Graduating during a global pandemic isn’t what most culinary students picture when they enroll in a program to kick start their career. But for New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute graduate Erik Nunley, the unique situation allowed him to launch a private chef business, Chef St. Erik, and develop as an entrepreneur.
“Covid was the launching pad for where I am now,” Erik says, reflecting on how he was able to apply his skills to the new reality.
Between restaurant shutdowns and fears about dining out even after restrictions had lifted, many food-lovers were looking to bring flavorful meals and group dining experiences into their homes. Erik met their needs from start to finish, developing unique courses based on each new client’s preferences, rather than relying on a standard menu.
“I like to give my clients what they want,” Erik says, crediting his customer service skills and hospitality knowledge to his time in the hotel industry.
As a private chef, Erik takes his role as an entrepreneur seriously. He spends about 20 percent of his working time cooking, and the other 80 percent goes towards marketing, connecting with new clients, fielding client requests, sourcing supplies, and completing the administrative work that allows his business to run successfully.
“I do everything from the time the client contacts me to the time I get the review,” Erik says.
This entrepreneurial adaptability is a value Erik and his Covid-era cohort at NOCHI saw firsthand from their alma mater, which partnered with Chefs Brigade on the city’s Covid emergency meal assistance program. Returning to in-person training at NOCHI after several months of online classes during the pandemic’s beginning, Erik and his fellow students helped stack and organize meals for the program. Following graduation, Erik returned again to NOCHI after Hurricane Ida to help distribute meals in coastal Louisiana, areas hit hardest by the storm.
Although restaurants have long since reopened, Erik plans to continue his path as a successful private chef, which was his goal from the beginning. His longer term aspirations include more travel. He wants to be inspired by the food and food systems of other places and cultures, while sharing New Orleans’ and Southern U.S. cuisine with other parts of the world.
“People just want good food,” Erik says, after returning from a recent trip to cook for a client in Nova Scotia. “They want good experiences and good meals, and I want to bring it to them.”
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