Everything Must Go

 

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After much hemming and hawing, I have finally made the decision I should have made long ago. I am closing this blog.

When I started this site it was way back in 2012. I was new to veganism and excited to learn and grow right along with my readers. Ultimately, my passion for the plant-based lifestyle led me to quit my nine to five job and become a personal chef!

As I continue to evolve, I find myself led to other avenues of interest, away from the cooking, photo-taking and recipe posting which had become my regular practice for the past six years.

Lately when I think of posting here it feels more like an obligation than an authentic desire. This is how I know it’s time to move on, for real, instead of allowing the blog to languish the way I have, unattended while I wrestle with indecision.

I thank all of you who have taken the time to visit and of course most of all, to comment and encourage me to keep creating content here in what has become a food diary of sorts, and certainly a historical document of my journey, both creative and personal, through my life in food.

 

David Lynch’s Quinoa With Broccoli

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I found myself inspired the other night by David Lynch’s short film, Quinoa, included as a special feature on his Inland Empire DVD. Filmed in black and white, in his own kitchen, the innovative filmmaker and artist leads us step-by- step through the preparation of one of his favorite dinners, quinoa with broccoli.

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While the dish cooks, Lynch takes a break on his porch with a glass of wine and a cigarette and tells us a story about his 1965 train ride from Yugoslavia to Italy. So random, yet so fascinating. So Lynch.

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Quinoa with Broccoli

from the short film, Quinoa by David Lynch

 

Ingredients:

A scant 1/2 cup quinoa, dry

Water for cooking

pinch of salt

1 small vegetable bouillon cube, cut into pieces

3/4 cup organic broccoli florets

Braggs liquid aminos, to taste

Olive oil, extra virgin, to taste

Method:

Fill a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan with about an inch of fresh water. Set it over a nice, hot flame and bring to the boil with a pinch of sea salt. Stir in the quinoa and reduce flame to low. Cover and simmer for 9 minutes.

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After 9 minutes, lift the lid and add the broccoli. Cover and continue to steam over low heat for another 8 minutes.

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Remove from heat and add the cut up bouillon cube directly into quinoa and stir until dissolved.

Taste for salt, then add liquid aminos and a splash of olive oil to taste. Serve immediately.

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Makes 1 large portion.

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So You Want To Be a Personal Chef…

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I love cooking vegan and couldn’t imagine anything else I would rather do for a job. Becoming a vegan personal chef five years ago was a passion project for me– an outgrowth of my own personal journey.

Advice

The key for me in the beginning was to become practiced and comfortable with cooking vegan for myself and my family in order to feel confident sharing it as a business. It is also fun to do a a couple of practice cook dates for willing family or friends. I did one for my mom, who is not vegan, but she appreciated the food just the same, and truly enjoyed it.

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Client Food                                 Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

 

There are a couple of great books out there on operating a personal chef business. You can find them on Amazon.com. I use my local library for most of my recipe research, keeping a revolving collection of vegan cookbooks on loan from which I have drawn much of my inspiration.

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Client Kitchen (job site)               Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

 

I think it is very important to have a web presence, a website, facebook page, blog, etc. I started the blog mostly for fun–a place to bring my overflow of energy and creativity. A personal chef is a luxury for most people, so, in my mind, I need to be as find-able as possible when a prospective client is looking for me, rather than focusing on persuasive and expensive advertising.  This is just my opinion.

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My Chef Kit and Me

 

My Story

I came to the personal chef business in a roundabout way. After working in the local restaurant, hotel, country club business for fifteen years, I decided to attend culinary school in the evenings at Lincoln Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach (formerly Florida Culinary Institute).

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First Quarter, Chef Instructor Birney and Me

As a single mom with two kids, I found it difficult securing a job after graduation that paid enough to meet my family’s bills.

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Our Little Family

 

My predominant experience was in dining room work and the transition to the commercial hot-line kitchen wasn’t easy in a male-dominated profession at the time (1995).

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Final Project Buffet Event, Chef Boetcher and Me

 

I ended up working as a pastry chef for $9.00 an hour for the gourmet restaurant operated by the school.  But even with supplemental income from waiting tables on weekends, I couldn’t seem to make ends meet.

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Pastry Chef (me) and Line Cook George Patton

 

I opted for a job as a dining room manager and did that  for a few years, but as time went on and my kids became adolescents they required more supervision at home and restaurant hours are long and late, especially for management.

With a heavy heart, I left the food business for a steady nine to five job working in local government and that’s where I stayed for thirteen years before finally making the move to what I really enjoy doing.

By this time, my kids had safely completed the passage from teens to young adults and I was married to a wonderfully supportive partner. We went vegan in 2011 and for me, there was really no other choice if I wanted to practice what I love–than to do my own thing, as there were very few vegan restaurants locally. Finding clients at first was challenging, but after two years I was up and running steadily—and quit my full-time job soon after.

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Darbster Restaurant, Me and Steve

 

If becoming a vegan personal chef is something you are considering, I suggest  you seek out vegan/vegetarian organizations in your area and vegan eateries to get a feel for the demographic. What is the local culture like? Is there a vegan community in your area? Can they afford a personal chef? You may want to take a job working in a vegan establishment for awhile, to gain practice with producing food for others in a commercial context and also to get recipe ideas.

Although I have a background in culinary arts, there are many successful self-taught personal chefs in the field. I think passionate interest and engagement however, is key in landing regular clients and providing a positive experience for clients.

