Have you seen the movie “Chef”? Although I’m not sure if it will receive a lot of awards, I am sure that this film portrays someone who is inspired and takes a risk. I like to think I’m headed down that same path now.
I was fortunate to get a personal chef job recently. I had wanted to get involved in the personal chef world, but wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. During lunch with a business associate, we stumbled upon the opportunity. As a single dad & recent widower, my client suggested that we may have a symbiotic relationship to explore: his adolescent children need more healthful (non-fast food and frozen) dinners and after school snacks, and I love to spend my free time cooking. I accepted the proposition to cook weekly for his family. It is an opportunity for me to be both challenged and inspired!
We set up a consultation to meet the adolescent omnivores. Not surprisingly, the 14-year-old young chap doesn’t like some raw vegetables. The 12-year-old girl didn’t have too many qualms about the foods I inquired about. Instead, they both enjoy what some may consider more sophisticated food stuffs such as curries, seaweed soup and sushi. I also made sure to tour the kitchen to browse cookware, utensils and other kitchen regalia. But I noticed I would definitely need more spices and dried herbs in order to set myself up for success at my client’s house.
Luckily, I live for spice shops and am somewhat of a spice and herb hoarder. I highly recommend Epic Spices in West Town/Ukrainian Village. The Chicago Avenue shop may appear to be quite small, but if you simply ask, there is always plenty more “in back”. The owner once gave me a sample of a cilantro-infused salt he was testing. Epic Spices also has extremely reasonable prices, which is great since I don’t want to spend a small fortune on my spice habit. A bag full of yummy spice and herb pouches cost less than $35! Additionally, this small local business does all of their spice grinding and blends in-house.
Beyond shopping for spices and herbs, I’ve done a lot of family-friendly recipe research online. Here is an example of a recipe from Food Network that I have experimented with:
Lasagna Roll Ups
Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 (16-ounce) box lasagna noodles, or 8 noodles
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
Reserved lemon zest from Linguini and Clam Sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
Reserved pork ragu from Pork Ragu over Penne
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 by 8-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lasagna, cover the pot, and bring it back to a boil. Remove the cover, stir, and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and set aside.
- Put the ricotta into a bowl and stir in the zest and sage. Put a lasagna noodle on your work surface and spread 1/4 cup ricotta mixture onto it, leaving 2 inches on one end clear. Top the cheese with 1/4 cup ragu and roll up the noodle starting from the filled end. Place it into the baking dish and continue with the remaining noodles, ricotta, and ragu. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the rolls, put the pan onto a baking sheet, and bake until the cheese is bubbling and browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Most of my creations are not by following a recipe to the letter, but rather a combination of all of the good parts of recipes. My young clients will attest that I have introduced a few new ingredients to their dining experiences: jicama, eggplant and fingerling potatoes. They were not super fond of the eggplant in a veggie curry. Beside that, my track record is pretty good so far. I am continuing to build upon my previous experiences and looking to new ideas.
I’m also relying on the skills I learned in The Chopping Block’s Cooking Lab series I took last April.
I won’t spoil it for you, but here are some of my favorite parts of the classes:
- Learning about flavor profiles by tasting a jelly bean with and without your nose plugged.
- Being confident enough to let my food brown before I down the heat.
- The idea of having “reprieve for the eye” on the plate, or in other words, leaving some space.
Stay tuned for the next Cooking Lab coming up next year. In the meantime, read these four articles by one of my fellow students Barb Felt Miller for her blog, Felt Like a Foodie.
I have definitely taken some risk with my first personal chef client, but it’s been well worth the positive response which keeps me inspired!