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Friend That Cooks issues challenge to food service industry

It’s time for paid maternity leave

by Brandon O’Dell, Founder Friend That Cooks

Friend That Cooks Personal Chef Service has added paid maternity leave to the benefits package for our personal chefs in Kansas City, Chicago, Milwaukee, Wichita, Omaha, Des Moines, St. Louis, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Denver in an effort to pressure the food service industry to adopt paid maternity leave as a standard benefit.

The food service industry has a long history of using up and burning out employees. I’ve been there myself. I worked the 60+ hour weeks as a low level manager, and 80-100 hour weeks as a general manager. I’ve spent years consecutively missing Easter celebrations with the family, and other holidays. As a food service consultant, one of my primary focuses in helping food services has been teaching them how to get the most out of their employees by giving the most to their employees. It only made sense when I started Friend That Cooks that I practice what I preach when it comes to my own employees.

Benefits in a small business are very difficult to budget for. We don’t start out with the economy of scale our larger counterparts have, and government regulations like The Affordable Care Act create a large hurdle for companies looking to transition from small businesses into large ones. They create a “barrier to entry” making it so expensive to be a big business, that it becomes impossible for most small businesses to get there. We small businesses compete with those same companies for employees though, so it is very important for us to pay as well or better, and to offer comparable benefits if we want to compete for those employees. For companies like mine, it means starting out offering what benefits we can, then improving them as you can afford to.

From the day I started Friend That Cooks I treated our company like it was going to become a large business. I created our services with a 8-5, weekday work schedule in mind for myself and our future chefs. I wanted cooks and chefs to have an option if they didn’t want to sacrifice their personal lives for evening, weekend and holiday hours that are mandatory with most restaurants, caterers and other food services. I knew we were going to have to offer benefits as we grew to keep those employees from leaving to work for other food service companies, so as we’ve been able to afford it, we’ve added a healthcare bonus to help pay for health insurance. We added flex hours without restrictions so employees could decide whether to use them for sick days, holidays, personal days, or just to pad a light paycheck. We added a fuel supplement because our employees work off-site at our client’s homes. Most recently, we’ve added paid maternity leave for both female and male employees and a retirement plan. I also came up with a pay scale that allows our cooks to earn around 50% more per hour than they can on the line at a restaurant, caterer or meal delivery business.

No matter how big or small you are, all the businesses within a sector, like food service, are competing for the same employees. Usually the big names get the top talent, and the rest of us have to spend more money training to create talent. Within the food service industry though, employees at both big and small companies have to sacrifice a lot to have an actual career, missing dinners with friends, birthdays and holidays with the family. Usually without benefits.

Friend That Cooks does NOT accept that employees have to sacrifice their personal lives to have a career in the food service industry. We do NOT accept that holidays are just another mandatory shift, nor Friday night or Saturday night. We do NOT accept that the best employees should have the most work put on them, making up the slack of less productive employees, nor make the same pay as less productive employees. We do NOT accept that our industry is one where you shouldn’t expect benefits. We do NOT accept that mothers and fathers in the food service industry with new children shouldn’t have a few months to bond with their children before choosing to return to work, just as they do in some other industries. Most importantly, we do NOT accept that government force should be required to make the food service industry adopt employment policies that are beneficial to itself if done voluntarily, because they can be very detrimental when done by force. That’s why we’re going to apply some pressure to the industry organically by offering more ourselves.

We are challenging our food service industry counterparts to do the right thing. Consider the needs of your most valuable asset, your employees. We challenge you to start with an inexpensive and easy to implement benefit, then build off of that. We are challenging you to offer paid maternity leave of some sort to both female and male employees.

Paid maternity leave is a huge benefit for an employee. As a two-time father, I realize how important it is to have time to bond with your new son or daughter. You can never have back those first few months to build the foundation of your relationship with your child. Especially in a job where 60+ hour weeks are mandatory like most food service management jobs, and missing your family is expected.

For an employer, paid maternity leave is not a huge expense. It’s really fairly affordable. It’s maybe 1/2 or 2/3 pay for one, two, or three months. It can even be extended to indefinite leave beyond that without pay or cost, as long as it’s also without penalty. Consider how few times you have an employee welcome a new baby. It’s rare. If you don’t retain that employee, or others that leave for better benefits, you have to hire and train a replacement which might mean $250 in help ads, $100+ in new uniforms, and several hundred in training labor expenses. Not to mention the hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost productivity until that new employee is as good as the lost employee. I think we all know that it’s cheaper to retain help than it is to replace them.

