A Personal Chef’s Guide for Navigating COVID19
The hospitality industry is not a quantifiable product, it’s an immersion and an interactive experience.
While large industry hotels, spas, casinos, and restaurants are in the public’s eye, there are many more small businesses and independent workers whose livelihood has also been impacted.
For private chefs, especially the ones operating in small intimate settings, emphasizing a holistic experience, our work is our life. We pour our heart and souls into our craft, creating unique customized experiences for families, retreat groups, and individuals. We serve our peers and our communities, and frequently our clients become part of our lives for years. In what felt like a moment that purpose was taken away.
As a private chef based in Maui, who has built an entire chef practice on tourism centered around retreat catering and tourist families, I was severely impacted by COVID. I went from having a fully booked Spring season to having every booking cancel like a line of dominos crashing before my eyes.
Couple that with being the owner of a chef referral network built to empower the chefs who sign with me, chefs who I have personally mentored, chefs who have become friends and family, chefs who look up to me for guidance; I felt like a failure without any control on how to support me or them. I was devastated.
But that’s life right? And part of being a spiritual being and a chef is learning how to be flexible and roll with the punches, finding the lessons in all.
So, just like I would in a difficult kitchen (don’t even ask about the time I had to cook quiches for 100+ people on a gas grill because the antique oven in the middle of a farm in the Emerald Triangle was busted and wouldn’t fit my standard pans), I figured out how to make the best out of this as well.
Here is my advice for private chefs and independent workers navigating through COVID19:
Come back to your center, your heart, and your intentions as a private chef.
Why did you choose this incredibly difficult, non-traditional, and uncharted path? Hint: I bet it wasn’t money or stability, I bet it’s something deeper.
What brings you the most joy?
Is it recipe creation? Is it healing with food? Is it artful plating? Is it teaching? Is it building community? Is it creating experiences?
So how can you take one or more of these energies and maintain them in a different form?
Sometimes just staying in motion can be what takes you to the next level.
For example, if your center is health awareness can you start a podcast or blog series? If your center is education can you reach out to schools or daycares and offer classes? If your emphasis is luxury, how can you refine your plating and menus?
In short: Find what motivates you, and find a way to do that, no matter if you make money or not. Know that energy comes in many forms, and money is just one of them. You never know what seeds you are planting now by showing up to serve yourself, your business, and your community.
Pivot & Diversify
Now you know your heart’s purpose, shift to an entrepreneurial perspective and re-evaluate your business offerings, brainstorming on out how you can still stay true to your brand and heart’s purpose but acknowledge the changing market.
Consider reframing your new offerings as marketing investments rather than for-profit immediate return.
For example, my bookings were primarily destination yoga retreats and tourist dinner bookings. With those dried up, I’m working on weekly meal prep delivery, have partnered with a local farm-to-table distribution company to make kitchari, and am marketing menus towards locals instead of tourists. While this isn’t immediately profitable, it’s allowing me to stay in motion, and grow sustainable roots for the next wave.
While we’re all a little shell-shocked, I truly believe that private chefs have an immense role to play in this new world.
People are literally starving for good safe healthy food, and just as important, for the stories that food and connection yield. Restaurants will have a very difficult time surviving new regulations, both logistically and financially. In addition, the restaurant experience itself is altered with mask-wearing and social distancing. I foresee a rise in private events and dinners.
So what do YOU offer that makes you invaluable and unique to former patrons of restaurants that are craving human connection but are immune-compromised or scared or just don’t want to dine with a mask on?
How does your service fill this need?
What problems can you solve with your loving presence and beautiful food?
Remember You Are A Healer
You are so much more than just someone who makes food. You have a unique opportunity to truly impact the health and wellbeing of others.
Maybe this is a time to dive deeper into the healing energies of your offerings.
Are you friends with your local farmers?
Do you know your local medicinal plants?
Are you connected to your chef community?
What can you add to your repertoire to facilitate the healing of your community and of the planet?
This time, in a light form, is showing us on a global scale our dependence on cheap labor, bad environmental practices, and consumerism. The world is waking up. This is the perfect time for you too to show up and offer something meaningful.
Refine & Create
All small business owners have a never-ending list of micro and macro-projects to work on that frequently get pushed aside for client work and deadlines. For me personally it’s web updates, menu finessing, cost sheets, auto-emails, and accounting.
If you’re not sure what it is for you, ask yourself “what do I always say I’ll do if I had the time?” Then do that.
Recognize that while you can’t control the current client flow, you can invest in your future. Simply updating and reformatting standard menus can be a huge asset for when clients do return – and trust they will.
Have you been putting off a new website? A business IG or Facebook page? How’s your LinkedIn?
Do you want to learn graphic design so you can at least mock-up some basic templates for IG stories?
Do you have recipes you want to perfect? A new cooking skill or style you want to learn?
Fall into creativity and give yourself permission to lose yourself in creation.
