Menu planning is a big part of a personal chef’s job, especially when you have a lot of regular (weekly or biweekly) clients, as I do right now. Every client has different tastes and needs, and each one needs new ideas every cook date. Some personal chefs maintain a master list of all the recipes that they offer. I did this in the very beginning, but quickly realized I don’t like to work off a set menu; I enjoy keeping things fresh and like to continuously add new dishes, seasonal ingredients and new ideas. It’s also a good idea to keep up with trending preparation methods and foods – sous vide, for instance (not my thing), or the latest superfoods.
There are SO many ways to come up with ideas to add to your recipe files:
- Newspaper food sections
- Professional (i.e magazine or cooking show) newsletters (These can be a great source of inspiration; I rarely use the recipes, but entire editorial teams have spent time thinking about what ingredients are fresh and seasonal and are great for cooking now; take advantage of that!)
When you’re looking through your resources, have your clients in mind. When I go through a stack of cooking magazines, I tear out pages and drop them in piles by client – these clients might like these vegetarian dishes; my Paleos would love this curry, etc. You can put sticky notes in cookbooks; bookmark web-based recipes (use a tool like EverNote, Delicious, Google Bookmarks, etc); or build Pinterest boards, by client or recipe type (chicken dishes, vegetarian, soups, freezable, fish, etc).
With ideas in hand, I create a list for each client and send them via email. For a client who gets 3 meals prepared, I’ll probably send 6 or 8 ideas. Not too many, as too many choices can be overwhelming. But not too few, or they may not have enough to choose from. And always offer to send more if they need them.
I used to dread menu planning in my early days, but now I really enjoy it. Perhaps back then it felt overwhelming, trying to choose something justright for everyone. But like anything, it gets a lot easier with practice. Now it’s one of my favorite parts of my business, because I get to sit and think about what they need, what’s in season, what I like making, how I can help them…it feels really personal and like I’m making a connection with them through nutritious, delicious, nurturing meals – hands down, the best part of being a personal chef.
Got any favorite ways to collect and store recipes and manage your menu planning? I’d love to hear them!