Podcast Episode 108

Chef Brian Arruda Reveals the Future of Private Chefs

Brian Arruda | 45 Minutes | May 21, 2024


In today’s episode, we speak with our guest Brian Arruda, founder & CEO of Executive Chefs at Home, a premier placement agency for hospitality professionals in private residences across the globe.

Brian shares the journey of building a thriving business during the pandemic out of necessity and how his experience working for acclaimed chefs, such as Charlie Palmer, José Andrés, Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, and Daniel Boulud, propelled him towards entrepreneurial success. Today these relationships have played a significant role in the growth of Executive Chefs at Home and its network within the culinary world.

Listen as Brian talks about the power of networking, launching a business from scratch, and the future of private chefs and catering.

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Notes & Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, I’m speaking with Brian Arruda, chef, founder, and CEO of Executive Chefs at Home, a premier placement agency for hospitality professionals in private residences across the globe.

Chef Arruda grew up in Stonington, Connecticut, where he started washing dishes at restaurants. This was his entry point into culinary immersion. He quickly developed a deep-seated passion for the bustling restaurant industry.

After graduating from culinary school, he traveled the country working for acclaimed chefs such as Charlie Palmer, Jose Andres, Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, and Daniel Boulud, naturally working his way up from prep cook to executive chef.

In September 2019, Chef Arruda moved to New York City, transitioning from Executive Chef at Bar Boulud in Boston to Executive Chef at Boulud Sud where he found the opportunity to explore the cuisine of not just France, but the entire Mediterranean.

Along this journey, Chef Arruda cultivated lifelong friends and built a vast network of hospitality professionals. Today, these relationships have played a significant role in the growth of Executive Chefs at Home and its network within the culinary world.

So join us today as we talk about how Chef Arruda built a thriving company during the pandemic, what the future looks like for catering, and advice for personal chefs just starting out.

And there he is! Good morning.

Brian Arruda: Good morning, Kirk. Thank you for having me on today.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. What an intro! You don’t look old enough to have all of that background, but – Wow! – I can’t wait to dig in. But first, set the tone for us a little bit. You are in New York City or East Coast? Where are you today?

Brian Arruda: I’ve been in New York now for going on five years. I’m in a little neighborhood in Brooklyn called Carroll Gardens. My wife and I have no plans to leave. We like it out here. It serves as a good hub for what we’re doing. Tons of opportunity. We’re surrounded by so many talented chefs. We’re surrounded by a big market, especially in the private industry as well as catering. It works very well for us.

A Swiss Getaway

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Congratulations. And I think congratulations are also in store for a recent honeymoon. Is that correct? You just got married.

Brian Arruda: That’s correct. We got married this past October and took a few months to let it all soak in. We just returned from a trip to Switzerland. We toured a bunch of different areas of Switzerland. What a spectacular trip that was! Tons of dining and hiking. What a beautiful place!

Kirk Bachmann: Before we dive in, Switzerland. I have some relatives in Switzerland, and I’ve had the good fortune of visiting a couple of times. Where were you in Switzerland?

Brian Arruda: We started out in Zurich. We were there for a few nights, and then we trained to Lucerne where we drove into a small town called Attenberg. We stayed at this really remote, very boutique-style hotel. We then went from Lausanne to Andermatt, which was more up into the mountains. Spent a few nights there. The plan was to ski, but with so much snow and a beautiful hotel, we decided to just relax. From there, we went to Zermatt. In Zermatt was where we really had a lot of fun. We skied almost every day. We were there for four nights, explored the town. Again, great food. Great apres ski.

On the way home, we flew from Geneva. We stayed in a place called Lausanne and had a great dinner at Hotel Ville Crissier and then packed up and headed back to New York.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. So why Switzerland? Was that something you wanted to do for a long time?

Brian Arruda: We got married in October. We didn’t want to wait for the summer. I’m not a huge beach guy, believe it or not. My wife’s from San Diego, and I’m from northeast Connecticut. I’ve spent a fair share of my time around the ocean but never been a big beach guy. I suggested maybe we do a winter honeymoon and go visit these little quaint villages and do some skiing, doing some fondue. It all fell into place.

Kirk Bachmann: Did the food surprise you? Was it what you thought it might be, very classic Swiss cuisine?

Brian Arruda: Very classic. When we were in Zurich and Lucerne, there was a lot of German influence, I would say. The closer we got to Geneva, much more French influence. We targeted a few really nice restaurants, but for the most part tried to hit the local spots and understand their food. Wienerschnitzel and lots of sausages.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that great? I’m curious with the Wienerschnitzel: pork, chicken, veal? Was it traditional veal?

Brian Arruda: Veal. Mostly veal. And huge. The portions out there are huge.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh, I love it.

