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How A Personal Chef Writes a Grocery List

July 7, 2020
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I entered the culinary world as a personal chef when I was 23. I had recently graduated college with a degree in Anthropology and was working a sales job in biotech. But I loved cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. Throughout the 90s, I was in school and part of the early Food Network generation. I did much more watching than cooking along for years, until I was in college and cooking on my own. (I actually met Rachael Ray once, when she was so new to TV, I was the only person in the room who recognized her!! She called me “chickie” and was so nice. It totally made my day). 

While searching for a career path in 2005, I came upon an article that said “Top 10 fastest growing small businesses” and there it was, listed: #3 Personal Chef Service. I had no clue what that meant but it had the word chef and didn’t say “restaurant” so I clicked. Most personal chefs own their own businesses, work on their own schedules and don’t have restaurant experience. That was it. I quit my job and enrolled in culinary school within 48 hours. 

A little more than a year later, I had a few clients and was off to the races! Each morning on a “cook day” I would load up my car and head to the grocery store; or rather, about 3 different grocery stores typically. From there I’d arrive at my client’s house and start cooking meals for their whole family for the week and sometimes freezing soups and cookies too. 

Because I was cooking so many meals I needed to be very organized. Chefs of all kinds have lists and systems of all kinds to keep themselves on track. Without your list, you feel sweaty, panicky, out of control and headed for certain disaster. Much later, when I had a sous chef and team of 5 other cooks, a “prep list” for the day’s tasks was essential. But in the beginning, there is the humble grocery list. I tell you about my time as a personal chef in order to explain my grocery list system that most directly aligns with cooking for your own household.

I remember walking through the grocery stores and strangers would actually comment on the list in my hand. Back then (and still today) I prefer a printed list, but I know many of you like apps for keeping your list. That’s fine, my system here isn’t actually about whether you have it on paper, typed, handwritten, or on an app. It’s about the organization of the things on it! 



Repeat. Forever and ever and ever. That’s funny, because it’s true. On the Ends+Stems grocery list section, I added in boxes where you can write in your recurring list so you don’t actually have to do this from scratch every week. We always need milk, apples, bananas, bread, so they’re programmed in there. 

Shopping without a list is a bad idea. You’ll overspend, forget things, and be in the store twice as long because you’re unfocussed. You’ll also buy things you already have or didn’t really need and that contributes to household food waste. So, whatever your method, do make a list. If you try my technique be prepared for other shoppers to think you’re a professional! 

Alison Mountford is the Founder and CEO of Ends+Stems, a meal planning service designed to reduce household food waste and stop the effects of climate change. Alison has been named a Rubicon Waste Fit Champion, was a finalist for the Spoon Tech Startup Showcase, and has appeared on many podcasts and radio shows, and works as a food waste consultant.

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