You probably have a new idea every day. Getting it off the ground is a lot more difficult than just thinking of it. Nothing in life is easy (except failure). ere are some suggestions from the inspiring life of ChefGail.

It’s not what you look at but what you see that matters. – Henry David Thoreau 

There may be nothing new under the sun yet people are coming up with new products, services, and ideas all the time. Gail looked at the local catering scene and recognized that hosts wanted more than the pedestrian fare being served by existing catering companies. She offered market tours and culinary travel long before anyone else caught on. She was inspired by chefs and markets around the world and brought their recipes back home. She looked at the same things as everyone else but saw unique opportunities.

Gourmet Goodies was a catering company but it did more than deliver the food. Gail brought in event planners, pastry chefs, and specialized wait staff so that she could deliver the total experience. Inspiration was part of her long-term business development but it was also part of her outreach.

Countless entrepreneurs sought her advice on recipes, business concepts, or the business building process. Gail embraced their ideas and helped mold them into viable models. She looked beyond the surface of an idea and expanded the creative process, the aesthetics, or the marketing of the final product. By reverse engineering the idea it became more real and realistic.

Seek a mentor and ask for help. Together you too must examine your best idea; look through it to see how it will make a difference or what makes it unique. In other words, try to see what others have overlooked.

It's a new year and you have another 12 months in which to become famous. ChefGail was a well-know personality in Edmonton but she didn't get famous from self-promotion. It took hard work at the community level where she gave as good as he got. Is this the year you will receive an award?

#5 If you can't serve, you can't rule.     Bulgarian wisdom

Whenever awards are handed out you will notice that the award recipients got credit for contributions did that are over and beyond their job. No business leader has ever won an award for just for doing their job. In every case they served on committees, coached minor sports, or volunteered at community events. It was the things they did away from work that made them stand out.

Gail’s work life was very busy yet she still served on a diverse range of boards from the Chamber of Commerce to a theatre company. She was involved in work related activities as well such as conferences, meetings, and government lobbying. Her volunteer activities made her well known in the community and boosted her self-esteem.

Like a true leader, she did not get involved to win awards but the recognition did come over time. You can follow a similar path. Start slowly and at the beginning of your career choose ad hoc committees that complete a task and then disband. You can also volunteer for a conference or event organizing committee that will keep you busy for a whole year. As you gain confidence and experience look for boards or policy committees that meet on a regular basis. Attend all the meetings, complete your commitments, and you will soon be invited to join more influential committees where you can make your mark. Volunteering is the rent you pay for being given a career. As your career matures you may find yourself being called forward to receive an award but more importantly, you’ll find your life enriched with friends, memories, and self worth.

As an entrepreneur, ChefGail had a remarkable success. She idolized her entrepreneur father and followed in his footsteps. Through her efforts she was able to find herself and you can too.

#2 Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. - George Bernard Shaw

Like her father, Gail was a serial entrepreneur. Nothing was going to keep her down. When her government job became too stressful, she created a catering company. When the economy kicked the legs out from under her business she expanded her culinary tours and started a cooking school. When you turn a diamond in the light it sparkles in different ways depending on the angle. When you turned Gail she sparkled differently from every angle. It takes six or eight adjectives to describe her: cook, chef, entrepreneur, writer, tour leader, media personality, educator….

You too, are a real three dimensional object. You may define yourself by your job, your heritage, or your family position (mother, uncle etc.) but these and all the other aspects of your life can be developed to create a new facet on the diamond of your life. Sit down one day with a close friend and list all the features of your life, personality, hobbies, and work experience. Gail liked to cook, so she transitioned from a government consultant to caterer. She knew she could sell so she tried working in retail. She loved travel so she became a tour leader.   

With your list in hand, start looking for opportunities to develop another facet. Libraries, career consultants, and college councillors might help. You’ll soon see the opportunities and be inspired to grasp them. You are not always going to be what you are today; tomorrow you will be a new creation.

The ChefGail Memoir contains 30 recipes but it also includes business insights drawn from ChefGails remarkable success in two different companies. Here is another one. You can read all of them in the book available at local bookstores and retailers.

INSIGHT #12 A cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. – Oscar Wilde

Everyone in business is in sales. No matter what you do you have to sell your product, your service, or your idea. Setting the price is a tricky balance. If the price is too high you may not sell any product, if too low you may not achieve any profit.

In a manufacturing process you know the purchase price of each of the individual ingredients, you add the cost of labour and a profit margin, and consider the overhead costs of running the business; you have a price point. In a situation where you are selling services, you still have to cover expenses but the price may well be determined by the perceived value or how much the market can bear.

