Chef Imrun Texeira is the chef and owner of Wanderlust, a personal chef service based in Toronto, Canada focused on blind tasting menus. Whether you currently have a personal chef business, want to start one, or are any type of culinary entrepreneur, this episode is packed with valuable tips on growing a food business.
Imrun’s worked in some of the world's best and most influential restaurants, including Noma in Copenhagen. Most recently, he was named as a recipient of the Top 30-Under-30 Award for hospitality leaders in Canada, and as a rising talent in North America by The Art of Plating. He was a semi-finalist on the Food Network’s Top Chef Canada Season 8, and a finalist on the Food Network’s Chopped Canada Season 3.
Imrun’s culinary style is often referred to as 'New Canadian Cuisine' as he showcases local produce, foraged ingredients and blends them with flavors and tecniques from around the world.
On the show, we talk about positioning your business and how to stand out from your competitors. We discuss pricing your service, staffing considerations, and customer interactions. Also, Imrun is an ambassador for The Burnt Chef Project, so I asked him to explain what that is, which led to a bigger discussion about mental health and the state of mental health services today. And I wanted to talk about how he plans and markets his menus. Imrun offers either five or ten-course blind diners. That means that the customers don’t know what they’ll be dining on before he serves it. I’m not sure I’m ready to try that with my business yet. I have some challenges just getting people to order some of the more interesting items from a selection menu. For those with personal chef businesses, do you do this? Let me know because I’m interested. As always, you can hit me up on Instagram @chefswithoutrestaurants. My DMs are open.
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Sponsor- The United States Personal Chef Association
Over the past 30 years, the world of the personal chef has grown in importance to fulfill dining needs. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it allowed personal chefs to close that dining gap. Central to all of that is the United States Personal Chef Association.
USPCA provides a strategic backbone for those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, and more. It’s a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience with their meal.
Call Angela today at 800-995-2138 ext 705 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for membership and partner info.
Chef Imrun Texeira's been cooking since he was two. Seriously. Sure he might have almost burned down his house on Easter Sunday morning but go bigger go home. Right? Well, 26 years later, he's the chef and owner of wanderlust a personal chef service based in Toronto, Canada focused on blind tasting menus. Whether you currently have a personal chef business want to start one or are any type of culinary entrepreneur, this episode is packed with valuable tips on growing a food business. So stick around. I'm Chris spear. And this is Chefs Without Restaurants. The show where I speak with culinary entrepreneurs and people working in the food and beverage industry outside of a traditional restaurant setting in runs worked in some of the best and most influential restaurants including Noma in Copenhagen. Most recently, he was named as recipient of the top 30 under 30 award for hospitality leaders in Canada and as a rising star talent in North America by the art of plating. He was a semifinalist on Food Network's Top Chef Canada season eight and a finalist on Food Network's chopped Canada season three, and runs culinary styles often referred to as new Canadian cuisine as he showcases local produce forged ingredients and blends them with flavors and techniques from around the world. On the show, we talked about positioning your business and how to stand out from your competitors. We discuss pricing, your service, staffing considerations, and customer interactions. Also, everyone's an ambassador for the Brent chef project. So I asked him to explain what that is, which led to a much bigger discussion about mental health and the state of mental health services today. And I really want to talk to him about how he plans in markets as menus. And Ron offers either five or 10 course blind dinners. That means the customers don't know what they're going to be having before he serves it. I'm not sure I'm ready to try that with my business just yet. I have some challenges, just getting people to order some of my more interesting items from a selection menu. So for those with personal chef businesses, do you do this? Let me know because I'm really interested. As always, you can hit me up on Instagram at Chefs Without Restaurants, my DMs are open. And this is the part where I talk about sponsors. This show is made possible with the help from our sponsors. If you go to chefs without restaurants.com forward slash sponsors, you're going to find all the info on our current sponsors, previous sponsors and affiliate partners, with the affiliate partners. All that means is those are products I already use and love. If you click on the links on that page, it costs you literally nothing, but I'm gonna get a small commission when you buy stuff. And I'm most thankful for our podcast audio ads sponsors. So before this week's episode starts, you're going to hear from this week's sponsor the United States personal chef association. So thanks so much for listening and have a great week.USPCA AD:
Over the past 30 years, the world of the personal chef has grown in importance to fulfill those dining needs. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it allowed personal chefs to close that dining gap. Central to all of that is the United States personal chef Association, representing nearly 1000 chefs around the US and Canada. USPCA provides a strategic backbone to those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, and more. It's a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience with their meal. USPCA provides training to become a personal chef through our preparatory membership. Looking to showcase your products or services to our chefs and their clients. partnership opportunities are available. Call Angela today at 1-800-995-2138. Extension 705 or email her at email@example.com for membership and partner info.Chris Spear:
Hey, Chef, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on.Imrun Texeira:
Yeah, of course, it's an absolute pleasure to be here.Chris Spear:
I want to have a really great conversation today about the personal chef business and we're gonna get into so much more. But it seems like you have a pretty successful business. We have a lot of listeners who are kind of looking to get into that or grow what they're doing. And I think, you know, I think that's what I want to talk about today. If that works for you.Imrun Texeira:
Of course that more than open.Chris Spear:
Did you like to cook when you were a kid? Like do you have memories of cooking when you were younger? Yeah, I definitely have a lot of memories cooking from a very young age. I would say the earliest memory I had was trying to cook breakfast. I was a toddler, maybe two, three years old Max and I was trying to cook Easter breakfast for my family and some family that was in town from a from out of town type thing and I tried to cook bagels within the plastic bag on the coil elements. Obviously that doesn't go over too well. So that caught fire. I tried to put out the fire itself with a juice with juice. And then I ended up putting the plastic juice jug on the other element beside it which I accidentally turned on. Obviously, two, three year olds don't really know what's going on. So the fact that I did all of this at five, six o'clock in the morning and then next thing you know, the whole family's awake fire departments at your house on Easter Sunday.USPCA AD:
