We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Skalka and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
I saw this quote a long time ago, before I started cooking professionally, and it completely spoke to me – I wished I had thought of it first: “Love People. Cook Them Tasty Food”. (It’s the Penzeys Spice slogan.) So simple, so true. It sums up how I cooked in my pre-professional life and how I cook now.
I’ve always been the person to bring the food, plan the meal, pick the restaurant. I love the way food can bring people together – sitting around the table simply sharing the events of the day, marking life’s successes and sorrows, exploring the flavors of the world and celebrating milestones. The people I love in this world have come to expect things like Turtle Ice Cream Pie on their birthday, or Rugelach on Rosh Hashanah, Smoked Pork Fried Rice in the summer post-rib night, to name a few. And I’ve always done that for people that I love, or even really like a lot. From scratch-made pasta sauce in college, to stir fry and chili with my roommate in New York City, to cracking lobster in Boston, and Friday night celebrations in Atlanta – all of those meals were better because they were with my favorite people.
Now as a professional chef, I find that I feel so much joy when I cook for clients that I like. I don’t really like to cook for assholes. As a small business woman maybe that’s not the wisest thing to say, but it’s definitely true. Life is too short for intentionally signing up for negative experiences. Whether it’s eating healthier, giving clients more time with their kids, staving off stress with work – I love being able to help bring some calm to people’s lives with thoughtfully prepared food. Part of that comes from the two-way communication that I try to instill in my business. Learning about a clients’ likes and dislikes, listening to the feedback about a particular meal, always delivering a quality product and hearing the appreciation on the other end goes a long way to building a great relationship.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As a personal chef I am all about thoughtfully prepared meals for my clients – all the things they want to see on their plates and nothing they don’t. That means a lot of good communication between myself and my clients, learning what they like and how their palates are growing (especially if there are young children), and creative presentation. I tend to focus on the healthier side of things, but don’t get me wrong – I’m always down for some cheese goodness followed by an outstanding dessert to finish things off on a sweet note. I’m super excited that I’ve never had to advertise; all of my clients have come through word of mouth. Starting out small and on my own was hard and nerve wracking for sure. Finding a group of other personal personal chefs here in Atlanta was a game-changer – there were certainly times simply having someone to bounce ideas off of changed the way I was organizing my business. Years later I’ve learned how important it is to cook what I love for good people and to set boundaries about my work/life balance.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
oh gosh that’s a hard one – there are so many tasty spots! Friends and family are always treated to some home cooked meals so we’ll head to the Farmer’s Market for some in-season produce and plan our menu for their visit from there. Definitely picking up some sourdough baguettes from Evergreen Butcher & Baker. When we head out and if they like a stellar cocktail or oysters, we’re heading to Kimball House in Decatur. We’ll likely hit Miller Union for a meal that is always fantastic. Or Lyla Lila for pasta if we’re in Midtown, or maybe Delbar for some pretty ridiculous falafel. Perhaps we’d drive north and hike and picnic. Civil Rights Museum if they’ve never been, The Beltline and Piedmont Park are always fun for people watching and lunch along the way. Everyone eats well when they visit us!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I learned to cook in my mother’s kitchen and I’ll still ask her for recipes. She made family meals a staple in our house – it was important to sit down together, share a meal, connect with one another and talk about our day. And now I do that with my family and hopefully help my clients do the same.
When my Mom and my husband encouraged me to start Clean Plate Club Atl, they were a powerful team. He has been my biggest supporter and helped make this business a success in so many ways – from picking up carpool duty for the kids to proofreading my website to helping me set pricing. I couldn’t have done this without him.