Brian Arruda: We left saying that we would love to come back in the summer or the spring.

Kirk Bachmann: I bet, for hiking.

Brian Arruda: Such a beautiful place.

A History with Food

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Well congratulations again. That’s a beautiful story.

Before we dive, chef, into the incredible business that you’ve started – super unique, and a lot of our students are going to really be fascinated hearing about the story because it’s another path people can take in this incredible industry, this craft of cooking. You started like so many in the back of the house washing dishes, doing what you could. Was there always this dream to be a chef? If so, what specifically captivated you about the restaurant industry at a young age?

Brian Arruda: To give it a little background, my background is Portuguese and Italian. My mother’s family is from Calabria, and my father’s from the Azores. We grew up in this small town of Stonington, Connecticut, which is very much a Portuguese fishing town, historically. My dad was a commercial fisherman for thirty-plus years. As a kid, I grew up a lot around seafood, around good food. My grandparents owned a pizza shop.

We did a lot of foraging. My grandparents’ idea of babysitting us was to give us all a basket or a plastic bag and send us out in the woods to pick every single mushroom you find. Then we’d come home, and we would dump all the mushrooms out on the lawn. They would go through it and keep the ones they wanted, and get rid of the ones they did. This was a weekly thing for me and all my cousins.

Food was kind of always a big part of our upbringing.

Kirk Bachmann: What about being in a port like that and your father being a commercial fisherman. Were your fish fabrication skills just absolutely mad when you went to culinary school?

Brian Arruda: Well, yeah. I had a good base of seafood. I was good at shucking, for sure. My dad was mostly a scallop fisherman. Fast forward – not to bring things down – but there were some issues with my family, and I ended up going into a foster system for a handful of years, which really put things into perspective. “All right. I need to start working because I need to figure out a way to take care of myself.”

That really consisted of me knocking at this restaurant. I was living in South Providence, Rhode Island at the time. I would knock on this restaurant. “Can I do anything?” Blah, blah, blah, that kind of thing. Eventually, what I would do is I would go to the restaurant after the restaurant closed, and I would basically clean the kitchen. They would pay me cash.

From that, it turned into, “Hey, the salad guy didn’t show up for work today. Do you want to learn something new?”

Kirk Bachmann: Call Brian!

Brian Arruda: Then I got into making salads. It became this huge interest of mine and somewhat of a distraction from the things that were happening in my life. It became an obsession. I just started cooking, cooking, cooking. I was probably cleaning, cooking, when I was thirteen.

Support from the Community

Kirk Bachmann: You know what I love about that story? First of all, thank you for the sincere transparency there and giving of yourself. But isn’t it interesting, your story is similar to so many who found their place in the industry. It was welcoming to you. It was a place that you felt-

Brian Arruda: It was comfort, too. It was something I recognized I was good at. I was clean. I was fast. Of course, I didn’t know much back then, but the little things I was doing, I was excelling fast at these little tasks.

Fast forward, I was adopted by an amazing family also in Stonington, Connecticut. It brought me back to the area where I was from. The family that adopted me was in the process of opening a restaurant so it was great timing.

I think I’m seventeen at this point, back in 2008. I’ve been working at this restaurant, and I’m helping them get things going, and all of a sudden senior year is coming around. Everyone’s doing the, “Where are you going to school? Where are you going to college?” That kind of thing. I didn’t want to be the guy who was like, “I’m not going to college,” because at that point I really wasn’t. I would tell people, “I’m going to the CIA” because I just want to have something to talk about.

Kirk Bachmann: And just leave it at that. Leave it at that.

Brian Arruda: I would say, “I’m going to the culinary school up in New York.” At the time, it was this big premier culinary school. So then my dad – this is so crazy – my dad hires these two girls, Madison and Carly LaBelle. We’re doing this interaction in the kitchen one day.

She says, “Oh, where are you going to school?”

I say, “Oh, I’m going to the Culinary Institute of America.”

Maddy goes, “No way.”

I’m like, “Yeah.”

She’s like, “Oh, that’s so crazy. My uncle, Robert Gumpel, is the Dean of Admissions.”

I’m like, “No way! You’ve got to be kidding me.” Totally [called me on it.] “I’m not actually going. I’ve just been saying that.”

And Robert’s brother, Thomas Gumpel, was the CEO, Founder of Panera Bread. He lived in the area of North Stonington.*

I said, “You’ve got to put me in touch with your uncle.”

I called Thomas Gumpel. “Hey, I’m this kid. I’m trying to get into school. I know your nieces.”

He’s like, “Yeah, whatever, kid.” So I take him for lunch.