In her catering company Gail, generally estimated that ingredients, labour, and overhead were each about 30% of the total cost. The remaining 10% was profit or margin. In reality her margin was often just 2 to 5%. Food service is not a way to get cash rich. You have to harvest the riches of delighting customers. A competitor once confessed that he was having trouble making a profit. Gail’s response was that her pricing was carefully calculated and yielded a margin of just 4%. Her competitor’s practice was to take her price list and discount it 10%. He was losing money even before he started.

Later in her career, Gail was often invited to do a cooking demonstration, give a speech, or participate in an event. The price for her services was often negotiable although she had a base rate that increased throughout her career. In a negotiation, you should try to get the buyer to outline their budget. So, after getting an idea of what the client wanted to spend Gail would name a price. After a slight pause she would add “per day”, or “per hour”, or “plus expenses”. If the client was still interested she might ask for a travel or accommodation allowance as well. Of course taxes were always assumed and added on at the end in any case.

Sometimes the offer could not be immediately accepted and the client would have to go back to check budget or get approval for the expenditure. If the client had assumed a lower price, they had to consider the drawing power of Gail’s presentation and how it would affect event attendance and revenues. However, if Gail really wanted to make the presentation or was feeling generous about the cause or host, she might offer to take a smaller fee. You cannot ask for more but you can always ask for less.

Only you can determine what you are going to charge. But be bold, ensure you cover your direct and indirect costs, and don’t underestimate your perceived value.

Many people think that Maps, Markets and Matzo Ball Soup is a recipe book. The memoir does contain recipes but it also includes business insights. ChefGail operated two very successful businesses and worked in retail and for the government. She was a highly regarded business person and served on community boards and committees. Some of her business practices are highlighted in the book. If your business club would like to book a speaker in the new year, Jon Hall would be delighted to review some of the business practices in the book. Here is one of them.

#1 Live life as if everything is tilted in your direction  - Rumi, 13thcentury Persian poet

Very few people can recall Gail ever complaining. She got frustrated sometimes but immediately took a breath and moved on. She took daily missteps in stride and just got the job done. That level of commitment takes a lot of time and energy and Gail’s hands-on leadership style required her to be “on deck.” But as the company grew, Gail came to realize that she needed a vacation to “re-create”. However, like many entrepreneurs, Gail was plowing every dollar back into the company.

Gail loved to travel. She had been to Europe and toured western Canada with friends. We drove our VW camper around western Canada and into the Yukon and NWT. So we sat down and discussed how to build vacations and travel into her job. The answer was culinary tours. As you know, that became the backbone of her career with 35 trips in just 20 years. Her clients signed up for tour after tour and reveled in the immersive experience.

Culinary tourism may not be a part of your enterprise but there are many ways to take advantage of work experiences that will enrich your life and help you “re-create”. Attend conferences relevant to your business and stay over for a day or two after the event to play tourist. While on family travel take a side trip to visit a supplier or competitor. Stretch your imagination with a visit to an art gallery or museum; they often have days or evenings when admission is free. Host a visiting expert by offering them a bed, a meal, or just a drink. You’ll grow from the conversation and extend your range of influence. You may not see it at first but with just a little extra effort you’ll find that the world seems to be tilted in your direction.

The memoir of Chef Gail Hall is about a life well lived. Her personal life as an entrepreneur and living with cancer is inspiring for anyone with an illness. Her vision, life and energy never wavered until her body finally gave out. The debilitating effects of cancer never caused her to pause and she lived with the disease in an exuberant manner.
Many people will want to read the book because of the 30 recipes in the book. Each recipe includes a story about the ingredients, the history or the origins of the dish. From Pisco Sours to Green Chili Stew, they were all favourites of Chef Gail and her clients, students or friends. All the recipes are also included in a spiral bound recipe book that lays flat for use in the kitchen and protects the big book from kitchen splashes and stains. You can buy the recipe book on-line from the website Q32.ca. The book will appeal to anyone who has a kitchen.
Finally, Gail was a true entrepreneur who followed in her father's footsteps and started two award winning companies in Edmonton. The book contains 13 business Insights that reflect the business practices of Gail's enterprises. This book will appeal to anyone who has a business and be an inspiration for anyone who wants to start one.
Kitchen users, business owners or anyone with an illness would love to receive Maps Markets and Matzo Ball Soup as a gift.

