Healing Ailments With Aliment: Beth Volpe Spotlight
As a professional personal and private chef, Escoffier Online student Beth Volpe is already an established member of the culinary community. But after an inspiring seminar with the American Personal & Private Chef Association’s Candy Wallace, Beth realized she wanted to dive even deeper into the culinary arts to benefit her clients and her business. As a personal chef that specializes in restrictive specialty diets, she is challenged with the task of creating meals that benefit her client’s health and wellness while also making it delicious and visually appealing. With ailments such as celiac disease, lactose intolerance, cancer, food allergies and severe digestive disorders, she navigates her way through menus that will please her client’s health as much as it does their taste buds. That’s where her education with Escoffier Online comes in. With more expertise and experience, Beth looks forward to being able to be more creative with her future meals.
Beth took a moment to talk with us about growing her business, why she loves the Escoffier Online program and how she got into her area of culinary expertise.
Escoffier Online: How did you find Escoffier Online?
Beth Volpe: In November of 2013 I attended a two day orientation seminar on, “The Business of Doing Business as a Personal Chef” through the American Personal & Private Chef Institute. Candy Wallace, the Executive Director of The American Personal & Private Chef Association, was the instructor and we had a very small class. Because of the size of the class, Candy offered to do the seminar in her home where I was able to receive almost one-on-one training with her. At the end of the two day seminar it was Chef Candy that suggested I continue my education and try Escoffier Online. She felt that I would professionally benefit from receiving culinary credentials. I have to admit, I have always wanted to attend culinary school. I was a home economics major in college but in those days going to culinary school was not an option that I had ever heard of. Over the years I have taken many independent cooking classes such Mexican, Chinese, tapas, vegetarian, meats as well as classes at Ramekins Culinary School in Sonoma, California.
EO: How did it help you with starting and running your business?
BV: When I started Escoffier Online, my business was already up and running for 3 months. For someone interested in starting up a business in this industry, the culinary program provides you with an enormous amount of business expertise and advice through the courses you take. The Chef Mentors want each student to understand what it takes to be in this industry and the steps necessary to be successful.
The classes gave me the knowledge behind what I thought I knew about food and cooking and the confidence to become more adventurous and creative.
EO: Your business specializes in specialty cooking for people with food allergies, sensitivities, diabetes, cancer and more ailments where diet plays a huge part. How did you get into that?
BV: Purely by chance. My business fell into a niche market from the get go because of my background in learning different ways to cook either by food sensitivity, i.e., gluten free, lactose free, etc. or by dietary restrictions like paleo and diabetes. My first client was diagnosed pre-diabetic. Then I catered a paleo dinner party. Within a week I was contacted by a nutritionist who had a client with severe digestive disorders. He was put on a food sensitivity diet consisting of 25 items (this included herbs and spices as part of the 25 items). This was a massive challenge. We added one new item weekly. It was tricky because not only were foods making him ill, we found that food combinations also made him ill.
While working for that client, I was hired to prepare foods for 5 weeks for a young mother with Multiple Myeloma. She had just had a stem cell transplant. Very quickly and much to my surprise nutritionists and dieticians were referring me to their clients who needed a healthier or diet specific way of eating for physical or medical reasons. Now my clientele consist of gluten free, gluten free/lactose intolerant, heart conditions (bypass surgery or heart attack) cancer/chemo patients and all have been referred by nutritionists. All of these require a lot of research in preparing the foods correctly and even more consultation in understanding my client’s personal preferences. All of these are challenging but extremely rewarding when you know how much your foods help people enjoy life more.
EO: What challenges do you face when making food for specialty diets?
BV: Clients with specialty diets require a lot of research by the chef. For me, I need to understand each dietary program or sensitivity specific to that client. I confer with their nutritionist so that I understand the needs of the client. I always research any medical condition my clients have. When I meet with them I want to be somewhat familiar with their condition. Becoming familiar with whatever their reason is to have someone cook for them in a particular way allows me to ask the right questions.
People with food sensitivities or intolerances feel sick when they eat foods that do not agree with their body. The challenge here is to find foods or food combinations that taste good but do not make them ill.
When I work with a client who has specific dietary challenges, I know that the work I put into their menus, recipes and cooking preparation will take much more time than a client without dietary restrictions. They want and need more of your time and you have to be willing to give them that.
As chefs, we are always moving from one thing to the next in and out of the kitchen. With specialty diets, patience and creativity are key to being successful. I am always ready and willing to cook whatever the client wants. It means modifying recipes to accommodate their sensitivities. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be that creative chef. It means you must become even more creative. These people need us.
EO: You trained with Candy Wallace of the American Personal & Private Chef Association. What was that experience like and how did you benefit from it?
BV: Candy is an icon in this industry. She has so much experience and has such a wealth of knowledge. I was very lucky to get to know her in the way I did. With only 2 people in the class, she was able to really take her time and share with us her personal stories and skills. She is the epitome of professionalism and class. She wants every student to succeed and to be the best they can be. It was Candy that suggested I further my education with Escoffier Online. She has always been there to answer questions and provide support for me and for my business.
EO: What is the one ingredient you have to have in your kitchen at all times?
BV: Salt! Silly as it sounds, it can make or break a dish. I’ll also tell you the one item in my kitchen I absolutely could not live without—non-stick foil. The best creation ever!!!
EO: What are the most important parts of cuisine and running a culinary business that you learned from Escoffier Online?
BV: The most important thing I learned is to get my ingredients prepped first (Mise en Place!!!). It takes time to set things up, however the actual cooking goes faster and much easier. I loved learning about the different knife cuts and I apply that practice in my commercial kitchen and my home kitchen. Perfectly diced veggies look beautiful in dishes and cook evenly. I personally think that clients notice the beauty of a perfectly cut ingredient. It says, “I take pride in the foods I prepare.” I do enjoy more rustic cuts for some soups and stews when the situation calls for it too though.
Plating and presentation is also so important. If I’m catering a dinner, I love to make sure that the plating of the courses is as pretty to look at as it is to eat. For my clients, I also make sure that the presentation of the foods I deliver is pleasing and attractive.
EO:What are your three favorite ingredients to work with right now?
BV: Anchovies, pork belly and Copper River salmon (it’s in season in my area).
EO: What would you like to see for your business?
BV: I currently have 4 clients I cook fresh for weekly with Savory Eats By Beth. I’d like to get to 6 clients per week. I can handle that with my assistant. However, our goal is to eventually hire a chef and another assistant so that we can take on even more clients. That is a realistic and not too far off goal for the future.
I love catering small intimate dinner parties and would like to do more of those. I would also like to expand into larger events (up to 30 people). I have not had the time to really explore how to charge and how to make it successful. Now that I am not in school every weekend I just might have the time to look into this.
Oh! I have been teaching grilling lessons and really enjoy the teaching aspect of this industry. I hope to have more classes to offer this year.