Happy and Healthy New Year 2014!

As my new business of being a Personal chef took off like I could have never imagined, not in my wildest dreams (I am not complaining!!!), I found myself abandoning my wine reviews and my blog in general. Not that I don’t care, I do – but somehow it’s harder and harder to find the time to write valuable stuff on regular bases.

A big honor to be featured in a company of such a powerful and successful women!
A big honor to be featured in a company of such a powerful and successful women!

I know, it’s not an excuse, one finds the time when one wants to. And I shell do much better job in the upcoming new year 2014. I promise to work on it.

For the time being, as I am preparing a special New Year’s Eve private dinner for one sweet young couple, I would love to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year. This year went by much faster for me – and it’s probably because I had plenty to do. I hope it will stay that way. Thank you for your kind comments, support and loyalty over the years. May your glass be never empty and your table always filled with delicious food!

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How I became a Personal chef Vera

Some of you, who follow my blog, already know that:

1) I moved to Florida (yay!!) and

2) I became a personal chef. How one becomes a personal chef? You love cooking, have a passion for food (and, in my case wine as well), register a business, research all the licensing necessary, obtain all bunch of certificates, join all bunch of associations and basically start cooking!

I have been amazed how, in such a short time, I started to receive requests for my services. Instead of thinking about my marketing approach, I am getting requests from potential customers!!! Yes, you read it right – I couldn’t believe it myself! I must have joined the right industry!


You know, I came to U.S.A. from formerly communist country. Even though there is a democracy the last 23 years, the options I have here in United States of America as a starting business are something my friends back in my home country can only dream of! The idea that owners of the successful businesses would donate their time and resources to help starting businesses succeeded,  is something that sounds like science-fiction there.

Because I can compare, having lived in both worlds, I am honestly very grateful for all the opportunities, tools and options I have at my disposal to help me start my business the right way. So I decided to share with you what I found to help me achieve my dream!

The first, absolutely great thing I did was to become a member of American Personal & Private Chef Association. American associationIn order to join, one has to be an accomplished chef (professional or amateur), insured as a business and registered in his or hers state. I have done all that and got a lot of  tools to improve, learn and start my small business. Just to be able to exchange ideas and experiences with fellow chefs is worth a lot. Not to mention an exchange of tested and proven great recipes, shared among chefs.

Before I even had my own website, I have received a question from some lady, who found me at the APPCA (you can search there for a personal or private chef by state and county) – she was looking for a gift certificate for her parents. She never got back to me after I responded, but at least she “kicked me” to quickly set up my website for Vera’s Home Kitchen.   To be a member of this Association gives me another level of recognition, credentials, add seriousness and professionalism to my business.

Chamber of commerceA very important help presented itself from joining a local Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. The amount of information I can get as a member, the events I can join to meet other business owners and introduce each other about what we do, is simply amazing. That is, if you participate in some of the many different events, classes, courses, breakfasts… etc. that Chamber prepares and organizes. It is easy to build relationships while learning about the community that is new to me. Not to be sexists, but I also noticed that being a female owner of the business has its own benefits and extra events just for us, women in business!

The latest benefit I received from joining Chamber, is a chance to have a 30 seconds of professionally produced promo video prepared (a service, donated by one of the members to new members that joined in the month of July). Of course, I took advantage of that! So here I am, sharing with you my first ever professionally done video …  hoping for your comments! Please be kind ♥

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Wine buying in Florida

I recently visited Florida for a short pre-Christmas vacation. It was sweet to feel warm, embracing breeze in the middle of the winter, especially coming from the place where current temperature doesn’t go above 39F right now.  We were visiting family and friends, and I also wanted to research the current wine environment in Boca Raton.

I kept hearing from everybody: “You must see this new wine store, called Total Wine & More! You have never seen anything like that!  It’s fantastic, it’s like a warehouse, but nicer. They have such a huge selection and the best prices!”

Wow, everybody we knew, was shopping there and talking about it.

