What does it take to be a private chef, Part II: does the plate make the chef?


In this, Part II of our series on “What does it takes to be a private chef?” we will examine that most elusive of creative kitchen questions: Is a menu or recipe for particular dish created by a particular chef copyright-protected? Is it permissible to copy a chef’s menu? Is it legal?


While this certainly is not a new question, it is one that comes up with much greater frequency, not just because the Internet makes restaurant menus widely available on-line, even from Michelin star chefs; but with the advent of a plethora of “dining alternatives”, from services like Kitchit Tonight, which use “chefs” to heat up and plate dishes from chef-developed menus (food is prepared in a commissary kitchen) in their customers' homes to community-dining sites like Feastly and EatWith, more and more private chefs find themselves competing on the same site for the same customer. And, as many chefs have found out, there is little or nothing to stop a potential host from “shopping” a menu they received from one chef to another, in search of the most bang for their buck.

All of which begs the query: what is a chef, really?

It all begins with the menu, which takes us back to the title of this article. A chef designs a menu based on their repertoire of recipes, and prepares or oversees the preparation of that menu. The chef’s understanding of flavor profiles, seasonality and cooking methods as they apply to the kitchen he or she is using (in the case of a private chef cooking in your home, for example) very much determines and is reflected in the menu he or she designs.



Menu development is at the core of what a chef does, as is recipe development. Chefs kitchen-test recipes and refine them, and re-test and refine again-- all long before a dish appears on a menu and is served to you and your dinner guests. So how to protect this creative process? Do copyright and intellectual property laws apply? While “in recent years, a handful of chefs and restaurateurs have invoked intellectual property concepts, including trademarks, patents and trade dress — the distinctive look and feel of a business — to defend their restaurants, their techniques and even their recipes” (NY Times) this has applied to restaurant chefs with a physical address and/or printed menu with specific design flourishes, not to private chefs. According to Justin Massa, founder & CEO of Food Genius  “The text, layout, format, and data schema (if published on the web in some proprietary format created by the restaurant owner) are all the intellectual property of a restaurant owner”.  But what of the private chef?

While the recipes a chef develops are not subject to copyright law (that is, the list of ingredients is not), the method of preparation used to create a unique dish from those ingredients can be. So if you hire Chef B to make a dish that originated with Chef A, you should not expect the dish will be the same. The ingredients may or may not be, but what the chef creates from those ingredients, which is the heart of the matter, will surely differ and that difference will be palatable.

What about plating style?

Chef Mariana Carvallo's plating skills transform pasta

So far we know that a chef is a menu-designer and recipe-tester and developer, long before he or she takes knife to hand. Next comes that kitchen magic that only years of experience can teach. And finally, to the plate. So is a particular plating style, perhaps, something that can be protected? This brings us to the question of “trade dress”.  According to intellectual property law attorney Naomi Strauss, as quoted in a Dec. 2012 article by Amy Mceever in Eater, “Trade dress is a form of trademark. You can use your trademark to protect your brand name, to protect your logo.... Trade dress has also expanded to protect things like interior [restaurant] design”. So what about plating? While Strauss focuses on the restaurant industry, where she argues that “another possibility for protecting restaurant dishes ... [is] a small expansion of trade dress to cover the plating of restaurant dishes [as] an ideal way to codify existing norms”  (UCLA Law Review on Trade Dress Protection for Cuisine), its not a huge stretch to apply that same expansion to cover private chefs. Her argument is this: “Yeah, I mean, if we can protect the way a restaurant looks, why can't we protect the way that the food in the restaurant looks? This isn't really established at all, but there's a possibility of analogizing to other cases to show that if it's a signature dish that people really associate with the particular chef and it looks a specific way, that could theoretically be protected as trade dress,”

Chef Andrea Gray's unique tablescapes are a hallmark of her Cal-Mex cuilinary style

but likely only if a chef has a well-developed brand, Strauss suggests. It is possible that if this comes to be, then the expectation would seem to be that, at least in practice if not in law, plating-style could protect the high end, well-established chef, working in or outside the restaurant, from copycats.