It is a pretty wild wake up call. But I knew from from then on that I would be doing something in a kitchen down the road. That's quite a different story than I think most people. When asked what their first cooking memories were, yeah, it's definitely nothing glamorous by any means. I just remember that vividly. I still remember like turning the dials I still remember the flames like in front of my face. And there's a spot on on our kitchen floor that had a little bird mark after the fact. So there's just something that was always in my mind. And that's a for me the earliest memory iPad of quote unquote cooking, if you will. It sounds like that didn't stop you from continuing cooking. So what was like your culinary path? How did you get into doing this professionally. So I, I started working perfect, I guess in the professional realm at the age of 14, local chain restaurant started washing dishes came Morrison and assisting needing the kind of money and whatnot, I was always hungry to get into the professional workforce just in any manner. And growing up with a single mom and different setbacks that that put upon me type thing, I knew that I had to do something myself to truly move forward in life, especially at the pace I wanted to no matter what I wanted to do in life, I've always wanted to to run before I can walk. So I was very eager to get into the workforce and was able to land a dishwashing job at the age of 14. So started out maybe a bit earlier than some but in the same way that many of us I chefs have started out and from there, I think it's about 15 years now I've been in the industry since when you're still pretty young, especially to have your own business. I didn't even start my business till I was like 40 Yeah, so um, I just turned 28, maybe mid mid summer and fortunate, unfortunate COVID has forced my hand to go into this kind of realm. So I'm still still going through obviously, there's growing pains with with any business, but especially where there's something like this is that personal one for us. And obviously the clients that we work with it's a it's a new world to get associated with. So it's, it definitely comes with its challenges and obviously rewards at the same time. But it's it's yeah, it's something completely new for me. And I'm excited to see where this path takes me. Now, are you exclusively doing your own thing right now? Or are you working for anyone else in addition? No. So I exclusively do this full time. So I run my personal chef company, but at the same time to one just fill in the gaps. And at the same time based on all the problems that we've had within our industry leading up till now. And we're obviously still trying to weed out some of these problems. I work with a lot of the local school boards here within the Toronto area, teaching kids about how to come into the industry different pathways that they can have within the food and hospitality realm, knowing that it's not just restaurant work, it's not just hotel work this, there's so much different career opportunities in and around food. And sometimes you can work with food without actually having your hands on it. Or you can be like us where we're bringing these intimate experiences into people's homes. And it's something very personal. So I think it's really cool, obviously for for us to be in that realm. But for me and all of us to share this passion and this insight to to the next generation knowing that there are healthier ways to go about our industry to combat different problems, and that it's not just one line to go down. There's so many different avenues now. And I think COVID has really opened the doors in so many realms for that. I think you know, I'm an advocate for that and highlighting all the many things you can do in the food world that are not necessarily just working in restaurants. That's my whole show, right? But what's the response been from these kids? Like, what are you seeing from them? The kids are absolutely loving it. I think for me a big part, especially being in Toronto, this is probably the most multicultural city and the most multicultural country in the world. So for me, coming from a more of a fine dining background, you don't see too many people that look like me, running these big restaurants, especially in this country, and having this higher level of success. So for me going into these elementary schools or high schools, and then seeing someone who's obtained a certain level of success, that isn't 4050 years old plus and that looks like majority of the students, it's, it's obviously awesome for them. And because there's been such a massive push, I'd say within the last decade around food, TV and whatnot, and just the media has been hyping up. Just the food world. In general, there's so much more of a push for kids to get involved. If it's professional, you're just at home. So for a lot of kids seeing someone that looks like them or that is relatively closer to their age. It's just it's that connection I find is amazing. The feedback I've gotten from the kids and the faculty in general has been absolutely amazing. So it's definitely very rewarding to go in there. Talk to the kids and show them that there are ways to be successful and have full control over your career. And I think parents and adults would do well to expose their kids to more Foods. You know, one of the things I hear all the time is I'm doing a dinner party for some people, and they're really concerned about their kids, or there's going to be a lot of kids that's party, what do you want to do for the kids? And you know, my kids are not always eating fancy food, they love pizza and chicken fingers and all that nonsense. But they eat Ethiopian food, they eat sushi, you know, and I, I tried to encourage them and say, like, I don't think this food is too much of a stretch, like, I don't know your kids. But you know, what is the harm with having them try some of the stuff. So I always even if I have other things for kids, I want to make sure there's enough portions for them. Because I would love for these kids to get some of that exposure. I just think so many parents and adults are kind of like almost like coddling the kids around like, oh, they don't like this kind of food. Well, like maybe you're not doing a good job cooking it. I don't know. And you know what? You are completely right. And I love like that. You bring that kind of expansion, that ribeye realm for these kids to try something new. There's so many things I hated when I was a kid, different types of greens, brussel sprouts, I hated mushrooms growing up, but it was just like, these things were just not cooked the right way or they weren't seasoned properly. It's all these little nuances obviously, like my parents provided for me in that realm and stuff. But they weren't professional cooks by any by any means. So now growing up knowing when to obviously use the right ingredients, the right vegetables for different seasons, knowing how to obviously season and cook them properly. It's changed my mind and perspective completely on different foods i i Once hated growing up. Well, everyone loves brussel sprouts now. But you know, the reality is prior to 10 years ago, I think everyone's experience was they were probably frozen, never fresh. And they were probably just steamed or boiled. Right? If you take fresh Brussel sprout, you know, sauteed and some bacon fat, throw some smoked paprika on there some flavor, like it's delicious. And that's just one of those things like love my mom, you know, really good cook. But you know, we weren't having anything like that at home. It's like my mother in law still does it. She buys these like frozen bags and brussel sprouts in the steamer bag that you just pitch in the microwave. And I'm like, nobody wants to eat that. It's just not good. So you know, I cringe every time I see it. Oh my gosh, getting the getting the good food for the kids. We've touched on so many things. So let me start. You mentioned kids and Food TV, which makes me think about you're on Top Chef Canada. And you're also on chopped, right? Yeah, so two of I would say the biggest shows that have ever been featured on the Food Network Canada. Obviously foo net, or Top Chef, like us, has been around for probably twice as long as the Canadian version of it. And it has that massive cult like following. So it's been amazing to see that show evolve. In Canada, obviously, there's not the same money or backing like there is with with the US version of it. So it's going to be exciting to see how it grows. But I think it's just, it's really cool to bring that experience of what food can really be especially coming in from different backgrounds of what chefs have to offer on that show. And to people as into people's living rooms. Food has been like it's we don't have such a rich, rich culture here in Canada when it comes to, to food. When you think about the US or even parts of Europe or basically anywhere else in the world. We're