I’ll be talking more about the specific technical aspects in upcoming posts, but it’s really very simple and inexpensive to get started. Just make sure you check with your local governing agency to find out what is required in terms of licensing or taxation. This is usually very minimal, but keeps the city’s interests at bay.

I believe there is no “right” path to becoming a chef. Each of us has our own area of interest and ambitions. I would say the best advice is to follow your own intuition, because in the culinary world the options are endless!

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Melanie daPonte, Vegan Personal Chef          Photo credit:  Melanie daPonte

Success is not always linear. Like life, it can be a winding path with plenty of detours! But if you are passionate about your interests, follow them and they can only lead you to where you are meant to be!

 

April 2018 Menu!

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I have moved to an all-in-one, meal-in-a-box format this Spring. It seems to be the best way to keep reheating as simple as possible for my clients. I used to offer the mains with choice of soups and sides, but I think it got too complicated that way–too many menu choices to make and then the assembly later– and most of my families are time-starved to begin with!

What do you think??

Coconut Chana Saag

Chickpeas, tomatoes, Lacinato kale, ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric, coconut milk, lime, cilantro, basmati rice

 

Portobello Stroganoff

Organic Portobello caps, garden peas, onions, garlic, tamari, sour cream, touch of sherry, GF pasta

 

Thai Green Curry Bowl

Coconut-roasted tofu, mixed vegetables, herbs, green curry, coconut milk, Florida organic brown rice

 

Scaloppini Marsala

Scaloppini, cremini mushrooms, onion, garlic, Marsala sauce, steamed spinach, mashed sweet potatoes

 

Adzuki Quinoa Bowl

Adzuki beans, mixed peppers, onions, garlic, chili and cumin, tri-colored quinoa, cilantro-lime chimichurri

 

Franks and Beans

Smoky, hand-crafted and steamed franks, baked beans, homemade barbecue sauce, creamy coleslaw

 

Sesame-Grilled Tofu

Organic pressed tofu, tamari, toasted sesame oil, Szechuan broccoli, red peppers, onions, black rice

 

Black Bean Burgers

Black beans, cilantro, cumin, green onions, cilantro-lime mayo, honey-mustard kale salad on side

 

Grits, Greens and Beans

Sauteed green kale, shallots, garlic, simmered black-eyed peas, tomatoes, smoky grilled polenta cakes

 

Firehouse Chili with Gluten-Free Corn Muffins

Red beans, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, chili powder, lime sour cream, GF corn muffins

 

Mushroom Lentil Sloppy Joes

Cremini mushrooms, French lentils, onions, green peppers, rich tomato sauce, Ezekiel whole-grain buns, creamy coleslaw on the side

 

Barbecue Tempeh

Smoky oven-roasted tempeh with homemade barbecue sauce, sweet corn, zucchini, bell peppers, GF cornbread

 

Hearts of Palm Cakes

Hearts of palm, mirepoix, bell peppers, parsley, roasted sweet potatoes, Creole remoulade

Recommended Viewing for New Vegans

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There are various reasons to go vegan. Whether for the environment,  compassion for animals, global concerns, health, weight loss–they are all good reasons.

There is a wealth of information out there and it can be overwhelming for the newbie. If your focus is on personal health, and breaking the cycle of disease stemming from the standard western diet, here are a couple of movies I highly recommend. Both are available for streaming on Netflix.

“Forks Over Knives”

 

“What The Health”

 

Gratitude After The Storm

IMG_6527As Palm Beach County recovers from the disastrous effects of Hurricane Irma, there are  so many still without power, so many who haven’t returned from wherever they fled to find safety. Palm Beach Gardens was spared the worst of the damage, once again dodging a devastating bullet.

In my neighborhood I’ve watched the lights come back on painstakingly slow, one street at a time…until finally came our turn, last night around 6 p.m.

I ventured out this morning for the first time after three days without electricity, television or internet.  Tree branches and debris are piled neatly along the city streets where almost all the traffic lights are back in working order. There’s a long wait at the railroad crossing, something is holding up the train. But I don’t care. I’m just happy to be here. The sun feels warm on my skin. After spending days inside a humid house, it’s a revelation.

My local Whole Foods Market is back up and running, almost fully stocked. Life feels back to normal. Almost. I pick up a few things and then stop by the library to return my books. The parking lot is packed with cars. As busy as I’ve ever seen it. Familiar faces mingle with refugees from nearby towns. A cool place to relax for awhile. I find a nice new stack of hold items ready to pick up. My usual mix of cookbooks, novels, music and movies.

Everywhere I go today the vibe is one of calm, almost reverence. People are polite, helpful. Yielding to let the other pass. At Publix the woman bagging my perfectly ripe avocado, my organic bananas, my fresh cilantro, asks me how I am doing.

“I’m feeling so grateful today.”

“Me too,” she smiles.

The cashier nods in agreement.

“Would you like to donate a dollar to the hurricane relief fund?”

“Yes! Can you make it five??”

Incredibly fortunate. Incredibly humbled.

Incredibly grateful.

 

 

Top Ten Everyday Vegan Recipes

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I have certain recipes in my home kitchen’s steady rotation week after week, month after month. These are my go-to staples because we enjoy them so much. Some  are featured here on the blog, and the rest will be featured in upcoming posts!

  1. Tofu Scramble
  2. Cheezy Sauce
  3. Marinara Sauce
  4. Buffalo Sauce
  5. Peanut Sauce
  6. Tofu Ricotta
  7. Italian Dressing
  8. Taco “Beef”
  9. Thai Coconut Curry Sauce (red or green)
  10. Hummus

 

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