Lisa Henning B.A. '87, M.A. '88
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What is your edge (strength)?
I like to learn new things. I learn from every person I meet, and usually, from every experience. Sometimes it takes a little while to learn the lesson, but I know it's there somewhere. What I am supposed to learn will eventually reveal itself. My edge is that I expect to gain knowledge from every significant experience, good or bad.
What at Hofstra gave you your edge?
Everyone expects an education from attending a university. However, so much of that education is not book learning, it's life lessons. My time at Hofstra opened my eyes to the opportunities available to me, I just had to look for them. It seems so simple, but I had to learn about myself and what I was capable of so that I could learn from others. Hofstra made that possible.
What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I am a personal chef, which means I cook for people in their homes because they may not have the time or desire to do it themselves. I think the field itself is a specialty; when I started, no one I spoke to about it knew what a personal chef was. I got into the industry because I wanted to cook for others, but already having an established career, did not want to start all over again by going to culinary school. I had not considered having my own business before, and it was an exciting opportunity. The time was right, and I began the process of changing careers about three years ago.
What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned here?
I graduated from Hofstra as a speech-language pathologist, and my first job was at United Cerebral Palsy of Nassau County. The most valuable lesson from UCPN was that there was something to learn every day! I had some wonderful mentors there, some of whom I rely on to this day, and it was there that I learned the true meaning of being responsible for the care of others and how to be flexible. Therapy sessions didn't always go as planned, and I had to be able to think quickly and out-of-the-box to reach my objectives with each client. A lot of that has carried into my current career. I am often contacted by people who are trying to solve the problem of feeding ill family members, or perhaps a large family with lots of diet preferences.
What is the single most rewarding experience in your career thus far?
I worked with a speech therapy client in the home setting for several months after he had a devastating fall and head injury. He was an educator, and aspired to go back to his role as professor at a well-known university. In the beginning of treatment, it appeared unlikely that he would ever recover enough to return to work in his prior capacity. Through his own hard work, the dedication of his family and some very intensive treatment, my client returned to teaching within one year, and hired me as his personal chef! That was truly a high point of both of my careers to date.
Who in your field do you most admire?
Chef Thomas Keller. He started his career as a dishwasher, and is now one of the most revered and talented chefs around. He worked his way up over his lifetime, letting his passion and respect for food drive him to be named the Beard Foundation's best chef in the country in 1997. I have dined in his NYC restaurant, Per Se, and his food is an experience. His dedication to the profession is evident right on the plate. Being a chef is not just about cooking; it's about respecting the ingredients, where they come from, the people who grow them and the people you serve.
What was your major?
Undergraduate, I was a philosophy major. I earned a master's degree in speech-language Pathology.
What was your favorite class?
I loved any class that Dr. Cernic taught. I greatly enjoyed philosophy (although I was not a whiz with logic!), and it was a fun major. Without a doubt, I would be able to apply it to whatever career path I chose. Since I didn't know graduate school was in my future until my senior year, that was important to me.
What is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
Hanging out with my roommate, Andrea, in Enterprise Hall, singing Frank Sinatra songs at the top of our lungs. I met some fabulous people at Hofstra and I enjoyed life on campus … in between all the studying, of course.
In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
What advice would you give current students?
Be open to what life has to teach.
How do you balance work and life?
I love what I do, so that's not difficult. Each day is different, and that works well for me; one day I'll be cooking, the next I'll be out meeting people and telling them about my business, and the next I'll be teaching a class to 10 people who want to learn how to make pasta from scratch. I have plenty of time for friends and family, because they are my guinea pigs! My husband, Alex, whom I met at Hofstra, is the first line of taste-testers.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would love to own a small commercial kitchen where I can give lessons, prepare meals for take-out and delivery and sell some homemade products. If it had a little bistro attached to it, that would be fine, too! It's always been a dream for my husband and me to work together, so I'd love him to have a hand in the business down the road.
What inspired you to make a career change into the food industry after spending 14 years as a speech-language pathologist?
As much as I loved working as a speech-language pathologist, I knew I wanted to do something different. I loved to cook, and often thought of going to culinary school. However, I had a career, and I liked it, and starting all over again was daunting and scary. When I discovered the profession of personal chef existed, it felt like divine intervention. I think I signed up for the course in five seconds! When I started the business in 2003, I continued to work in the speech field for three years, doing both jobs part-time. It was very hard to let go of the therapist side of me; it was who I was for such a long time, and I worked so hard to be good at it. Gradually, as I became more successful, I was able to see that I had made the right choice, and I was even able to put some of my clinical skills to use. Some of my clients have issues with diet and swallowing, which was my specialty as an SLP.
Do you have any future plans to expand your business beyond Massachusetts?
Only if I move! I would take the business with me, and it would be like starting all over, except I would know how to skip the mistakes.
What is your favorite food, and what is one dish you feel you have "perfected"?
I don't have a favorite food, but I do prefer anything that someone cooks and serves to me. No one cooks for you if you call yourself the "Queen of Cuisine"! That's definitely a down side to the business. As for having a dish perfected, I have learned it is all in the tastebuds of the taster. I am quite proud of my skills in the kitchen, and think I make a pretty mean pork barbecue.