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Meet Bill Blackburn of Blackburn’s Farm to Table in Corona

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bill Blackburn.

Bill, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I always enjoyed cooking for myself, family and friends but didn’t understand the nuisances and fundamentals of what I was doing. I wanted to learn more but I had a nice corporate career that was 8-5 and I was very active in various sports leagues in the evening. Quitting my career and going back to school during the day was not an option but thru research I located a school that had weekend and evening classes around my schedule.

I enrolled and going in my mindset was to learn and absorb as much knowledge as possible then WOW my family and friends with my newly developed skills. Little did I know that it would develop into a passion and a potential career change.

Becoming a chef after culinary school requires you to truly start at the bottom and as I said, I had a nice corporate career so leaving a six-figure income for minimum wage wasn’t an option. I soon learned of other people with similar backgrounds finished culinary school and started catering and the income potential was much more in line with my corporate so I decided to explore and develop that option.

With the help of my teacher, I developed a strategy and marketing plan for the types of clients I wanted to pursue so I tapped into my sales and networking background. I actually started getting work while in school and with the help of my teacher, I was able to gain valuable experience.

However, it took 4 years to build up a base, hone my skills and develop a reputation to the point that I felt confident enough to leave my corporate career and become a full-time chef and caterer. That was 13 years ago and I’m still here!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
My first 4 years, from 2003 to 2007, I was rolling. I catered everything from weddings, political fundraisers for congressman, senators and presidential candidates, private and corporate events, grand openings and galas. In 2007 I catered 40 weddings and would sometimes have 2-3 on a weekend.

The recession on 2008 brought it all to a halt. The corporate events and grand openings went away as did parents paying for their children’s weddings. The hospitality and food service industry were hit extremely hard.

Business was nearly non-existence so I had to look at new ways to generate business and opportunities. I met someone that was a private chef for an athlete and the recession had no effect on him so I learned about the business and job description of a private chef and it wasn’t long before I was working in the homes of high net worth families.

Along the way, I learned that you always have to ready to reinvent yourself.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I have a full-service catering company called Catering By Ashley. We specialized in middle to high-end events and we can handle any size event with very little notice. Our menus are all customized to fit the client’s needs and expectations and I have experience with all types of cuisines.

I also continue to work as a private chef with a focus on using healthy organic ingredients including chicken, meat and sustainable fish. I work currently with both professional athletes and teams year around.

Three years ago, I opened a restaurant Blackburn’s Farm to Table in Corona with a focus on a farm fresh menu and organic ingredients whenever possible. Healthy clean food with flavor!

I believe, 2 things must be in place to be a very good chef. First, an absolute love for cooking to the point that when I finish a meal, I’m already thinking about the next. Second, I’m completely taken by the act of feeding others, especially when feeding total strangers. When my clients finish a meal and smile, I feel the joy!

What were you like growing up?
I grew up in a large family with 3 sisters and 5 brothers. I was the middle child, extremely competitive and intuitive. I was really into sports and played throughout high school and college. Both my parents enjoyed cooking so I would often watch, sample and ask questions.

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