Kirk Bachmann: [inaudible]

Brian Arruda: I take him for lunch, and I give him this whole spiel. If he’ll write a recommendation letter to his brother, basically. I think at the time if you had a recommendation letter from an alumni, they were offering a $5000 grant. He didn’t really give me a real answer.

A couple of weeks go by. I call him up again. He meets me for lunch. When he shows up, he’s got this big bag. Knife bag, cooking shoes, chef coats. He hands me this care package. “All right. I’ll write a letter to my brother.”

I’m like, “Wow! This is pretty crazy.”

Fast forward another couple of weeks, my mother and I take a ride up there to the school just to tour the campus. We meet Robert Gumpel. He shows us around.

I’m like, “This is such a big deal for me,” because I wasn’t the kid who was planning to go to college and whatnot, especially not this great culinary school. I’m working one day in the deep fryer in the kitchen, and my dad comes in and says, “Hey, can you come out to the dining room for a second?”

I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” I go out there, and the restaurant is silent. I turn around, and Robert hands me my acceptance letter in person. Drove to Stonington, gave me my letter, and I was like, “All right.” That was a huge boost of motivation for me, a huge boost of confidence. A lot of people from our neighborhood – this got put into the newspapers because the high school wrote a big triumph story about me. People from the local town were coming to the restaurant, and they were writing checks towards my tuition.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something?

Brian Arruda: I had a lot of people that believed in me at the time. So I shipped off to culinary school.

Kirk Bachmann: What a great story! You can’t find that story on the internet. That’s in your head, your heart. We’ll get to this in a minute, but I just wonder – will we connect the dots here in our chat? Now, ironically enough, you’re in this business where, in a serendipitous way, you’re giving back as well. It’s the networking that started your journey to get there. I absolutely love that story.

Before we get too far: you go to the CIA for two years, I assume.

Brian Arruda: I went there for two years. I got my associate’s degree.

Kirk Bachmann: Got your associate’s degree.

Brian Arruda: I was ready to be out.

Culinary Opportunities

Kirk Bachmann: It’s important, and then you got into the industry. I’m curious: what were some of the quick takeaways that you recall from culinary school? Did you realize it at that time, or was it years later? “Oh gosh! I went to culinary school and that’s why this is going so well for me, or this particular approach to business.” Did it take a while to appreciate it?

Brian Arruda: While you’re there, you feel so lucky. You have endless resources. You’re surrounded by chefs that have the same drive as you, by all these experts in the industry that have left the restaurant world to come and share their experiences with the students. I felt very blessed to be there.

I also felt that the culinary school – and I would guess it goes for most culinary schools – you’re going to get out of it what you want. I think going to the CIA had this big – it was very prestigious at the time. Still is. I think it gave you a little bit more motivation to go chase the Thomas Kellers of the world, and Daniel Bouluds. You learn so much about these guys. They come to the campus, and they do these speeches. They’re really good at getting these young cooks excited about getting into the real world.

I will say that I think the school does position you to really be able to go in whichever direction you want to, but that’s really up to you.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s a great response. Then the rest of your story. You seized these opportunities. it’s not like you just jump into the industry and someone like me, who’s been in the industry for a while, you see this lineup: Charlie Palmer, Jose Andres, Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud. That doesn’t just happen out of sheer luck. To your point, chef, you had to want some of this. You did your homework. You did your research. You knew you wanted to work with these folks. I’m kind of interested in [to] what you attribute your success in being able to work with all of these chefs. What [was] your process of working your way up the brigade like from one chef to the next?

Brian Arruda: Directly after graduating, I took a job in Boston for a chef that was also from the same town as me. It quickly turned into more of a friendship than a mentorship. I recognized that pretty early on. I knew it was time for me to leave. I think I was there for not even a year maybe. I just politely said, “I really respect everything I’ve learned from you and the time that you’ve put into me, but I think we’re too much on a friendly level for me to feel like I’m getting the proper mentorship.”

I called up my best friend at the time. We basically quit our jobs, hopped in my old Saab 9-3 and headed west on the 80.

Kirk Bachmann: What an iconic brand, by the way. Love that vehicle. I had one, too. I love it.

Brian Arruda: Oh, man. More problems than you could imagine, but great car.

Kirk Bachmann: Yep. But it looked good.

Brian Arruda: I was one car. We pack up my car with everything that will fit and we head west. In our heads, we’re thinking, “All right, we’re going to just drive to California.” We stopped in Vail, Colorado for lunch. We’re sitting right across from Vail Village. We’re eating out at QDOBA. It’s around November.

I’m like, “God, we should just stay here for the winter. It’s snowing.”

My roommate was like, “I don’t really know.”