Even if they don’t include maternity leave, your benefits are one of your most valuable tools to retain employees. Your food service employees want a quality of life they see other people enjoy, and that doesn’t always mean more pay. In the food service industry, especially full service restaurants, many employees already enjoy good pay. But what happens when they need time off? Especially extended time for something like having a baby?

Friend That Cooks recently experienced this dilemma when we faced our first occurrence of an employee planning a birth. We decided that the right thing to do for both the employee and for ourselves was to offer paid leave. Our employee got 2/3 of their average paycheck for the first two months after their leave started. They got 1/2 of their average paycheck for a third month, and began light duties part time to ease back into work and maintain more pay. Our employees also have the opportunity to have indefinite unpaid leave after that, without penalty, and we will hold a position for them for as long as they need.

From our employee’s perspective, this is a safety net. It provides stability for a new parent during a time that I personally know is incredibly crazy. It provides piece of mind to know there is no chance of losing their job, their seniority or momentum in their chosen career. From our perspective, we save the cost of replacing a valuable employee. In some instances, we will likely have to hire a new employee to pick up some of the extra work, but it won’t be because we lost someone good. We also won’t have to pay for help ads, uniforms and training for the next new hire because we will have one returning to us from maternity leave within a few months.

This is my challenge to the food service industry, both large and small businesses. Reconsider what you are offering for benefits. I know that health care plans have skyrocketed in the last few years, so you can only do so much on that front. There are many other things important to employees though, and many benefits you can offer that truly are affordable. Stop thinking in terms of “This is just how it is in the food service industry”, and think of non-traditional perks you can offer employees, or different ways to offer traditional perks. Create a small budget and build on it as you can. Do the small things until you can afford the large things. Offer paid maternity leave as a start.

Friend That Cooks is still a fairly small, but growing operation. We aren’t 100% where we want to be with our benefits program yet, but we are close and we have a plan to get the rest of the way. In the future our healthcare benefit will increase, eventually to a full blown group health plan when possible. For now, we do what we can until we can do more. The rest of you should do the same, and a HUGE pat on the back to those of you who already do.

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Round 2 Battle of the Brands

#MarchMadness in KC

We made it past Round 1 of the 2017 Battle of the Brands and need your votes again to make it to the #SweetSixteen of this #NCAATourney bracket style competition! #KCBattle2017

Followers from all the cities we service are welcome to vote once per round, from each of their devices. Voting starts each week Monday morning, and concludes Thursday at midnight.

A vote for Friend That Cooks is a vote to support our mission of providing a better “quality of life” for our clients AND our chefs through #healthy and #affordable weekly #mealprep.

Comeback next week to see if we made it to the next round!

 

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Battle of the Brands

Battle of the Brands bracket
Let the battle begin!

We’re in!

We made it into the 2017 Battle of the Brands in Kansas City! It’s a NCAA tournament bracket style competition to choose Kansas City’s favorite brands. We’ll go up against one other company each round, with four days to get people to vote for us. The winner with the most votes advances to the next round for more voting.

The voting in each round runs Monday thru Thursday and votes can be cast once per round from each device a voter owns.

We have followers for our service in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Wichita, Des Moines, Omaha, Denver, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and St. Paul. We would be honored for all of you to show Kansas City how much influence you can have on a Kansas City contest! #KCBattle2017

Visit the KC Battle of the Brands webpage and vote for Friend That Cooks in the Second Stage Companies bracket. While you’re there, show some love to some other great Kansas City brands. Some of our favorites include Studio Build, Shammerific Shine and Innovating Solutions. Share our post with your friends to spread the word!

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Happy New Year

I hope everyone has had a fantastic Holiday season. In typical fashion, I ate too much, drank too much, and had a heck of a good time. As the New Year creeps in, there are always excited and well-meaning declarations of improved health, living a simpler life, etc. I don’t know about you, but my resolutions always fizzle out around February 1st. So this year, I’ve decided not to make resolutions. I’ve decided to make a plan for health and wellness.

Many people think going to the gym and being on super restrictive diets are the answer for weight loss and health. It is only a small part of the bigger picture. The exercise will keep your heart healthy and increase stamina and strength. The restrictive diets work because you starve yourself. Your body is forced to lose weight because you are burning more calories than you are taking in. That isn’t very healthy and it is extremely difficult to maintain long term.

Here are some healthy tips to begin the New Year and maintain your goals for health and wellness.

