Any party wins when Amanda Cruz shows up with a dish. It is, after all, her career to create with food. A one-time hobby, cooking is now her life as the entrepreneur and chef behind The Gourmet Girl Personal Chef Service. At its heart, Cruz’s work serves people in their most basic need — to eat — while lightening the load for busy families who want to eat well and eat local. “I feel alive when I get to help people this way,” Cruz says. “I create the meals that will feed them and take the burden off their time.” Her favorite thing is cooking in someone’s home, focused and free and creative.
Cruz’s love of food has roots in her childhood and her relationship with her grandmother. “I have vivid memories of watching my grandmother cook. If we went to her house, everyone was well fed. It’s how she took care of us and we could all feel it.” Her favorite memory is baking cupcakes with her grandmother. “As a kid, more is better — more frosting, more sprinkles, more toppings. My grandmother would humor me and pull out everything. There was no clock, no limit on what we could do.” The fun was being together and creating something within that relationship. That’s why Cruz loves her work as a personal chef over being a caterer — there are personal relationships involved in the work.
Cruz is originally from Massachusetts, and she did not go to school here either. Instead, she moved to State College to teach kindergarten. “I really thought I would teach my whole life,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone who changed careers.” But fate had other plans. After catering small events for fun, she discovered personal chef work through an ad on Craigslist — a family wanted a cook. “I knew I could do it,” she says. It was the most fun she’d ever had; they loved her and she loved them. “Nothing felt like work,” Cruz says. “I joked that I could have paid them for the opportunity they gave me — I was having such a great time!”
Gourmet Girl was born and became her full-time work in 2011. In the beginning, it was hard to let go of teaching. “But I was also so fulfilled in this new work making food and caring for people,” Cruz says. “Honestly, I don’t look back now. I love the work I get to do!” She noted that State College has offered her long-term support and access to resources for running a small business, including the Women’s Network Group (WiNGs), where she is the current secretary.
In addition to State College being a great spot in which to work, Cruz also loves the outdoor activities and the tight social networks. “I had really wonderful friendships here and I wasn’t willing to walk away from those even when I could have looked at teaching jobs in other areas. It’s such a great place to live.” It reminds her of older, small-town life where everyone really did know everyone. Cruz loves the moment of catching up with vendors and friends at the farmers market and seeing people at the store. And at the end of November, Cruz’s local network expanded by two people — her parents moved to Pleasant Gap to be near her and enjoy the area they had visited for years.
Cruz is excited for the growth that State College has experienced in food culture. A lot has changed in the last few years, from the opening of the wildly popular Revival Kitchen and the new cooking and eating space Kitchen Incb. in the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. “We have such incredible local food sources. It’s refreshing and inspiring to see people value that and use it.” Cruz loves to use local produce in her home services and support local farmers in their work.
Her own business is seeing exciting growth and she continues to innovate and create in the kitchen. “There is no work that I’d rather be doing and nowhere else I’d rather do it.” •SCM