So, Can You Cook?

Personal Chef Lesson 1

Me: Dear Beth, Can you cook?

Beth: You Bet!! Shoot!

Cartoon light-bulbs flash on to the right, there above your head. It has occurred to Beth:

“I can dump the crappy job I’ve got now. They don’t appreciate me. I’m so disappointed and stressed out. I’ve been in “my profession” for 20 years and still I have someone riding my poor, tensed neck. Yeah, I’ve got enough financial resources to get a full, naked body massage from John at the gym and a pedicure from Pretty Nails.”

But the stress is chronic and can’t be rubbed out, drank or eaten away, no matter how good the human touch, or the adrenaline rush feels at the time. Are you familiar with the term “comfort food?” Can you see the results of slathering all that creamy, savory medicine on top of your soul boo-boo? One day you notice you’ve gained 40 pounds from all the fight or flight hormones coursing through your poor body. It’s really not your fault, you know.

You’re here now because you’ve had an “Ah-HA”: “Hey, I can cook!! Whew! Maybe there’s a way out of this darkness y’all. I’ll make dough, while meeting kind, grateful people.”

Oops, like coming down hard when you think there’s another step, Aarrrgghg, you realize: “I can’t change jobs, I’m 50-freaking years old! I’ll be running, managing, taking the heat for my mistakes, my bad cooking, and my nasty halibut – it was an accident, I swear.” Then it’s: “where do I find folks to cook for?” And the best one: “Will they like what I’m cooking?”

Not yet. Not just yet. Wait just a hinky-dinky minute before Aunt Gladys comes stomping into your dreams of making your own way in the world and scattering your hopes to high heaven (or low hell as the case might be). Dark, evil Aunt Gladys. You’re probably not familiar with her, because she’s MY Aunt Gladys. But you have one too. You’ll recognize her in the room. When she talks, she always uses exclamation marks and the word “should”. She’s kinda smelly too.

This is my story. This is a look-back from six years down the road, vacillating between “hobby-cook” and personal chef business cook. At the time I didn’t know there was a difference. Damn! I didn’t even know there were personal chefs!

So, Can you cook?

“Yeah, well my friends say I can cook. My family is (mostly) always eager for dinner time – maybe they’re just hungry.” That last nagging, sad, little doubtful thought comes from a different side of my familiar, dark, twisty Aunt Gladys.

But then, in your imagination, you see yourself, under the bright lights of the kitchen set, standing in front of camera 1, like Rachel Ray, a demo-cook turned TV diva. “Yay!! Cooking is cool, it’s creative. Grateful families will gaze lovingly at my food and each other as they savor each morsel: ‘Gee, Hon, how did we EVER eat before Chef Beth came into our lives?’ Smile. Sigh. ‘Say, Hon, Let’s tell ALL our friends about Chef Beth!”

I can tell you from this end of the kitchen, becoming a personal chef is an exciting opportunity if food pulls your cork. You’ve shown up at the right place or at least A PLACE to start an adventure. There is no dark side to this adventure. There are some shadows, but having the dice to roll for your financial independence is always more fulfilling than your prospects for fame and fortune relying on somebody else, be they nice-guys or jerks. You are ready for an adventure. You know life is meant to be fun. You’re not having any fun now. Things change. You change. Slap on these Progressives glasses and let’s go!

SKREEETCHHH!! Waiiiitttt a dang minute! Just who is this person coercing me down this rosy road?

Figure 1 Beth and the Biscuit Self-Portrait

My name is Beth Wright. I am “Elizabeth” when working in the corporate world, “Miss Beth” if you’re my mother. And she’s dead, so there’s that.  

Before I was the face of Beth and the Biscuit, I was practicing architecture. Big city architecture in big, ankle-biting firms, real growling, snarling, dog eat dog, you know? Sometimes it was screaming, 90 miles an hour fun. I got some cool boots, made an ass out of myself at parties, and drank too much, travelled a lot and everwhere. Most times it was chillingly scary. Construction is a yelling business. It’s all about the carrots and sticks; many big, gnarly, whomping sticks and a couple of teensy-tiny, shaved, slick baby bagged carrots. I always joked with our lead architect that there was a shelf of asses outside the boss’s door for after his had been chewed off. I hung around for the 60k/year and my credit cards, mortgage, and massages. Boy I needed the massages! Also, I went to college for this. What I meant to say was: “PRIVATE College”. Yikes.

I got fired. The entire architecture staff got fired, shot-by-shot. One here, one there, ME, another one. By the way, I got fired with a boat-load of extravagant-spending credit card debt and college loans.

What to do now? I got on board with temping agencies for drafting. Nasssty, mean, unconscious bosses. But I earned a few bucks.