So I get on Craigslist. We had to pull over every so often because my car, the charger port didn’t work. We had to charge our phones at a restaurant or something. I find this woman who was renting her basement. We drive right to her house. Boom. Three hundred bucks each a month, and we had this great finished basement in Eagle-Vail.

Then we drive into the village, and we go eat at this restaurant called Vail Cascade. We have a great dinner, and we asked to speak to the chef. Boom. He hires us. So now we live in Vail.

We’re working one day, and one of the chefs who was there was telling me about his friend that he attended NECI with – which is, I believe, New England Culinary Institute. He said, “Yeah, he works at Bouchon for Thomas Keller.” I’m like, “Oh my God! No way.” At the time, I was star-struck.

I said, “You’ve got to get me a stage.” He figures out a way he can get me a stage. I drive to Vegas. I spend two days in the kitchen with the team, and they were like, “We’ll catch up with you. We’ll give you a call if we want to hire you.” I head back.

I’m thinking, “I got the job. I worked so hard.” I felt really good about everything. So we quit our job in Colorado, and we drive to Vegas. We move into this little apartment. We don’t have anything. We have a blow-up mattress on the floor. We would go to the grocery story and just push the cart all the way back full.

A couple weeks go by, and my roommate gets a job working at Barlow a B&B, which is sort of like the Cullen restaurant in Vegas. A couple weeks went by, and I thought, “God, maybe they’re not going to call me.”

So I show up to do a stage for Todd English at the Aria. “Alright, this wasn’t my first choice, but I need to start working. I need to start making some money.” I show up, and this is the only time I’ve ever done this in my career, but I’m probably thirty minutes into the stage, and I get a call from Bouchon.

This guy, Peter, goes, “Hey, are you available? We need you to come in tonight for work?” Looking back on it, I now know someone called out. They just needed hands. So they called me.

“Oh, I’m doing a stage here at Todd English Pub.”

He’s like, “Do you want to work for Todd English, or do you want to work for Thomas Keller?”

Kirk Bachmann: Oh gosh! Both?!

Brian Arruda: Alright. I packed up my bags, and I leave.

Surrounded by Great Chefs

Kirk Bachmann: Between us, you could always still say you worked at Todd English’s place. I’m not going to tell. Right place, right time.

Brian Arruda: That was it. I just started working. I felt so blessed to be working in the kitchen. I was surrounded by so many great chefs at the time that were still part of the company. It became everything I did was just work, work, work. I would work at Bouchon five days a week, and on my two days a week I would work for Charlie Palmer over at Aureole and this place called Charlie Palmer’s Steak.

Kirk Bachmann: Wow! Wow.

Brian Arruda: Because back then, it was still they were paying cooks something like $10.50 an hour. Just immersing myself. I spent a couple of years there, worked my way up to junior sous chef. Then I decided to make a change. Working for Thomas Keller, you learn a lot about professionalism, organization, how to really let the little things bother you. Really, how to become a perfectionist in the kitchen.

Kirk Bachmann: Was he there often or occasionally?

Brian Arruda: He was there pretty often. This was back when he really only had five or six restaurants.

Kirk Bachmann: Only.

Brian Arruda: He was there pretty often. We would go and help with events. I would go to Beverly Hills and help with events at the Bouchon there. We would do a whole bunch of things.

I decided I wanted to go learn a little bit more about food. I thought at the time working for Mario Batali probably was a great idea. Tons of whole animal butery, really great imported vegetables. A little bit more back to my roots of Italian cooking. I loved it. I learned so much about charcuterie. I ended up helping largely in the program with the dry-aging, all of the charcuterie. We were shipping to all the restaurants across the country.

And on my two days off from Mario Batali’s restaurant, I was working for Jose Andres at Jaleo and China Poblano. I did that for about two years.

I think I was skiing. I had an injury. I was out of work for a few months. A chef calls me from Florida. They’re working for Daniel Boulud in Palm Beach. It was a guy that I had worked for that I respected quite well, a mentor in many ways. He moved back to Florida and was like, “We have a sous chef position here. You want to come?”

I’m like, “Screw it! Let’s go.” I hopped in my car. I threw in all my stuff, and drove to Florida. I get there – this is the best part – and they go, “Oh, the hot apps guy just quit. Can you do A.M. hot apps?” I thought I was coming out here for the sous chef position. You know? Whatever.

I did that for a couple of months before they moved me to the P.M. hot line. Within time, I became sous chef and then executive sous. For a while, I was a large influence in the menu development and almost all the hiring. Unfortunately, terminations as well. I spent three and a half years working at Cafe Boulud.