such such a young country. So we're really trying to define that. So all of these different shows and media platforms are helping really shape the identity of what food culture is known to be here in Canada. Well, how did you get on Top Chef? I mean, to me, the process seems like it would probably be daunting, but I've like never gone through that. Can you talk about that, like the onboarding process? Yeah. So for Top Chef, you you have to go through, I'm sure it's changed throughout COVID and stuff. So I was able to film right before COVID. And it was a massive online application form, it probably took me about two to three hours to do. So you go through maybe two or three, like phone call interviews. And then I was brought into a studio to do a live a cooking demonstration to see how you act and cook on camera, how your personality is and how you flow with lights and cameras around you and being interviewed at the same time. So it is a pretty lengthy application process. I did apply I think once or twice before actually getting on the show, obviously that's goes to saying don't just try once always, always push harder to eventually get there. I knew down the line, the timing would work out and it eventually did. So definitely a lot of work and getting into it. And obviously for anyone it sucks to be to be rejected and are told no, especially in a professional manner. But I knew that each year I would apply until I finally got it and I eventually did. What's the dish that sent you home? And if you could go back and redo that dish, would you do it over again. So I would definitely not change anything about the dish I went home on. I lost quote unquote on a technicality that wasn't really set up for us. We had I think 20 minutes to come up with one dish I was in a make or break round going into the finale so We were in the final episode and there was a tiebreaker between one chef and I and she she went through on scalps with undercooked lentils and I did a play on a beef tartare. So coming down to my classic French training, but I would say my signature dish is a beef vindaloo tar tar. So, using a vindaloo curry from the part of India Goa where my my ancestors have come from. So really trying to tie in my background into my classic modern day cooking and bringing those flavors together. Obviously something that's never been done, you don't really see those flavors and those techniques really brought together from those cultures. So for me, it was something very unique. The flavors were all on point and I lost on a on a technicality of portion size. So, for me, at the end of the day, I knew the flavors were amazing. Nothing was said based on flavors or technique. It was down to like I said, a technicality. So I'm more than happy going home knowing that flavors were on point I was there to represent exactly who I am. That sounds like a delicious dish. Do you still serve that on your menu to customers? Oh, for sure. I've done a lot of big events, big collab dinners and whatnot and even some of the personal events that is still probably one of the favorite dishes of the night and to think of how much work just goes into that dish alone. It's It's not me just taking the raw spices and mixing it into raw chopped beef. It's me actually making the whole vegetarian vindaloo bass curry cooking it down to basically nothing where there's no residual water, dehydrating it blitzing into a powder and then using that to season. So you have all these like warm spice notes, obviously, that spiciness that you'd have from a classic vindaloo curry, and then the vinegar notes of that seasoning the tar tar, it's, to me, it's very wonderful. And every single event I've served it up, people rave about that dish, probably the most. That sounds super complex. I was just talking to people today online about you know, what we do and how long it takes, you know, it's not like just showing up at a customer's house for a couple hours and doing dinner, like all the work that goes into it leading up to it, which is why, you know, you kind of have to charge what you charge because it takes days and days just to execute this one dinner. I hear you talk about your area that you live in kind of being young for a cuisine and I hear your food described as like new Canadian cuisine. I've seen that in a couple of articles, what would you consider new Canadian cuisine. So when I think of new Canadian cuisine, I'm, I'm really thinking about how our culinary or just general landscape is right now based on society based on what people like to eat, and the restaurants that are the most like sought after. And it's really the cultures from around the world that are being represented going out for Indian or Pakistani going out for Middle Eastern and regional Chinese food and whatnot. These are the places that we're all dying to go out to eat if my friends who are non industry or even all the places I've worked in French fine dining, and we're going out for weeknight Chinese, we know these are flavors that we like to eat. We have a massive demographic here in Canada that are coming from parts of China from South Asia. And those are massive parts of our community. And I feel like those flavors is what really represents us. So for me, I try to represent obviously, the amazing produce that we have some of the best beef and lamb in the world amazing seafood from each coast. So really paying like homage to obviously what our country provides us from a very base level, but then representing flavors from around the world. Because like I said, we have such a diverse community here. And I'd diverse palette I like to really showcase all those flavors that could be Thai or Chinese or Mexican. So on one for me, I think it's really fun to, to travel to these countries learn the techniques and flavors firsthand, bring those skill sets back and showcase them and it'll be fun for the diners to know that they're getting something different. It's not just a 10 course menu of all dainty French food, which is nice, but I can basically take you on a trip around the world in five to 10 courses. I was up at Niagara on the Lake this summer with my family and I was so impressed with the produce and just the food in general that was up there. And the peaches you know, here in the US we think of Georgia right as having peaches and up there there's all these signs, best peaches in the world. I'm like, really like up north like this is so if I think of it as being like cold weather, and I was up there like right at the peak of peach season and they were amazing. And we just had really good food when we were up there. My wife and I actually were talking about moving up there. I mean, you know kind of like offhandedly we've got kids and that means a lot but she's like, huh, she's like, I wonder if there's a market for like personal chef business up in this area. My kids got scared. They're like no, we don't want to move but you know, just kind of rattles around in the back of my head. There. It is. It is such a beautiful, beautiful area, especially during that season like that peak peach season and just thinking about all the fruit and the produce that comes from the Niagara region in general. It's it's a little microclimate in itself there and that's why Buy some of the best wine in the country comes from the Niagara area, a lot of the amazing produce that I use comes from Niagara. So it's, it's such a beautiful spot because it's so close to the US border. A lot of international travel comes there for the vineyards and whatnot. It's it's such an amazing hub. And I love spending my summers within that area. And it sounds like you travel a lot, what's the last couple places you've been to? So I try to travel I least once a year, very privileged and very fortunate to do so. Last place I traveled to I spent about two weeks in Mexico earlier this year, first time down in Mexico, and I'm very familiar with the food I worked with an amazing chef earlier in my career, who is from Mexican descent. And he was actually one of the winners of past winners of Top Chef Canada. So he's been a big part of my my younger career, but using those flavors, and then going to that country experiencing it firsthand, bringing back my own dried chilies and mixing messing around with the different flavor profiles and the different ingredients that they they have there. It's it's amazing to see, besides travel, where are you finding inspiration? Is there anywhere