So where does this leave the private chef in terms of protection? Maybe nowhere, yet. But with an industry burgeoning the way private in-home dining is, expect to see changes soon. If plating becomes subject to trademark laws, it could apply to private as well as restaurant chefs. In the meanwhile, be aware of the way your meal is designed and who created the menu and who is cooking it.

Chef Bobbie Jo Wasiliko's Wild Game presentations are her signature

Interview Series: "What does it take to be a private chef?" w/ Chef Rose Johnson

This is the first our series of interview with some of the top private chefs in the Bay area. If you are considering hiring a chef, or becoming one, the aim is to help you understand how to do that. We'll be sharing trade secrets, end even some recipes, so stay tuned! Our first interview is with Chef Rose Johnson. A former Kitchit Marketplace chef, Rose Johsnon is the daughter of a restaurant owner and granddaughter of hotel and restaurant owners. Her introduction to the hospitality industry came at an early age. As a child, her immersion was complete as she made homemade donuts and set out continental breakfast for hotel guests, baked pies and made appetizers.

From Head Pastry Chef at legendary Philadelphia restaurants, White Dog Cafe, and The Striped Bass, to chef and teaching positions at New England boarding schools, health care food service, teaching adults and children, catering and conference cooking, Chef Rose has worked in all aspects of food service. She owned and operated an evening dessert cafe and her cooking segments have been featured on Canadian TV. Since opening Rose Johnson Catering & Cooking Classes, she has cooked for the US and Canadian Ambassadors to Denmark, ladies nights-out, non-profit fundraising events, a Danish wedding, and other gatherings up to 50 people.

Lawson Gray: What do you think it takes to be a private chef in the SF Bay area?

Chef Rose: To be a top chef in the SF bay area, you must be attentive, creative, cutting edge and highly skilled. That would be the same for any big city, what makes this area unique is that you must also source as locally as possible and be well versed in your California wines!

LG: What do you see as your "job", what I mean by this is, what is it that you think you can/should do for your client? What your goals are when you are on-the-job?

CR: My job as a private chef is to first of all, to create a menu together with my client and to make the entire experience as seamless as possible, and then of course to cook and taste and finesse the food to the best of my ability. Since I am a tough critic, I think about what would impress me as a client and go from there. In our trade, you get one chance to impress so you better be on top of your game every single time. My ultimate goal is to create memorable meal. It is also my job to ensure the timing, service and clean up is executed without flaw,

It is important that any chef plan, based on menu and service style, number of courses, to have enough staff members.  Beyond that, its my job as a private chef is to communicate what I will need; for instance making sure I have a place to park to load and unload, clearing their counters, making a little space in the refrigerator etc.

LG: What is you "cooking philosophy", if you will, your approach to food?
CR: My philosophy is to " keep calm and let the passion flow " and to remember, "you are only as good as the sum of your ingredients " and words of wisdom from an old Catholic nun, "good, better, best- never let it rest, until your good is better, and your betters best"!

LG: What would you say are the top 3 criteria a client should use when hiring a private chef?
CR: • Number one- look for a chef who menus are within the realm of your own tastes. For instance, maybe you've read rave reviews about a chef but when you read their menus you think meh, or you think, what is this " frozen hibiscus air on chicken feet with mushroom dust, kale froth and a tarragon strawberry squid ink cream"? You want to choose a chef whose menus resonate with the kinds of food you love.

• Number two-try to find a chef that communicates well with you.

• Number three- do a quick search to check them out. You want a chef with experience, not fresh out of culinary school. A chef that has " paid their dues” working out in the field-- be it restaurants, hotels, cruise ships etc. or even just years as a private chef or caterer. Those kinds of working experiences help build the chef's ability to handle any situation in a cool, calm and collected way. Some websites, like IfOnly and Private Chefs of the SF Bay pre-screen and qualify the chefs they promote, so this a good place to look as well as just "googling" your chef, of course.