Then I got a call one day from Daniel, and he asked me to move to Boston to take over Bar Boulud inside of the Mandarin Oriental for my first executive chef position. I always had this goal that I wanted to own restaurants. Maybe I still do. It’s an idea that comes and goes. But I always had this idea that I wanted to really be successful in running someone else’s restaurant, especially a well-known chef, before I jump in and try to take that risk on my own. So that’s what I did. I packed up. I moved to Boston, and I ran Bar Boulud for just shy of two years.

Kirk Bachmann: What a great journey! Before we jump into Executive Chefs at Home, I’m really curious. I don’t know many that had exposure to so many different styles of cooking by these iconic chefs, these iconic brands, if you will. Do you believe that your style and your approach, your philosophy around cooking is a combination of all of those, or did you venture one way? Are you more French, more Spanish, more traditional, classic?

Brian Arruda: I think my style and anyone’s style is all a reflection of your experience. Everything sort of combines. I remember when I was at Cafe, I was really put in the position where the chef would order all these proteins, fish, every week on Thursday. It would be my job to come up with the week’s specials for the weekend and whatnot. I really started to develop my own style. I would say it’s very largely influenced by French cuisine, French technique, but there’s a big part of it that is very simplified Italian-style where we’re just highlighting the great products and not manipulating them too much. I think it’s really a reflection of all of my experience collectively.

Private Chefs in a Pandemic

Kirk Bachmann: Sure. Perfect answer.

So take us back, chef, to early 2020. You’re with Boulud, and the pandemic hits. You and everyone else is forced to shift gears super rapidly. I’d love for you to take us back a little bit, kind of walk us through what happened with you. I’ve read that you started getting phone calls from some of your customers, some of your guests from Boulud hoping that you might be able to cook meals for them, which totally makes sense. I would have called. Then that all eventually turned into Executive Chefs at Home. Take us back to the pandemic, if you wouldn’t mind.

Brian Arruda: The pandemic hits right around March, April.

Kirk Bachmann: Exactly. Yeah.

Brian Arruda: Daniel comes to the restaurant. We have this huge team meeting in the center of the dining room. It goes something like, “We’re going to be closing for two weeks. Leave all of your stuff in your locker. Something’s going on. Nobody really knows.”

We were like, “All right.” We pack it all up. I headed home to Stonington along with both of my brothers. They came home to Stonington. We all have dogs. It’s a great house, but five people, four dogs. It just seemed like a lot. Both of my brothers were working remote, so they continued to work. My parents were staying busy with the restaurant because Connecticut hadn’t been shut down yet. I felt this “I’m kind of just hanging out. I’m not really doing anything.”

We get a call from one of the chefs in the company. He’s like, “One of the clients from Boulud Sud, one of the regulars, is looking for a chef. They want to provide a job for a chef that they know is out of work.”

At the time, I had never done that. There’s also this stigma. I don’t think it’s as much as it used to be. There was very much a stigma about chefs leaving the restaurant world and going private. That’s a sell-out. I’ve heard tons of things. I’m not saying I was a firm believer, but I was well aware of the stigma. And I had just never done it. I’d always focused on restaurants. I loved being surrounded by the team. I love the camaraderie. I love the chaos. But, I’m also sitting at my parents’ house not really doing anything.

So I’m like, alright. Let’s go see what it’s all about. So I drive down to Greenwich. I go and have an introduction with the family who is looking to hire. I pull up in the driveway, and they are standing thirty feet away from me. “That’s enough. Don’t come any closer.” They just made me an offer to come there and cook for their family. I would have my own commons, a little guest house maybe 150 yards away from their house.

They were like, “We don’t really know what’s going on. If you want to come and cook for us, we just ask that you really stay on the property, and we’ll figure something out. We’ll have a designated person to do all the shopping and whatnot.”

So I’m like, “All right. Just give me two days. I’m going to get a new computer. I’m going to be alone for a bit.” I got a computer. I start working. Everything is going great. I’m also spending a lot of time by myself, thinking a lot. More so than in a restaurant [where] all you’re thinking about is the next service and if your staff is going to show up for work.

We start doing dinner parties. As we get closer to people being able to do the six-feet-apart thing, they start having guests over. We’re putting on these great dinners. Their guests would say to me, “Oh, do you know any other chefs? We would love to hire a chef.”

I’m like, “Every single chef in the country is unemployed, so it shouldn’t be hard.” I know tons of chefs. I’ve worked at so many restaurants. I always made such great relationships, and I try to keep the relationships going as much as I can. So I make a few calls, and boom! There’s a chef with this family. Boom! There’s a chef with this family.

Eventually, I call my dad, and we’re talking about what I’m doing.

He said, “You should start charging. You’ve got a business here.”

