The Great Hall
Just Starting Out The Great Hall: Just Starting Out
By Gabri on Tuesday, May 02, 2000 - 02:29 pm: Edit

I have been asked to cater a small luncheon and thought that this could be a way to get my "feet wet" in the personal chef business. I have checked bookstores for information on this and cannot get anything specific enough. Can I cook in my own home and then deliver meals? How do I price the meals? Are there resources available to help me get started and answer my questions? Please email me if you have any helpful information.

By CountryBaker on Tuesday, May 02, 2000 - 09:52 pm: Edit

If you are going to do this strickly by word of mouth you can probably get away with doing it in your home kitchen. I know a lady who has done weddings out of her kitchen for over 30 years, tax free. If you advertise sooner or later someone who is legal will turn you in. In my neck of the woods the health department will leave you alone until someone complains about you. You cann't legaly cook out of your kitchen, unless you have two kitchens in your house. At least you cann't where I am. There are also other stipulations as to the kitchen. As far as pricing only you can decide that. You need to get an acurate figure on your cost and then decide how much markup you need to add. Don't forget the cost of your own labor. Call around to a couple of places and ask what they would charge for the same foods. I hope this helps a little. Good Luck

By Panini (Panini) on Wednesday, May 03, 2000 - 06:00 pm: Edit

Get legal before you get your feet wet. I hate the thought that you might make someone unhappy or sick while wetting your feet. Getting legal will also help you understand how to handle food in a safe way. If you go countryBakers way at least take a food safety class.OK. Call your local health dept. and they will guide you.
I think its a great profession,I'm glad it interests you, Do it right.
And yes, nobody will probably catch you, the legal people will not turn you in,when you get caught it will probably come along with a large law suit for food borne illness.Liability Ins.?
If you want to test, test on your friends, cater a couple of parties, don't charge them.See how it goes.

By CountryBaker on Wednesday, May 03, 2000 - 10:48 pm: Edit

I didn't mean to give the impression that I thought you should not worry about becomming legal. I was just telling you how it is were I am from. But, I still cann't see sinking a lot of money into something you are not sure you want to do. I would test on your friends, but I would charge for the cost of food, not labor. You can also prepare the food in your friends kitchen and get paid for labor and still be legal. That would be the same as working as a housekeeper who does the cooking. Also you can prepare foods out of your kitchen for an establishment that has a food service permit. At least you can in my state. Maybe you can start out small like closing in a garage or carport for a small kitchen. My husband built my kitchen for me at a cost of around $6,000. That was around 12 years ago and he did all of the work. I meet all regulations. My kitchen is a separate building from my house. The walls and foors have to be of certain materials.

By CountryBaker on Wednesday, May 03, 2000 - 11:14 pm: Edit

Do call the Health department if you decide to build or rent. They will give you a booklet with all of the regulations, as far as your kitchen and the handling of food. You can get started fairly cheap. I have less than $3,000 in all of my equipment. Thats not counting pots, pans, bakewear, trays, Wedding cake equipment and general kitchen ware. It does include 2 Hobart mixers, a 12qt. and a 20qt. 2 Kitchen Aides, a free standing comvection oven, 2 stoves, cooling racks and stainless tables and cabinets and a 7 ft. triple sink. You can get equipment cheap if you watch the papers and attend equipment auctions. I have better equipment than a lot of commercial kitchens I have been in. It is possiable to get started without spending a fortune.

By Gabri on Friday, May 05, 2000 - 12:00 pm: Edit

I never thought CountryBaker was suggesting I do anything illegal. Maybe I gave the wrong impression about helping out my friend. She would buy the food and I would prepare it. This would not be a paid gig. I just wanted to know if cooking in one's own home would be legal, and how to price meals if I decide to pursue this as a totally legimate business. I have been preparing samples for family, neighbors, and friends to taste. They all seem to think I should "go for it!" I will speak to the Health Dept., my insurance agent, and a lawyer. Does anyone out there think I can make a go of it without professional chef training? I do see the good in taking a food handling course. Does the Health Department have information on this type of course? What are your experiences? I do appreciate all input!

By Donna on Friday, May 05, 2000 - 01:28 pm: Edit

If you act like a fly by night you'll be just that!!!!!

