Hello fellow Kossacks!! Hugs all around!! It's been a very long while since I've posted, I never meant to go so quiet for so long (aside from a few times I just couldn't help myself from jumping in, I've been pretty much a lurker around here since last December) but it was for the good reason that I started my own personal chef business.
It's been an interesting 3/4th of a year, that's for sure. Definitely a rough time to be starting up a business in this economy. But, of course, as it has many times before, my life took a totally unexpected and quirky turn: I invented something. Unintentionally. And I am such a noob at intellectual property and trademarks and patents and such that even after months of online tutorial from the Patent office, and having the Free Library of Philadelphia at my doorstep, I'm coming hat-in-hand to the community with this diary, in hopes that someone out there might know what I do for my next step. I can't afford to make a mistake - I'm betting the pitiful scrapings of my retirement account, which was meager to start, hasn't seen a contribution in 10 years, and now will be decimated from all the damn penalties involved from early withdraw - to try to finance my dream and make my invention a real product.
So here's what happened:
As a cook, I'm always throwing together new concoctions and playing with my food, so it's not new to be trying something new in my kitchen (living with a cook can be both a blessing and a curse for family members). But this time, I was trying to solve a different problem, and I ended up solving it with an idea that I then realized, Hey, I could sell this! To actual people!
The problem I was trying to solve is this recipe:
Buffalo Chicken DipIt's not my own recipe. I make most of my own stuff from scratch, but this one, my whole family has been making for about 10 years now. We usually serve it with Scoops corn chips as it's a very heavy, hearty dip and the other chips break. People LOVE this dip recipe. So much that I get asked to bring it everywhere - clients, school functions, friends' parties - basically, it's so damned good that I wish I could make it in bulk, but the problem with it is that you have to make it fresh. Like all cream cheese based dips, it breaks if you freeze it, and while the flavors all still taste pretty good, the emulsion is lost and it separates and the texture becomes blobs of creamy goo in a pool of orange-colored hot sauce oil. Very unattractive, and not something anyone would want to serve to guests or pay a personal chef or caterer for.
1 pack boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 oz brick Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1/2 - 3/4 bottle Franks RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce
1 Jar Marie's Chunky Blue Cheese Salad Dressing
Salt & Pepper the chicken breasts and bake at 350F until fully cooked (at least 165F internal temp). Remove from oven, and using forks or tongs, shred the chicken very finely into a very large bowl. Mix in Cream Cheese, Wing Sauce, and Blue Cheese Dressing, and stir to combine well. Place mixture in oven-safe serving bowl*. (Can be made-ahead up to this step up to 2 days in advance, covered, and held in refrigerator.) Return mixture to pre-heated 350F oven and cook until completely hot and bubbly, stirring every 15 minutes. (Takes about 30 minutes from "warm" or 45-50 minutes from fridge.)
*I use Corningware's French White deep round casserole - you need a good inch of space at the top of this for expansion and stirring while it's cooking so it doesn't drip out all over the oven
So while I was working on the business this spring, I looked ahead to this summer, and one of the services I offered was a package of handmade frozen appetizers, stromboli, bread puddings, and hors d'oeuvres for clients who have vacation houses down the shore. (It's a Philadelphia regional dialect thing - lots of people bug out of the hot city for the breezy South Jersey barrier islands in the summer, and we all say we're going "down the shore". When we say we're going "to the beach" we mean the sandy part touching the ocean.) Well, of course people who've tasted the delicious hot dip wanted the delicious hot dip, and were very disappointed that they couldn't get it frozen to reheat when people come over unexpectedly. People with shore houses always have people coming over, even if they didn't necessarily invite people to come over, hence the "unexpectedly"... so most of them just load up the garage with beer and the freezers with frozen stuff and prefer to be prepared instead of genuinely surprised. Renting or owning a shore house for the summer means you'll never know a weekend without friends. Ever. Not even if you beg, park your car a block away, and draw the curtains like nobody's home.
So I was trying to come up with a party dip that freezes and reheats without breaking for my shore house clients. Something that wouldn't separate, but could be heated up and go from the freezer to the table without needing hours of thaw time in the refrigerator, so it could be used for the spontaneous pop-up entertaining of these shore clients, and still feed a crowd with hearty appetites from hours of sun, sand and surf. Something that would go really, really good with frozen margaritas, and ice cold beer...
Well, I did.