LG: What are the top 3 things a client can do to make sure an event is the best it can be? What can the client do?
CR: Follow the directions you send ahead of the event, set the table (unless you have agreed, ahead for time, that your chef and their staff will be responsible to do this), make sure the chef knows if you are particular about anything in your kitchen. For example, make sure your chef knows not to use the garbage disposal it isn't working well or to open the windows if the stove fans aren't very strong so as to minimize smoke. And for me, if you have air conditioning please put it on because I am a hottie!

In the true spirit of the Bay area, new business model for bespoke dining emerges as former Kitchit chefs form co-op

The San Francisco Bay area is all about innovation, creativity and a kind of cooperative spirit that is the legacy of the 60's and the Summer of Love. And so, it seems only fitting that a new, cooperative business model formed by folks who would seem to be competing for the same customers would be born here, in the Bay. Here's is how it happened:

In an August 18th column, we posited the question: Did Kitchit Tonight force the demise of the Kitchit Marketplace? and explored the landscape of the food-meets-tech business sector which is thriving in the San Francisco Bay area, with its innovating dining options that range from pop-ups to secret dining clubs. While many of these innovations are a great fit for the middle market that is serviced by Kitchit Tonight ($39 dinners are prepared in a commissary kitchen which cooks re-heat and plate in the customer’s homes), there is little activity as the higher end. IfOnly has definitely stepped up its efforts in the Bay area, and even courted some of the former Kitchit Marketplace chefs, but their business model is diverse as are the culinary "Experiences" they offer, ranging from a chef's shirt hand signed by Michael Chiarello ($250) to an entire category dedicated to Culinary Apprenticeships, and, of course, offers from some of the top chefs in the region (we counted over 20).

With so few players in the space, Kitchit Marketplace chefs felt they were left without critical access to customers who are looking for bespoke cuisine. Chefs are a communicative group, and a FaceBook group quickly popped up called Formerly Kitchit Chefs, where ideas, gig opportunities, complaints and suggestions were exchanged and friendships fostered. Out of that, a new model emerged: a co-op marketplace which currently hosts six chefs on a website called Private Chefs of the SF Bay (full disclosure: this columnist is one of the chefs on the site), which went live November 1st, 2015. Each chef has a presence on the site’s home page, their own dedicated page complete with bio, menus, food photos and contact information. The business model is one in which a small percentage of proceeds from events booked through the site go back to the co-op to support marketing and site maintenance, with half of those funds being earmarked to support selected Bay Area non-profits operating in the culinary sector.

The co-op marketplace, with its tagline, “A Curated Collective of Culinary Talents” offers a broad range of cuisine; from California Cuisine to Indian, Latin, Mexican and Moroccan to Wine Country and Asian Fusion and Southern comfort cooking, as well as culinary coaching and cooking classes. “We wanted to offer the consumer enough options so they can find whatever they were looking for on the site, but not so many as to overwhelm them with choices” says Chef Rose Johnson, one of the core team members. Private Chefs of the SF Bay has some more unusual culinary offers, as well, like Wild Game from Chef Bobbi Jo Wasilko, and a Guest Chef of the Month as a way to involve more chefs in the venture and offer unique food.  “We are covering all our bases” continues Chef Rose, “we have chefs from as far north as Santa Rosa, east to Tracy and south to Los Altos”. Customers have the option of requesting a specific chef, or asking a concierge to send menus and proposals from up to 3 chefs.

Private Chefs of the SF Bay is also doing some things differently, with six chefs who feel they learned a lot from the Kitchit Marketplace experience. For example, and this is perhaps one of the keys to why Kitchit turned to a lower end ticket, a downward spiral is created when chefs undercut each other in order to fill their schedules. With some many chefs on the Kitchit Marketplace, one experiencd chef explained it this way, "So many chefs [lack the experience to] command the appropriate rate for their work... [and need to] learn how to do some math on food and labor costs.... I was a Kitcheningsurfing chef in the very beginning when it had a marketplace, [and saw that] all too often the winning bid 'chef' had undercut the price point budget a client would set just to get the job". To avoid this kind of unhealthy competition and create an offer that is more consistent, the chefs in this new co-op set agreed-up minimum pricing, and came together on a score of other policies that affect the customer, like travel distances and related fees, costs per server, and holiday rates. "We wanted to make it easy for the customer, and allow them to make their decision based on the chef, his or her culinary style and bio, the menu--- the food" says Johnson, as opposed to comparing policies. Beyond this, each chef sets their own prices and is in direct contact with the customer from the start, something which is not the case with third party sites whose income stream is generated from the chef side. The co-op model lends itself well to the open communication between host and chef so crucial to creating a successful event.

