Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for May, 2007
When you’re self-employed, you have to be selective about taking holidays. After all, there’s no such thing as a paid day off. Some holidays I’ll always observe: Christmas, Thanksgiving (and often the day after), New Year’s Day, 4th of July. Memorial and Labor days? Only if I can swing it (I have a weekly client on Mondays, so I’ll only take the day off if I have the following Tuesday open). Columbus and Veteran’s days? Get real! (I don’t recall getting those off even in the corporate world).
Given our upcoming 2-week trip to France and a couple of other travel plans, I knew I’d be working this Memorial Day. But as luck would have it, I had Friday off. My darling and I originally planned to visit friends in Portland (he too is self-employed), but they had to cancel at the last minute. So suddenly we were faced with something we haven’t experienced in quite a while: a 3-day weekend with no obligations; WOO HOO!
Knowing my darling is prone to over-scheduling, I admonished him to keep Friday entirely open for a date (I hoped the weather would behave for a bike ride to the winery for a picnic). But I then decided to take advantage of the day off and scheduled a hair appointment at 10:30 (“I’ll be done by 11:30, sweetie; I promise!”) I then had a potential client ask if I could meet with them that day as well; I scheduled a 1 p.m. appointment.
sigh I’m such a freakin’ hypocrite!!!
Given my transgressions, my darling felt no guilt whatsoever in spending the morning and early afternoon finishing up a few photo deadlines (we by now had decided to postpone the ride until Saturday). But by 4 p.m. our obligations were completed, and we headed to Matador for happy hour, followed by a tasty dessert at Cupcake Royale. A DVD of “Pan’s Labyrinth” was the perfect capper to the evening.
Ever wonder why your culinary creation doesn’t come out like the photo in the food magazine? Well, could be because you didn’t use Kitchen Bouquet, Vaseline, Elmer’s Glue or an assortment of skewers, toothpicks, cotton balls and other items to prop up the food.
Welcome to the world of professional food styling.
Of course, not every food photo you see is highly manipulated. With the proliferation of food blogs, much of what you see is real, unadulterated food. I would guess even food magazines and cookbooks rely mostly on “real” food, although I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the food is meticulously primped to show it in its most food porn-ready pose.
But think about the ads you see in print and on television. In order to get the food to behave for long periods of time under hot studio lights — and maintain its perceived yumminess — there’s no way around a bit (or a lot) of manipulation. Just check out this site for a look at ads vs. reality in the fast food business. However, due to “truth in advertising” laws, if you’re selling a particular food item, then the ads HAVE to feature the real deal. For example, the current HÃ¤agen-Dazs ads (which are spectacular), MUST feature real ice cream. However, it’s likely those perfect scoops took quarts upon quarts of ice cream and hours upon hours to produce.
So why all this interest in food styling? A couple of years ago I thought I should have a back-up plan for when my body decides it can no longer schlep equipment from client kitchen to client kitchen. So I started to look into the world of food styling (although now I know more about it, I realize if I ever were to pursue the career, my schlepping days would not only NOT be over, they’d be intensified). So when I heard about the Food Styling 101 workshop from Food Fanatics, I jumped at the chance. Besides, it was an opportunity to meet Denise Vivaldo, whose book, “How to Start a Home-based Catering Business,” is a dog-eared, oft-used reference in my culinary library. (And if you’re considering a career as a personal chef, I highly recommend her subsequent book, “How to Start a Home-Based Personal Chef Business” featuring interviews with several personal chefs, including yours truly).
When I saw Allen of Eating Out Loud was hosting a food fight featuring moms’ favorite dishes, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. There’s relatively little my mom doesn’t like, and a call to her confirmed even she couldn’t name her favorite food (although when pressed she said chicken and mussels are at the top of her list). She’s gotten much more adventuresome in her cooking, so she couldn’t even be nailed down on a particular ethnic cuisine. Indian, Thai, Greek, Italian, Moroccan, Southwestern, Chinese, French — she loves ‘em all!
I obviously had to rethink my game plan.
But before I tell you how I came up with the idea for my entry, I’d like to share with you a bit about my mom. She has such a passion for food and cooking, and I am blessed she passed this passion on to me. Even before I decided to make a career out of food, it was always an important part of my life.
My fondest memories of food growing up were less about specific dishes my mom made and more about the experience of preparing those dishes. Back then her culinary creations were rather basic; she had to feed a family of seven on a school principal’s salary, so we ate a lot of hamburger, chicken and pasta. However, pretty much everything was made from scratch, and we always sat down together at the table. Once we heard her dinner bell we had to be at the table within minutes. Television during the dinner hour was verboten; dinner was the time for conversation.
She also was adamant about serving a “complete” meal — salad, entree, side dish — with a glass of milk, of course (we NEVER drank pop at home and were only allowed one glass on the rare occasions we ate out). She fretted if the meal wasn’t visually appealing and full of color (I think we’ve both made all-white meal disasters!). If she served something new and we didn’t think we’d like it, her rule was “just three bites.” If we still didn’t like it then we wouldn’t have to finish it, but she wanted to open us up to new tastes. As a result there’re very few foods I don’t care for.
So, back to the tart.