you're looking outside of just literally like traveling to a place? I would definitely read a lot of books. I would say I have a bit of a fetish for cookbooks. Don't we all for sure. I think there's just so much knowledge out there now thinking about chefs 2030 years ago, there wasn't this much knowledge at people's fingertips. So knowing that there's so many different master classes you can take from different chefs from around the world, there's so much just on the internet in general, and seeing like this massive trend of what cookbooks have come out in the last decade or so it's it's absolutely amazing. So seeing that, there's so many amazing chefs around the world now passing out their knowledge where I would say, a generation ago is all about hoarding knowledge. Now, it's all about spreading it. So really feel like me, and any chefs really coming up now in the ones to come are just we're really God childs of all these masters that have come before us. And we're, we're the offspring of what they've done all this like Master research. Now we're just basically pulling all this knowledge together. And hopefully this will bring us into even higher reward food has been known to be 100%, it's great to share this knowledge because then you can, it's like building blocks, right? Like it sets the foundation, and you can build on that. I mean, I'm of the age where I graduated culinary school in 1998. And I remember wanting to work at the best restaurant in my town. And they were skeptical because they had like this winning or award winning clam chowder recipe. And it was like they wanted me to verbalize like, how I could prove that I wasn't there just to like take this recipe and go somewhere like that was just the mindset 20 plus years ago was like, we've got these things that are our signature dishes, and I need you to prove that you're not going to just like steal them and go somewhere else. Like, that was disappointing. It was hard for me to get a job. I was like, What do you mean, like, I just want to come cook here because you're supposed to be a good restaurant. And it's so different from where we're at these days. Yeah, and I'm glad it's changed the way from from that mentality, I'm, I'm very lucky to say I haven't come across those kinds of problems or people have been holding so tight on to these ingredients, techniques, recipes and whatnot, where it's just, you can find the information out there. So they might as well just offer that value to you. And that's how you're going to get good cooks to come in and to stay is by offering that value. If you have such a close minded perspective on things like it's going to affect the business as a whole. And the same with your staff, your cooks are going to leave, you should want them to leave if you've got line cooks, and you don't have a position for them to move up and be a sous chef or chef de cuisine, then it's time to let them go and move and they're going to take that knowledge and open someplace else. And it might be in the same town and even kind of a competitor of sorts. But you know, I don't think you can worry about that. I think that's small problems there. That's just the circle of life in the chef's world, right. Like that's, that's how we've come about, we're obviously going to learn and use the techniques and the skill sets that we've learned from our prior chefs. And we're going to pass that forward. So I think it's just that that beautiful cycle because, yeah, like someone could, you could have taken that chowder recipe, but you would have done maybe something a little bit different to tweak it. And it's just like how those little things have changed. And there's so many traditional dishes that have been, like changed through just the evolution of different chefs, different products and techniques. Now that changed it from what it's known to be. But I think, for me, at least it's a beautiful evolution of how food can always be changing. I'm tweaking my recipes literally every time I make them just based on my mood. So the fact that I would take a recipe and follow it to the same people obviously don't know me well because I'm changing my own stuff all the time. I can't agree more. Your business is called wanderlust. So is that name a nod to traveling and love of travel?Unknown:
That's exactly what we're obviously comes down to the food that world we type cuisine showcasing flavors from around the world. And then the fact that my love for travel, I've been able to travel with probably, obviously 15 to 20 different countries. And it's just that that love for me to wander that that list of wondering if you will, and especially throughout COVID. And coming out of it, many people might not have the opportunity to travel as much. So really trying to bring that that feeling of wanderlust and into their homes. It's, it's it's this really cool, cool idea behind it. And when was the timeframe that you started this business, especially in relation to COVID? Was it? Did it get going before COVID? Or was it in the middle when you started? No. So this I only started this beginning of 2022. Oh, wow. Like super reason? Yeah, super recent. So hasn't even been a year yet. Obviously, before going into any business, especially restaurant work in general, I've always wanted to do my market research, if you will. So I've been very lucky to meet with a lot of people within the personal chef, private chef kind of realm pick their brains and whatnot, thinking about if this was the right move for me. And I'm still learning things about it. But yeah, it hasn't even been a year yet. But I'm very, very excited, like I said, to see where where this goes down the road? And how did you come up with your style of service pricing all that because you know, we all have to position ourselves in the market, whether you're going to be high end exclusive, or you're going to be lower price point for the masses, tasting menus, customer requests, like how did you figure out all of that? I guess, like what is what is your format? And how did you get settled on that? So for me, I would say the last decade of my career, I've probably worked in fine dining tasting menu only restaurants, I find, if I'm going to offer something strictly from myself more or less by myself to to a guest and or client, I want to give them like what I know best, I'm not going to come in and try and hit out hundreds of people every single week doing burgers, fries, and whatnot. As much as I love eating those things. And I don't mind making those things. It's just, it's not my wheelhouse per se, I wouldn't feel as fulfilled or as wanting to push that out every week. So I wanted to give my best to these clients and really trying to push that and knowing that, hey, this is what I've studied for 10 plus years, let me bring that experience to you. So knowing that, unfortunately, a lot of places in Canada or even around the world have gone away from tasting menus, or a lot of those higher end restaurants have focused on that business model, if you will have closed down or transition because of COVID Wasn't really willing to give up my skill set, I still have so much to give in that space, so much more passion, ambition and drive. And I just really wanted to curate that kind of style into into what I offer. And because not too many people are offering that kind of caliber within this personal setting. I feel that it was a good way for me to market something a bit different and obviously a higher end for sure. So is that how you stand out? I mean, I think we've seen so many more people come into the personal and private chef space the past couple of years. What makes you different than your competition. I think it's just the level of expertise that I bring in the fact that I obviously in a good way I pigeonhole myself into this because this is what I do. No one at least in the local market has the same expertise or the same drive to offer that that level of service at that level of dining obviously, as you known as many of the listeners will know it's not easy to go into somebody's house to make a kitchen up into prepare something. So for me to go to this higher realm of what we've done in the best restaurants in this country in the world. And offer that in someone's house is is no easy feat. I want to take on that challenge. I think it'd be easy for me to just do backyard barbecues all summer long. But like I said, I wanted to really push myself into something