When most people hear the term personal chef, they picture uber-wealthy families on sprawling estates or jet-setting celebrities who employ cooks, trainers, and other service help in their entourage. As glamorous or indulgent as it may seem, using the services of a personal chef at home isn’t that unusual in today’s hectic world. As busy professionals and parents are finding that time truly is the biggest luxury, the demand for schedule-saving services is reaching an all-time high. While most locals are just happy with the arrival of delivery services from local restaurants and grocery items in recent years, there is a way to truly up your food game, and it has nothing to do with the takeout fare. Read on to learn more about Jessi, and to find two all-new recipes that will be featured in her upcoming book.
If you’ve ever hosted a dinner party, only to find yourself overwhelmed getting everything on the table or unavailable to entertain your guests due to countless kitchen duties, then you know that hosting isn’t always the easiest thing to execute. There’s also the shopping, that missing (key) ingredient you forgot to pick up, all of the prep, and the dreaded post-meal clean up. During a busy time at work or with family obligations, even those who love cooking are often just too buried to manage it all.
Thankfully, there is someone that you can call to take care of that. With more culinarily curious talent available in Nashville than ever, finding a qualified individual for help with all things food and cooking is as easy as making up a grocery list. Certain professionals can elevate a typical dining experience to the level of award-winning restaurants while others can help you keep your health and diet in check on a daily basis. There are several that can do both.
One of those that has piqued my interest recently is the amazing Jessi Waltz and her innovative business aptly named Garnish Nashville. Just scrolling through her Instagram account (@garnishnashville) is enough to make mouths water, but it’s her story and enthusiasm that truly get your attention. She’s incredibly knowledgeable, well-spoken, but also bubbly in personality. Her lovely home is well-appointed but casual, which is a direct reflection of the woman.
She’s not only passionate about food and nutrition but creative with presentation and generally just an enjoyable person to be around. I spent a bit of time in her gorgeous kitchen just trying to soak up a few home chef secrets and ended up finding out so much more. She’s a wealth of information that she doesn’t mind sharing with her clients and our EDIT readers.
From Corporate to Cook
After graduating from college and spending several years working as a health care industry executive in New York, Jessi was starting to feel the effects of burnout. For a release, she got creative in the kitchen. A serious illness in her family resulted in her moving back here (her hometown), where she took a job working in large commercial real estate project management. She was still cooking for family and friends but continued with her hectic base in the corporate world. In her mind, she was doing what was expected from someone with her degree and position, but it wasn’t filling her cup – not by a long shot. In dealing with the health scare in her family she started to ask herself what she really wanted. Her boyfriend directed her to think about how she would fill her days if she could choose anything. The answer was an easy one, as she is the happiest cooking, serving, and entertaining. The next step was to figure out how to make her love for the activity work as a job. From there, she gained technical skills and kitchen know-how from a top-tier chef and was on her way to developing Garnish. Because she had dabbled in music a bit, she began by doing studio meals for recording companies and artists. She focused on high-protein meals with lots of vegetables, upping energy levels, and avoiding the typical starch fatigue that comes from the most takeout fare. She was in demand instantly via word-of-mouth referrals. From there, she just hasn’t stopped.
Finding Joy Every Day
Jessi explains that she has never regretted her decision to embark on her culinary journey rather than climbing the corporate ladder. She is happier than she has ever been and being overbooked or on her feet for endless hours isn’t a negative. “Taking this path has been so much more rewarding than I ever imagined. I started cooking to give to others and to care for my family and ended up shaping a career that I love. Being in this happy and fulfilled state also makes me a better partner, sister, daughter, and friend,” she says. “I believe the core of my work is devoted to making memories, which is what the dinner table is all about.” She also feels completely connected while working. “There is something beautiful about the process; the chopping, creating and even the clean-up and putting things away. For me, it is the perfect exercise in control.” She goes on to explain that the ethos of her overall brand and purpose is helping and inspiring others, which feels like she’s doing something good every day. Giving back and volunteering are also important in her new world. She is passionate about The Nashville Food Project and other organizations where she connects regularly with other like-minded industry professionals.
