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The Chef Lifestyle: Building a Brand Around the Love of Food

Melissa Eboli AKA Chef Via Melissa is a certified Culinary Nutrition Expert (CNE), Nutritional Chef and certified wellness counselor (CNWC) based out of NY. She is the author of “Let’s Dine IN: Healthy Recipes & Tips To Minimize Your Shopping Trips” (2020), and the owner of Via’s Kitchen, a personal chef, and catering company that […]

Melissa Eboli AKA Chef Via Melissa is a certified Culinary Nutrition Expert (CNE), Nutritional Chef and certified wellness counselor (CNWC) based out of NY. She is the author of “Let’s Dine IN: Healthy Recipes & Tips To Minimize Your Shopping Trips” (2020), and the owner of Via’s Kitchen, a personal chef, and catering company that focuses on clean, allergen-friendly food. Her services include event catering, dinner parties, cooking classes, live demos, and recipe development. When she’s not in the kitchen, she can be seen making guest appearances on Dr. Oz, in addition to being published in the likes of The New York Times, Forbes, and Readers Digest to name a few. She’s executed over 200 events and has been in the media over 100 times for her expertise. Her passion as a chef is to create healthy dishes with a modern twist using the cleanest of ingredients while focusing on nutrition, flavor, and presentation with an emphasis on gluten and dairy-free cuisine.

MY BACKSTORY

I worked in sales and marketing for nearly 15 years, and the last 7 of those years were spent selling high-end kitchen appliances for Fisher & Paykel.

I had a very cushy job, however, it came with a lot of stress and accountability that over time started to wreak havoc on my health. Some of those health issues included chronic stress, anxiety, developing food sensitivities, and adrenal fatigue. Concurrently, cooking was always a hobby of mine, however, I never really saw myself working in a restaurant, thus never thought of pursuing food as a career. While creating recipes for my new onset allergies (specifically gluten and dairy), and hosting dinner parties for friends, so many kept saying how much they loved my food and highly suggested that I needed to do something with this hidden talent. 

Fast forward to June of 2016, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (she’s doing great today). However, her diagnosis hit me really hard as it made me realize just how precious life is. Not only did I want to be there, as her caretaker for my mother, but I also realized just how miserable I was with my job and wanted to pursue a passion project to help feed and educate the community on clean eating.

In July of 2016, I quit my cushy sales job and enrolled in a culinary nutrition program to get certified as a nutritional chef.  I had a VERY loose business plan but followed my intuition. While in my culinary program, I started executing healthy cooking workshops and demos that led me to personal chef work and now catering. In just 3 years’ time, I have executed well over 200 events and has been published over 100 times for her expertise in this space. Some of which included being on Dr. Oz multiple times and being published in the likes of Forbes, The NYT and Huffington Post. Unfortunately, in 2020 COVID made my business come to a complete halt. Being I had years of recipe creation and development, I utilized the downtime to finally produce my first cookbook, Let’s Dine IN: Healthy Recipes & Tips To Minimize Shopping Trips.

Funniest or most interesting story:

I’ve had quite a few funny and interesting moments since running my business from stoves and ovens not working, to miniature kitchens to prepare large meals and also a small, but controlled oven fire during a cooking demo. However, the story I will tell you today is about the time I was a guest in the audience for the Harry Connick Junior show a few years ago. There was a segment called “Harry’s Notes” that he had on his show, which was basically a “name that tune” kind of a segment. I was picked to answer one of the songs and was able to plug my business on national television, an unsuspecting score! When I was in the studio, I mentioned one of my healthy dishes and a few of his other audience members made an “eww” sound. So I turned around to the crowd and said “hey, what’s with all the ewes?”  Fast forward a few months when the live segment finally aired, the powers that be at The Harry Connick Show edited those “ewes” out of the skit, thankfully!

Why does my company stand out:

My company stands out because we take pride in customization and personalization. I am not a believer in having a cookie-cutter approach when planning events for my clients. We customize menus to suit their tastes and preferences. For instance, if a  client prefers a bland menu we can accommodate this, or if they want a robust menu with lots of flavor from a global cuisine selection, we can accommodate that as well. One of the biggest ways in which I am able to stand out is that I can make almost all of my dishes gluten and dairy-free to accommodate allergies. Sometimes I execute events where I need to do half the menu regular and the other half modified for guests with dietary needs. Not all chefs are able to swap out ingredients as easily to still get the same flavor and texture as it’s the original counterpart.

I once had a client I meal prepped for, but she was on a very limited and restrictive diet. She could not eat eggs, garlic, onions, gluten, some grains, or dairy amongst many other items. I was her chef for a few months until her live-in housekeeper returned, and my client was so ecstatic with the dishes I made for her that she ensured her staff knew how to replicate my dishes for her before I departed. Some of those dishes included avocado mousse, grain-free vegan chocolate pancakes, quinoa stuffed mushrooms with vegan pesto, baked GF chicken cutlets with mashed purple potatoes, and homemade vegan Nutella to name a few.

Best Marketing Strategy:

I utilized a few strategies to get my business off the ground. Directly before I ran my business, I had sold large high-end kitchen appliances to luxury appliance stores in the northeast. When I launched, I reached out to a bunch of my former clients to let them know that I had become a chef and asked if I can utilize their beautiful showrooms to do cooking demos and classes. Many accepted my proposition with open arms, and that’s how I was able to build an initial base and following. I then listed being a chef on a few websites such as CozyMeal and Thumbtack where I was fortunate to win many client bids on both platforms. I also post regularly on social media between IG and FB. Especially lately as I am marketing my cookbook these two platforms have been instrumental. I have also partnered with a few CPG companies to cross-promote one another on social media. I’ve done this with Simply Beyond Spices and D’Vash Date Syrup to name a few.

Who has helped me with success:

In the first few years of my business, I didn’t really have that one person who attributed to my success. I will say a handful of the appliance store owners that helped me get off of the ground are all equal to thank. Since COVID and now re-shaping my business, I would say my dear friend and a successful publicist Kristin Marquet is one to thank. She’s been teaching me the ropes on marketing funnels and has been opening my eyes on how to create passive income strategies by creating online products versus my event focused business which has been modeled around active income.

Person to meet:

I would love to have a private meal with Bobby Flay! He is one of my culinary inspirations having launched many successful books, being in many TV shows, and just having a huge following overall. Although my culinary style is vastly different, I am confident I can learn a lot from him given all of his success with a career path that parallels one I would love to have.

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