1. Portioning is the key. You shouldn’t feel deprived of anything, that’s why diets don’t work. I like to begin with 5-6 ounces of protein (more if I am working out heavily). Protein not only fuels your body, it helps keep you fuller longer. Obviously, the leaner the better, but we are taking baby steps. Ribeye’s will always be my favorite.
2. I find grains are the hardest for me to control unless I portion. I could eat an entire loaf of bread and be completely content with my life. This is bad. Again, 6-7 ounces of whole grains daily will give you the satisfaction of the carbs we all crave without overdoing it. Whole grains contain dietary fiber, thiamine, niacin, and folic acid among many other vitamins we need to keep our bodies nourished.
3. Vegetables are my favorite…really, they are. The variety changes seasonally and there are so many wonderful things that can be done to vegetables to make them more amazing than they already are! Balance is the key to success, so 2.5-3.5 cups of vegetables a day is recommended. Asparagus with lemon, garlic and a little olive oil is a great way to get a serving of vegetables and it tastes great. I also really like charred root vegetables (in season now). The char means the sugars in the vegetables have caramelized and concentrated for a deeper sweeter flavor with a touch of smoke.
4. Dairy is another weakness of mine, let’s face it, I just like food. I don’t know if I could live without cheese, I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like. Thankfully, 3 cups of dairy is the suggested serving amount. It should also be as low fat as possible. If you aren’t going the low fat route, just eat less. I’m doing a happy dance because this means I can put a little cheese in my eggs and eat a little yogurt and honey with breakfast.

Winning! Dairy is packed with calcium resulting in better bone health.
5. Fruit is like a healthy sweet treat. Many fruits are high in dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and a variety of vitamin B’s. Our daily allowance is 1.5-2 cups of fruit a day. I like eating fruit with breakfast or throughout the day as a snack between meals.

Being healthy doesn’t have to be a chore. We have to change our thinking from, diets are super restrictive to diet is a way of life and should be balanced. If you are craving a piece of cake, have a small piece. If you are craving potato chips, eat a few. We just have to reprogram our thinking to use moderation and encourage a balanced diet.

Cheers to an amazing journey in the New Year!

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Chef Spotlight | Jillian Mahl

In out Chef Spotlight this month

…we introduce you to Jillian Mahl, a Friend That Cooks personal chef servicing clients in Des Moines, IA.

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Jillian Mahl, Friend That Cooks personal chef in Des Miones, IA

Chef Jillian Mahl has been cooking professionally for 13 years.  She started out, as all good chefs do, at the bottom of the proverbial food chain in a fine dining restaurant in Omaha,NE and worked her way up from there. She graduated top of her class in Culinary Arts at the International Culinary Center, New York City in 2010 and went on to work in several NYC restaurants such as Restaurant Allegretti and Bergdorf Goodman.

She returned to the Midwest after several years on the coast to pursue a personal business venture.  In 2015, she joined the FTC family in Omaha, NE.  She now cooks for her clients in Des Moines, Iowa.

When she isn’t working, Jillian enjoys playing with anything involving yarn and needles, reading about all sorts of real and fictional things, practicing Tae Kwon Do and yoga, and visiting with her gentleman friend.

Watch our Chef Spotlight every month to learn about another Friend That Cooks personal chef. Visit www.friendthatcooks.com to learn more about weekly meal prep from Friend That Cooks.

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Cooking with Children

Cooking with children can be a really fun experience for everyone. It is a fantastic opportunity to bond, learn, and empower children with the experience of cooking. Organization is the key to any successful cooking experience. This initial step is especially important when working with an enthusiastic capable young person.

 

When I cook with children, I begin the experience with a simple conversation, “what do you like to eat and what do you like/want to make?” These questions establish a great platform to begin the process. First, it allows me to gauge their pallet. Some children are more adventurous eaters than others. Second, it allows the child to be engaged from start to finish. Creating a sense of ownership fosters enthusiasm, respect for the ingredients, and creates a fun space to learn and work together.

 

After we’ve established what we are making, we mise en place. This French term literally means “everything in its place.” We gather our ingredients, pots and pans, cutting board, knives, and any other equipment needed to begin cooking. I usually create lists of what we need and split it between us. This is another great beginning creating ownership in the dish being created.

 

Once we have our ingredients and equipment, we read the recipe again, together. This is something key in all aspects of cooking. Reading a recipe before you begin cooking gives you an understanding of the process and it familiarizes you so mistakes are less likely to occur. Reading together also creates a perfect time for questions. If there is a measurement or abbreviation of an ingredient your sous chef doesn’t understand, this is the time to explain it. We are setting ourselves up for success.

