A close relationship to food, for as long as he can remember, and a passion for bringing people together inspired Andrew Peterson to pursue a degree in hospitality. He didn’t always know he wanted to follow this path or, more specifically, start a private chef business.

Peterson, a senior hospitality major, began cooking with his family at a young age during holiday meals. This introduction to food and its ability to connect people together created a spark.

“Eating together as a family, it’s more about the experience and spending time together because I think at the end of the day, that’s the power food has,” Peterson said. “It brings people together.”

As a high school sophomore, Peterson started bussing tables at YaYas Euro Bistro in Chesterfield. He attributes one specific experience that pushed him toward the hospitality industry.

Peterson was serving a table of customers who were in a time crunch. Ultimately, the food didn’t get out in time and the customers left without eating. Peterson said for the rest of his shift he couldn’t stop thinking about the customers’ experience.

“I was like, ‘Man, I really care that they didn’t have a good experience,’” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Wow. I think this is what I want to do. I think I want to be in the service industry. I want to give people that great experience.’ I think that’s really what it is at the end of the day, the experience. Giving someone a great experience and knowing that they’re happier leaving than when they came in... it’s just so rewarding.”

During the summer of 2019, Peterson shadowed Anna Davis, a private chef in Springfield, which opened his eyes to the possibilities he could pursue as a young chef.

According to Davis, who has worked as a full-time private chef for three years, a mutual friend introduced her to Peterson, who was curious and eager to learn about the business.

Peterson first accompanied Davis for a larger event and would continue to assist her with smaller, in-home meals.

“Andrew is very motivated and determined,” Davis said. “He watches carefully, asks questions, jumps in and learns quickly. All these are very important to becoming a chef but are often overlooked. He has a great sense of humor and is friendly and easy-going with people, both important if wanting to become a private chef.”

Peterson’s Instagram, Ernie’s Kitchen, began as a space to share photos of his food and hospitality experiences. However, after working alongside Davis, he decided to give the private chef business a try.

“Ernie” in Ernie’s Kitchen came from a nickname Peterson had in high school.

“It kinda followed me and was catchy,” Peterson said. “People really liked it and they thought it was funny so I kept it. It’s kind of evolved into what it is.”

Ernie’s Kitchen offers three different menu options.

“Course Menu” includes a meal of 3 to 8 courses, depending on client preference. Peterson said he enjoys preparing multiple course meals best because he is able to express himself through each individual plate.

“Courses allow a lot more creativity, a lot more inspiration,” Peterson said. “I can do so much more, so many vast things — different themes, work with different fusional ingredients, because that’s really what I like.”

Experimenting with ingredients, especially those in-season, and working with local farmers to create individualized dishes for his clients is what Peterson likes about being a private chef.

Clients can also choose from the “Sunday Brunch” and “Wine and Dine” menu options.

Peterson said he typically preps what he can at home, then spends about one and a half to two hours cooking in a client’s home. Cooking times fluctuate with menu options.

So far, the biggest challenge Peterson has faced is advertising Ernie’s Kitchen.

“The hardest part really is finding business,” Peterson said. “As much as you can do on social media, it’s hard because it’s spread by word of mouth, opposed to people just stumbling across my webpage.”

March 20, Missouri State Gov. Mike Parson announced the ban of gatherings of 10 or more people to ensure proper social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Despite these circumstances, Peterson said he plans to up his marketing for Ernie’s Kitchen, reminding people he can provide them a great, safe dining experience in the comfort of their home.

“It’s actually more of an opportunity for me than it is a disadvantage,” Peterson said. “Right now, the problem with restaurants is that they’re basically gathering people together.”

Peterson said he still is available to cook meals in people’s homes and can provide prepped meals for clients and leave them outside their home, if they’d feel more comfortable.

After graduating from Missouri State, Peterson said he plans to attend the Marriott Voyage: Leadership Development Program to pursue luxury hotel dining.

To stay updated with Ernie’s Kitchen, follow @ernies_kitchen on Instagram.