I'm very passionate about and I'm excited to see how that grows. What's the menu planning process look like? Are you getting preferences from customers? Do they know what they're going to be eating? Do you modify that like how are you coming up with these menus that you're serving them? So I keep all my menus blind I will just love the the idea of a blind tasting menu I do take in the basically the hard restrictions that there's a obviously life threatening allergies are very strong dislikes obviously we want to cater for for the clients but at the same time I want to offer that that level of of surprise so they have no idea what they're eating before before you arrive. Not at all. Wow. Has that ever been an issue like what's what are the comments? Honestly, every single person I've cooked for has loved the experience. I think it's especially based on the realm and the the net worth of the clients that I have there. They're used to having everyone bend over backwards and they're always used to getting what they want and they've worked with A lot of them have worked hard to, obviously, to get that comfortable kind of lifestyle. So for me to come into their most comfortable environment and take away all that control for them, it's, it's like a tantalizing experience. And obviously, the software I've trained for, and they just have to put faith in me knowing that, I can obviously produce something without them knowing how or what it's going to be and make sure I hit the mark. So it is it is a lot of fun. And it is cool, because the personal chef business, people are only going to reach out to you if they really want that service. I've worked in some restaurants where people have come in, just to take a photo just to say that they've been here, they don't care about the food, the experience, and so on where people that come to me and want my experience, they want that 110% And I'm more than happy to go out of my way to make sure that they have a unforgettable experience. So that's clear and all your marketing, like do you ever have people call you or contact you who don't know that and then opt out and say, Oh, I didn't realize that, um, I don't think I'm going to move forward with this because I want to know what I'm eating. Oh, yeah, so many people are so many people have come to me, maybe not in the fact that they like the idea of the blind tasting. But then some people will reach out not knowing anything asking me for a birthday party for a sweet 16 party type thing. And just things that are completely out of the realm. So obviously, within the first year or so it's all about the branding, letting people know, this is what I stand for. And I don't really want to pivot from that I really want to build that that strong base of branding and marketing around it, this is what I do. This is what I'm known for. So it is wading through a lot of inquiries and emails and whatnot to get established. But soon enough word to mouth will will get out and I'll be known as a as a major player within that realm. Now, do you think that stands in the way of the customer experience at all and giving someone maybe what they want, you know, this kind of discussion of younger chefs kind of want to do this creative stuff, and it kind of feeds into their ego. And as you age, you realize that like maybe I should just be doing like a beef bourguignon or something because it's really delicious. And people want that, do you kind of get what I'm saying? Like I just read, we'll get eras new book, and you know, coming from 11, Madison Park, unreasonable hospitality. And for me, it's one of most transformative books I've ever read. I finished it in a week. But you know, they're this fine dining restaurant. But also he tells the story, for those who haven't heard about overhearing his customers talking about how the only thing they didn't do in New York was get a dirty water hot dog. And then he runs out to a cart on the street, and has you know, Chef, whom cut it up into like four pieces and give it to them that, you know, sometimes we're taking ourselves too seriously doing these overly ambitious things where it's maybe these familiar things are the little things that would go a long way as well. I don't know if there's a question buried in there somewhere. And that is definitely something I take into consideration where some people like some of my clients are they want a lot of Indian influence into this menu, or they definitely want to see, like chocolate for sure. And some of these desserts are certain techniques shown are certain ingredients. And that's where I'm obviously I'm definitely flexible. And obviously that comes down to what what the guests are obviously willing to pay for if they want Guney and wagyu coming in from Japan. Yeah, that's that's not a problem. So there are like, it's not like I'm handcuffing them to a certain idea. I'm very flexible within that realm. But for me, it's just about the respect of the art form of the food I want. I don't want to get away and think that it's just like this. Like you said, this egotistical, pretentious kind of idea of what fine dining has been known to be known to be, is I just want to try and bring it down to a more humble experience. But at the same time it really showcase the creativity and the artistry of what fine dining could be. How many courses are you doing? So I either offer a five or a 10 course menu. That's a big jump, like five totally, that's like my normal realm. The jump to 10 is pretty big, though. It is big. It is what I feel that's that's what I've been doing for the last few years training where a lot of my time has been 1012 courses and working in Copenhagen, we were doing 2025 courses. So it's about trying to find that middle ground and having those kinds of bigger, luscious experience around 10 courses, you're with this group of people or family for a whole evening. It's, it's something very beautiful, where I find a lot of my five course menus come down towards a lot more business or corporate type meetings. So it's a complete different vibe. So I find it's really cool to hit two different markets there. Sometimes they overlap. But I feel there's something very special and very intimate about the 10 Corps experience for sure. But I mean staffing has to come into play. I mean, this isn't no mo where you have probably a million people working who maybe are even starting for free. What's your staffing model look like? How many people are working with you? So depends on the number of guests that we're catering for. I limit my my experiences to 10 people Max, especially when you're thinking about 10 people attend courses, that's a that's a lot of plates to put out. And I'm, I'm very meticulous about the whole experience coming down to the plate where I'm bringing all myself all my cutlery everything down to all my cooking gear as well. So depending on how many people are brought in, depending on what kind of service that the client wants, some of them want, like white glove service, they want someone pouring their wine topping up their waters. But then sometimes, for the really hush hush business meetings, they want just the cook in the kitchen, they don't want anyone else around. So it's a really case by case basis. And because we're in such a an amazing city here, and we have such a amazing friend group here in such a great community, there's so many people to pick up to help come in to help support in the kitchen or help with the service and stuff. So it's, it's really nice that it's a case by case basis, but it's also easy to fill in the gas when it is needed. So are you just picking up like freelance people on a event by event? Existence? Yeah, until I maybe grown to something a lot bigger, I feel like this would just be one facet of me as a as a brand or what I'm trying to do as an individual. So I know that this isn't something that's going to be massive, scalable, where I want people going into people's houses under my name, I feel the big thing about what I'm trying to do is that it is me that once runs a wonder was it is me coming into prep all your food, doing all the r&d, and I'm cooking it and presenting it to you. It's not me just shipping in a team with my name stamped on it and providing it to you. And you see that in a lot of the big restaurants. And I can understand that. But for me, that is what I'm offering is that personal touch, and it's me in the flesh and blood offering that service. Same