Are co-ops the new direction for bespoke chefs? That remains to be seen. The Bay area chefs behind Private Chefs of the SF Bay are sharing the model with former Kitchit chefs in the New York region. It will be interesting to see if they follow suit.



Source: https://mymissiontastesofsf.wordpress.com/

He hunts, she cooks: a nubie's guide to eating and cooking wild game with recipe

Hunting for your dinner sound like a throwback or something that happens in the north woods of Canada somewhere? You may surprised to learn that its a trend that is growing, especially here in the SF Bay area! How much of that is attributable to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's recent revelation that, "The only meat [he is] eating is from animals [he has] killed...” is hard to say. While Zuckerberg was referring to slaughtering his own goats, chickens and pigs in the May 26, 2011 Fortune article, a subsequent report in Gawker quoted him as saying that he has learned to hunt, gotten a license, and shot and killed a bison, which he describes as more "tender and sweeter than beef... [and] lower in fat and cholesterol." So we thought we'd offer a primer, for those of you who might be thinking about doing something similar, or just want to know how to cook some of those more unusual proteins that are starting to show up in Bay area markets from Kroger's to Whole Foods.

Dan and Bobbie Jo Wasilko are a traditional husband-and-wife couple: Dan hunts for wild game and Bobbie Jo cooks what he brings home. But unlike the stereotypical hand-off at the pot on the stove, Bobbie Jo will often go into the field with Dan and he will often help Bobbie Jo in the kitchen. Bobbie Jo is a naturally talented chef who began to specialize in preparing wild game shortly after she and Dan were married. Bobbie Jo has taken this passion for cooking wild game and created a personal chef business called Cookin’ Wild™ where she provides multi-course, wild game meals for clients in northern California. In Bobbie Jo’s She Cooks blog, she provides recipes and background information on how best to prepare many different types of wild game and even exotic meats and seafood, while Dan's He Hunts blog provides tips for hunters. We interviewed Bobbie Jo about what its like to be a chef in this unusual niche.

ANDREA: You are in a pretty unique niche when it comes to private chefs and caterers how do describe what you do? How did you get started?

BOBBIE JO: As transplants to the area we wanted to make friends and thought the best way to do so would be to invite people to dinner to enjoy our wild game. Many of our guests hadn’t ever tried wild game or if they had, it was usually a bad experience, so it was encouraging to know that my methods and recipes won them over to be fans of wild game.

Many of our dinner guests encouraged me to do something in the wild game industry, such as writing a cookbook or opening a restaurant. One dinner, our friend, Dave insisted I prepare and serve a wild game dinner for his boss and guests as a Christmas present from him and his coworkers. I accepted the challenge and created and served a dinner centered on a main course of fig walnut stuffed rack of wild boar. Dave’s boss and his guests loved it!  I found the experience to be fun and I enjoyed watching the client’s reaction to trying something new.  So the next day I created my “Cookin’ Wild” personal chef business.
ANDREA: It seems like the SF Bay area, with its penchant for exploring new food trends, might be an ideal place for your kind of business. Do you find this to be so? Did you have this in mind when you decided to launch here?

BOBBIE JO: The Bay Area is an ideal place to offer this type of service, with its diverse cultures and ethnicities many types of foods are available and accepted. It was also encouraging that several restaurants in the city and in the wine country have a wild game dish or two on their menus and many have a “wild game week” or event in the autumn which usually sells out in advance. This was a good indicator that a personal chef business based upon wild game would do well here.
ANDREA: How does your business fit with the sustainable and local foods that are at the core of California Cuisine?

