Business News - "The Entrepreneurs"


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She's the unseen chef

Gourmet is in and out of your kitchen while you're at work


Staff Writer

Candy Wallace is a veritable galloping gourmet.

Dashing from one residential kitchen to another, the master chef whips up a rainbow of gastronomic delights for working couples too pooped after a hard day's work tostand over a stove.

But what makes Wallace's personal chef service - known as The Serving Spoon - especially appetizing to her dozen or so clients is that she also does the grocery shopping for the meals she prepares.

Moreover, she comes toting her own pots and pans and kindred culinary tools.

"The people I cook for love to come home from work and have the smell of baked salmon or lasagna wafting through the house," Wallace said the other morning, while in the midst of creating five entrees at a client's home in North Park.

On the menu were chicken and rice almondine, linguine smoked turkey, halibut Francisco with artichokes and stewed tomatoes, county French-baked chicken, and turkey cutlets with cranberry and orange sauce.

Wallace planned to cook all the meals that day, leaving the chicken warming in the oven for that night's meal. The other four trays she would wrap and place in the freezer for use by the family later in the week.

"Sometimes, I leave homemade salsa or muffins as a thank you," she said.

The Serving Spoon's rate seem eminently reasonable: $295 for 10 dinners for two people. Discounts also are available for those signing long-term contracts.

For the money, Wallace runs to the grocery store for fresh ingredients, while raiding her well-stocked bins at home for such staples as beans, flour and rice. (She grows a wide array of spices in her own back yard.)

Clients choose from a menu of 57 Thai, Mexican, Italian, East European, Greek andAmerican entrees, as well as a long list of soups and salads. Wallace also offers low-fat, low- or no-salt, no-sugar recipes upon request.

She arrives at the client's home on a specific day at the set time and proceeds to dice onions, mix cucumber-dill sauce, and wok mushrooms.

Typically, she can complete five dinners - from scratch to mop-up - in five to six hours.

Wallace likes to think that the joy she has for the jobs gets translated onto the plates of vittles she serves up.

"I had always heard that if you do what you love, the money will show up, the satisfaction will show up," she said. "I never believed it until now."

Indeed, Wallace - who started the home-based business six months ago - expects to make $50,000 this year on her cooking enterprise.

Formerly, a vice president at a Los Angeles-based warranty company, she left her position after the firm merged with another company and she was offered a post in Oakland.

"I decided right then that I'd never have anything to do with a corporation again," she said.

The idea for The Serving Spoon came to Wallace while cooking a 15 gallon batch of salsa and other goodies for her neighbors and friends last Christmas.

"Everyone knew about my cooking, so I figured why not put it to good use," Wallace said.

Before packing up the ladle and cheese grater on her first call, she spent weeks as an apprentice to a friend, an experienced restaurant chef.

And she closely perused many of the 300 cookbooks in her collection.

"I read cookbooks like other people read novels," she said.

Among the advantages to working in client's kitchens instead of operating out of a storefront location is that she avoiding paying city license fees, skirts time-consuming inspections by the health department and, most importantly, doesn't have to foot pricey lease rates for an office.

Wallace said that most of her customers are married professionals in two-income families.

One client bought Wallace's services for his wife after she gave birth to their sixth child. Another husband signed a Serving Spoon contract as a birthday gift for his mate.

Wallace also cooks for a 16-year old boy whose father is a busy architect and whose mother is an international flight attendant.

"He got tired of eating Price Club food," Wallace said.

Thus far, Wallace has been able to single-handedly feed all her clients. But she plans to hire an assistant-in-training, who will eventually go out to kitchens alone.

Wallace is also sensitive about updating the menu with gourmet treats to satisfy her client's fickle palates.

So she often cooks up new blueplate specials on weekends for the neighbors, who lovingly critique her work.

"It's fun for them, and very useful for me," she said.

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