 

Now the cooking can begin! I have a couple rules for myself when working with a young sous chef. First, I delegate appropriate tasks. A twelve year old has the ability to do different things than a seven year old. Find age appropriate engaging things to do. For example, I’d teach the twelve year old how to cut an onion with a proper chef’s knife while allowing the seven year old to measure ingredients, mix and stir things on the stove (with a stool and a watchful eye). I remember being able to beat the eggs for breakfast at four or five years old and being able to move them around in a hot pan with a spatula at age six. Every child’s ability will be different.

 

I also let my young sous chef know they have to wait for me to do anything hot. This is a rule for safety. Again, age will make a huge difference.

 

One of my favorite recipes to do together is Bowtie Pasta with Bacon and Peas. It I easy and delicious.

8 ounces uncooked (bow tie pasta)

3 bacon slices

1/2 cup onion, diced

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1 cup unsalted chicken broth

1 cup frozen green peas

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

3 ounces cream cheese

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.
  3. Place bacon on a cookie sheet with sides and bake in the oven until cooked through, approximately 10 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and chop.
  4. In a large sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease over medium heat.
  5. Once the bacon fat is hot, add the onions and carrots and cook until the onions are soft stirring consistently.
  6. Add the broth and bring to a boil.
  7. Add the peas and cook until hot through, approximately 2-3 minutes.
  8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the reserved cooking liquid.
  9. Add the chopped bacon, thyme, salt, pepper and cream cheese to pan.
  10. Once cream cheese is almost melted, add the pasta and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Enjoy the experience and the wonderful meal you’ve created together.

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Personal Chefs vs Meal Kit Delivery

personal chef vs meal kit delivery

Top 5 reasons Friend That Cooks in-home meal prep service is better than meal kit delivery

The new meal kit companies use phrases like “meal prep” or “home chef” to try and fool busy families into believing they provide chef prepared meals. The truth is, their ingredients are packaged in large production facilities by under paid and overworked factory workers who have no culinary background at all. They are mass produced, impersonal, and leave all the real work to the customer. So ditch the “apron”, think outside the box, and read on about a better way to put healthy, delicious meals on the table.

Here are the Top 5 Reasons why using a personal chef for in-home weekly meal prep from Friend That Cooks is a better value than any of the meal kit delivery services:


convenienceReason #1 – Convenience

Friend That Cooks provides real “meal prep“. Meals are prepared by professional chefs. They are simply reheated, attaining their optimal state after reheating, with almost no work for the customer. We plan the menu, shop, cook, clean up and stock the fridge with food for the whole week.

Meal kit delivery services ship the ingredients with recipes and leave customers with no culinary expertise to do the cooking themselves. 30-minute preparations and 15 more minutes of clean up every night means you’ll invest hours every week to use a service that is supposed to be convenient.


better ingredientsReason #2 – Better Ingredients

Friend That Cooks chefs hand pick every single ingredient from your local grocery store, making sure you only get the best tomato in the pile, and can take advantage of local and/or organic ingredients. Every piece of meat or produce is the absolute best of what’s available or we don’t buy it.

Meal kit delivery services buy ingredients in bulk. They have to use every tomato in the pile to make money, meaning only one meal will get the best tomato, while everyone else settles for lesser ingredients, and you won’t find anything sourced locally.


more menu optionsReason #3 – More Menu Options

Friend That Cooks chefs have huge repertoires of ethnic and classic dishes they can make from scratch. By cooking from scratch, we can tailor all of our dishes to meet the specific tastes and dietary needs of every family individually. We take requests, invent new recipes, and tailor our service to your tastes. We make the foods that you want to eat without limiting you to a set menu.

Meal kit delivery services offer limited selections. You choose from a small list of dishes and any dietary need has to bend to their menu instead of the other way around. Vegetarian? Paleo? You’ll be lucky to have any choices.


professional chefsReason #4 – Professional Chefs

Friend That Cooks carefully recruits, screens and trains only the best cooks. We test their knowledge, cooking ability, and even do background checks. Our chef’s skills are well beyond not only home cooks, but most professional cooks too.