I’m like, “Really? I’m not the business guy. I’m strictly a chef. I don’t know anything about business.” So I call my friend’s dad. He was a business lawyer. He gives me the same feedback. At the time, I think he was going to charge me $5000. I was like, “God, that’s a lot of money with all this uncertainty going on.” So I slept on it for a week.

I said, “You know what? Let’s just do it.” We get everything going. He sets up the LLC. We get these contracts made. Then it’s crickets for like three months. Nothing. No one calls. No one needs a chef. Then one day we get a call from a family. We find a great chef. We get him placed. Boom! We make this huge lump sum of money. I had never made this much money before. Again, it was a very real moment. “Oh my God! We really do have a business here.”

It was very hard in the beginning to try to convince chefs. “Hey, I’m starting this company. Come and do private work for us. It’s great.” Like I said, there’s this stigma. Also, I’m reaching out to these chefs, leaving a message. They have no idea who I am. It’s probably just like spam to them. It was a bit difficult.

But the more chefs we were able to place in the jobs, the more chefs were looking over their shoulders. “What’s this guy doing?” The guys that are cooking are telling all of their friends. “Oh, this is great. You’re working less. You’re making way more money. Your work-life balance is great.” That kind of thing. It just took off.

We started making money, and we started using that money to hire people to build out a better website, help us do customer correspondence, figure out how to use these different softwares. Some of this stuff is so confusing to me, but I’ve learned so much over the past four and a half years. It’s pretty crazy.

Tapping the Network

Kirk Bachmann: I think – well, I know, that a lot of our listeners will be really fascinated not just about the passion of the story, but also the entrepreneurial spirit, the way the business works. I’m sure there were some challenges. You’re up and running. You’ve got the website. You’ve got the network. You have your business plan, your theme. There had to have been a few hiccups, though, right?

Brian Arruda: Yeah, there were definitely hiccups. I think one of the big issues, the big problems that I had that I realize now, and at the time I didn’t, was I was trying to do everything myself. I was trying to do all the customer correspondence myself. I was trying to do every single area myself. I was trying to organize the best I could. Being in the restaurant for fifteen years, you get good at doing payroll and the orders. Other than that, your computer skills kind of drift away. It was a big learning [experience].

I had so much experience talking with people in the dining room, spending time around these big names. I felt pretty comfortable talking. I really think the big challenge was getting chefs on board. Fast forward now, there are so many chefs doing it. We’ve created such a name that the chefs are now coming to us. We’re never really outreach.

Kirk Bachmann: I was just going to ask.

Brian Arruda: We have so many requests every single day to be part of the network. From the beginning, we were very strict, very quality-over-quantity. We only wanted to work with the best chefs, the ones that had the experience. We still do for the most part, but we’re also giving more opportunity to the younger chef that wants to get into the industry. We’re just making sure that their experience matches with the client’s expectation because we do have some clients that do say, “Oh, we want a chef who is extremely experienced, speaks English, speaks Spanish, speaks French, can cook on a yacht, can travel all over, very flexible.” Then we have the client who says, “You know, we’d love to just have someone young with great enthusiasm right from culinary school. We can just build up together.”

Kirk Bachmann: Chef, how’s the process work of vetting clients? How do you pair a client to the right chef? Is there a survey process, or is it the client’s choice based on the profile of the chef? How does that all work?

Brian Arruda: The thing that I still do is I interview every single chef that’s part of our platform, that are rostered. There’s not one chef in our roster that hasn’t been interviewed by me.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something? Yeah.

Brian Arruda: When we go through this, almost all of our chefs are referrals from chefs that we know. If a chef wants to be part of the network or the roster and I don’t know them and nobody I know knows them, we’ll dig into reference checks. We might start them off on a two-person dinner on a Friday night here in the city to see how it goes, maybe someone we’ve worked with before where we can get good feedback. Maybe from there we’ll put them on a fifteen-person Shabbat dinner. Then, all right, this guy’s doing really well. Maybe we can put him on a summer job in the Hamptons that is five days a week, and we can feel comfortable doing it. There’s that. That’s how we build it up.

Our interviews are pretty thorough. I know where the chefs work. I know people that know them. I sort of know what they’re capable of. I’ve also done countless hiring over the years in restaurants, so I feel like I have a pretty good sense of when someone is good or when someone – not that they’re not good – but they might not have the right experience for the job. Being a really great restaurant chef does not always translate to being a great private chef. I think that’s very important. Most people don’t realize that.

