Life as a Private Chef with NGI Alum Cara Lanzi
Cara Lanzi is a graduate of NGI’s Chef's Training Program and the proud owner of Simply Honest Kitchen (SHK). SHK is a private chef, catering and in-home cooking instruction business, which serves the tri-state area.
At NGI, Chef Cara honed her culinary skills and learned how to merge a diverse range of cuisines with health as the common thread. With her passion for cooking for a purpose, Simply Honest Kitchen was born. SHK specializes in creating wholesome, sustainable dishes that taste great and are great for you. Read on to learn about Chef Cara's experience at NGI and how she strives to exceed all of the needs and expectations of her clients with the goal of overall health improvement and treating an illness with food as medicine.
I always knew that I wanted to start my own food business after graduating from the Chef's Training Program. During my time at NGI, I would always post food pictures from classes on social media, and I was pleasantly surprised at the response and curiosity from friends and family. I found that I was being asked for recipes and for advice on everything from where to buy sustainable groceries, to tips on how to cook more health supportively. I realized that there was a lack of health-supportive food options in my area and although there were “health food” establishments, there weren’t any businesses that offered specialized private chef options. In my last month of the Chef’s Training program, I was asked to cater a small, casual wedding for a family friend. I needed all the help I could get, so I asked some of the girls from my class if they would want to work the event and it turned out to be a great success! From there, I was offered another catering job which then eventually led to my first private client. I was very fortunate to have an influx of work, which helped me to formulate the concept for Simply Honest Kitchen. Since I come from a family of such amazing cooks, I love to fuse traditional classics with recipes from the Chef's Training Program. I also get a lot of inspiration from my clients. I always ask them what their favorite foods are, indulgences, etc. and try to test my limits of turning a conventional recipe into something that meets their dietary requirements without sacrificing flavor so they don’t have that sense of deprivation. I enjoy looking at recipes from both vegan chefs and non-vegan chefs and tailoring the recipes to suit the needs of my clients.
Creating a Menu
I cook for clients with a wide range of differing needs but the common denominator is the quality of ingredients that I source. I live in Staten Island, and the farmers market is only open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., so I buy from there if I am going to clients on a Sunday or Monday. In other instances, I source from retail companies like Whole Foods, Fresh Direct and Farmigo, who have made it easier for buyers to have access to local farmers and their products. For me, the best process is to tailor the menu planning to the clients needs, wants and lifestyle. I have clients who like to research recipes, send them to me and essentially, create the menu pending my approval, while others want to be completely hands-off for various reasons (very busy, high-powered jobs, don’t know much about food, etc.). In this instance, I would then have a consultation with the client where we would discuss a budget for groceries, their likes and dislikes in terms of ingredients, as well as requiring approval/finalization of the menu 2 days prior to the appointment.
Initially, my client list started growing by word of mouth. I was very fortunate to have an influx of clientele very early on. After about a year and a half of working, I had a lull period in business (clients had to scale back for monetary reasons, jobs required unpredictable travel schedules, etc.), so I found myself having to hustle, apply to job postings, network and self promote. During this time I really started to focus more on a social media campaign, broadening my range of services and attending events that promoted local businesses. From that, I gained new clients and started offering in-home cooking classes/parties. I learned very early on that it’s important to meet the needs of your clients without sacrificing your own well being. Private chefing is a very physically taxing job, so I try not to book my clients back to back if I can avoid it. Currently, I’m fortunate in that I have my clients scheduled on an every other week basis so that I don’t have everyone all in one week. In my experience, I think its important to set the tone that your time is valuable, which has helped to keep my clients on a fairly regimented schedule and not trying to change appointment dates and times last minute.
Addressing Challenges & Cherishing Rewards
I would say my biggest challenge is finding a balance between creative, physical demands and logistics of the actual cooking vs. scheduling time for business (social media, marketing, billing, accounting). I’m fortunate that my business is growing, and I’ll be looking to hire someone when my budget permits to handle some of the aspects of the business end. The biggest reward is without a doubt the reactions of my clients when I’ve helped them to achieve a health goal through cooking for them. When a client with an illness and/or dietary restriction starts to feel better and is enjoying the food they get to eat, that means I’ve done my job well. It’s an honor to be invited into someones home to help them with one of the most important elements of life: health. My best advice for someone just starting out as a private chef is to be patient in slow times because it’s only temporary. If you are tenacious, you will gain clientele if that’s your goal. Also, I can’t stress enough the importance of managing your money wisely. In this field, you need to have the awareness that income is not always steady (clients move, money is tight, etc.) and sometimes these scenarios arise at a moments notice, so it’s very important to save and budget.
This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.