The MacGyver of the Kitchen: Amber Marie From Clean Cuisine

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The MacGyver of the Kitchen: Amber Marie From Clean Cuisine

Amber Marie is a woman that’s so many things, she’ll never fit in any one box. She’s an activist, an artist, a feminist and friend to anyone in need of her very special set of skills.

She’s the self-proclaimed MacGyver of the kitchen. And from her home base down in Savannah Georgia, chef Amber Marie, along with her team at Clean Cuisine is fixing the way we think about how food affects our mental and physical health. One recipe at a time.

She starts her story like this, “Eight or so years ago I decided to be self-employed. Which I really like because I have the opportunity to kind of create whatever work situation is best for me instead of kind of being in this “victim mode” of just finding whatever’s available. I get to go out there and find the clients I want to work with.”

“But with respect to this business, I have a bread and butter client or two which are people that I cook for privately in their homes and then I also do nutrition education and some related nonprofit work.”

But what does cooking for someone in their home entail? How many days a week does one go to their house and prepare meals for them?

Chef Amber explains, “That’s the interesting feature. And something where I find the longer that I’ve been doing this, it kind of waxes and wanes with how much of the education piece that I’m doing at any given time.”

“But I’ve had periods since I’ve been doing this where I would show up at their house and cook three or four days a week and prepare the meals that day and serve the meal. That’s kind of a more high end service.”

“But then there are clients that I’ve worked with at a lower price point. Perhaps they’re eating healthier because they have some kind of health issue or eating disorder or food allergy. Not just because they can afford a private chef.”

“They have a need for the service and maybe I’ll drop off a bunch of meals once a week or once every two weeks or whatever they can afford. It’s different with every client.”

The chef continues, “To be fair, the more fancy service really appeals to the culinary snob in me. And I get to do more high profile and more creative work. With the other work, I really get to help people.”

She offers a bit of clarification for those of us not embedded in the culinary world, “I think a lot of people get confused. They don’t know the difference between a private chef, a personal chef and a caterer. And I feel like I’m constantly having to correct people that they really don’t know what I do.”

So she attempts to set the record straight.

“A caterer does these mass volume food production. And can cater large events where there’s 50 to 100 people. Or can prepare food for 100 different families and then go around and drop them all off. For me, I can’t compete with the prices that a caterer can offer. But my food is going to be tasting better. It’s going to be more tailored to your actual tastes because I work one on one with clients.”

“A personal chef is somewhere more mid-range. Where they do more meal drop offs every couple of weeks that may or may not be more custom tailored to you. ‘Hey, I don’t like mushrooms,’ or “Hey, I’m allergic to dairy and peanuts.’ That kind of thing. But  it may or may not always be that nuanced.”

“The private chef service is very, very, very individualized. With those clients, for my personal chef and my private chef clients both, when I start working with them they fill out an extensive questionnaire in which they detail everything. Like, ‘Do you like thyme?’ ‘Do you like parsley?’ Everything. Because I don’t ever want to develop a menu that’s custom tailored where there’s a dish that they don’t like. I don’t want there to be mistakes.I want my clients to always be happy.”

There’s more to it than might meet the eye at first. Chef Amber continues on, “Now if you’re doing more volume food service, you’re going to have people that may not like every dish. Even within families, there are people that like certain things more than others. And I can work around that. Make a separate side dish for this one family member that doesn’t like this. So that’s kind of what I do. I  go out of my way to create menus. I’m kind of like the MacGyver of the kitchen.”

And being the MacGyver of the kitchen certainly can come in handy.

“No matter what kind of issues people have going on in the house, I will develop a menu that speaks to all of those issues at the same time. A caterer just doesn’t have the time or the capacity to do something like that. So it definitely is a higher end service. It’s more expensive than eating at a restaurant. Whether you’re at the more personal chef level or the private chef level. With the private chef service, you’re actually getting the service of preparing it hot in your home and handing it to you rather than you getting it in some kind of Tupperware and reheating it on your own.

Do her clients ever invite Chef Amber to join them for a meal? Or does she have to hide out in the kitchen until they’re done? Most importantly, who cleans up?

“I’ve had different scenarios depending on the client,” Chef Amber states clearly.

“Some of these clients I’ve had for years at a time. And you do get to be a member of the family. You’re in their kitchen all the time and you talk to them. So they’ll definitely offer for me to sit down at the table if they have company over something goal you know tell me to take home food or a lot of the clients I’ve had.”

