Company: Chef Ellen LLC
Industry: Home services and catering
Function: Personal Chef
Education: certificate of culinary arts from Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts
EHC: What is your daily schedule like?
ED: Everything is dependent on who the client is and their needs on cook days. Other days are always a little different and can include marketing and social media as well as keeping up-to-date with administrative tasks.
EHC: What is your favorite part of your job?
ED: The cooking and the food! I really enjoy feeding people and bringing families together at their dinner tables.
EHC: What were the steps you took to get your job?
ED: A culinary degree is a good base, and then you have to just take a leap of faith and get started.
EHC: What is your best piece of advice for girls interested in this field?
ED: The culinary world can be challenging for girls–willingness to stand up for yourself is important. Don’t let anything stop you from achieving what you want. Girls are more capable as culinarians because we’re often good at multitasking and managing the hectic environment. So lots of women are starting to come up and elevate the position of women within the culinary world, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
EHC: What inspired you to pursue this career?
ED: It was a love of food and growing up with it. My parents cooked 24/7, and my dad owned several restaurants. I have always loved cooking for friends and feeding people, so it was a natural thing for me.
Ellen is a personal chef who specializes in providing meals to people with special dietary requirements. For many of her clients, this comes in the form of food allergies while other clients have health issues that require her to pay particular attention to the food she prepares. One of her clients has gastroparesis (a paralyzed stomach), so she is very careful about how much fiber is in their all-liquid meals.
One of the biggest misconceptions about being a personal chef is that it is often confused with a private chef. The difference is that a private chef is employed to work for one family, and they cook multiple meals for that family in their home. Ellen has several clients and prepares for them only once a week or month, and the client is left with prepared meals that will stay in their refrigerator or freezer until they are needed.
Since she has several clients, no two days are the same. On a cooking day, Ellen prepares all the recipes and shopping lists she will use for that day’s client. After loading her car up with her arsenal of oils and spices, she heads for the grocery store and then takes everything to the client’s house to prepare the meals. After she has cooked, packaged, and labelled all the meals, she cleans up and goes home. On non-cooking days, she attends Chamber of Commerce events, meets with local health-care providers, updates her social media and online marketing efforts, and conducts lots and lots of recipe testing.
This job allows Ellen to help people learn more about how to accommodate their dietary needs. For some clients, this may be helping them learn how to cook for their children with severe allergies or intolerances. For others, it can come in the form of helping them achieve or maintain goals such as vitamin and nutrient intake or weight loss. She encounters so many kinds of nutritional needs and is always learning new things, often seeking the help of local nutritionists. You can’t be too proud to ask for help when dealing with the well-being of others.
Finding Her Career
Even though Ellen loves her job, she wasn’t always aiming for it. She went to culinary school at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Colorado when she realized that she could turn her love of feeding people into a career. After earning her certificate, she returned to Sioux Falls and worked in the fine dining scene before leaving the kitchen to take care of her infant son. While she was at home with him, she was contacted by her old culinary school in Colorado offering her online courses in entrepreneurial studies. Many of her tutors were certified personal chefs, and her interest was piqued. They answered her many, many questions about what their lives were like and how they forged successful careers for themselves.
Initially, she was reluctant to set a specialty for fear of alienating potential clients. (Some personal chefs specialize in vegan cuisine, feeding athletes, the farm-to-table movement, you name it. Fortunately, her niche quickly developed. Sioux Falls has several specialty clinics and two major hospitals, so there are plenty of people in the city who have special dietary needs. Despite this, there are relatively few restaurants catering to these needs. The food culture in Sioux Falls is heavily influenced by traditional Midwestern food that can often be very heavy on the meat, dairy, and carbohydrates. By helping clients learn how to cook for their own diets, she can also help them learn how to alter recipes they already love to accommodate those needs.
As the first personal chef in the city, she has a lot of extra work to do when she is marketing herself. She has to help people understand what she is offering and how she can help make their lives easier and also combat the perception that a personal chef is only for wealthy people. In a few months, she will have a certificate from the United States Personal Chef Association, and she’s working on getting an off-site kitchen up and running so that she can expand her offering to include meals by delivery!
Ellen’s advice for young girls considering a career in the culinary arts is that you must have a lot of determination and commitment, and it really helps if you are willing to stand up for yourself. The culture is starting to become a more positive place for women, but men still make up the vast majority of culinarians. Ellen has stood up to senior chefs and told them that their sexist jokes are unacceptable and, on occasion, has had to work extra hard just to be taken seriously.
For anyone specifically considering a career as a personal chef, Ellen’s recommendation is to dive in. She is the kind of person who likes to have everything in place–all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. So, setting off on this unknown journey has been an enormous learning experience. Knowing where to find clients and the best way to market yourself will be a learning journey, and it’s ok to ask people for help!