By Gabri on Friday, May 05, 2000 - 03:12 pm: Edit

I'd like to know how asking questions on message boards and seeking advice from professionals is acting like a fly-by-night? Please explain. I was under the impression that was what these boards were for.

By Donna on Friday, May 05, 2000 - 04:09 pm: Edit

I guess I just get hot under the collar when someone thinks that a simple question like "how do you price meals?" can be answered in a few words.
I promote schooling. The reason is easy, if you go to school, you will learn the right way. Take a business management course if you want to learn about business. Take some cooking courses if you want to cook. Get my drift.
We all follow guide lines whether for maintaining foods, costing, staff hiring and training, etc.
as one chef stated you don't want to make someone sick, so, you need to know your temperature settings for all cooking and maintaining proceedures.
As for cooking in ones home, it is illegal in Canada.
Sorry if I upset the apple cart.

By Dpconsu (Dpconsu) on Friday, May 05, 2000 - 10:24 pm: Edit

Just use common sense, usually trying to cater for more than 12 from the average home's kitchen is a real pain. To do it properly in the future (if you deside to go that route) is to get a triple sink, some good refridgeration and freezing capability, some working table-top space ( wall paper hanger's tables are fine if you cover them with a water proof covering) and they can be folded up and carried to the site easily too. But you can get the exact details from your local health authorities for what you would need to do to be legit to prepare, store and transport foods.

Pricing food is simple, just charge about 3 times what it costs you do do it, add in food, labor, and don't forget the disposables, napkins, etc. or if you rent plates etc, the costs of that and the cleaning of them added in too.

As for the dyed in the mud "proffesionals", give a person a break, this is a posting to get help and possitive responses.

I am a executive chef of thirty two years experience, with a full brigade kitchen appenticeship background in Europe and have chef'd in eighteen countries and now consult those wishing to get into the business or to improove the service that they have.Those are my bona fides.

This person Gabri is not a proffesional, nor has he/she pretended to be. She/he is the layman who desires knowledge & is what we should all aspire to be. Far too many of us who have been to a "school" think that the sun shines from wence it should not, and somehow believe that our knowledge has no boundries. I say Bull! for if we cannot see the need to continue learning daily and pass on our knowledge, we are among the beasts of the field, (bloody sheep in chef's toques)

Good luck to you my dear ( I am assuming that Gabri is feminin)

By Donna on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 10:45 am: Edit

To state that pricing or costing is "simple" and just charge 3 times the f/c is not helping. It sounds like another bluff to get through another job!!!
Why do you charge this? Why a 3. factor?
The reason for schooling (besides the obvious)The basic knowledge to prepare, store, serve and hold food products safely. Don't you think we owe it to our clients? After all they have paid BIG BUCKS to get quality.
I don't think there is an easy way into this business. Hard work and perseverance are two major factors. Do you want to be a 15 dollar a plate caterer or a 50.00!
Don't want to go to school? How about working for a reputable caterer for a year?
I am really saying, either you have it or you don't. If you have the passion to think and live food, you just might make it. Putting profit somewhere on the list is the icing on the cake for doing something I would and have done for nothing!!

By Donna on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 10:50 am: Edit

To quote George

Forums for chefs and professionals"


By Donna on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 10:51 am: Edit

To quote George

Forums for chefs and professionals"


By Dpconsu (Dpconsu) on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 11:51 am: Edit

You are really boring Donna, get a life, preferably one where you are unable to relate to people, perhaps a corporations food lab where you can put all of your "theory" to practice. At least there you will not have to relate to the real world of personalities and desires of the other people who inhabit this planet. You sound like some kind of self rightious doctor who believes that his deploma is some kind of right to act like God. Not every one in the world wants to be a chef, some people actually "just like to cook well at home and enjoy feeding thier friends"
Gabriel is one of these, a family lady with other responsabilities and who's obvious love of food drives her to want to try out her talents on friends and families. You can be suportive or as you have been " a snot!" You made that choise already, it seems, and I doubt that your personal life is very together also. By the way,Did you earn and pay your own way through school or did Mommy and Daddy do that? did you earn your present position? or get bumped there because of the deploma? can you handle 27 tickets hanging on you own, or like most schoolee's do you have to have all the help of the entire crew?
I doubt very much that you are perfect, as non of us are.

Yes this site is for proffesionals, so act like one.

