Paty Mendes resides in New Milford, but she could arguably qualify for residency in Fairfield, Westchester, Dutchess and Putnam counties. Through her Sweet Bakery service, Mendes spends most of her time in homes across the four counties, working as a personal chef who prepares a variety of meals for families that lack the time for in-depth kitchen duties and don’t want to rely on frozen entrees or grab-and-go chains for their meals.
Cooking has been part of Mendes’ world since her childhood in Brazil. “When I was a little girl, I was always in the kitchen with my sisters and my mom and my grandma,” she recalled. “My grandma had a restaurant a long time ago in Brazil, and we would go there on the weekend and just look at her cooking.”
Arriving in the U.S. 20 years ago, Mendes sought a culinary career, and within a few years landed work as a single-client personal chef. Five years ago, her job came to an end and she began baking breads, cakes and cookies that she sold in Brazilian stores across the region. She also took to social media, posting photographs of her creations on Facebook and Instagram under the “Sweet Bakery” banner. Soon, she began fielding inquiries about bringing her kitchen skills to local homes.
But rather than concentrate on a single home, Mendes chose to divide her time among multiple residences.
Mendes’ clients are all business professionals with families. “I usually have 12 clients a week, but now, I have eight because I am attending school at night,” she said, referring to her pastry baking studies at Lincoln Culinary Institute in Shelton.
Mendes consults with her clients to determine their preferred cuisines. She is proficient at cooking Italian, Indian, Latin American and Thai dishes and she gets guidance on which ingredients she needs to avoid due to food allergies. When asked why it seems that there are far more food allergies today than in the past, she shrugged ruefully and noted, “GMO food. We didn’t have that back then.”
The clients then map out how many meals will be required. Mendes cooks at the clients’ homes, sometimes spending a full day creating enough meals to last a week. “Everything is cooked, packed and labeled,” she said, adding that she even bakes fresh bread rather than have her clients rely on store-bought items.
Mendes works solo for her in-home service from Mondays through Saturdays, but relies on assistance for larger projects. “I only have a sous chef when I do catering or when I do private parties,” she said.
To keep the meal selection fresh, Mendes is constantly devising recipes that she feels will appeal to her clients. “I have a lot of recipes in my head. There are so many that I can’t even count,” she stated. When asked if she ever sought inspiration for recipes from television chefs such as Martha Stewart or Bobby Flay, she laughed out loud and insisted, “Not at all. I don’t watch cooking shows on television. Nobody inspires me.”
If there is one downside to her work, Mendes said, it would be the long drives across her four-county market. “I drive four hours a day. I have no other choice.”
But maybe she will have a choice. One area where Mendes would like to strengthen her expertise involves French cuisine. She is looking into taking classes in Paris to learn the subject at its home base. She would also like to reverse the Sweet Bakery formula and have clients come to her. “I want to open a bake shop and provide the food for everyone from my shop rather than go to their house,” she said.
However, Mendes has no plans to follow her grandmother’s business route and open her own restaurant. And while she has compiled a large number of recipes, she has no desire to gather them into a cookbook. “I don’t have time,” she insisted.
One question that gave Mendes pause to think was whether the culinary arts was a talent unique to some people or if kitchen wizardry could be achieved by anyone. Her answer: it has less to do with the mind and much more to do with the heart.
“I think you have to love doing it,” she said. “If you have a little bit of creativity and like to learn, then anyone can cook. But you have to love to cook. If you love, then you will be successful.”