While your favorite cooking show might be a great way to learn a new recipe or skill, nothing will ever beat having an actual chef in your kitchen to show it to you. However, most people don’t get that opportunity. Until now.
Using the tools that are readily available in nearly every kitchen, The Practical Chef, Craig Nassar, will come into your home and teach you how to use them all effectively. In many cases you don’t need a fancy gadget like the people on TV use, something similar is most likely hiding in a cupboard or drawer in your home. With over 20 years of experience behind him, it is likely that Craig will be able to help you in your cooking endeavors.
Tell us a little about The Practical Chef.
I’m a Culinary Institute of America Graduate and Certified Executive Chef with over 20 years of experience. I’ve been a Chef in New York City, Boston, Phoenix, and Austin Texas. I started in the industry when I was 14 years old working as a cleaning kid in butcher shops in my hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York. I then became an apprentice butcher and then moved on to working in restaurants. I’ve cooked for such celebrities as… Jackie O, Donald Trump, Margaret Thatcher, John Gotti, Muhammad Ali, Jamie Lee Curtis, Telly Savalis and Peter Falk.
The Practical Chef offers personal and private chef services, in-home cooking classes, cooking parties, catering and party platters.
What inspired you to start your business?
After working in the hospitality industry for over 20 years my daughter Olivia was born in 1998. That year I went to work on Christmas day at 6:00am and came home at 10:00pm at night. I thought it was time to move out of the kitchens and move into hospitality sales if I was going to have any quality time with my daughter. I did that for about 10 years. A few years ago I started the Practical Chef business on the side. I started getting busy and found I was turning away business because I needed to concentrate on my full time job. So about 6 months ago I sat down with my wife Cindy and decided to leave corporate America and go full time into The Practical Chef. I so missed cooking full time that I decided it was time to do what I loved to do again full time.
Besides cooking, what are some of the other skills you teach your clients?
One of the most important things I teach my clients is knife skills. What I found is that most people don’t like to cook at home because of the time it takes to cut up the ingredients that are needed, not so much the time it takes to actually prepare the recipe. The time I spend teaching clients this skill seems to give them the biggest reward. Time is money and when you save people time they couldn’t be happier. Once they get better with the knife, the cooking skills will fall into place. I also teach proper food sanitation as well as take clients to the grocery to give them tips on the best way to pick the best product and remain cost effective.
While many people don’t have the fancy tools that the people on cooking shows have, you mentioned that many people have an alternative to some of those tools in their own kitchens and just don’t know it. What are some of the most common tools seen on TV and their everyday kitchen alternatives?
What I found watching the cooking shows is that they use the newest and best equipment and tools. We know that part of the reason for these shows is to sell things. Don’t get me wrong a lot of these shows as well as the chefs who host them are very good at what they do but they have the advantage of advertisers giving them any and every tool on the market. Gadgets are a big item not needed in every kitchen. For example, the garlic press, nice to have but not necessary. You have a knife you can use. The lemon juicer, the exact 4-quart saucepan or whatever size they may tell you that you need. I usually can go to those cabinets in every person’s kitchen and find a pan that will work. Knifes are another big one that clients get sucked into. They went out and bought a 10-piece knife set that cost way to much money because on the cooking show they use every utility knife ever made and they just sit there on their kitchen counter. The reality is you need 3 knifes. A good JAPANESE KNIFE, a paring knife and an offset serrated knife and if you love fish and your going to be filleting, a boning knife. At the end of the day there was one time that I walked into a clients kitchen to teach them how to make a pan seared chicken filet with a tarragon veloute sauce and they didn’t have the tools needed and that was because they had no tools. I took them shopping!
Take us for a walk down memory lane. What are some of the most notable past experiences you’ve had in the food industry that had a positive impact on your current business?
There are so many. My time at the Culinary Institute of America was very notable for two reasons. The first being trained by European master chefs whose love of food and knowledge of how to prepare it was inspiring. And secondly, that the world at the CIA was a dream and not a reality. Let me explain, at the CIA 18 people cook for maybe 50 people in a perfect environment. In the real food service world this never happens. Its usually the opposite, you’ll have 4 or 5 people cooking for 200 people in a kitchen about as big as a large walk in closet. But I loved both experiences and learned from both. I have so many stories. I write about them on my blog and I’m thinking I may try to have them published. We’ll see.
What are some of your long-term goals?
Leading provider of “Executive Lunches”, to bustling Tucson executives. I noticed the demands placed on corporate executives under the gun to deliver in increasingly challenging times are having some undesirable and potentially dangerous effects. “Non-stop pressure to deliver, increases more than the bottom line, it often results in a work life-style that increases executive’s waistlines and their risk of disease”. I believe this is where I can step in and help. I was where they were at one time and had the waistline to prove it.
Mid afternoon lethargy and brain fatigue can be blamed on a high sugar/caffeine powered breakfast with a greasy cheeseburger on top for lunch. Combine that foggy afternoon feeling with the normal office stress, the rush of meeting hopping, preparing for tomorrow’s presentation, plus balancing the needs of a home life, and it’s no wonder America’s top executives are dragging.
But now, I would like to offer another more healthy and fresh choice “Executive Lunches”, bustling Tucson C-levelers can get delicious and nutritious lunches delivered right to their offices.
I would also like to purchase my own commercial demo kitchen where I could give cooking classes. I love to teach and this is something that will happen in the near future.
What are some of the lessons you have learned from your business?
Always give the customer what they want. Ask lots of questions so I’m able to understand what they want. Never assume anything. I’ve learned that response time is critical in growing my business. Respond to perspective client immediately. Also never under sell myself and my service and product. I learned this one the hard way. And lastly always remain hands on. Never take your eye off the ball. The small things, the details are what gains repeat business.
What are some of the top tips you offer clients when they just get started?
Anything is possible. Don’t get totally caught up with the recipe. Cooking is trial and error. Sometimes a little of this ingredient and a pinch of that can make for a great dish. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Some of my best dishes came from grabbing something out of the fridge that wasn’t in the recipe and adding it.
Do you have any advice that you’d like to offer fellow chefs and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Make sure you really love food. Its very hard work, its long hours, you work weekends and holidays. Basically when other people are relaxing and having fun, you’re working. But if you love the food and watching people enjoying your food, it’s the best feeling in the world. Anthony Bourdain was asked this question once and I totally agree with his response and thought I would share it…”Single-mindedness, a willingness to sacrifice early. Endurance, a refusal to lower their standards. Good instinct for human nature — not just for customers but also for the people you’re working with. And an ability to look inside yourself and recognize what you do well at and what you don’t do well.”
The other thing I tell people is, don’t buy into the restaurant or catering business if you have not worked in the industry or have not done a lot of homework. The failure rate is 60% for new restaurants. So if you are considering a restaurant or catering business, make sure you know what it’s going to cost you to open and have a hard and fast idea of how long you can lose money before you have to “pull the plug”. I’ve seen people get into this business who just see the glamour of owning your own business, sitting at your bar with your friends. Sorry it just doesn’t work that way.