By Dpconsu (Dpconsu) on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 12:10 pm: Edit

Dear Gabrielle,
My wife and I were appalled at the responses that you received from the "so called pro's".
I started out catering to yachts and small parties from my 4th floor walk- up apartment in the south of France, "totally illegal" but went on to build a 100,000.00 dollar kitchen next to Monaco and ran a very good business for five years and sold it for a 465% profit over investment. I never worked so hard in my life! and honestly do not recommend that anyone who has a family gets involved in catering, it takes a lot more time and energy than you can imagine. But.... if you want to do it, to try it out, go for it as long as your family fully understands and still supports your wishes to do this, just don't remodel your home kitchen and pantry to do it just yet!

There always will be a market for good food to be made and transported to be eaten elsewhere. Start out very slow, do not advertise, other than by word of mouth and maybe cards with your phone number on tear strips at the supermarket public notice boards or at your church, or what ever!

Consider doing the food at the clients house, there are no restrictions on you doing this and it is an all cash business!

If you get into doing it on a regular basis, spend the $20.00 or so to register your DBA (doing business as) name, get a Federal Tax ID number, and a state sales tax number, (this is where you really get into trouble if they catch you doing any business from your home and not declaring the income or charging sales tax for the service that you provide).
Do not publish a priced menu, it ties you to a set price when the market prices vary throughout the year. You can e-mail or fax the final quote to you clients after you have had time to consider the menu and the time and food costs and insist on a 50% deposit, this ensures that even if they cancel out on you at the last moment that your food costs are covered. Make no exceptions, even if it is your sister! If you ignore this, you WILL get burnt at least twice a year.
As I said before, the normal requirements are that you have a triple sink, semi professional refrigeration (with working thermometers in each compartment) and the same for you freezer. You have to maintain temperatures when transporting foods too, either hot or cold.

You will also need to experiment with your own recipes to learn when to arrest the cooking in order for the food to arrive at the client in peak condition rather than be overdone with the residual heat that continues to cook the foods while being held at safe temps.

YOU will learn what is transportable and what doesn't do so well in a holding box. Trying to get canapés made perfect in your kitchen to a house party, ten miles away in heavy traffic on a hot day is an experience that will haunt you!( use pizza boxes and stick each canapé in place with a tiny dab of whipped cream cheese, then put them on the platters when you arrive). If a client insists on French fries with their meal, tell them to go to McDonalds! fried foods do not hold their crispness for even five mins in a hot and humid transport box, sell them gratins, mashed with roasted garlic, châteaux or even a simple baked spud. It is far better to have a great simple meal than an elaborate messed up soggy mess that you cannot fix.

You had better print this lecture out as I have gone on long enough.
I will be happy to answer specific questions that you have on anything to do with the preparation, presentation and service of food and help you with the design concept for a practical layout for you own kitchen area.

By Panini (Panini) on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 01:38 pm: Edit

You left out a line." If you would like to hire me to consult please call...."
In one breath your telling us she's just a home cook and and does not need the professional input and in the next your telling her how to be professional.
I'm just an outsider in this thread but I do know that if you would like to prepare and sell food to the public you should act professionally.
It's a profession not a place to play. If you have cooked abroad, you of all people know that you must be trained to work, they won't let you go into their kitchens to play chef.
As for "died in the mud professional" ,thank you for the compliment! I've trained and worked very hard at it.
PS. Not nexessary to respond, this is just my 2 cents, I'm not attacking anyone in particular. I'm just trying to understand the posts.

By ProfAH on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 02:39 pm: Edit

As a Culinary Arts instructor, I receive questions from students often that require a great deal of explanation impossible to give in the short time of the class. They are much like the question posted here. Someone obviously looking to learn through both academic and experiencial sources shouldn't be treated so harshly. It's disappointing that before she can even start researching the industry, you've made her jump the hurdle of "schooling Vs traditional experience"

I think we, as professionals, should be able to handle a few questions without bickering. I wish you luck in your research, Gabri. Maybe meeting with the local chapter of the NRA (National Restaurant Association) could help you more. Face to face questions might meet with more success.

