, and reading the APCA forums. I leave the evenings open to cook dinner for my family, handle household chores and curl up with a good (cook) book.
OC: How would you describe your cooking style and what influences your cooking?
CM: Although I am able to cook different cuisines and accommodate many palates and diets, my specialty is upscale-comfort food. I want people to initially experience the familiarity that comes from memories of their childhood comfort dishes, but then be happily surprised by the little unexpected twists that make those dishes my signature. I love taking old recipes that use cream of mushroom soup and flavoring packets and reinventing them using fresh produce & herbs and homemade sauces. People love those old dishes, but let's face it - convenience foods like condensed soups have lost some of their former appeal in today's more discriminating society. I offer the best of both worlds to my clients.
OC: What do you love most about being a personal chef?
CM: Cooking for a living and having the personal interaction with people who eat my food is the best gift ever. There is something so intimate about creating food, and sharing it. I love my job!
OC: What have been your greatest challenges as a personal chef?
CM: Starting a business with very little capital and virtually no advertising budget has been a true test of my strength.
OC: What is the strangest food request you've ever gotten?
CM: Well, one client wondered if I was going to cook elephant because I hinted at the possibility of incorporating African food into his menu!
OC: If you have a favorite thing to cook, what would that be?
CM: Desserts. They are brilliant concoctions of chocolate and cream, butter and sugar, eggs and flour. I love bringing a towering, beautifully decorated layer cake to the table. People always suck the breath out of the room!
OC: Do you have any words of wisdom for someone thinking of getting into the culinary field?
CM: If you want to become a personal chef I offer these words: Be patient. It takes time to build up a clientele. Word of mouth works, but it's slow. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Friends, family and even other small business owners love to see a small business succeed. Use their help and then give help later when you are in the position to do so. Talk talk talk about your business everywhere you go. Make it your mantra. You CAN start a business with next-to-nothing and make it work. Be tenacious and think positive. Network. Find your inner strength and use it to your advantage on a daily basis. And finally, don't give up!
Black Butte Porter Chili w/jalapeno cornbread
Honey-Mustard Pork ribs w/smashed sweet potatoes
Thai green curry, butternut squash and green beans over jasmine rice
Chicken & truffled Wild Mushroom Gallette
Ginger-Soy Glazed Salmon w/ Wasabi potatoes
(many more menu options located on my website at http://www.blackradish.net)