BOBBIE JO: There is definitely a movement towards eating locally here in Northern California with each city and suburban town offering one or more farmers markets during the week and with more access to free-range and ethically grown and harvested meats and poultry. Along these lines, when a client of mine or their guest tries and enjoys the wild game I serve, they may be more encouraged to beginning hunting for themselves or be more open to accepting a free duck or piece of venison from their neighbor who does hunt.

Wild game also goes along with the foraging movement.  I know plenty of folks who consume only their hunted game, and solely harvest wild plants, herbs, fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms.  Bragging rights include not having set foot in a grocery store for any produce or meat in years.

Hunting, foraging, harvesting, and processing everything that comes into the kitchen means food has been in sight at all times.  Field to table, field to plate, eat what you hunt, are phrases I use every day, and practice to bring great meals to my clients, and my own table.
ANDREA: How has hunting changed, if at all, over the last several decades?

BOBBIE JO: Many new hunters, especially the twenty and thirty-somethings, are entering this sport with a different attitude than previous generations. Unlike those who were taught to hunt at 12 years old because it was a family or local tradition, these new hunters approach it as a way to be active in acquiring healthy, local foods. They want to experience obtaining their meat with their own hands.  The popularity of folks growing their own gardens has also jumped up considerably.  Even those who live in urban dwellings with very little space will at the very least, grown some herbs and tomatoes on roof top decks or in pots on balconies.

ANDREA: Who do you think your target audience is? How do you “get the word out” about eating wild game and encourage folks to try it?

BOBBIE JO:  For my personal chef business my target audience is anyone with an adventurous nature and who is willing to try wild game and appreciate it’s uniqueness.

To reach a larger audience, my husband and I are launching our own TV show called “He Hunts She Cooks” on Hunt Channel in 2016. Our concept is to show how my husband and I work together to harvest wild game and to create amazing meals with it.

Interestingly, one hundred and fifty years ago, wild game was the main source for dinner.  But with urban sprawl and the change toward large scale farms, and animals being over hunted, folks began to turn towards farm raised animals like cows, chickens, and pigs.  However, now that wild game is better managed, and their numbers are growing, combined with the new urban/suburban hunters, and the traditionalists, wild game is back!  And with the return of wild game brings new cooking methods and influences.  Don’t get me wrong, slow cooking a venison roast in a crockpot is great, but using new methods such as sous vide cooking brings wild game to a whole new level, which will appeal to a wider population.  My idea it to marry the traditional idea of hunting and harvesting your own food to modern cooking methods to create something everyone can enjoy.  We hope to reach a wide audience with our show to inspire couples to work together and to bring back wild game cooking and elevate it for the new millennium.

ANDREA: The hunting industry and lifestyle has recently been under fire for high-profile trophy hunts for exotic or even endangered species.  Have you and your husband experienced any push back or controversy, and what is your response to those against it?

BOBBIE JO: Our approach is more mainstream, where I offer wild game dishes based upon plentiful or even herd animals such as deer, elk, wild pig, rabbit, duck, and pheasant. I will offer more exotic meats as well, including alligator and kangaroo, but these are also fully sustainable and are within the normal diet in many parts of the world. Because of health and safety regulations, the game I serve to my clients is documented by the USDA or other international agencies. In some cases the meat is farm raised, but still has the wild genetics. Clients may also provide their own harvested game that I will prepare for them as part of my personal chef service.  In regards to hunting game, my husband hunts for the table, as opposed to trophy hunting.  Now if he does kill a really nice deer with a large rack of antlers, he’ll certainly make his case for having it mounted, but it’s not usually something he concerns himself with.  Especially since older animals aren't as tender or tasty as younger ones, anyway.   The only mounts he has are one black-tail buck and one very big nasty looking wild boar.  I can honestly say, I pulled out every trick in my culinary arsenal to tenderize or to improve the flavor of that old boar, but just couldn’t get a great result.  So from then on out, if he wants me to prepare it, he must keep it under a certain age and weight.  Our trophy is in the plated dish.