By Panini (Panini) on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 05:22 pm: Edit

Where's the harshness? Gabri's first post was that she was asked to cater a party, she thought this would be a good way for her to get het feet wet.The overall response was to check out everything before she went for it. It seemed apparent to me that she is heading in the direction of preparing food for resale. This is one of the toughest businesses to go into. I personally feel that to sugarcoat it is unfare to Gabri. Many people have come to this forum and asked the same question,although I'm not familiar with Donna, she got her questions answered.
I am more than happy as most here to help, but I will also tell the truth, cooking or baking is a small fraction of what it takes to be sucessful in business.One should forst decide if it's going to be a hobby or a business.If it's business than it should be professable, and if it's hobby than you should not charge.
With all respect Profah, I think that the overall concensus reguarding Gabri's post were, get more information before you cater that luncheon. The bickering came in when it got personal an all the psychoanalyzing post after that.

By Donna on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 07:16 pm: Edit

I have been called a lot of things over the years......but......boring ain't one of them.
As for all the PROFESSIONALS out there, learn to spell it correctly, first.
Gerard, I need help.
Guess Who!!!!!

By Gabri on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 07:57 pm: Edit

I am very sorry if I improperly posted to this board. According to Donna, this board is only for professionals. I was directed here through another board. I might have misunderstood when it states that if you "wannabe a chef" you can network with industry professionals.

But thank you everyone. I did appreciate the feedback.

By Panini (Panini) on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 09:38 pm: Edit

If the professional remark was directed towards me, I think your a hoot! I may not be able to spell but I certainly will not lower myself to your level.
No need to respond, I'm off to another thread. This one is boring.

By CountryBaker on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 10:38 pm: Edit

I am sorry you have been made to feel unwelcome. I get the impression, that you are not wanting to feed hundreds or cook in a big name restaurant. If you have a good knowlege of food and are willing to work, I think you will do fine. Not all great cooks have formal training. All of the schooling in the world won't do you any good if you don't have a feeling for the food. You have to know how foods should look and taste. If you don't know how yeast dough should look and feel the best bread recipe won't do you any good. If you have a touch with food you can learn the rest. I know severl women who have no formal training and make a good living with food. They are their own boss and can pick and choose their jobs. I hve been over food service for a nursing home, responsible for 3 meals a day 7 days a week for 160 people on 11 different diets and did it on a budget. We had excellent food and passed all federal and state guidelines. Continued

By Dpconsu (Dpconsu) on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 10:48 pm: Edit

I would like to thank all of you who have made the effort to post positive resonces to Gabri's queries. Helping others to learn by giving them all the possible sides to the question is in my opinion the way to do it.

Now let us get onto something new!!!!

By CountryBaker on Sunday, May 07, 2000 - 10:52 pm: Edit

I ran a school cafeteria for 3 years. Some of you might say that is no comparsion. But we went from 30% of the kids and teachers eating to 90% of them eating. We had to be self supporting so we started selling meals to workers who found out we had good food. I do weddings now and all kinds of baked goods. I have had to take classes for my jobs. Especially the nursing home, but most of it is common sense and hard work. The big plus is you are your own boss. Good Luck.

By Dpconsu (Dpconsu) on Monday, May 08, 2000 - 08:17 am: Edit

To Country Baker,
I respect the work that you have done at schools and nursing homes, I am very well aware of what the budgets are in these facilities and know that most hotel and restaurant trained chefs cannot manage them or the staff, (which is also very poorly paid). (It is hard for the chef/kitchen manager to attract and keep a really good crew when you are only allowed to pay them peanuts). I too have done some work with both full and assisted care homes, with multiple diet requirments for the people have have to live there and end out their days. I have also thought that there was no valid reason for hospital food to be so bad, and with some thought and a little extra effort we made even the puree diet food tasty, any working enviroment is what you make it, it can be a small hunting outfitters lodge in up state Montana or the Ritz Carlton in Boston, each place will have it's own rewards and pains.
I loved the years that I spent cooking and chefing, and only became a full time consultant after a severe heart attack and was told not to spend 18 hours a day in 115 degrees on my feet any more if I wanted to live. So to stay I my chosen Industry, I opted to consult full time, I get to teach, develop new menu ideas and mix with fresh new ideas from all over the country and even abroad. In fact I leave for Saudi Arabi on the 26th May for a job. My whole point is this...we all do this because we want to, no one has forced us into this industry, so if we have stayed for a number of years it is because we must either like it or be masocistic(or both). I love to encourage the newcomers and still let them know how tough it can and will be, but if they have the calling, they will do it anyway.

My respectfull wishes to you