I’m not going to lie. Going from hiring the staff to BEing the staff has not always been easy…
When you’ve been married to a member of Princess Diana’s favorite Band, had Andy Warhol on speed-dial, and Mick Jagger happened to be the bartender at your baby shower (Jerry Hall threw the shower for me)…it can be difficult to keep that professional smile on your face when addressed disrespectfully simply because you entered through the kitchen rather than the red carpet. It has been a huge lesson in humility.
Have you ever noticed how something as simple as a smile from a stranger can brighten your day? Showing a little courtesy to people rendering a service for you will go a very long way too. Which kind of client are you?
The Totally Self-Obsessed Client: Guilty as charged! It never dawned on me when I jetted off somewhere and canceled at short notice (without pay) to think… “how will the maid pay her rent?” I am so sorry Mary! When it was my own mortgage at risk, I quickly learned that sometimes clients need to be gently educated.
The Inspirational Client: I was so fortunate early on in my personal chef career to cook for a man that ran a huge empire of theaters around the world. He was an insanely busy man that traveled constantly, yet he always made time to tell me how much he enjoyed a certain dish I’d prepared the week before, or ask how my daughter was. I’m sure he did the same with everyone from the doorman of his apartment building to every single employee in his company. Why? Because it inspires loyalty and pride in your work… and the desire to perform at peak capacity which in turn, I’m convinced, was the secret to his success. The mark of a true leader.
The Friendly Client: The first twinge of upstairs downstairs discomfort came when I was hired to do a Thanksgiving dinner for an old friend. Aside from the host, half the people there were also my friends. Once dinner was ready I had no idea if I was meant to join them at the table or not. Where should that invisible professional line be? I cook, and I am proud of what I create. Therefore if invited, I do sit down to dinner, and if not…that is OK too. It’s a business transaction, not personal visit. I might also add that since food is my business, if you do invite me for a personal visit… please do not ask me to bring food (unless I offer). Would you expect your jeweler to bring you diamonds? OK, we would all love that, but realistically?
The Overly Appreciative Client: One of my A-list actor clients seemed to enjoy my food so much, especially The Floating Island for a Crowd (the ultimate in French nursery comfort food), that he would often greet me at the door by throwing his arms around me in appreciation. I had to quietly ask his assistant to discourage this for fear I’d swoon and my legs would buckle when he let go.
The Pound of Flesh Client: We all know them… the people that always want something for nothing, and the more you give, the more they expect. Trying to please them with giving them “extras” will only leave your pockets bare, and your services devalued. It will never be enough. Presenting a polite refusal to unreasonable requests is the only way to win their respect, and hopefully train them to be better clients and people. Otherwise they are just energy vampires, so beware!
The Whipping Boy Client: There have been a couple clients who seemed to think hiring me to cook for them also gave them free license to take their personal frustrations out on me. I was miserable until I realized that just because someone hires you, doesn’t mean you have to cook for them. If they don’t appreciate you, suggest that perhaps someone else might be a better fit (fire them) and move on. Now I know I too, have been guilty of snapping at someone unfairly after spending all day sitting in traffic or listening to a zillion voice prompts before reaching an actual human voice (only to be asked all of the same questions over again). I will never understand why companies think wasting your time is good customer service??? However, I try to be more mindful of this today. When frustrations are misplaced they spread like a virus destroying every one’s day.
I think being a personal chef has put me on a path towards being a better person. I’m still a work in progress. Some days I feel at the top of my game, and others I feel deflated. I can however, almost always count on this Floating Island for a Crowd recipe to rise. I first saw it on an episode of Martha Stewart Living. The flowers are organic, edible flowers. I love to add color to a dish with them.
Floating Island for a Crowd
FOR THE MERINGUE
18 large egg whites — at room temperature 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon cream of tartar 1 cup — plus 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract Nonstick cooking spray
FOR THE CREME ANGLAISE
4 cups half-and-half 12 large egg yolks 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
FOR THE CARAMEL SAUCE
1 cup sugar
1. Prepare the Meringue; Preheat oven to 325° with rack in center. Fill a large roasting pan halfway with water and transfer to oven.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, slowly whisk whites and salt until slightly foamy. Add cream of tartar, and gradually increase the speed to high. Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until meringue is stiff; lower speed and add vanilla, whisking until combined.
3. Spray a 10-inch (15 cup) nonstick angel food-cake pan without a removable bottom using nonstick cooking spray; transfer meringue to pan. Using a rubber spatula, firmly press down on meringue to remove any air pockets, and to smooth the surface.
4. Transfer to prepared roasting pan. Bake until lightly golden and puffed, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and cool completely; meringue will deflate as it cools. Invert into a shallow serving bowl, and chill until ready to serve.
5. Prepare the Crème Anglaise; Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat cream over medium heat until just beginning to steam, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk together yolks and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. While whisking constantly, slowly add 1/4 of the heated cream to yolk mixture, being careful not to cook the yolks. When thoroughly combined, slowly add remaining cream. Transfer yolk mixture back into same saucepan, and set over low heat, stirring and scraping down the sides of the pan with a small heatproof spatula until thickened. Strain crème anglaise through a fine sieve into bowl set in the prepared ice bath. Stir in vanilla. Chill until ready to serve.
6. Prepare the Caramel Syrup; Combine sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Do not stir or allow to boil until sugar is completely dissolved; gently swirl or tilt saucepan to help dissolve. Bring syrup to a boil by increasing to high heat; cook, covered, for 2 minutes. Uncover, and continue to boil untouched until caramel begins to darken; swirl until syrup becomes a dark amber color. Remove from heat, and immediately add 1/3 cup water, being careful to stand back. Swirl until smooth and let cool; chill until ready to serve.
7. When ready to serve, pour enough crème anglaise around meringue to come one-third of the way up the sides. Drizzle meringue with caramel syrup; serve immediately.