Meal kit delivery services use underpaid, overworked factory employees with no culinary experience to package your meals into boxes and mail them to you. You have to do the cooking yourself and the meal kit company has to make sure the recipes are fairly basic to suit the skill of a novice cook.


more for moneyReason #5 – Better Value For The Money

Friend That Cooks quality of service is well above that of the delivery services, yet the price can be similar or even less. For example, a family of four in Kansas City uses 4.5 hours of service ($166.50) and has a grocery bill of $100 per week (an average cost for clients in this market). This family would typically get 24-28 total meals yielding an average cost per meal of $9.50 to $11.10. Depending on the menu, our clients have seen meal prices as low as $7 per meal and even menu items with more expensive ingredients rarely average more than $15-20 per meal. With Friend That Cooks, you have complete control over the number of meals and the grocery budget every week.

Meal kit delivery services charge $9.95 and up for their meals. For moderate to premium ingredients, you’ll spend $15, $20 or even more than $30. And not only do you have to cook them yourself, but you won’t have the culinary training and experience to get the most out of those expensive ingredients.


About Friend That Cooks

Friend That Cooks Personal Chef Service offers in-home weekly meal prep for busy families and couples. We send a talented professional chef to the homes of our clients every week for a half day to shop, cook, clean up and stock their refrigerators with a week’s worth of healthy, prepared meals to reheat. We charge an affordable hourly rate plus the cost of groceries.

Click the button below to set up a free consultation with a Friend That Cooks chef about weekly meal prep in your home:

contact button

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Holiday Treats

Fall is my favorite time of the year. The leaves are multicolored and vibrant, the air is crisp and cool and Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. It is also the perfect time to get ahead on some holiday baking.

There is nothing better than a cookie with crunchy buttery edges and a soft chewy center. I know, you are thinking, “Why would I bake now, won’t the cookies get stale before the holidays?” Yes, if you bake them today, they will be stale in 3 days. The soft center you worked so hard for will be for naught. Well, I have a pro tip I’ve been using for years…FREEZE YOUR DOUGH. Wait, what? Freeze the dough? Yes!

Your best friend for cookies is a portion scoop like this:

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The portion scoop allows you to scoop the cookie dough and freeze individual cookies. You can bake as many or as few cookies as you need and they will ALWAYS be soft and delicious.

Here is a recipe for my favorite sugar cookie. This cookie is great because anything can be added to it. I’ve made them with butterscotch chips and pistachios. I’ve iced them with nutella. The list is unending for this cookie because it is an excellent base for any addition you’d like.

The Best Sugar Cookies

4 2/3 cups All Purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soad

1 teaspoon salt

2 3/4 cups sugar

4 ounces cream cheese, room temp

6 ounces butter, softened

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1 table spoon vanilla

Method

Preheat oven to 350. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Combine the sugar, cream cheese, and butter in a mixer and beat until incorporated. If you over cream the mixture, there will be too much air in the cookies and they will become really flat. Once the mixture is well incorporated, add the eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix until the dough is uniform in texture. Portion the cookies with your handy dandy portion scoop onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Gently flatten the cookies so they aren’t dome shaped. Bake until the edges are golden and crispy, approximately 20 minutes.

*the yellow (#20) portion scoop is approximately 1 5/8 ounces. The cookies will be the size of a normal meatball. If you use something smaller, please adjust the cooking time down so the cookies don’t burn.

*if you aren’t going to bake the cookies immediately, please refrigerate the portioned scoops of dough for 10 minutes or until they have firmed back up then place in a plastic bag and freeze for up to 2 months.

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Happy Baking! The recipe makes about 30 cookies.

 

 

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Time for a Tailgate Party

Fall is one of the best times of the year for sports. There is a little slice of the season where Football, Baseball and Basketball are in full effect. It is also the perfect time to try new snacks for your next tailgate party.

When I tailgate, I want to have a great time, but I also want to eat great food. The grill is an easy way to create delicious food. One of my favorite things to grill is the chicken wing. They are easy to cook and easy to eat. Spice up your next tailgate with these show stoppers.

Thai Grilled Chicken Wings

2 pounds chicken wings, remove tips, separate drumetts and flats

1/2 cup oyster sauce

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 teaspoons black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and allow to marinate for 30 minutes. If the chicken marinates any longer, the wings will be too salty. Grill marinated wings for 6-8 minutes or until cooked through. Enjoy with sriracha or hoisin for dipping.

 

Cambodian Inspired Grilled Wings

3 pounds chicken wings, remove tips, separate drumetts and flats

6 lemongrass stalks, remove outer layer, slice tender inner layer

3 tablespoons lime zest

6 garlic cloves

2 shallots, chopped

1 inch ginger, peeled, chopped

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 cup honey

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 tablespoons fish sauce

6 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons sweet paprika

wooden skewers, soaked

 

Combine lemongrass, garlic, lime zest, shallots, ginger, and turmeric in a food processor. Pulse until a smooth paste forms. Add paste, fish sauce, oyster sauce, honey, paprika, and wings to a bowl to marinate for at least three hours, covered and refrigerated.