Doing it All
One of Jessi’s specialties is taking care of individuals and families with special dietary restrictions or allergies. She doesn’t do repeat meals and can get surprisingly creative even with the most limiting restrictions. ‘I take every step of the job very seriously, with flavor being just as important as nutrition. I always use organic ingredients and am very authentic and transparent with clients about this. She loves taking a comfort food dish and creating a healthier version. It’s a daily activity no matter what she’s cooking. Her roster of customers is as varied as her meal-plan list and she shifts gears depending on needs and expectations. For some, it is teaching them how to cook (and enjoy it) themselves. For others, it is full-service with shopping, prepping, and serving multiple meals weekly. She will even stock the pantry with healthy, handmade snack options. Oh, and she hosts cooking classes for groups on a regular rotation. No wonder she doesn’t have a single client that hasn’t ended up being a personal friend, which is a source of pride for Jessi.
She Shines At Night
One of the biggest perks of running Garnish is getting to create special dinner parties for clients. It doesn’t matter if the event is for four or forty as she has a solid list of trustworthy professionals on call to assist for various occasions. “I have sommeliers that come in to do wine pairings or craft cocktail service to kick off an evening. I also set up complete supper clubs for groups of friends and even help getting florals and tableware that suits the occasion,” she gushes. She describes herself and those she employees as being big on service and professionalism, which is likely why Garnish is growing at such a rapid pace. If a sit-down dinner isn’t in the cards, that is totally fine as she delights in making ‘tiny food’ that graces serving platters at cocktail parties and layering grazing tables or stations for milestone events. No request (at least not yet) is too much of a challenge for this smiling chef. After she wraps her client projects, it is very likely that you will find her own dining table filled with those she personally hosts ‘just for fun’ several times each month.
One to Watch
Be sure to keep an eye out for Jessi’s upcoming video series on YouTube. She’s in the process of creating a total of 10 different episodes that she describes as her version of a Master Class called Basic to Better. Content will range from budget-friendly solutions such as “How to Host a Dinner Party for 6 for less than $100” to variations on plating and presentation to take your weeknight game up a notch. Watch for details on the series and find out more about her top meal tips on NashvilleEdit.com. We’ve also included an online round-up of other local home chef services for your family and gatherings from small to large. Trust us, it’s bookmark material!
Celery Root Purée
- 2 pounds celery root (about 3 medium without stalks and leaves), peeled and cubed
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 12 whole cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- A small bundle of thyme, oregano & rosemary wrapped in cooking twine
- 1 large parsnip, peeled and cubed
- 3 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
- 2 T salt (for pot) + salt to taste once puréed
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or dairy substitute
- Chopped parsley, for garnish
- In a large stockpot, combine celery root, onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsnip & broth with the 2 T of salt. Bring to a boil & reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer 20-30 minutes until vegetables are very soft.
- Drain all but 1/2 cup of the broth & return to pan or put in a food processor. Remove bay leaf & bundle of herbs. Add cream & butter, salt & pepper to taste. Blend with an immersion blender or on the food processor until smooth.
- Garnish with some fresh parsley & serve warm with your favorite protein!
Bacon-Wrapped Figs & Goat Cheese
- 1 lb organic bacon, thinly sliced & cut in half
- 24 dried figs
- 1 cup goat (or greek) yogurt
- 4 oz herbed goat cheese
- 1/4 c milk/cream or milk sub
- Balsamic glaze
- A handful of arugula, for garnish
- Toothpicks or skewers
- Prepare a baking sheet with a slice of parchment paper & preheat oven to 375*F.
- Wrap each fig with half a slice of bacon & place on parchment paper, seam side down. Continue until all figs are wrapped. Bake for 12-15 minutes on center rack until bacon begins to crisp & is cooked through. Remove from oven & skewer through the center of each piece.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the yogurt, goat cheese & milk, crushing and whisking until well blended.
- On a serving platter, place a teaspoon worth dollop in dots on your tray. Top with skewered bacon-figs. Drizzle with balsamic reduction & sprinkle arugula all over. Serve & thrill your guests!