What ELSE can I do, when as luck would have it, being a human sitting in an architecture firm isn’t working out. I’m bored. I’m exhausted. Well, I can cook.

I had maids when I was little. People cooked for other people. I can cook. I can cook for other people. Poking around the internet, I found “personal chef”. I was THAT green and had no idea there was a professional title for this. Did I want to go to school again to learn how to cook? Nope, I’d already spent 8 years in architecture school. My mom was a fabulous home-cook. I know how to cook. I can cook. No more school for me. What then?

Personal Chefs Network was what was then. I found them on 2007 internet. Now when you’re Googling around OPCW (Other Personal Chefs Websites) you’ll probably see a few of the PCN logos. The company doesn’t exist anymore except in the hearts and minds of us that have fond memories of some very cool folks no longer on the planet. But most of those dear souls are still on the planet, some of the most creative, active, sharing and vibrant people you’ll meet, and I’m almost sure you will.

I joined PCN, they sent me a software program, a couple of notebooks one with marketing and business suggestions and another one with recipes.

I have no memory of how I arrived at the name “Beth and the Biscuit”. I vaguely recall thinking about southern women and quick breads and how Minnesotans would find that charming. My first website sucked. I bought cheap-ass business cards from Vistaprint, a magnetic sign for my car and stickers for my windows. I started networking. I had no idea what sort of menu I was going to be offering, my prices for those menus, or who was going to want my services. I just started talking.

In 2007 marketing was all about “face-time” and the “3-Minute Elevator Speech”. Boy has the internet changed marketing!

Now, as an architectural/learn-by-observing type of person, what I thought I wanted was to shadow another personal chef. You know – show me how to walk in a door, put down groceries, start an oven. I really did know nothing about nothing in this world. I asked around if anyone wanted me along on their cook-date. No takers.

Finally I ran into a wonderful Hungry Person (HP, “people” plural) who didn’t want to cook anymore. She’s still a friend of mine, even though I did melt her son’s G.I. Joe’s in her oven on my second cook-date. Another story told at another time. I didn’t tell her about the G.I. Joe’s, I assumed her son didn’t miss his toys and she couldn’t smell the remains. Maybe those personal chefs I asked to shadow knew instinctively I was trouble.

Time marches on. I hire my S.O. as web master. He knows about search engine optimization (SEO). My life experience sees change. During this phase I’m still working at part-time retail, fun, hobby-work.

Then, one day I discover Beth and the Biscuit Personal Chef Service was the first page of the “Minneapolis personal chef” search engine, ranking high, “above the fold”. Now I get calls from all across the county and the planet for this and that service for this and that friend.

I lived in someone else’s kitchen every morning; shopping, chopping, tasting and tossing up sanity-saving meals for the HPs. I even got so busy I hired an assistant (and a fabulous one too!). If this is the definition of “success” in personal chef world, then yes, I was successful.

My cooking style is stream-lined Zen cooking, preparing seasonal, organic nourishment. We had an organic garden. People paid me for our produce to use in their meals. Nice.

My family has relocated into a slower and a saner (debatable) lifestyle in southwestern Virginia. Slowing down has provided me a space to re-evaluate Beth and the Biscuit Personal Chef Services, move stuff around, make a more malleable fit. There is a slight shift in the name of the business. Now it’s Beth and the Biscuit connections for Personal Chefs.

I’ve got a perspective you’ve not. I’ve got that “Some-knowing”; “I’ve been there and have the burn scars to show it” look of a dusty veteran. I’m not wearing the toque anymore, unless pressed. I’m not a competitor of yours. I’m an aid. I’ve been where you are. You can be an amazing personal chef. Your Hungry Families will love you and be grateful. After your initial shock of a new career wears off, you’ll understand you can choose the families you cook for.

I started in 2007. Today there are so many more options when you first discover: “Hey, I can cook.” There are big stories about how far the profession of personal chefs has advanced and the options opened to you. You lucky cook, you.

The important thing now is to see a big picture. Please keep (or find) some wide-eyed innocence and optimism. Here’s a suggestion: you cannot be desperate for money. A new career won’t work for you and you’ll be stressed out again and unhappy. This is a truism. Have you noticed you always find the best friend when you’re getting ready to leave town? You always find the best-looking, sweetest, hottest, most fun boyfriend when you’re not looking for someone. It’s the same thing with money. It’s a tool, not an object. Breathe. You’ll do fine.

Now go. Get ready to get back into the slippery saddle of your current day job. It’s not for long. Soon you’ll be back here, uncovering skills and talents you suspected you had. You might still be unhappy in your creepy job, but there’s always that Mile-High Mousse you’ve been meaning to take to the Fellowship Hall to wow them at the Wednesday Spaghetti Supper. Make the mousse. Blow their starched aprons off!!