Once the chicken is marinated, grill for about 8 minutes or until cooked through.

 

Happy Tailgating!

 

 

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Autumn Flavor Ideas | The Apple

The Apple

Autumn Flavor Ideas
Autumn Flavor Ideas
The first iconic flavor of Autumn, until pumpkin spice came to town. But we want to bring back the apple. Because it’s not just for pies, although it does make one heck of a dessert. With thousands of varieties to choose from, you are sure to find the right one. And if you don’t want to find a local orchard and pick your own, you can usually find about 10 different options at your local grocery market. They look great, taste great, and pack quite a nutritional punch with vitamins A and C and antioxidants. Weather you eat ‘em or drink ‘em, you know the old saying. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Looking for a new way to mix apples into the menu? Try some of these ideas!

  • Grated or julienned apples in a classic slaw
  • Diced with black beans, avocado, jalapenos and lime juice salad
  • Cored and sliced, roasted with pork tenderloin, onions and rosemary
  • Swap out the beer or red wine in your Sunday beef roast for Apple Cider or Applejack
  • Add diced apples the last 5-10 minutes when roasting Brussel’s Sprouts
  • Add grated apples to braised red cabbage or homemade sauerkraut
  • Instead of raisins, add small diced apple on peanut butter and celery boats for a tasty and fun snack
  • Thinly slice apples and fennel bulb for a vibrant and light salad
  • Add apples to your butternut squash soup recipe
  • Dice an apple and add it to your oatmeal for a hearty and warming breakfast
  • Add small diced apples, or applesauce, to pancakes and crepes
  • Add sliced apples to the bottom of a pumpkin pie. Best of both worlds!
  • Peruse the blog and find more recipes and fun ways to use great ingredients! Check out our website to learn more about weekly meal prep.

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Chef Spotlight | Pha Le

pha le
Pha Le, Friend That Cooks Personal Chef in Chicago

In our Chef Spotlight this month

…we introduce you to Pha Le, a Friend That Cooks personal chef servicing clients in Chicago, IL.

Pha Le was born in Vietnam and grew up in Nebraska, Texas, and now resides in Chicago, IL. After graduating from high school in Houston, Texas, she decided to go straight to culinary school. Wanting to stay close to home, she attended the Art Institute of Houston.

While attending culinary school, she did her internship at St. Regis Hotel in Houston, Texas and stayed after earning her degree to further her understanding of hospitality.

Her culinary background in Houston includes Haven Restaurant, which was the 1st certified “Green” restaurant that she helped open for Randy Evans, (formerly Brennan’s & Commander’s Palace, Louisiana). She also helped open Hendricks Deli & Grill and later became the sous chef before moving to Chicago to further her culinary repertoire.

With Haven being such a “green” restaurant, vegetables and herbs were grown and harvested on site. She was able to learn and understand farm to table dining and the true meaning of “cook what you can grow”. This inspired her to learn and mix finesse from fine dining and local ingredients while still maintaining integrity and utilizing each ingredient to its full potential. That kick started her decision to move to Chicago where there’s so much opportunity and back to her midwestern roots.

While in Chicago she worked at Paul Kahan’s Blackbird restaurant as a line cook before leaving to work at the legendary Pump Room conceptualized by Jean-George Vongerichten at The Public Hotel as a Sous Chef. During both times, she was able to learn more about Midwestern ingredients, farmers, and local purveyors. She was able to establish a rapport and push their products and businesses and the knowledge of farm to fork.

Farm to fork really cemented when she left the Pump Room and went to work for Nicole Pederson at Found Restaurant as her Executive Sous Chef. During her 3-year duration, there were multiple field trips for back-of-house and front-of-house employees to farms to learn about where the products came from. She enjoyed making last minute specials based on ingredient availability, changed the menu every two to three months based on seasonality, and worked with local purveyors to see the smile on their faces when a restaurant supported their life’s work.

Pha continues her passion for using local, fresh and seasonal ingredients with her menus for her Friend That Cooks clients. She has been with FTC since October of 2015.

Watch our Chef Spotlight every month to learn about another Friend That Cooks personal chef. Visit www.friendthatcooks.com to learn more about weekly meal prep from Friend That Cooks.