“I love taking care of people!” exclaims Rachelle Girardin. This busy Vancouver-based personal chef, instructor, holistic nutritionist, and entrepreneur recently took some time to chat with alive about her inspiring work and how her business, Beyond Nourished (beyondnourished.com), has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meal solutions for real people
The small team of chefs at Beyond Nourished cook for people in and around Vancouver and Calgary, and they’re looking to expand to other Canadian cities. “We provide meal solutions for people,” Girardin explains. “One chef will work with one family—getting healthy food into their fridges.”
Those who’ve used their personal chef services often remain Beyond Nourished clients for many years, creating long-term and meaningful connections. “It’s so much more than just food,” says Girardin. “When you cook for people for years, you develop deep and nourishing relationships.”
Who are these clients who hire personal chefs?
“Regular people, not just the rich and famous!” laughs Girardin. “The term ‘personal chef’ may have that connotation, but we live in an age in which we outsource a lot of things we don’t always have time for. It can be life changing to come home to food that’s made for you. It gives back time and brings that ‘home cooking’ element to things.”
Many Beyond Nourished clients are busy working adults who love the convenience of healthy, personalized meals delivered to their homes. Many have health goals and concerns, too, with special diets that can otherwise be overwhelming.
The benefits of a personal chef?
“They work closely with you to plan meals and menus that work for your individual needs and preferences,” says Girardin. It’s much more than a meal delivery service; it’s a personalized experience.
“It’s best when a chef works directly with a client. If you have a craving for chicken noodle soup [for], you can mention that to your personal chef, who can incorporate it into the menu.”
Girardin values high quality food and loves to prioritize local, organic ingredients. Not only does she shop on a daily basis to ensure freshness, but she also packs meals in reusable glass containers to reduce waste.
A lifetime love of healthy food
Girardin credits much of her multitasking skills and flexibility in the workplace to her years as a server in restaurants. “There are so many skills needed to be a good server,” she explains. “You need to do a thousand things at once, keep an eye on everyone, and anticipate people’s needs. When I became a personal chef, I found myself thinking, ‘This is what I prepared for!’”
Girardin has been passionate about healthy food her whole life, a passion that motivated her move to BC from Saskatchewan to attend Vancouver’s Institute of Holistic Nutrition.
Girardin never saw herself as a personal chef, though; she always thought she’d move back to Saskatchewan and eventually open her own restaurant. “I thought my area of expertise would be front of house; I never thought I’d end up in the kitchen!”
Instead, after graduating in 2011, she stumbled across the personal chef industry through a friend of a friend who was looking for a new personal chef. “He heard I liked to cook, so he hired me and told me what to do,” says Girardin.
COVID-19 inspires innovation
Unlike many businesses, Beyond Nourished saw an increase in demand for personal chef services at the start of the pandemic. One of the ways they pivoted was to launch a certificate course, training others to become personal chefs. Explains Girardin, “We have to be innovative in ways to scale up. We want more people doing this.”
Training new personal chefs
“It’s a very unique skill, very different from working in a restaurant.” Drawing on Girardin’s extensive personal experience, the 12-week virtual Holistic Chef and Business training course covers business training and culinary skills in equal measure.
One of the most important skills needed to be a personal chef, according to Girardin, is flexibility and the ability to think on one’s feet. “You have to adapt quickly and not get stressed about [things]. We call it the ‘figure it out’ mindset.”
Being quick and proficient at multitasking in the kitchen is another major skill. “It’s all about volume,” Girardin explains. “When you have to produce a week’s worth of food in one day, there’s no room to slow down. I tell my students they have to be ‘quick like a bunny.’”
Passing on her skills as a personal chef has been a really positive experience. “It’s the most alive I’ve ever felt,” Girardin says of training her first students. She’s especially proud of the community that developed among the students, who’ve stayed in touch and continue to lean on each other for support and advice.
Food prep and delivery flexes
Flexibility was a key attribute of the pivots the Beyond Nourished team made to their food prep and delivery processes during the pandemic. To enforce physical distancing, the chefs began working separately, rather than together, and stopped cooking in clients’ homes.