Building Relationships

Kirk Bachmann: I love that personal touch. I read in a past interview as I was researching your background and such. This is a quote from you. I just took an excerpt from it. By and large, you said, “The best way to do this” – your business – “is to understand the client and have them trust you and say to them, for example ‘I’m going to go to the market. I know what you guys like. I’m going to get what’s good.’” I’m just paraphrasing a little bit. When I read that, I was thinking to myself, trust is a key word. I love the approach. I’m curious what your philosophy around hospitality in general is. Because that’s a big part of this, right? How you’re going to demonstrate your love of hospitality and bring the industry into someone’s home.

Brian Arruda: I think that’s extremely important. That’s when it comes down to the matchmaking. We have to really go into depth and understand what the client’s preferences are, where they spend their time, do they have multiple residents. What are their allergies? What are their kids’ allergies? What’s the vibe that they like? Because you could put an amazing chef in their house, and you can meet all of their food expectations, but it might just not be the right vibe. Our goal is to get that on the first try.

Most clients are asking for a chef. We’ll send four or five candidates at one time, push out the profiles that we make of each chef. We don’t want to overwhelm them, but we try to get one of the chefs from the first round for the job. It almost always works. We have had maybe three jobs not work out. I don’t want to say, go south. Nothing’s ever gone in a bad way. We’ve probably had three jobs not work over the past four-and-a-half years.

It’s true. The Hamptons is a great example of being in New York City. The amount of chefs that transition from the city to the Hamptons between Memorial Day and Labor Day is by the hundreds. All these chefs are going to the farmers’ market every single day. They are building relationships with the farmer.

I try to veer away from [how] some clients want menus so we can advance. Sure, you can do that, but it almost always isn’t on the menu. You’re never getting the exact menu because if I trust my client and my client trusts me, I know what they like and I can demonstrate that from time to time. I’m waking up in the morning. I’m going to Amber Waves market. I’m going to Amagansett Seafood.

To the guy who owns Amagansett Seafood, I’ll say, “Hey, I need some fresh tuna.”

Mike will say, “We’re busy. Go into the back and cut it yourself.”

Those are the kinds of relationships you build, so I can say to them, “Do you guys want seafood tonight? Do you want some chicken? Do you want something grilled, meat, whatever?” They can give me the lightest description, and I’ll say, “Okay. I’ve got it under control. I’m going to go talk with the farmers. I’m going to get in there so I can get to squash blossoms before all the other chefs.

We go to the farmers’ markets in the morning, and you run into so many chefs. I see tons of my friends every morning out there. I tend to spend my summers out there. I don’t cook full-time here in the city; I pick up events from time to time. Usually from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I work quite a bit.

Kirk Bachmann: You know what I love about that is coming back to the whole trust piece. Your client. Your client is going to trust that you’re doing everything that you just said; you’re going to the farmers’ market. You may pivot because you saw some squash blossoms or something like that. Absolutely love that.

Brian Arruda: Yeah, it’s fun. It’s like a community of chefs. From Memorial Day to Labor Day is such a fun time. It’s a grind. You’re working hard. There’s tons of parties. There’s tons of hosting. But it flies by. All the chefs, you see them at the farmers’ market in the morning. Everyone’s doing their dinner, and then you might see them out for a beer after service or something like that. Everyone’s getting together. “Oh, what are you making?” At night, the same chef is “Oh, how’d it go?” Everyone is talking about food ideas. It is very exciting.

A Growing Business

Kirk Bachmann: Community. From a forecasting perspective, as of last year – it’s probably changed even more – my understanding is that your services are now available abroad? UK, Singapore, Canada.

Brian Arruda: It’s funny; we owe all of that to our clientele.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something?

Brian Arruda: A lot of our clientele may have a house here in New York City, but they also have a house in Paris, or they have a house in Singapore. They have a lake house up in Canada. They are asking, “Oh, can you get us a chef in these areas?” So we’re doing the background work to try to find chefs and build these teams to do events in these different areas. It’s growing. A lot of our business comes from word of mouth. We do the Google ads, and we get tons of online inquiries, but a lot of our good business comes from our good clients who are consistently being satisfied and love talking about the company. Bragging, in a sense.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s the best reference there is, when someone promotes you. You do the e-gift cards now as well. Congratulations! Absolutely spectacular. Where do you see your business in the next five-to-ten years, chef?

Brian Arruda: I’m hoping that we can get to the point where we are the industry leaders. I’d love to be the biggest name out there. We put a lot of emphasis into the chefs. Of course, it’s very much about the client. They are the one’s paying for the service, but we do put a lot of effort into making sure that the chefs are happy, that the chefs are making a fair wage based on market. Grow the brand.

I also want to get more into very high-end catering for very intimate settings. Nothing too crazy. We want to be able to do some pretty important events across the country and build a catering team, hopefully get ourselves into our own kitchen space. Get more into throwing events and not just one-off private dinners and summer jobs and full-time, stuff like that. I think we’ll just continue.