all the time I get friends and family asking, how do you scale? How do you grow, wouldn't it like, it doesn't make sense to hire people and send them out. But then I'm just being a manager again, you know, and I'm just like schlepping people off, like I did this because I wanted to manage less and cook more. But maybe it's not a good business man. mentality. But that's what works for me, I still do the same thing. I've been doing this for 11 years now. And this weekend, I have a party Saturday and a party Sunday. And they're just two people helping me on Saturday at someone who has her own small cottage bakery business in town. And the next day, it's my former sous chef, you know, and it's just I reached out, text them, Hey, I got a gig on Sunday, it's 15 people do want to come cook. And sure. And you know, that's worked for me, I haven't hired any employees and 11 years. And that's the best thing. It's just like, whenever we do reach out, it's it's people I really trust. people I know, that are very competent, I trust her your skill, and just obviously their personalities. When you're working in a client's home. Obviously, it's very different from being in the back of the kitchen where no one's going to see you type thing. So you got to make sure that people are presentable, trustworthy in a very private space and whatnot. So there's a lot of things to take into consideration when you are bringing in support for these events. But for me, knowing that I have a very personal relationship with the cooks and the other chefs and servers I bring in it's, it's so it's so much fun for me. I definitely think that's one of the most challenging things when people ask me for advice, I say, you have to realize you're an entertainer, it's as I mean, it's the experience quite often more so than the food the food is like secondaries, how do you make them feel? How are you, you know, helping them facilitate this celebration or whatever. And so many of us loved the kitchen, because it was like a pirate ship, right? And you got to hide in the back and not have to interact with staff and or with customers. And now you're like smack dab on their giant island with 15 people standing around talking to you the whole time. And it's not for everyone. And I don't know that you can even necessarily learn how to do that. I think you have to have some part of that in you. It's been a very hard transition, I will not lie. Obviously, it's portrayed differently, obviously, because the TV shows and stuff that I've done, obviously, that I've done those mainly because it's pulled me out of my comfort zone. I never liked cooking on camera, I don't even like speaking on camera. So I always wanted to do stuff to pull me out of my comfort zone. And I think the personal chef realm is really pulling something out of me that I didn't really know that it was there. I could, it could obviously go one way or the other. I could be amazing. Or you could obviously completely fail. But I'm willing to put myself out there to see how I grow obviously not just as a chef but as a person. Like you said you are an entertainer and I find that even doing one big dinner for X amount of people it just takes out 10 times more energy out of me than a normal shift and the back of the kitchen. Kitchen does working with all your buddies in the back and you've got that like, like gang kind of pirate ship mentality. You're just chilling with the people that you see day in day out where you're in people's homes and you're talking to them and it's it's a different face that you got to put on and it's it takes a lot of energy I will not lie. Yeah, I identify as an introvert even though I have a podcastChris Spear:
Send all this interviewing and stuff. But there's no place to hide, you know, I've never had bad experiences. But sometimes you get there and someone throws you a loop. You know, you get there and you're in the kitchen and all of a sudden you found out, Oh, someone's gluten free and you didn't know where someone's like talking to you a tone, you don't appreciate it. And like, you know, it's showing on your face, and you're like, smack dab in the middle, and there's no like, walk into go in and you're just like, how do I? How do I continue and not let them see that I'm rattled, right? One time, I forgot a whole bag of food, like, left back at the Commissary Kitchen, and got to a place and there's no grocery stores around. And I was just like, Okay, this is fine. You know, like, breathe and like, how do I not look like I'm losing my shit right now, even though it's kind of losing my shit. And there's a bit of an art form when it comes to that, right? Like, it's, it is really hard. And it's just being on and really controlling all the emotions. And that's just obviously from a priest presenting. So when it comes down, just to the kitchen in general. Yeah, even in Michigan places that I've been able to step in down to the lower end places, we still want to keep the kitchen as clean and organized as possible. Here, there's even more stress on top of that, because everything's open, they're seeing every single step, you can't be just wiping something on to the floor. If something drops, you're wiping that up straight away. That's, there's such like a routine that comes to it where everything has to be at such a high level. Or maybe that's just my,USPCA AD:
my practice or the fact that I want everything to be perfect. comes into it. But yeah, it's just it's just a different level of pressure, which is interesting by I kind of thrive office. But for me personally, I really enjoy it. But it is a quite a different realm for sure. We've done some time at Noma, haven't you? Yeah. So when we all went into lockdown, basically, around the world, especially here in toronto, toronto was probably the city around the world that was in lockdown for the longest. For about two to three years. Copenhagen was the one city Denmark, one country in the world that was probably opened. During all of this very small general population. I think we have more people in Toronto than we do in the whole of Denmark in general. So it was really nice to see that things were there. Things there were still open restaurants, bar, shopping malls, and whatnot. And before we went into walk down worldwide, I had the opportunity already set up to go do an internship. And unfortunately, that got canceled, but push back. So I ended up spending the last half of 2020 in, in Copenhagen with with Noma. That's a no small feat there, you know, one of the best restaurants in the world actually been called the best restaurant in the world. So I'm sure you know, that's another class, I don't think people even understand that I don't understand that I've never worked in a restaurant like that I can't imagine being at that level, what that's like, at all, it was absolutely a crazy, crazy experience, obviously, something I'll remember for the rest of my life, especially for a time period like that, I don't think there's going to be anything ever comparable to that where me and all the other cooks, all the other interns, basically the whole team, in general, we are traveling from around the world to work at this restaurant in the middle of a pandemic. So you know, passion is at its highest point for people willing to, to put to an extent life on the line, or just different risks play, to travel to this foreign land to come and put out food. So I think it was such an amazing group of staff that we got to work with. And it's such a big team there. So to see what we were able to put out within that time before going back into lockdown around Christmas of 2020. And then for them to come out with their third Michelin star and then being named as the number one restaurant in the world. It feels like in a small way, obviously, they had a big read up of that for the last decade or so. But we're at least at the tip of the iceberg before they really fell into that that highest realm. So it was definitely a very special special moment for us. What are some things you saw in working in restaurants like Noma and other high end kitchens? Like what are those transferable skills that when you started your business, you're like, wow, like besides the, the menu and the technique? What are some similarities you see in kind of high end restaurants that have been really beneficial to you? For me, I think the two biggest things is the organization and the detail down to how you label your containers, how you set up your station, the cleanliness that comes around and even down to how you fold your rags. It almost seems like a joke to some people, but I feel like I even laughed at first where somebody's like, Oh, you're folding the rags wrong. I'm like, okay, like Sure. But then I really understood it's just that level of detail down to the smallest thing will transpire throughout the whole experience down to the biggest thing if you're not focusing on the smallest detailUnknown:
