I recently had the pleasure of meeting Chef Ellen and was instantly fascinated by the personal chef business she has created. I love that there's a way to have meals perfectly tailored to your preferences and dietary needs, right at home. We're all looking for ways to have more time available for the things that matter to us, and what better way to gain some time back than to have your meals prepared for you?
Here's the full interview with Chef Ellen:
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I grew up in Sioux Falls, the middle of 3 children, and from the beginning food was always a part of my life. We had dinner around the table every night, and family holidays centered around the meals. My parents opened a steak house when I was in elementary school, so I was always very close to the culinary industry. After high school I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and took up cooking as a hobby while working on a social work major. I had realized I couldn't envision a career in the field I was studying, and had a friend wanting to make the move out to Colorado, so I took a leap and applied to culinary school at Auguste Escoffier in Boulder, CO. Two months later I moved away from Sioux Falls for the first (and only) time in my life. A year and half later, culinary degree in hand, I moved back home to Sioux Falls, and spent some time working in local restaurants. I ended up meeting my husband (and step-son), having a baby, getting married, moving in to the house I grew up in, adopting my stepson, and taking almost 2 years off from cooking professionally. When I was going stir crazy and wondering how to begin a new culinary career without sacrificing the long hours required in restaurants, the stars kind of aligned and I was introduced to the Personal Chef career. It seemed to fill a need in the community, and I felt that with the large medical industry in Sioux Falls and rise in food allergies in general, it was time that somebody open a business that could cater to these special diets. Thus Chef Ellen: Personal Chef Services was born.
Can you give us a little bit of background information about your business? I launched Chef Ellen in January 2018, after a few months convincing myself it was worth a shot. My mission is to bring families back to the table to enjoy meals they can feel good about eating, regardless of what challenges they may face with their diet. The main service I offer is in home meal prep, which includes client-specific menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleanup, and storage with reheating instructions. I also offer cooking lessons and group parties, as well as intimate in-home events and multi-course meals.
What is a typical day like for you? I am blessed with a lot of flexibility in my week, but a typical cook day usually starts by getting my youngest ready and off to daycare, then back home to make sure my pantry case and equipment are in order and get them packed in the car. Then off to the grocery store (or two) for the day's groceries. Usually I cook for one client per day, and from the store I head directly to their home and unload the car. I cook between 3 and 5 meals (12-20 individual servings) typically, which can take from 2.5-4 hours depending on the menu for the day. Once I get the meals stored and labeled I do a final clean-up in the kitchen, pack up my car, and head on my way. When I get home it's usually a little time spent updating the days pictures, answering emails, and getting menus and grocery lists ready for the next day. Then the kids (10 years and 22 months) come home and we do whatever activities we have lined up for the night. Luckily I have a husband who also loves to cook, so we trade off dinner duties (sometimes our 10 year old gets in on the action and makes us dinner), and eat together. In the summer we have to keep an eye on the herbs and garden in the evening, then after the kids get to sleep I pack my pantry case and equipment for the next day, and the process starts all over!
Tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know… In high school I participated in Oral Interpretation (competitive speech), and was the state champion in non-original oratory. To this day I'm grateful for being a part of it, as it got me over a fear of speaking in front of others.
Do you have a favorite quote or saying that motivates you? "Do the next right thing." I get caught up a lot in thinking about the million things that are going on between having a family and running a business. Daily I need to remind myself that progress is as simple as doing the next right thing, whether that's answering an email, doing the laundry, or taking a chance.
What books/phone apps/computer software programs have helped you in your business? "The Professional Personal Chef" is the book I read to get started, I don't use a whole lot of apps or programs aside from Modernmeal, my menu and recipe software, which really makes my life a whole lot easier, and Freshbooks, for invoicing and bookkeeping.
What advice would you have for someone looking to follow in your footsteps? The best advice I can think to give is what has made the biggest difference for me: don't be afraid to ask for help. Know where to look for the answers you don't have, and be willing to reach out and ask.
If you could have a clean slate to start over, what would you do differently in your career? It took me a long time to realize the benefit of asking for help and not being worried about what somebody else thought. Chefs can have big egos, and I was no different. If I could go back I would take the time to ask, and learn from some of the wonderful people I have had the chance to work with.
What are some of the ways customers can help your business? Spread the word! If you, your friends, or family have allergies and diet restrictions to consider, this is a great option for healthy food and variety. Cooking classes are available privately, for groups or events such as birthdays or bridal showers, and are a creative way to mix up the usual night out with friends and learn something new!
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or your business? I love getting involved in various organizations! I'm a member of the United States Personal Chef Association, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, and as a business I am a member of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce as well as the South Dakota Retailers Association, and look forward to getting more involved in community activities in the future.
Where can people find you? www.chefellendoerr.com, facebook at www.facebook.com/siouxfallschef, and on instagram @chefellendoerr
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Chef Ellen! If you haven't already, please check out her website and follow her on Facebook and Instagram! :-)