Food delivery, which used to be a point of connection and conversation between clients and chefs, became contactless, which actually increased efficiency. The important connection between clients and chefs still occurs, albeit by phone or virtually.
Feeding people now, and in the future
Girardin and her team are hard at work on new projects to grow Beyond Nourished, the biggest one being brand-new headquarters. “We’ve grown out of our current space and have a tough time meeting our current demand,” admits Girardin. “It’s a high quality problem but one we’re ready to put behind us.”
They signed a lease for a commercial space in Vancouver, which will have five kitchens, meaning that five chefs can cook at the same time. However, the process has not been without frustrations and setbacks.
“I could write a book about what I’ve learned along the way!” Girardin laments. Due to the pandemic, for example, the city is months behind on permits, which means construction has been delayed. “It’s moving at a snail’s pace,” Girardin sighs.
Nevertheless, Girardin is confident their space will eventually be completed. One day, once COVID-19 is behind us, she dreams of providing personal chef training in this new location—in person.
What the future brings for Girardin
Girardin knows that growth is on the horizon, which means, for her, taking a step back from cooking to focus on the business side of things. “Through my business, I’ve grown up [personally],” she acknowledges.
She credits her small but steadfast team for her business success. “Business is based on growth, but we’re very much about quality over quantity. Hiring is everything. I feel so lucky for the core team that I have: Dana, Emily, Lea, and Marcy. And for the handful of contractors and past students who help us with overflow.”
Pandemic or not, Girardin maintains her consistent vision and goal: caring for people through healthy food cooked with love. “I value steadiness. It’s not always about ‘bigger.’ It’s about doing what we do, well.” That’s what inspires her and her team and turns Beyond Nourished clients into long-term friends.
Nutrition for mental, physical, and emotional health
Our brains do a lot of work for us, and they require a lot of nutrients to do it! Scientists are uncovering all of the wondrous connections between our diet and our health—physical, mental, and emotional.
The “gut-brain connection” tells us that our digestive health can influence our brain health, and vice versa. Have you ever felt so anxious that you experienced digestive complaints? That’s one example of the connection. Another example: about 95 percent of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, and moods—is produced in our gastrointestinal tracts.
There is no one specific diet that will lead to better mental and emotional health, but there are some general principles to follow:
- Eat a balanced, whole foods diet featuring plenty of vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
- Incorporate healthy fats such as olive oil and fatty fish.
- Eat foods that contain healthy bacteria, including probiotic yogurt, fermented sauerkraut, or kimchi, as well as foods that contain fibre that healthy bacteria feed on (prebiotics).
- Reduce the intake of processed foods and refined grains/sugars.
A labour of love
Whoever said “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” wasn’t entirely right, of course, but there really are benefits to having a career that you’re passionate about. A 2018 study, for instance, found that employees who perceived their work as meaningful and satisfying experienced less stress and anxiety.
That said, sometimes being passionate about one’s career may lead to overworking and subsequent burnout, so it’s important to balance your work (whether it’s fulfilling or not!) with time off and also practise self-care on a regular basis.
Personal chef-inspired cooking, at home
Girardin encourages home cooks to make mealtimes easier and less stressful by meal prepping and batch cooking at home. “Rather than doing everything on the stove, for example, try using three different methods or workstations at a time: one recipe on the stove, one in the slow cooker, and one in the oven.” An added bonus? “It makes cleanup easier too!” Girardin laughs.
How long do you spend in the kitchen?
In a scientific study that surveyed 1,319 adults, researchers found that busy working adults spent the least amount of time in the kitchen compared to other groups. However, the groups that spent the most amount of time in the kitchen had the best nutrition.
Girardin’s favourite dishes
Some of Girardin’s most-loved dishes and client favourites include
- Veggie-Packed Chicken Meatballs with Miso Hoisin
- Thai Kale Quinoa Salad with Cashew Cilantro Dressing
- Soba Noodle Bowl with Toasted Sesame Dressing
- Coconut-Crusted Halibut Tacos
- Grain-Free Healthy Twix Bars
- Monster Breakfast Cookies
Many recipes can be found on their Instagram account at @beyondnourished.