You're going to forget things when it really matters. So really trying to take that into every single aspect of what we're doing there and what I'm doing within my own business. And I think that's transpired into other parts in my own life is really thinking about all those little details. Because when we're trying to offer this experience of coming in people's homes, I want to make sure everything down to a tee is organized, well thought out online, and making sure that execution is absolutely flawless. Obviously, things are bound to go wrong, but it's about obviously, being able to control those things as much as possible. And the best moves on paths that we have moving into it, the easier it is for us to execute. And that's I think the main thing that I took away from that is obviously, more competence in what I knew and what I can bring to the table based on my own skill set. But about those really based things like really focus on the small things, because that's what's going to matter down the line. It's like the kitchen joke about cutting the tape versus tearing the tape, right? Well, they were not going to let you tear any tape. Let's put it that way. I'm sure some of our listeners know that one. You know, one of the first criticisms I received when I was just starting my business was that the food was good. But things didn't look aesthetically organized in the kitchen, because it was an open space. Like I think my first few events were in a closed kitchen. And then the first time, you know, I'm schlepping in five bins full of China and all my gear and all my stuff. And these people don't have a storage space for it. So you know, and it's stuff I need to have at hand. And she didn't say anything at the time. And I hadn't even really thought about this. And then she's like, Yeah, everything was good. Except, you know, like, I looked in the kitchen, I could kind of see your shit everywhere, you know. So like thinking things like that. And that's where the organization comes in, like, Okay, I gotta get this stuff loaded in. But then can I take some of these bins back to the car? Can I put them in a closet? Like, what is that experience? And to me at the time I didn't get that was like, Yeah, but the food was good, right?USPCA AD:
You know, and again, comes with age and experience. But I really took that to heart is when she said that, and I just hadn't even thought about that. Yeah, it just and it just goes to show it's like those those little things that obviously, like you said, food will always come first. And that service around a bit, it's those little things that surrounded that we might not always think about. And I know I'm going to run into those things down the line. And we all know every house is different. So we're trying to find that space, trying to make our kitchen setup, obviously, best suitable for us to execute. But at the same time, we want it to look as presentable as possible. It's not just in the back somewhere of some building, it is on shows, we want to make sure that everything looks like prim and proper. One of the big things I like to talk about is marketing, you are clearly trying to get in front of a certain clientele, let's say probably people with more money, right? It's a higher end experience. How are you directly marketing to those people? How are you finding them? Are they finding you. So I would say for at least that higher realm, the best way is obviously word to mouth. So I know it's going to be a snowball effect, as more clientele Come on, it's just gonna obviously lead into into another. It's, it's obviously a lot different, where I'm not playing a big numbers game, a lot of my clientele, they're not using tick tock Facebook and Instagram, like if I was doing a fried chicken business or something, right. So it is a different mindset, it's completely different than knowing I'm at a restaurant, hundreds of people could come in every day. And that word to mouth eventually will blow up completely. So I have to make sure that every single time I have a client and obviously very appreciative of when I get my bookings is making sure that I nail it 110%. And obviously, that voice will carry over. But those circles are very small. So if you do a bad job that we're going to get out, but if you do an amazing job, that word is going to get out as well. So for me, it's just obviously, we're not in a restaurant. So we don't have the same marketing budget, if you will, to get the name pushed. So for me just focusing on that the service and the execution of the experience is at its top level, and when that just speaks for itself. So it's obviously a slow burn Getting Started by know that, like I said, it's just that ripple effect down the line that as long as I make sure I execute, the people will come. Yeah, I love social media as much as the next person. But I find that that's probably like 1% of my customer base. You know, it's funny, like reviews are huge. And I find that a lot of customers even follow up and ask them to write a review and like they don't even have a Yelp account. Right. So it's like they're not the kind of people who are going on finding me on there. Most customers tell me they find me through a Google search. So you know, it's like okay, thinking about where they are, but it's definitely not like oh, I was on your Instagram and saw this delicious food and I knew I had to hire you like that's nobody story when I asked them how they found out about me. And that's the same thing for me and like, even like for the review site, obviously testimonials will always be a massive play. But for me, it's just like, a lot of the people are like, Oh, we're just the assistant. We're their personal assistant or some people don't care we we can't let people Well know that you were at our house cook. And because of bigger things that are play, there's like NDAs that have been signed or whatnot. And that's just like, part of the lifestyle. That's part of the realm that that we're in. But I find it is super cool knowing like, Oh, I could have 20 More reviews, but because of different logistics at play, it's been dulled down for that exact reason. So it is, obviously sucks to an extent not to have the same numbers on that review side of it, but it is pretty cool. That is the reason why I never had to sign an NDA, even though I've cooked for some pretty cool people. Yeah, it is, especially when I think it comes to the business side of it. Because there's so much being overheard, and whatnot. Obviously, I do my best to well, I'm so busy myself. So a lot of it just just goes through, but same time you're in that room anyways. So there's so many things that people don't need to be shared, or you can have pictures done in their house and whatnot. So it is a different different mentality going into some of these spaces. I did get to cook for a women's soccer player, which was really cool. And she was great about doing selfies with her whole group. And we she posted them on her Instagram to her like million followers or whatever. I was like, Oh, that's cool. But again, like that didn't translate to a lot of business. You're like, you know, feather in my cap, like, I got to do this cool bachelorette party for a really well known woman who's you know, won Olympic medals, and, you know, World Cup stuff. But it's like, that still doesn't do anything. And again, that's something I talked to people about all the time, like, where are you spending your energy? In your marketing? Like, sure it goes towards your branding? And you can kind of say like, oh, yeah, I'm hired by these well known people, if you can even get them to, you know, let you share that. But it doesn't really pan out, I find no, not at all. And that's why like, I would say, at least for me, personally, it's just focusing on the base of it, making sure that the service is as good as possible. And that's, that's the best marketing that we can do. Like you said, that selfie, those