But then I realized if I put it into a packaging option other than the Corningware casseroles that my clients all used, it could be sold for real, not just as one caterer cooking for a few clients who can afford such a service, and who keep reusing the same dishes. A little more experimenting, a lot more tweaking, and then the obligatory total meltdown sobbing drama of factoring up the recipe from one bowl into a 10-pound batch standardized recipe measuring ingredients by weight and making sure it held "true". Along the way, my hot dip invention proved it can be microwaved. (Not in 10-pound batches, but enough dip to feed about 15-20 people.) Literally going from 0 degrees Fahrenheit to burn-your-mouth hot in 5 minutes, without turning into a brick or burning or becoming rubberized gunk or oily slop. And I did it all in my own kitchen, no chemicals, no preservatives, no artificial anything, no food scientists or flavor engineers. I spent 6 weeks looking for the greenest packaging options I could find, but unfortunately those options were limited due to the fat content. (Hey all this and low cal too? What, are you nuts? It's party dip! It tastes like heaven-on-a-plate because it's really Sin-in-a-Bowl. Delicious, delicious sin. Spread it on a little sliced baguette and dreamily bask in the knowledge you really didn't want to live to be 106 anyway.) But I did find the right packaging eventually, and it works like a charm.
And so then I spent 2 more months testing this from frozen to hot, sending some samples to trusted friends and family who signed NDA's and have been sworn to secrecy. I took their feedback and tweaked the recipe again, and I think I'm pretty much THERE. Here. Whatever, I really need to move onto the next step: Dammit Jim, I'm a cook not a patent lawyer.
I've been all over the US Patent & Trademark Office website. They have great tutorials covering the process. You can download and print out everything. You can do all your prior art searches from your home PC! All the forms come with extra forms to tell you how to fill the first forms out. They have staggered rates for broke little moms like me who are "micro entities"... first time in my plus-sized years after cooking school I've been called a micro-anything! Whee! In Patent Office terms I'm a Size 0! But there have been drawbacks as well. Most patents are written in technical jargon, and it is like learning a new language to figure out what some of the existing patents are really saying. I have no facility for turning "Cinnamon's Awesome Shore House Dip" into the correct patent-legalese name of "An Hybrid Emulsification of Foodstuffs Concurrent with Partius Maximus Advantaged by Drinkius Maximus" . I can draw a picture of my dip in a bowl, but I have no idea how to do a technical drawing - and ALL PATENTS MUST HAVE A DRAWING ACCORDING TO GOD AND COUNTRY or apparently the universe as we know it will cease to exist in a moment of philosophical metaphysics disproving the existence of all time and space. And they are not wibbly-wobbly about that one bit. Where's The Doctor when I need him?
But all kidding aside, ALL good advice and common sense says not to go to those firms you see advertised all over TV, the ones where they have the caveman and his little stone wheel. So now, I'm stuck. I need to move forward, the clock's been ticking ever since I sold this to my first shore clients, and I need to get the application in pronto. But aside from hiring a big law firm, and selling a kidney to pay them, I need some mentoring and guidance on the little stuff. The name. The drawing. Double-checking that I've got this application targeted right, since after I came up with the dip, I figured out how to do it with different flavor options, different levels of spice and heat, and in the future, once I'm not completely overwhelmed, I would like to develop a lower-calorie, more heart-healthy option, a vegetarian option, and also take what I've learned and maybe come up with other hot dips that could be sold frozen. I want to make sure that some big corporation can't come along and throw in some yellow-#-this and red-#-that and texturized pink slime and drive me out of business and into ruin before I've even paid my start up costs; I want to at least make sure that when they do try to copy my stuff they hafta pay me a licensing fee.
We've got hundreds of thousands of people in the community, not counting the spambots and the trolls from Red State. If anyone has done this before, or knows of nonprofit or government programs (that haven't been cut yet) to get me past this hurdle, please help me get unstuck. If you know of any programs for food manufacturing micro-sized start ups, please let me know, too, because this idea has taken me in such a new and unexpected direction that I am terrified of what I don't know and desperate to learn. Again, I want to stress: I'm broke but I'm not looking for money, investors, or start up capital. I'm not trying to sell my "Awesome Shore Dip" in this post, if you'll notice, I more than happily gave a recipe that people can make at home away for free! (That isn't the secret invention Awesome Dip recipe.) I can cover the fees with my own resources, scant and dwindling as they are right now. What I need to do is get the intellectual rights locked in, and once that's done, I'd like to find a board-of-health licensed kitchen in the Greater Philadelphia Area (preferably north west or north east of Center City, Montgomery County is fine) that I can use to rent time and space in to make and package my dip for Farmers Markets and little mom-and-pop Grocery Stores and Co-Ops. I'm not ready for the big-time yet. I'm not even able to hire packaging designers or get FDA labeling yet, even though I've been all over that website too. I just want to get that "Patent Pending" on my label right now.
So that's what I've been up to for the past 9 months, and what I hopefully will be up to for many months (and, cross my fingers, years) to come, given that whole "Win the Powerball" financial plan didn't work out for me this week. Thanks for reading this, everyone. And I have been reading here too, most days, in my lurker capacity. Just don't have much time to think up any intelligent responses, or contribute much the discourse, this little blond chef's brain totally fried from reading patents! (Some food patents are completely disgusting, by the way, you would not believe the wretched, nasty stuff that gets put in and done to some "foods".)