After few days in Florida, I could see why. Their radio and TV advertising were running like they had never ending budget. We went to check it out one Saturday afternoon.

Being from the trade, I wasn’t so impressed with the size of the store (I have seen stores of that size before) but I must admit, the layout was nicely done and their selection was quite impressive. Although, I can imagine some people may get humbled by the size of the store and its selection, if they don’t know what they are looking for, exactly.

We noticed a friendly staff in uniforms (the store is claiming to be very educated and ready to help). I didn’t ask any questions so I can’t testify here. I am sure the management  knew that knowledgeably staff is needed in this size of the wine shop. A nice surprise for me was to find familiar wines, much cheaper than in my home state, CT.

It was a weekend, so there were several wine tastings going on throughout the store, and that easily caught my attention. I came to the first table to check out what this very friendly young men was pouring – and realized he had my favorite Spanish wines!

The gentleman was Pablo de Simon, the winemaker of Bodegas de la Marquesa Valserrano. Now, that’s impressive! That doesn’t happen every day – walking into a wine store and getting a chance to taste wines with the winemaker itself. We started to chat about Rioja and I tasted all his wines.
His wines were very soothing, approachable and priced well. I particularly liked his Reserva and Grand Reserva.

Yes, we ended up buying Bodegas de la Marquesa Valserrano Reserva for ourselves. I would buy more wines, if I were home, but the idea that I will try to fly them back north wasn’t too tempting. Unfortunately, as he told me, his wines are not available in Connecticut.

Looking for something simpler and fruity to bring to a party, Pablo left his station to introduce me to his friend Rafael – who was pouring wines from Portugal, near by. Another round of tasting, starting with refreshing Vinho Verde. I liked them all, particularly his ports. Despite the concerns about traveling with wine, I couldn’t resist and ended up buying his 10 years old Tawny. (My husband will find it under the Christmas tree, pssst).

As much as I like my wine dry, I love my ports rich and sweet. We also ended up buying a bottle of Quinta de Ventozelo Douro Q.V 2008, an amazing fruity, smooth, easy to drink red wine, crowd pleaser, for about $ 8. Lovely!

As Pablo recommended, the store was selling great shipping option – a plastic cover that seals the bottle into a bubble bag, with a waterproof seal. Perfect idea! We brought the bottle home in my suitcase, without any problems.

The Total Wines store also provided a printed catalog of wines they carry. I took one out of curiosity, without knowing that I will need it the very next day. One of my friends approached me to recommend a selection of richer, fruity reds for his Christmas party. I wanted to go and buy few samples to let him taste it first, but his busy schedule didn’t allow that.

So I sat down, opened the Total Wine’s catalog and searched for wines I tasted, and I would recommend, based on his preferences. I ended up making him a list of approximately 15 wines in a different price point to choose from.  Our friend ran to the store the very next day, curious what I picked for him. He called me the next day that more than 5 wines from my list (picked from the catalog that Total Wine claims to carry) they didn’t have.

Somebody who spends a lot of money to advertise that they are America’s Wine Superstore and carry over 8,000 wines – should deliver on their ad. I was disappointed at myself for believing it. Here I am, voluntarily trying to get them a business, sending a friend there to get his Christmas wine shopping done at one store. I understand that they can be out of stock on stuff. But 1/3 of my list of wines they are claiming to carry? In December, which is a biggest season for any wine shop?  If I only knew. I would go and picked only wines that were physically on the shelf.

When I was in business of selling wine, I would rather under-promise and over-deliver. It worked miracles.

I guess some businesses are working the other way around. It is a very impressive claim in their ad, but disappointing result.

How about spending some of that advertising budget on the inventory, especially when it’s the holiday season? That’s the buyers time of the year, right now!

Other than that, it was a really nice store and pleasant experience. I learned they are located in many more places within Florida and other states of U.S. You should check it out for yourself.

And, by the way, Boca Raton was really beautiful during the Christmas time!!!