Business can be art when there is heart infused.
I challenge you to find something that both brings you creative joy and supports your business growth.
The Money Stuff
Just like the creation of recipes, web content, and pretty marketing materials, I bet that if you’re anything like me, you’ve also been putting off some admin and accounting work.
While it might not be as fun to do, the feeling of accomplishment after is a huge win. To top it off, there is a great deal of free money floating around, for the first time ever gig workers and self-employed are eligible for state and national unemployment coverage.
And while the tax deadline may have been pushed back, getting it done now if you haven’t yet will both be a relief and help streamline any financial applications you might want to apply for.
And just like dialing in menus and recipes, figuring out your foods and business costs is a huge investment into a long-term profitable business. Note: I’ve been working with Sarah Delevan, and cannot recommend both her free materials and programs enough for anyone wanting to really dive into the business of their chef business.
Overall, if you have the mental clarity and drive, this is a great time to clean the house in the way of resetting and taking control of your finances. You call in abundance when you make space for it, not when you are afraid of it.
Give Yourself a Break
You’re a chef. You’re a small business owner. You are a community member. You have a family. You have your own wounds. You are an emotional human being.
Grief is normal. Confusion is normal. Feeling isolated is normal. If you’re not ready to rally for all the stuff I wrote about, then that’s okay too. We are all in flux. We are all confused. We are all human.
As a community leader and business owner, I feel an immense obligation to show up in my highest power constantly; and while usually, this is an honor, it can also be a heavy burden. I personally had a few weeks of nonstop waves of grief that I didn’t want to accept. I beat myself up for not being the over-achiever I usually am. It was only when I surrendered to not knowing it all, to not being in control, and to accept that I was in mourning, that I was able to get up and focus on what I could control.
Maybe this is the spirit’s way of giving you a chance to finally rest. I know all too well how easy we chefs can become addicted to motion, to socializing, and accomplishment.
Perhaps the best thing you can do now os simply reflect.
You’ll get up when you’re ready.
I believe in you.
But for now, enjoy the stillness and don’t beat yourself up for not measuring up to impossible standards.
Quick resources & helpful things:
- Canva – I’m a new convert for their easy layouts & templates. I’ve been using it for menu formatting & marketing materials, but it’s also great for social media stories & gifs.
- Planoly – All my More Pleaze posts are planned out and scheduled via Planoly. It’s a huge game-changer to be able to batch social media out!
- IG business – do you have an IG business account yet? I recommend switching yours over to gain massive insights.
- Sarah Delevan offers incredible free & paid resources and training for chefs to evaluate their food costs, finances, and overall business. Highly recommended!
- The Gig Workers Collective put together this great guide for COVID 19 Resources
- Quickbooks self-employed is my savior. All my accounts and even my mileage link to it. You can even take photos of your receipts for tracking.
- We Are Chefs put together this guide for chefs & restaurants affected by COVID
- This article from NY Times about a restaurant owner in NYC closing brought tears to my eyes and warmed my heart. Some of the best chef waiting I’ve ever read (except for maybe you, of course, Anthony Bordain, may you rest in peace). Read it and know you are not alone.
- This article from Wired helped me immensely when I was stuck in sadness. It gave me permission to acknowledge the fact I was behaving exactly like an emotional human should be during grief. Please read whether or not you are in personal emotional darkness. It is very relevant to our industry and culture.
Focus on what brings you joy and allows energy to flow. Use this time to gain perspective on your soul purpose, and then figure out a way to turn that into a tangible offering during this historical time of the pandemic. Do what you’ve been putting off. Don’t let your present state dictate your future. And if all of this just stresses you out, pour a nice glass of cabernet and try eating a full meal sitting down for a change. You earned a break, chef!
Are you a private chef looking for a community? Join our free online Facebook Group to connect with our More Pleaze family.
Chef Kyra Bramble is a health ninja and she loves to nourish others with her delectable creations. A classically trained chef turned yoga teacher and raw food expert, her style is diverse and ranges from therapeutic live food to vegetarian California-Hawaii fusion to high-end farm-to-table cuisine. With years of event planning and front of house experience, her presence is warm and easily meshes with families, individuals, and groups of all ages, shapes, and sizes.
She sees food as a way to share her soul with the world as she believes that through food we learn about spirituality, science, history, and our own unique bodies. Her goal is to inspire others to respect and LOVE the food they put inside of themselves, and to diminish the dogmatic judgment attached to health food advocates.
She is the owner, founder, and head chef of More Pleaze. She has a Le Cordon Bleu degree, a Wild-crafter Certification from Earth Medicine Institute, an Ayurvedic Chef certification from Hale Pule, and a 1000+ hour Holistic Nutrition certification through Hawthorn University, and is a RYT from Mangala Yoga.
She lives most of the year on Maui with her little dog Goji Bear and spends her time off chasing waterfalls, doing chaturangas, and hunting lilikois. She also loves to travel for work!