pictures that get shared all like a lot of my dinners and stuff, they get shared on whatever platforms that the clients use, but they aren't bringing as much tangible results. But when I get a new client saying, hey, this, this individual raved about what you've done. I'm like, okay, it is the experience is service, what matters most. So I put in all my energy, all quote unquote, marketing budget, into making sure that I'm going above and beyond in that experience for them to receive. I do a lot of bachelorette party. So the conversations I overhear are not usually business NDA worthy, but they're definitely things where, believe me, I'm not going to be talking about when I get out of here. One of the things I want to talk to you about is your affiliation with the burnt chef project for people who aren't aware. Can you talk about what that is a little bit. I've talked to other chefs on this show who were also involved. Yeah, so I have dual citizenship with Canada in the UK, leading up to COVID, I was working in the south part of England. So I have a lot of ties with the UK, especially just England in general. And the bird chef, I would say establish right before right around the beginning of COVID. And they were absolutely massive with their podcast system, really talking about breaking down the stigma of mental health within the hospitality and tourism sector, which I've endured and witnessed firsthand, I've had I've lost personal friends, to to mental health. And knowing how many problems that come around mental health, addiction and whatnot within our industry was, it was just absolutely rampant before. And I think it's skyrocketed in different ways. Because of COVID, because of us not being able to work, not having those outlets, us working 1618 hour days to go on home and doing absolutely nothing for day in day out like it affected me, I can't imagine how it's affected everybody else. So I just love what they were doing to really spread awareness making more safe spaces for people to really voice how they feel what they're going through. So creating that safe space for people to, to share what they're going through. And then now for as the NGO itself grows, offering services to really help people that are going through something and need the support. And the more chefs especially within all these different realms, they have so many ambassadors across the world from different walks of life caterers, food, truck owners, personal private chefs, restaurant owners, it just goes to show that these, these problems affect everybody, and that we should be able to open the floor for anyone to talk about these things. And that's the only way for us to really move forward in the industry. And to combat these things. The best is if we create safe spaces for people to to voice what they're going through, and then for us to offer, like helpful support for all of us to move forward. So I fell in love with what they were doing, what they were preaching, and I really want to do my part for the industry, especially based here in Canada. I mean, we already had so many issues just in the restaurant industry. Let's not even take COVID into account just the work life balance the stress there the not always great work environments, right. But then, like COVID has thrown everyoneChris Spear:
For a loop, and we're having a mental health crisis, I'm seeing it, you know, I've got kids, just seeing what two years of being at home has done to them. And then the lack of available therapists to talk to have you tried finding a therapist in the past year and a half, like there's no openings. And if there is, one, it's someone who doesn't take your insurance. So you're now looking at like, $200 a week, and they want you to come in every week. So it's like, who has $800 a month to go to a therapist? And then, you know, we've even encountered talking to psychiatrists who, they're only doing virtual, they refuse to go back in the office, and they can't prescribe medicine virtually. So it's like, you know, what are you supposed to do? Thank God, no one in my household is having a full mental breakdown or crisis, but just trying to navigate the therapy sector has been insane, you know, my kids have ADHD. And you know, having a virtual appointment doesn't really work, like they respond better to in office, but these therapists don't want to go back to the office, they've gotten used to, you know, sitting at home and doing virtual and yeah, sure, that's great and convenient, and everything. But at some point, you're going to have to go back, I hope into the office, so some people can come see you. AndUSPCA AD:
with government's different practices, seeing that these are massive problems at hand that have to be combative, on, on hoping there's going to be more services that come out to offer support. And obviously, I'm not trained medically or anything within that field. But going through the training that the burnt chef project offers, even doing training that the Kenyan government has offered me on. I'm certified in med toys, like mental health first aid here, just doing everything I can to gain the knowledge possible to help people obviously, I'm not a therapist, by any means. I can't prescribe medicine, but just offering a place where people can reach out, I've probably hundreds of people reach out with different things. And it's no need for me to respond back with with the right answers or the right advices just being there to listen to people, and letting them know that they're not alone. And if they are in a higher level of crisis, just pointing them in the right direction, knowing that there are people out there to help. And like I said, there's there's people I've been close to me that I've had to I've lost, unfortunately. So knowing I can do my best part to offer some kind of shoulder to cry on, if you will, or to lean on. That's the least I can do. I never even heard about mental health first aid. Yes. So it's, it's an obviously, being a chef, I've trained, we've been trained on CPR all the first first aid training growing up, and I would say this is probably a new training slash certificate that was released by the Canadian government, I would say a couple of years maybe before COVID has obviously blown up. Since then, there's just so much more training that's coming out where I have, say the base training certificate around it. But then there's one that's more geared towards children or people at risk or with the elderly. So they're really trying to have the general public more trained about it. And obviously, there's going to be more specialists and doctors around that could help with the higher needs of people within that area. But just making those practices like a normal part of first day training, I think is mandatory. I think that's really amazing. I don't know if we have anything like that here. You clearly have a very different healthcare system in Canada than we have here in the US. Yeah, and I'm just trying to take advantage of it and use the tools that we have at our disposal to help others. Well, I love that. That makes me want to go look and see if we have anything like that around here because I just have no idea. Well, I'd love to give you an opportunity to tell people where to connect with you online and I always post all this info in the show notes. Awesome. Yeah, I would say the best way would be through Instagram obviously I saw being a foodie professionals that is the best way for us to share pictures and videos of our dishes. Like I said, I do like to, to travel a lot. So I love any any of the community to reach out especially as I travel to meet up link up in person and stuff. It'd be great to follow each other's journey and obviously help each other grow. And I want obviously, Chris, thank you again for having me on. It's been an absolute pleasure. Oh, you're welcome. I was so excited to have you on and I'll look you up when I moved to Ontario to start my personal chef business. Perfect.Chris Spear:
Well, as always, this has been Chris with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. Thanks so much for listening and have a great week. Go to chefs without restaurants.org To find our Facebook group, mailing list and Chef database. The community is free to join. You'll get gig opportunities, advice on building and growing your business and you'll never miss an episode of our podcast. Have a great week.
Here are some great episodes to start with.