Local Talent for Rent
By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Alice G. Patterson
When DeAnna Germano was in high school, her boss at Kabuki, a sushi restaurant in Skaneateles, told her she should pursue a career in the culinary arts.
With thoughts of being a lawyer or joining the United States Coast Guard on her mind, DeAnna initially shrugged off the idea, she remembered. She’d been working in the field since age 14, and had grown up watching her older sister run a catering company, but she never anticipated following that path professionally.
“I had always thought a kitchen job was just a kitchen job,” DeAnna said. “I’d never really thought of it as a career.”
But then she was turned down by the United States Coast Guard, and had to reevaluate what she wanted for her future.
Her boss at Kabuki was one of the first people to try her food. After he did, he told her, “You’re actually good at this. You should probably do it.”
Now, after gaining experience at several highly regarded restaurants and building relationships with other local chefs, small businesses and farms, the 26-year-old runs her own catering, home meal delivery and food truck business, Chef4Rent.
“It’s been a long ride,” DeAnna said.
Learning the basics
Originally from Long Island, DeAnna moved to Skaneateles with her family when she was in high school. She worked in kitchens from a young age. When her boss convinced her to pursue a culinary arts degree, she decided to attend Paul Smith’s College, where she studied culinary arts and service management.
She began her freshman year, and then in November, received some bad news: her father had been diagnosed with cancer. It was only a year after her mother had entered remission.
Being so far away from her family, a tight-knit group, was difficult for DeAnna, but it made her try harder and graduate faster, she explained. Wasting no time, she graduated summa cum laude, a year ahead of schedule.
“It was hard,” she said, “but it was worth it.”
After finishing at Paul Smith’s College, DeAnna stayed in the Adirondacks area for about a year and a half, working at the highly renowned Lake Placid Lodge. Beginning as a line cook, she eventually was offered a position in pastry, which includes desserts, breads and other baked goods.
Her degree was in culinary arts and service management, so while she had taken basic pastry courses, DeAnna hadn’t planned to glean too much more expertise in that area. The chef at Lake Placid Lodge gave her some good advice, though.
“You should take this opportunity,” he told her, “because you can learn things other chefs won’t know. So now when you’re managing a kitchen, you know what a pastry chef is talking about about leavening breads. You’ll gain more knowledge that way.”
She took the position, and developed the skills and knowledge she wouldn’t have otherwise, which she still uses today.
But her father’s health was deteriorating, and DeAnna missed home. Through a contact made at a career fair, DeAnna was offered a job atTurning Stone Resort Casino.
Right around her 21st birthday, DeAnna became sous chef — second-in-command in the kitchen — and helped openTurning Stone’s new UpstateTavern. She helped design the layout of the kitchen and menu. Some of her dishes remain menu offerings to this day, she said with a smile.
The experience of helping a new restaurant build a strong foundation inspired her.
“After opening the Tavern, I decided I wanted to be an opening chef, which means that you travel to all these different opening places,” DeAnna explained.
She moved on to an opening chef job in Oswego, where she stayed for a few weeks, but didn’t find it to be a good fit. She had job interviews lined up in Auburn, but then tragedy struck. DeAnna’s father passed away.
“And that’s when I really just clung to my family,” DeAnna said.
The dream of a chef coalition
DeAnna’s family traveled to New York City to honor her father with a fireman’s funeral. When they came home, DeAnna again reevaluated what her future held, and made a decision: she would start her own business.
She began catering on a small scale. Catering is a good way to make money with low overhead, she explained. With no brick and mortar location necessary, you just need a commissary kitchen.
“But then I had this brilliant idea — which I still hope eventually one day comes to fruition — that my business will employ chefs throughout different states,” she said, “and then I can get them jobs.”
That’s where the name “Chef4Rent” was born, she said. Along with the arsenal of services she offers at this point, she’d like to one day see “a whole coalition of chefs to do this together,” DeAnna said with a smile.
Chef at home
DeAnna made the move back into the restaurant industry, taking the job of executive chef at Tabatha’s FamilyTree in Baldwinsville, while continuing to cater on the side. Tabatha helped DeAnna grow her network, connecting her with catering and wedding cake clients.