6. Most people have never eaten wild game. What are some of the "openers"? Dishes that make it easy for people who might otherwise he hesitant to experiment with a new protein?

BOBBIE JO: If I’m looking to ease a client into trying wild game for the first time, I’ll offer dishes like venison, pheasant, quail, or rabbit. Those animals seem to be the easiest to approach for the uninitiated.  As I often do, I invite friends over for dinner to be my guinea pigs to try out new dishes I’m working on to gain their assessment before preparing it for a client.  One dinner we invited friends over to try new recipes I was working on.  Our friend, J.L. and his wife, Debbie were coming for dinner.  I was working on rabbit rillettes and J.L. said his wife hated rabbit.  We forged a plan to get her to change her mind.  I made an appetizer of mustard cognac braised rabbit rillettes on crostini with sliced pear.  We didn’t tell Debbie what it was.  After three servings, we decided to spill the beans.  She was shocked to know she’d been enjoying the rabbit, and realized that in the proper hands, rabbit is yummy!

For my clients who are hesitant about trying wild game or incorporating it into a menu, I offer them a financial incentive.  I always say, “If you're willing to try my game dishes, and you don’t like it, I’ll deduct it from the bill.”  To this date, I’ve never had to remove it from the bill.

Pomegranate Molasses glazed Rack of Wild Pig with Roasted Figs and Pecans (He Hunts, She Cooks)

RECIPE: Venison Loin Medallions with Black Truffle Foie Gras Pate, Cabernet Venison Sauce


4-6 ounce boneless Venison Loin Medallions (elk, antelope, deer)
1 pkg. (6 ounce) D'Artagnon Black Truffle Foie Gras Pate*
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
Grape Seed Oil (substitute canola oil, or vegetable oil)
3/4 cup Venison Stock (or beef stock)
1/2 cup Cabernet Wine
1 Shallot, minced
3 Tbs. Butter, divided into 1 Tbs. and 2 Tbs.
2 Tbs. Flour

*extra pate left over

Prep for the venison

24 hours ahead: Season venison loin medallions with kosher salt and refrigerate, overnight.One hour before cooking, bring the medallions to room temperature on the counter. Pre-heat the oven to 350º. Re-season the venison with a bit more kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.Set aside while the sauce is prepared.

To make the Cabernet Sauce
Over medium heat, to a small sauce pot, add the 1 tablespoon butter, and add the minced shallot and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the wine and heat for 4 minutes. Then add the stock and continue to reduce for another 4 minutes. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and flour together to make a paste, and whisk into the sauce to thicken. Once the sauce is thickened, turn down the heat to keep warm until the dish is finished.
To Finish
Heat an oven safe pan (or cast iron), over medium high heat. Add a few tablespoons oil.
Add venison medallions and sear until browned. Turn over and sear the other side until browned, then place in the oven for about 6 minutes. Remove the medallions from the oven and top each with 2 tablespoons (about 1 ounce) black truffle foie gras pate (*reserve the remaining pate for the sauce). Turn off the oven and place the venison back in the oven to heat the pate.
Just before serving, whisk in any leftover pate to the red wine sauce. Serve with sides of your choice.
Chef's Notes
"I served this dish with yukon gold potatoes that were first boiled whole and unpeeled until tender, shocked in cold water, drained, then sliced and sautéed in butter, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.

The trumpet mushrooms were sliced and sautéed along with the potatoes.

The carrots were braised in a frying pan with 3/4 cup water, a tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, salt and pepper. They were cooked at a medium simmer for 20 minutes, until all the water was evaporated, and turned into a caramelized glaze.

The potatoes can be boiled the day ahead and refrigerated overnight, then sliced and sautéed just before serving, as well as the mushrooms.

The carrots can be started 20 minutes ahead of serving time to simmer while the venison is cooked."
By Bobbie Jo Wasilko