Gail and I have visited half a dozen outlet malls in our travels through two provinces and six states. The only outlet I’ve seen that was of even remote interest to me was the Bose sound system store. Oh sure, I’ve picked up some shoes, pants, socks and shirts but that’s out of necessity not shopping. In desperation I’ve browsed the Sunglasses Hut and Samsonite stores but with clip-ons and new luggage that we bought in Italy last year I am already set. I suppose some men would find interest in a Tag Heuer store but if a watch is in the same price range as a Prius it better get the outstanding gas mileage.

My interest was peaked when I noticed that one store carried Caterpillar (tractor company) branded goods but they turned out to be steel toed stilettos and lace trimmed denim shirts. The Harley Davidson store didn’t have a single motorcycle part or accessory and I there were no Montreal biker gang members picking up pink hoodies for their Breast Cancer Bike Tour on the day I was there.

Where are the outlet stores that feature designers like Stanley, Black & Decker and Delta? Does Mike Holmes buy his Makita tools at full retail? I want to see brands like Lowes, Ace, Home Depot and Revy. Sony, Yamaha, Toshiba and Samsung should join Bose at the discount end of the retail market.

I overheard a couple of women already loaded down with bags planning to meet at the food court “as close as possible to the window in two hours from now.” I was finished shopping and had eaten lunch in just 30 minutes and left with a full belly but empty handed. I’d be planning a return trip if the store selection contained Lee Valley, Best Buy, Magic Palace, Weber Grills or John Deere. A Chapters book store or an automobile showroom would at least give me somewhere to go while Gail shopped for shoes.

Perhaps if I was richer I could shop like the guy in the two-car convoy. His black chauffeured Cadillac pulled up in front of the Cartier store and he dashed inside. His body guard stepped down from the black Escalade that followed and took a stance on the sidewalk looking into the store. At six foot four and 240 pounds I am considered overweight but this guy at 300 pounds would be considered trim. He cast a shadow that provided shade for a whole busload of Chinese visitors. If he had hinges he could have been used as a barn door. His boss exited the store within minutes, his driver opened the trunk and stowed his packages while the mountain man held the car door open. Everyone climbed aboard in a well rehearsed routine and the convoy drove around to the Moms and Tots Store. The tableau repeated itself while the boss dashed inside. He must have phoned in his order and had it ready for pick up because he was out again in seconds with an armload of bags. Then they moved along to park in the fire lane with flashers on outside another store while the boss finished shopping. His credit card hardly had time to cool before they exited the mall and headed for home.

Meanwhile, I am still sitting in the husband chair outside Jimmy Chou’s watching the endless stream of people that seem to think that outlet malls make for an afternoon of good entertainment. I would be pleased to join them again when the product mix includes stuff that doesn’t have to be tried on before purchase.

That’s what I’m thinking about.

Jon Hall

Gail is a locavore; someone who eats food provided by local producers, growers and suppliers. She promotes local products in her classes and radio shows and uses local products in her recipes whenever possible. The extreme end of locavorism is “100 mile dieting” which means that all products must originate within 100 miles of the consumer. One hundred miles has become the defacto measure for eating local although the phrase “local” is as loose as a politician’s credibility. For Edmonton and many other parts of the planet this means a very limited diet in the winter and early spring. It also means that products like coffee, bananas and many spices are as unwelcome as water leaks in a submarine.

As consumers we have become used to a diet that includes “seasonal” fruit and vegetables all year round. Everything that can be grown is “in season” somewhere in the world and is shipped out in huge containers on ships, trucks and airplanes. Often California is seen as the villain when foodies discuss food providence issues.

But down here in California the argument falls apart. It is hard to be extreme when almost everything is local and seasonal all year round. Citrus fruits in your front yard yield fruit all year round and everything from almonds to zinfandel are available from roadside stands operated by farmers and cooperatives.

Farmers markets are operated in every village year round and specialize not only in local but also organic and wholesome. I suppose that Canadian sourced products like Maple syrup is demonized down here.

It has become very confusing to beat the locally sourced drum while walking through what at home is considered the demonic centre of all things non-local.

That’s what I am thinking about.

Jon Hall

If your only tool is a hammer then every problem is a nail. I think about that all the time because I am a marketing guy and every issue is viewed through a marketing lens. I have been considering the wine industry for the past weeks while visiting a couple of dozen wineries. Winemakers spend millions of dollars creating, selling and distributing wine around the world. The buildings they make wine in are spectacular and many are way over the top. Yet when you enter the tasting room, some of the basics seem to be missing.

Any wine expert will tell you that the vineyard is where good wine is made. The winemaker’s primary objective is to stay out of the way of a good wine as it flows through the production process. The soil, water, air and vines themselves all affect the creation of the grapes that are crushed, fermented and aged to create thousands of types of wines.