Eventually, DeAnna found her way back to her opening chef roots, taking the position of sous chef/pastry chef at the soon-to-open Sky Armory. Chef4Rent slowed for a short while as DeAnna helped get Sky Armory off the ground.
About a year and a half later, DeAnna got married, and had a son. She saw an uptick in Chef4Rent again, and she and her husband Mark decided it best for DeAnna to leave Sky Armory and stay home with their child.
While working at Sky Armory, a coworker connected her with a potential catering client. But rather than food for an event, the client was interested in home meal delivery.
DeAnna agreed to try it. With her new client’s help, DeAnna determined what would work best, what wouldn’t work, how to present instructions and more. It also eventually led to more clients for home meal delivery.
The system DeAnna worked out includes three meals delivered a week, at a rate of $75 a week for an individual, $150 for two people and $250 for up to a family of five. DeAnna preps the food, and delivers it to her clients’ homes with step-by-step instructions. Meals take anywhere from five to 15 minutes to prepare. Each meal is catered to the client’s dietary restrictions and preferences. The whole process saves the clients time and money, DeAnna explained.
“I’m buying all the groceries. I’m preparing it all for you. I’m delivering it to your doorstep,” she said.
Taking the chef on the road
When DeAnna and her husband first started dating, she would joke that she wanted to buy a food truck and open a popup restaurant. They’d laugh and agree it wasn’t the most feasible idea.
And then they found a truck for the perfect price, went to check it out and purchased it then and there. It was a great investment, DeAnna said.
“It opened up a lot of doors,” she explained.
As a mobile location, it’s an ideal commissary kitchen. She can bring it to events, like downtown Syracuse festivals or dinners at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards. She can volunteer her time and talents at local charity events by donating auction packages to organizations like the March of Dimes or Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central New York.
And it presents opportunities to sell at farmers markets, where she’s developed relationships with breweries and wineries, as well as nurtured partnerships with local farms.
The majority of the items DeAnna uses are now local.
“It’s taken a year and a half to get to that point,” she said, “but now, almost everything — including like corn meal and flour — I get it all locally.”
Farms like Greyrock Farm or Main Street Farms are among her ideal partners. With local farms, she’s supporting neighbors who are working just as hard as she is, DeAnna explained, adding that she knows exactly where the food comes from, and what pesticides may or may not have been used on it.
And then there’s the flavor.
“A lot of the local produce, it tastes so much better, stronger,” DeAnna said. “It has better nutrients. It’s more nutrient-dense, because it’s not killed with pesticides and not grown overly fast. It’s just taken care of the way it’s supposed to be.”
A flavorful future
For most of Chef4Rent’s existence, DeAnna’s also held a full-time job, on top of being a mother of two. She’s been executive chef and helped open a restaurant. She directed a school-aged childcare program at the Skaneateles YMCA, taught cooking classes there and plans to teach more this summer.
Now, she works at Upstate University Hospital as patient services supervisor, overseeing meal deliveries to the institution’s 350 to 400 patients every day.
DeAnna’s daily routine begins at the hospital at 5 a.m. Then she comes home in the early afternoon to prep her food, and either takes out the truck or makes meal deliveries. And throughout the day, she and her husband have two children to factor in as well.
Needless to say, it’s a long and busy day.
“That’s a lot of caffeine,” DeAnna joked.
At the time of this interview, DeAnna has four weekly clients for meal delivery, and expects the business to pick up midsummer, and then again in fall and winter. Before last spring, she had 12 clients.
With the number of catering events, parties and food truck events she’s already booked for the upcoming months, DeAnna’s confident she could rely on Chef4Rent for full-time income.
Partnerships with local businesses — like Willow Health and Wellness and potentially Blue Rock Energy — will give DeAnna storefronts from which to sell her meals.
Eventually, she might want her own brick and mortar location, but “right now, I’m just kind of seeing where it takes me,” she said.
She knows one thing for sure: she’ll never specialize in one specific type of cuisine.
A chef in culinary school once warned her against picking a favorite food. You’ll tend to lean toward your strengths and away from your weaknesses, and never grow, he told her.
“I want to make myself as versatile to my client as possible,” DeAnna said. “I want to know a lot about different cuisines, different ways to do caterings. Basically, I want to be the person they go to when nobody else can do it.” SWM
For more information on Chef4Rent, visit cheffourrent.com.