We launched a merch line a couple months ago. That seems to be doing well. We have some fun ideas for the summer with new graphics. We just came out with these sweatshirts. We print recipes on the back of them, which are pretty fun.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh, I love that. Yeah. I’m totally stealing that.

I don’t want to create competition for you, but this next generation is going to find what you’re doing super attractive. Low and behold, we’ll have more competition out there. I talk to a lot of different entrepreneurs and chefs, and it is always great to hear the positives of the story, but I’m sure there has been some blood, sweat, and tears over the last four and a half years. We don’t always hear that story of all the hard work to get to where you are today. Any thoughts on a couple of obstacles that could help someone who is thinking about this sort of path to maybe be prepared for that?

Brian Arruda: The big thing is that I was taught pretty young in the industry that people when I was young, the Daniel or Thomas, or these guys come to the kitchen, the cooks freeze up a little bit. They get nervous. I’ve always been told, “These guys own so many restaurants, and there are so many chefs and servers and managers and whatnot, you’ve got to make yourself seen. Whatever way it is. You’ve got to figure out how to stand out a little bit, be nice to everybody, build relationships, always treat people with respect even if you don’t see eye to eye. Because if you’re traveling around and you’re doing a good job, people know who you are. You’ll have all these purveyors and all these chefs and customers. If you’re a chef of a restaurant, go spend some time on the floor. Talk to your guests. Show a face. Don’t just stay in the kitchen the whole time. Just build relationships. Really, that’s what I did. I had a great relationship with tons of chefs. I had a great relationship with a few clients that had a lot of good friends. That’s where it all started.

I think just stay positive. It’s not going to happen overnight. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of answering phone calls at eleven o’clock at night on a Sunday because the person calling you is in a different country. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Stay focused. Network, network, network. Talk to everybody. Always talk to everybody. Don’t be the guy who is closed off. Even if you’re shy, figure out a way to get over it.

Brian Arruda’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: Networking, key word. Really great advice, chef.

Boy, I can’t thank you enough for spending some time with us. Congratulations. Congratulations on your marriage, your successful career, and the business. Before I let you go, the toughest question of all: the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish, so we have to ask, chef, in your mind, what is the ultimate dish?

Brian Arruda: Oh, man. I’m going to say, especially doing what I do now, I’m going to say there’s a big emphasis on Mediterranean food. I always say two of my fan favorites would definitely be a nice thin, flaky white fish en papillote. As well as being from the Northeast and growing up around all the seafood, I always say a good linguine Vongole with clams.

Kirk Bachmann: Very nice.

Brian Arruda: Two of my go-to favorite dishes and fan favorites. Absolutely.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it! I love it. Do you prepare those dishes, or encourage your team to sometimes serve those to your clients?

Brian Arruda: It depends. Yeah. If we have a client who is requesting. We see all the requests before we pick out the chef. I’ll always offer, “you don’t have to take my advice.” But a lot of the chefs will also lean on me for advice. “Hey, this is what they are looking for. What do you expect?”

I say, “Listen. A beautiful piece of white fish, maybe a grilled branzino with sauce vierge. Very simple. Everyone loves that. Everyone loves linguine Vongole, assuming they can consume the seafood.” Yeah, I will give as much advice as I’m asked. But we try to let the chefs run with their own ideas and creativity. That’s sort of what creates some ownership for them.

Coming from the restaurant, they don’t always have the ability to create the dishes that they want, so this gives them a little bit more freedom, which is a good reflection for the chefs, and everyone seems to like that.

Kirk Bachmann: Beautifully said. Really appreciate you, chef. Thanks. I don’t know where the time went so quickly. Thanks for the insight. Congratulations. We wish you all the success in the world. Keep us posted. Who knows? Maybe some of our grads will find their way into your company and you’ll be connecting them with clients. I love it. Best wishes always, chef.

Brian Arruda: If you shoot me your address with your email, I’ll send you a package of some merchandise for you.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh, I love it. I love it. You’ll get that. You’ll get that immediately, buddy. And I’ll do the same for you as well, by the way. I know you’re CIA, but I’d love to see you in a little Escoffier swag.

Brian Arruda: Yeah, I’ll do it. Absolutely. I appreciate it, Kirk. Thank you so much for having me on today.

Kirk Bachmann: Alright, buddy. Alright. Take care.

Brian Arruda: Enjoy the rest of your day.

Kirk Bachmann: And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. And if you can, please leave us a rating on Apple or Spotify, and subscribe to support our show. This helps us to reach more aspiring individuals ready to take the next step toward their dream careers. Thanks for listening.

*Correction: Thomas Gumpel was the VP of R&D at Panera Bread.

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