Last Tuesday was Zacki’s birthday and it was a very busy day! We prepared Pao de Queijo-Brazilian Cheese Puffs for an appetizer for her birthday celebration at The Secret Garden. A fun and easy to make munchies, these little cheesy-puff nibblers were a great tie-over snack! Mixed with tapioca starch, cheddar cheese, oil, butter and milk-also topped off with Zacki’s signature Ancient Mediterranean Seasoning were quickly gobbled up, leaving a once-full plate completely empty.

Pao de Queijo-Brazilian Cheese Puffs

Olga and I also experimented with a new recipe- some sort of pastry appetizer- a recipe that quickly failed. We quickly realized that this recipe was no where close correct. We tried to salvage it and decided we’d try to make breadsticks. We put a thing layer of egg on top of the dough, seasoned and flavored it with green onions, rosemary, thyme, garlic and onion powder, and of course a little of the Ancient Mediterranean Seasoning! I had some of my own fun and made a few cheesy empañadas, using the same stuff except with cheese in the middle. They weren’t the best, but for what they started as, they didn’t turn out too bad!

Breadsticks (L) Empañadas (R)

When I first pulled up to the house where The Secret Garden was, I already knew I was going to like it, getting just a small preview with the landscaping in front of and along side the house. A secluded and unknown treasure, this Secret Garden quickly became a new favorite spot of mine! There are lots of colors in the garden. Many different plants and flowers, with a few accents such as the black metal archway, the white bird cage, and the statue on top of the small pond.

When we brought out the appetizers, we headed into the concrete structure where everyone was gathered. It seemed enclosing at first, until I stepped through the arch way and it opened up to a beautiful, relaxing scene. With the bright color of the gravel, the warm summer sun shining, the earthy feel of the garden and lounging area made this new place feel very welcoming. Friends and family laughed and talked among each other while sipping Sangria and munching on the cheese snacks. The warm smiles and blissful garden setting made for a wonderful and enjoyable birthday celebration.


From Seed To Harvest To Plate

My first full day on the job with Zacki was Saturday May 12th. I arrived at 9am for the beginning of what would be a VERY busy and productive day. When I walked in, Zacki had her hands rolling grapes into a thick blend of cream cheese and bleu cheese with her palms before they were coated in crushed almonds. A few minutes later she let me take over- it was my first creation at Zacki’s!

We headed into town around 11:30, trying to visit the farmer’s market in downtown Durham before it closed at noon, but unfortunately missed it by just a few minutes. We continued on to Stone Brothers, a very unique garden center that is almost a century old. They have numerous bins filled with a wide variety of seeds and beans, some dating back to decades ago. In awe of the rustic elegance of Stone Brothers I documented the shop in every direction I turned. Here I witnessed the very first step of what its like to be a private chef.


Seeds From Stone Brothers

Zacki picked out a few plants and some turnip seeds before we headed to our next destination- the Secret Garden. While the two dogs ran and played, Zacki began step two of the process of being a private chef. She planted the turnip seeds and others she had brought with her, and I sat comfortably in the dirt pulling out weeds irritating the garden. The garden also had a undesired surplus of chocolate mint, growing like a weed itself, so I extracted that from the ground as well and actually got to keep it (which my mother greatly appreciated on Mother’s Day!).


The Secret Garden


Mali and Kikko Playing in the Clover

A few hours later, we went to another garden owned and nurtured by Zacki’s friends. The garden was beautiful. Upon entering the garden, there stood a handcrafted wooden arch, decorated with flowers, which opened up to rows and rows of flowers and vegetables including onions, lettuce and more. In the back corner, there was a chicken coup, also containing a handcrafted chicken house. Some of the chickens acted as if they wanted to model for the camera! We picked a few fresh onions from the garden, which was later used in our catering event the next day. So far, I had now seen half the process- seeds bought, then planted, now a picked vegetable- this was step three.

Wheelbarrow in the Garden

The next day was Mother’s Day and I went with Zacki to the home of Courtney and Luke James where we catered for a family that has a total of about 20 people, including eight kids. After we unpacked the groceries and set up everything to begin cooking, some of the kids immediately wanted to help. With help of a few of the children, we cooked a Mediterranean meal beginning with hors d’oeuvres including a hummus dip mixed with roasted red pepper and freshly chopped garlic, served with pita chips and pita bread- toasted with olive oil and a flavorful Mediterranean seasoning. The second appetizer consisted of tzatziki sauce with beets, asparagus, and rosemary flat bread as dippers. For the main course, we cooked roasted vegetables- carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, garlic cloves and green onions. Additionally, we prepared chicken with couscous adorned with lemon slices, and put together a Mediterranean salad with raisins, grapes and other ingredients.


Grilled Chicken Over a Bed of Couscous

Part of the catering event was to teach the children a little about cooking a presenting so outside of them helping cook, they also carried the completed appetizer trays to the room where the adults were gathered.  Although the hors d’oeuvres barely made it out of the kitchen- due to the hungry children (and a few of the adults) quickly gobbling up some freshly baked pita bread- it was an instantly delicious and satisfying finger food for the family. The main course dishes were generously portioned on the adults’ plates, as they ate and conversed with each other in the intimate dining room. The kids continued to play and laugh vigorously as they filled up their previously famished tummies.

The last and final step of a private chef obviously included the finished meal, but what really designated the final step were the green onions included in it. Over the course of two days, I saw something that started out so small- a seed- being planted in the ground to be grown and cultivated over time. At the second garden that day, we picked the green onions- a matured plant ready to be harvested for eating. Finally, the onions were prepared as an ingredient and plated in our main course, completing the cycle of seed-to garden-to plate. We all know that chefs chop, season and cook. But what most people fail to recognize or remember, is that the foods they chop, season and cook, have to come from somewhere. Not everything is always readily available, or easily bought. Some things start out small and grow over time, to have only the freshest ingredients for a meal. This process is only a small part of the daily life of a private chef.


The FINAL STEP of the green onions- making it from seed, to harvest, to the plate- in the hummus.