And about the clean up?

“Most of my clients have a separate house keepers. But I’m pretty OCD. so I don’t generally leave a big mess anyway. So usually I’ll just rinse off some dishes and leave them for the housekeeper to get to.”

“When I do more of the personal chef service – where I’m just dropping off meals – its less appealing for me. But that’s the service I do more out of the kindness of my heart because I really want to help somebody who has cancer or who is allergic to everything and cannot go out to eat. Because I’ve been sick. I understand how awful that is. And I want to help.”

As it turns out, food and healthy eating was a big part of Chef Amber’s own healing and recovery.

She elaborates, “I think part of the reason I got sick was I in the wrong kind of career field to begin with. And I was just bored out of my mind. So I had started learning more. I felt like the traditional healthcare system really failed at diagnosing me and treating me so I went down this rabbit hole of alternative medicine. And I started learning a lot about nutrition and how the body works. It really started helping and I ended up having to get extreme with it. I was fasting for long stretches of time, doing the herbal detox and things like that.”

“But I noticed a dramatic improvement in my symptoms after I made some changes to my diet.”

Before making these “food revelations”, Chef Amber Marie was attorney Amber Marie. A lawyer who walked away from it all to follow newfound culinary dreams.

“I just really always wanted to help people.” A recurring theme with Chef Amber.

“So I thought going into a touchy feely tract of the law would be a good way. I had got really frustrated with a lot of the public education system. I was trying to work in teaching and it was very frustrating. There was no funding and I ended up going to law school. And I remember early on in law school I was really bored. I hated the day to day reading and writing tasks. Mind numbing.

“It wasn’t like I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t want to. And everyone kept telling me, ‘Oh, it’s going to get better as soon as you finish your degree.’ So I did that. Now I might as well take the bar. So I did that. ‘Might as well try it for a couple of years.’ I did that and it just never got any better. I was ignoring my intuition and ignoring that voice.”

“I just felt like a phony every single day. So I thought, ‘Well, what do I really like to do?’ I like creative writing and I really like cooking. Those are the two things I’ve always just really liked.”

But a change in career was going to mean additional schooling.

“So if I was ever going to go back to school for culinary – that was the time. But I was also applying to a handful of ‘dream jobs’ in law. So I told myself, ‘ OK if I don’t get any of these I’m going to culinary school. I was offered every job I applied for.”

“And this was a time in New York City where people that were supposed to be starting at law firms were being put off for a year and taking a break because there were there wasn’t any work. And I felt bad because I was one of the few people that scored a good job. And I felt really badly turning it down. Especially since it had been exactly what I wanted. And I’m like him or you know that I you know thought out of the bunch of what I would have wanted to do: education law and civil rights for the largest public university in the country.”

So after leaving New York law behind, Chef Amber first settled in Florida before moving to picturesque Savannah, Georgia and starting Clean Cuisine.

“It’s a different market. I don’t have as many of the high profile clients like I had working with a couple of agencies in South Florida. But Savannah, Georgia not really a mecca for that sort of thing. However the film industry has really been picking up here and I’ve had a couple of celebrity one-off things here because people tend to be in town short term.”

(Chef Amber isn’t naming any names.)

“So, besides the film stuff here, I was kind of like, ‘Well, what else am I going to do?’Obviously there’s a need for more healthy food in the South. So I started with doing a lot of community service work. Working with a couple of the local organizations like Healthy Savannah and others under the umbrella of the local farmer’s market.”

“I’ve been teaching private culinary nutrition classes with clients as far away as South Carolina.

“I’ve been working with another female about my age. And we’re doing a vegan, gluten free, low glycaemic meal delivery service. That’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do because I told you I’m kind of averse to like volume food service. But the beauty of partnering with her is that I’m kind of like the creative consultant and she’s doing all that grunt work of marketing, dealing with the clients, and all the taxes and the billing. The fun stuff,” she winks.
“I’m an artist,” Chef Amber reminds us.  “I have no desire to do any of that. So she takes care of it all. I’m not technically a party to that business and I can just invoice her under my business and call it a day. I don’t have to deal with what happens with that. But I get to show up and cook the kind of food I want to. And help people that desperately need it.”

If everybody in her industry approached food as responsibly as Chef Amber Marie does, we’d all be living in a much healthier and happier world. She’s living proof that cooking can be an art and a direct route to a healthier, overall lifestyle.
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