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Laura MacDougall grew up loving cooking and eating new things. She regularly helped with the cooking after a weekend of picking local produce, during family dinner parties and holidays, and even made “experimental” dishes for her younger sister. Trips to NYC’s Chinatown offered new challenges for cooking that her family embraced.
Needless to say that Laura’s family was surprised when she headed to college to pursue a chemistry degree. Well, chemistry led to marketing which led to a lot of frustration in the corporate world, and after 10 years, she decided to go back to her first true love.
Home Plate Advantage Personal Chef Service provides cooking for clients in their home, either for small parties, meals for the week, instructional cooking or dinner packages. The service saves the client time, money and frustration by handling all of the menu planning, grocery shopping and cleanup as well as all cooking and serving for parties. Chef Laura uses her own equipment, much as any tradesman would have their tool box. The goal of any service is to provide a delicious, enjoyable and relaxing alternative to dinner.
MO: Where does your love and passion for cooking come from?
Laura: I have grown up with a love of food nurtured by adventurous parents, travel, experiencing different cultures and local offerings. I wanted to know how to make those dishes I loved, and always asked to help in the kitchen. I have to say it is truly something in my DNA. My father taught me no fear in the kitchen with his impromtu cooking sessions, while my mother taught me technique and patience.
MO: What was the process of starting your own catering/private chef business? What were the first steps you took and what was your marketing strategy?
Laura: I was let go from a marketing position April 2008 after a good review from my boss. I decided I needed to find a job I truly loved, without the “politics” of corporate America. I discovered the USPCA and the opportunity to be a personal chef. I decided to go to Atlanta in July 2008 for the Culinary Business Academy’s course on starting a personal chef business, and the rest is history as they say. My initial marketing strategy was to network like crazy to let people know I existed. I found that education was necessary as well, as many did not know what a personal chef was. A lot has changed since then, but I still network. Some small adds, auction donations, and plain guerilla marketing has helped me gain clients and the ever so cherished word of mouth marketing and referrals.
MO: Hiring a personal chef is a bit of a luxury item, especially in this tough economy. How is your business continuing to grow when others are failing?
Laura: When you break down the cost of my service compared with the time, energy and wasted food a client saves, it is really quiet reasonable. An average meal out these days is $15-$18 at a typical chain restaurant. Then you add tip, parking, travel time, and poor nutrition, what have you really saved? Grocery shopping, cooking, cleanup and menu planning can eat away 4-6 hours of your week too. And you haven’t even started cooking! With my service, the food is fresh, prepared exactly how you like it, ready in minutes, and no parking required. Many clients struggle with specialty diets and time issues (lack of mostly). For a few dollars more a meal, I can solve that problem. As for dinner parties, my clients get to be a guest at their own table instead of spending the time in the kitchen. Many clients like that option to not be exhausted by the time their guests arrive.
MO: In this day and age of increased food allergies and sensitivities, have these special dietary requirements challenged your repertoire? Has cooking professionally for others changed or evolved your palate?
Laura: Food sensitivities are a big issue for many of my clients. It has certainly made me very aware of every ingredient, every recipe, and has expanded my thinking to offer great dishes with options to fit every client’s unique need. From vegan to gluten intolerance, dairy, nut, soy and yeast issues, I have found dishes to appeal to and satisfy my clients needs.
MO: You were a chili judge for the Hyannis Fireman’s Chili Cook-off in March for the 4th year in a row. In your opinion, what makes chili outstanding and worthy of winning a competition?
Laura: I will be a Chili Judge this coming March, for the first time. My opinion of a great chili is tender meat with or without beans, great depth of flavor, balanced heat, and whatever they offer – please do not make a watery chili! Chili should be hearty, thick and stick to your ribs. I can’t wait to see the variety!
MO: What would you choose for your last meal?
Laura: Always a tough one. A really good salad – crisp greens, blue cheese and pecans and a wonderful vinaigrette. For the main course, probably a seafood dish – sea bass, calamari, oysters on the half shell. A perfectly baked potato – crisp skin, with sour cream and chives or perfectly cooked grits with cheese, good southern collards, and maybe a nice eggplant side – caponata or baba ganoush. For dessert – anything caramel, ice cream, and crunchy. Or perfect baklava. Did I mention I am very A.D.D. when it comes to food? LOL.
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