Surprisingly the actual task of making wine is very simple and consistent from one winery to the next despite the millions of tiny changes that can be added to the process. If wine making was about the process then wine could be made anywhere: yet wine only comes from a few select areas of the world where the vines survive and create great grapes.

Back in the tasting room, the talk is all about the finished product. The nose, the flavour notes, the color are all discussed in great detail. The wine presenter n ever fails to mention oak barrels, aging times and bottling techniques: the process. They hardly ever credit the terroire, the weather or the soils that create the grape. In fact, it was only at Raymond Winery that the presenter mentioned the value of the Napa Valley itself to the wine making process. I think more winemakers should use the vineyard as the main point that differentiates their wine from all other competitor’s products.

The other point that I want to make is that very few wine presenters aerate their wines in the tasting rooms. We know that red wines in particular must be opened several hours before being served or decanted to reach their full potential. The best restaurants and hosts all ritualize the serving of wine with fancy decanters and all sorts of gear that round out the taste, allow some of the airborne alcohol to evaporate and enhance the wine tasting experience. Yet at the wineries the presenters spend all day popping corks and pouring wine directly into glasses. They are not presenting their wines at their best.

The process of aeration does not have to be difficult. Only one winery so far was using a bottle aerator to bubble the wine into the glass. I use the same device at home and have shown many groups of guests how the taste and enjoyment of a wine is enhanced with the device. I pour wine into the glass directly from the bottle and then pour it through the bubbler and every guest can taste the difference that the air makes.

Why are wineries not showing off their wines to the best advantage? I suppose it’s because they don’t have a marketing focus.

That’s what I am thinking about.

Jon Hall

Travel is broadening. Despite the fact that we both intend to loose a few pounds on this trip as a result of good eating and increased exercise and therefore decrease the width of our beam, the trip has widened our minds. I already have a head full of unrelated and generally useless trivia but after almost 60 years of dribbling that information out, it is good to get some new stuff to share randomly as the occasion requires.

One of my favourite TV characters was the writer played by Morey Amsterdam in the Dick Van Dyke Show. One of his set pieces on the show was to recite a joke about any topic you could name. Of course, the show was scripted but the talent was inspiring. But I digress. What I want to do today is give you some of the fascinating gems I have learned in the first few weeks of travel.

FACT: Rainbow and Steelhead Trout are the same species. I learned this at a self-serving aquarium exhibit operated by a lumber company in Oregon which demonstrated that they had over 50 scientists working on environmental issues and preserving the fish and other animals who are affected by the thousands of other employees dedicated to cutting down trees and denuding the environment.

FACT: At the Tillamoot Creamery I learned that over 100 years ago salt was originally added to butter during production to preserve it during shipping. It is the same reason that salt pork and similar products were produced. Without the added salt the butter turned rancid before it could be used. Improvements in transportation made the production technique unnecessary but consumer’s taste for salt keeps salted butter on the shelf.

FACT: Cape Blanco is supposed to be the most westerly point in the contingent United States. There is a lighthouse on the Cape which despite being the shortest lighthouse on the western coast is the highest lighthouse above sea level because of the cliffs that the lighthouse is located on. At least one other community claims to be located at the furthest point sticking into the Pacific.

FACT: Paul Bunyan was raised on milk fed to him in 80 gallon baby bottles. You can see a life size statue of Paul and Babe the Blue Ox at the Trees of Wonder exhibit in Oregon.

FACT: Bandon, Oregon is a nice place to visit despite the fact that some wag has added an “A” to the beginning of the name on a highway sign making it less attractive as Abandon.

FACT: There is less than 4% of the original old growth Redwood forest left. Some of these trees were growing when Jesus was born and have survived over 2000 years of history. Yet in just over 200 years we have decimated these forestry giants to make shingles and deck lumber.

FACT: Over 50,000 containers full of consumer goods are offloaded in the Los Angeles port EACH DAY. When you see the vast array of products available at Wal-Mart it is easy to see where much of that cargo goes.

FACT: There are six soil types of soil in the Napa Valley. Most wine growing areas contain one or two. Apparently the only other place in the world with six soil types is a small valley in France. Since more than 80% of a wine’s ultimate success comes from the orchard then you can understand why Napa has such a variety of excellent wines.

FACT: The slogan for this trip has become “Not all who wander are lost.” I hope you appreciate that these facts are no longer lost.

That’s what I have been thinking about.

Jon Hall