Food = Love.
I know some people say it shouldn’t, but for me it really does. I love everything about food. Obviously, I love eating food, but more than that, I love talking about it. I can chew your ear off about a recipe, a restaurant, or a dinner party menu for hours. I’m pretty sure I talk about food more than I talk about my own kids, which is saying a lot.
Food equals love for me so much so that, 3 years ago, I decided to start my own cooking class business. After 15 years spent working in “Corporate America”, becoming a small business owner with an employee list of me, myself & I was pretty freakin’ scary. Before launching The Balaboosta Chef, I spend 9 months talking about it. I talked about my idea to everyone: at dinner with my girlfriends, at family gatherings and in passing in the preschool hallways. When I wasn’t talking about it, I was thinking about it: on my neighborhood runs, in the shower and while driving carpool. The fact that it took me exactly 9 months to turn this extremely vague idea of wanting to do something food related and get paid for it, into a fully conceptualized cooking service with a website and a tax id number is not a coincidence. Starting a business is like growing a baby, it doesn’t happen overnight without a miracle.
I had no idea what would happen after sending my initial launch email out into the universe. It was the greatest risk I’d ever taken in my life (aside from passing my older sister’s birth certificate off as my own at the DMV to get a fake ID). I prayed the classic Field of Dreams mantra “If you build it, they will come” would prove true, but in reality, I could only envision two possible outcomes: either this works and I make money, or this fails and I don’t. Both assume a success measured solely by financial gains. I laugh now at how those two scenarios seemed mutually exclusive at the time.
I’ve certainly learned a lot in the last three years, and not just about what it means to be successful. In fact, I’ve discovered many surprising things about myself that I never recognized before I started my own business.
Surprise #1: I am not a thin-skinned person…
…said the girl who cries over EVERYTHING. Seriously, I can’t make it through a wedding speech, an Olympics commercial or the three personalized sentences from the teacher on the bottom of my kid’s report cards without crying. I am truly a sensitive soul. Cooking for someone is like performing a one-woman show, night after night. My personality and my talent are on full display, ready to be critiqued. I know not everyone is going to like me, and I certainly don’t assume everyone is going to like my food. I don’t even expect everyone to pretend to like my food. I’ve had longtime clients taste a dish and tell me they don’t like it to my face. And guess what? It doesn’t make me cry. It doesn’t even hurt my feelings. I can listen to an entire U2 album on repeat and I’m always going to skip over Elevation because I personally cannot stand the song. But it doesn’t make me like or respect Bono any less. As the saying goes, you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Surprise #2: My job is a source of pride for my kids.
I expected my mom to like and comment on every food picture I post on Facebook and Instagram. And she does. I knew my husband would praise the constant stream of recipe-tested gourmet dinners presented on our kitchen table night after night. Come on, he’s no dummy. But it never occurred to me that my kids would be so proud of me. They act as if they run the Balaboosta in-house PR department. My daughter tapes my business cards onto her school notebooks, and draws my logo into her artwork. She sings my praises to everyone she meets. Literally. Last week, she screamed “THE BALABOOSTA CHEF IS THE BEST COOK EVER!” out the window as I was driving her to swim team practice. It may be a little much at times, but seeing their undying pride is a major source of my inspiration.
Surprise #3: I am a very hard worker.
I was the girl who never studied for an exam. The friend who wrote term papers the night before they were due. Growing up, our kitchen table was a built-in corner booth, perfect for positioning myself deeply wedged into that corner seat, blocked in by everyone, ensuring I never had to get up to grab the ketchup from the fridge or take my own plate to the sink. In fact, for a person who loves to exercise, I’m a pretty physically lazy human being. And now, I stand on my feet in my kitchen for hours on end as my job. I run from supermarket to supermarket in search of the best ingredients. I haul heavy food processors and All-Clad pots and pans to clients kitchens to make sure they have the equipment for our class. I pack up groceries, then unpack groceries, then repack them again. I recipe-test all day until the kids come home from school, then continue working after their bedtime, until I get it just right. At the end of the day, I’m tired, I’m achy and I desperately want to be on the couch watching Andy Cohen and his bevy of Bravolebrities, but I love it.
Surprise #4: I’m a creative person.
My retail career can be summed up as number-crunching, accuracy-to-the-hundredth-decimal-point analysis paralysis. I thought that was my wheelhouse. I’m a perfectionist. I’m detail oriented. I like when things add up. I rocked the math section of my SATs. But give me a blank piece of paper and tell me to be expressive and I freeze. It’s a longstanding joke in our family that I have no vision. My husband is the creative one. He once made me a patio table out of wood and plumbing pipes, while I’d rather dutifully follow the enumerated instructions of an Ikea manual. And yet, cooking has helped me find my creative voice. Every recipe I test is an experiment. It’s never perfect the first time, and I’m constantly learning from my mistakes. More than anything else, it’s my clients that keep me thinking outside of the box. Their special requests to create recipes that fit specific dietary restrictions, food preferences and busy schedules challenge me and inspire me to raise the bar for them every time.
Surprise #5: Money isn’t everything, and it certainly isn’t the only thing.
While I started my own business to make money, I didn’t expect that the smaller benefits of working would mean so much more to me than a growing bank account. I’ve found that my job feeds my soul, as well as our bellies. It helps keep the daily frustrations of being a mom in perspective. It gives me a front row seat to happiness. I know I’m not saving the world, but I love seeing the joy in people’s faces when they tell me their kids devoured the dinner they learned to cook in one of my classes. Or that their husband complimented them on a meal for the first time in ages. My job has allowed me to cultivate meaningful friendships with people I would never have met otherwise, special relationships that I truly value and adore that make my life fuller. How many people can say that about their “coworkers”? And while money is important for paying bills and summer camp tuitions, at the end of the day it’s not the dollar signs that motivate me.
As we get older, it’s easy to get stuck in our comfortable little boxes. We label ourselves and think there’s no way we’ll ever change. Breaking out of my comfort zone has helped me to flex muscles I never even knew I had. What an unexpected and valuable reward gained from taking a risk. Yet another reason why Food equals Love.
For more on Jennifer visit The Balaboosta Chef