Meet Raina Ratcheson, a private chef and caterer based in the greater Seattle area. Raina's Pacific Northwest upbringing — she grew up in a family of hunters, cooks, and foragers — inspires the meals she creates for clients through WholeHearted Epicure. She believes in creating in-home culinary experiences with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients. Learn how Raina got started in food, her best advice for food artisans who are considering starting their own business, and more.
What did you do before starting WholeHearted Epicure?
“I worked in the insurance industry as a claims specialist and agent, and started cooking for dinner parties as a side job. Unfortunately, my health took a turn, which required me to quit my job. After two rounds of chemotherapy and two surgeries, I decided to take my love of cooking and what I've learned about healing through food, and create WholeHearted Epicure,” Raina said.
What is your business' origin story? Why did you decide to start it?
“I have been cooking since I was three years old, and I don't mean just toast and eggs.”
“My family grew up fairly poor and immigrated here from Cambodia. We hunted in our local parks for things like rabbit, quail, and squab with slingshots and bb guns. We did a lot of fishing, squidding, we raised chickens, and did a lot of crabbing,” Raina said. “We'd climb into the mountains to forage for seasonal foods. To feed yourself, you learned how to both catch your meal and make it.”
“We always ate as a huge family, and everyone participated in helping to make meals, whether it was cooking, hunting, or both. I think that's where my love of cooking comes from. It comes from a sense of being together and enjoying a very vital part of existing — eating. Even if you're poor, even if you don't have a great kitchen, even if you're struggling, food can still be healthy, delicious, and easy.”
How would you describe your products in one sentence?
“Meals designed from the heart to keep you healthy, enjoying food, and a hint of whimsy.”
“I love being able to introduce new flavors and ideas to people,” Raina said. “One of my favorite moments is when I got someone who solely ate frozen meatloaf and lasagna to try black ink pasta and squid with a saffron cream sauce. It was a big hit.”
What's your favorite way to enjoy your products?
“When my customers are having guests or family over, and all they have to do is pop a delicious meal in the oven, or have me cook for them,” Raina said.
“[My customers] get to spend time with guests instead of worrying about putting everything together. It's the smiles on people's faces because they're not stressed out and they're able to get valuable time back for what is important to them.”
Who is another food entrepreneur that you follow and support, and why?
“I think my favorite Michelin starred chef is Grant Acthez of Alinea in Chicago. I can look at a Gordon Ramsey meal and know how it's made, what techniques went into it, and really enjoy that! Grant takes food and gastronomy to another level and leaves me in awe. He is someone whose recipes inspire me to push flavor profiles, techniques, pairings, and ideas out of the box. When I look at or see his food, I simply think it's magic and it makes me want to come up with my own.”
What's the best thing about this job?
“I got into the personal chef industry because I wanted to interact with my clients. For a small moment in time, I treat them like they're my own family, and take care of them as if they were my own guests at my table.”
“I get to know them. I get to be friends with them,” Raina said. “I get to really understand their lifestyle and give them something special and unique.”
“I didn't want to have a restaurant or standard catering business where you have a set menu and never get to interact with the people you cook for. I wanted to build an experience that was really with the client in mind. Food impacts every part of who we are, and it's important to me that my clients feel like they're really being looked after. It's trust. It's about relationships.”
What advice would you share with food entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
Everyone’s food entrepreneurship journey is unique, Raina says.
“Don't get stuck or hung up on any ideas of how you should run your business. Especially early on. Everything is about pivoting until you find what works and sticks. Test, test, test, whether it's how you present your product or how you market. Try new things and ideas that are presented,” Raina said. “If they don't work, move on. You don't necessarily need a lot of capital to get started, just monitor what's working. I never thought I would be catering backyard weddings under 30, but here I am, and let me tell you: it's profitable and so much fun hanging out with people's families.”
“Remember, it's not about you and what you want. I don't get to sous vide venison with juniper and gin sauce for every person. Instead, it's about what your client wants and making sure you're still doing what you love in your delivery. Make sure your branding shows that.”
“Lastly, if there are too many red flags, say no to a job. There are people who aren't going to be a good fit for you. Focus heavily on the 20 percent of clients that really matter and stick close to you. Focus on maybe moving a few more of the clients who are close to being in that 20 percent into the good fit category. They're your bread and butter and you can't go wrong if you keep them happy.”