I had the pleasure of catching up with Portland-based entrepreneur, Shana Larsen, who runs the personal chef business, Ready, Set, Eat!, for this special Entrepreneur Spotlight series. Shana has an amazing story, having started her career in cancer research and eventually finding her life’s passion through the culinary arts program at The Art Institute of Seattle. Now years later, she is the president and founder of Ready, Set, Eat!, a thriving personal chef business in the Portland area which offers clients a gourmet in-home meal experience. (And yes, this includes everything from grocery shopping to nutritional consulting, and the final product — beautifully crafted, from scratch, gourmet meals with easy to follow serving instructions.)
Read on for Shana’s top tips for getting started in the food business, a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a day in the life of a personal chef, and her own whole health hacks for busy home chefs looking to save time throughout the week. If you’re in the Portland area, check out the Ready, Set, Eat! website for more info on Chef Shana’s local services.
How did you get started in the food business? How was the idea for Ready, Set, Eat! born?
My previous profession was in cancer research, yet, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. While working at a cancer research center in Seattle, I attended the evening culinary arts program at The Art Institute of Seattle. I loved every minute of the program, but was unsure what direction to take this new experience. Luckily, one of my chef instructors brought in a personal chef to speak with us. While I did not have any previous business experience other than producing invoice template examples, I thought the personal chef lifestyle (working days, independently, embracing a personal cooking philosophy) fit me well. After working hard for about two years, I finally had a steady clientele and real business! Understanding the Benefits of ERP was useful for some others to apply to their business environments.
What do you love most about being a personal chef?
I love being able to take care of my clients and connect with them through the food I prepare. I have personal relationships with many of my clients, and I have seen them through numerous life challenges and celebrations. I have attended the weddings of a few of my clients, and have experienced deep sorrow when family members pass away. They have both mourned and celebrated with me, when these events happened to me as well. When you prepare soul-satisfying food especially for your client, the connection is long-lasting and very special. Our relationship is special and more developed than any found in other culinary careers.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Most days start around 7:30-8:00AM. I use the file that I prepared the night before, complete with my shopping list, to pack my totes for the day. I pack up any pantry ingredients that I already have, as well as all equipment needed for the day (pots, pans, bowls, utensils, etc). I load my car, then drive to the grocery store and purchase all ingredients needed for the service. After arriving at the client’s home, I organize the recipes to prepare for the day. I start with the ones that are the longest to prepare, or take the longest to cool, and work my way to the easiest to prepare. After preparing, storing the meals, and cleaning my client’s kitchen, I return to unload my car of the equipment used that day. I often work in the evening as well — menu planning, returning emails, and doing the administrative work necessary to keep the business running smoothly.
Any tips for aspiring food entrepreneurs?
Deliver a consistent product and find a way to start your business with as little overhead as you can. There is so much competition in the food industry, and restaurants come and go. To stand out from this crowd online too, read up on digital marketing techniques. Advice on this is readily available for example from Web Design Plus SEO who can really help you succeed in this competitive arena. Consistency is also one important key to success, so develop systems to deliver a consistent result. If overhead is low, the entrepreneur has more flexibility to make decisions and changes to their business.
What are your top 2-3 tips for the busy home chef who is looking to save time cooking during the week?
Prepare items on the weekend to save time during the week. Cook large quantities of rice, then cool and freeze in small packages. Roast a whole chicken or your favorite pieces, then remove the meat and freeze. Save the bones to make stock for soup or freeze to make broth later. Place a large pork roast or beef roast in a crock pot and cook until falling apart. Use this roast in different dishes throughout the week — pulled meat sandwiches, fried rice, stuffed baked potatoes, and pasta dishes. Preparing these items ahead will give busy home chefs an advantage on a weekday evening.
Also, make sure your kitchen is stocked — both pantry and fridge. This way if your fridge is somewhat lacking in food, you can turn to your pantry for inspiration. Or you can take small amounts of leftover meats, cheeses, and vegetables, and toss them with potatoes, pasta, rice or polenta for a delicious, homemade meal that takes minutes to prepare.
What’s your favorite dish to cook for the holidays?
I love introducing new flavors to the holiday table. Different flavors of stuffing, a new dessert idea, or making a non-traditional main dish (like a Turducken or roasted leg of lamb) gives me a lot of pleasure. Our family often contributes to the holiday meal, so no one is responsible for preparing the entire feast. I love this sharing of responsibility and incorporating all sorts of flavors.
Any events, classes or special happenings coming up that our readers should know about?
Ready, Set, Eat! is happy to be adding other chefs to our staff, so we are able to accommodate more new inquiries. We also offer personalized, in-home cooking classes and catering for small gatherings.