These local professionals have some of the most unique gigs in town
Most jobs are self-explanatory. Tell people at a party that you are a plumber, a firefighter, or a hair stylist, and they can usually fill in the blanks. But some Seminole County residents have found a special niche that begs for some elaboration. They may be in charge of scaring the wits out of people, fine-tuning dishes for an array of private clients, or making sometimes-wacky props. In any case, their business cards are a little out of the ordinary.
To Everyone’s Taste
After a lifetime of cooking and then training at a prestigious cooking school, Susan Ytterberg could have chosen the safer route. That is, a steady job at an established restaurant with an established reputation.
But Susan was too adventurous for that and opted for the more challenging – but more rewarding – occupation as a personal chef.
“I wanted creative control,” says the Longwood resident and owner of Golden Plum Personal Chef Services. “You’re working as a cook but also as an artist.”
Susan’s clients include everyone from business professionals to well-known athletes, each with a distinct palate. Susan prides herself on blending healthy ingredients with exquisite tastes.
“Every single week I’m customizing menus for clients,” she says.
A native of New York, Susan spent much of her life in San Francisco, where the world-famous culinary scene was a huge influence, though she did not cook professionally then. She was fascinated by the exotic dishes that Chinese and Thai families brought to The City by the Bay, which were as exciting visually as they were delicious.
“I learned to make amazing foods, and I was learning from people first hand,” Susan says. “Even to this day, I use these recipes.”
Susan served 25 years in the corporate world as a legal recruiter, but the kitchen was never far from her mind. She took more than 60 cooking classes, sometimes in such non-glamorous venues as a high-school gym, and eventually graduated from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu academy with a 4.0 GPA. Although not unhappy with corporate life, “I felt like I was done,” Susan says.
While she eventually hopes to bring on some help, for now Susan is a one-woman show.
“It’s challenging,” she says. “You learn to cook very fast.”
Having traveled extensively in Europe, Susan is fascinated with the relationship Europeans have with their food and their ability to slow down and dine with family and friends and make an experience out of it. It’s an attitude she says deadline-driven Americans should try to adopt, as it would benefit both their stomachs and their nerves.
Susan is not big on fast food, but she admits to one occasional guilty pleasure: crunchy chicken fingers, which she calls “the bomb.”
For all of her formal training, Susan gives much of the credit for her success to her English mother and Swedish father, whose decision to retire in Naples brought her to Florida a couple of years ago.
“They taught me not to be intimidated by the kitchen,” Susan says. “I learned as a little girl, if you can read, you can cook.”
He’s Got It Made
Oviedo’s Chris Quagliani grew up feasting on comic books and TV superheroes. Today, he is still immersed in the world of fantasy, though he is well-paid for it now.
Chris is the design manager for Dino Rentos Studios in Orlando, which makes an endless array of props for parties, television, films, and other venues. That means, on any given day, Chris may be working on anything from a baseball glove-shaped couch to a 12-foot-tall replica of a bag of french fries, enjoying what he calls his “little geek-out moments.”
“We definitely don’t do anything twice,” Chris says.
Art has never been far from Chris’s mind. As a child he produced hundreds of drawings inspired by X-Men and other superhero franchises, which he still keeps in his man cave at home. But by college, Chris pushed his creative nature aside, becoming a political science major and focusing on ways to earn a living. He credits a college art teacher with redirecting him to his first love.
After school, Chris got a job photographing cars for sale, but soon grew restless. The job was fine, he says, “but it wasn’t my endgame.”
So when he saw an ad on Craigslist for an entry-level position at Dino Rentos, Chris jumped at it. He found a place crammed with 20,000-square-feet of sometimes goofy, sometimes grand creativity, and knew he belonged there.
“In this crazy warehouse of everything, these were my people,” says Chris. “They shared my mind-set.”
The feeling was mutual, and Chris was hired right away. It was entry-level, to be sure, with his duties including cleaning bathrooms and sweeping floors. But he was surrounded by the thing he loved since his comic book-collecting days – pop-culture art.
Chris, who calls himself a visual learner, soon mastered such skills as foam construction and airbrush painting. The defining moment came when he was assigned to build a full-scale Buick, using mostly foam and fiberglass, in less than two weeks. He put his airbrush skills to use on the headlights, capturing subtle shadows and highlights.
Chris nailed the project and solidified his status at the studio.
“It opened everyone’s eyes,” he says. “Ever since then, I take on everything.”
What Chris finds so exciting about his career is that no two days are alike. While his company deals mostly in whimsy, some projects can have a serious side. The studio was once tasked, for example, to create a skullcap for a gunshot victim.
Few projects are turned away by this cast of artists and technicians, Chris says. “Dino has no fear.”
The Horror of It All
A horror movie scene can forever sear into a young kid’s mind. For Patrick Braillard, it was a moment in the 1982 flick The Thing. A hot wire is dipped into a petri dish, and out jumps a bloody organism with a shriek.
“Every time I watch it, I’m on the edge of my seat,” says Patrick, an Altamonte Springs resident.
Patrick knows a thing or two about keeping people on edge. As creative development show director for Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights attraction, Patrick and his large crew must invent new ways every fall to creep visitors out.
“I’ve always been a horror movie buff, so it just feels right,” the Seattle native says of his decade-long stint in the unusual role.
Patrick’s love of the macabre began with his exposure to the classic monster movies – Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and so on – and progressed with the slasher films of the 1980s and 1990s.
“My parents never censored me,” he laughs.
Consequently, Patrick stores a trove of frightening images and themes in his brain and draws on them for his job.
Halloween Horror Nights, with its haunted houses and scare zones, is going on its 27th year, but Patrick says his gang at Universal is far from running out of ideas.
“We are constantly informed by what is going on around us, on TV, in the movies, online,” he says. “You talk about the things that excite you.”
Patrick is proud to say that in all its years, 10 of them with him at the helm, Halloween Horror Nights has constantly reinvented itself.
“We don’t repeat – that’s a hallmark of the event,” says Patrick, who is also show director for Universal’s Mardi Gras event. “It’s part of the fun for us. I literally have the best job in the world.”
Once the Horror Nights event winds down, the crew at Universal immediately begins planning for the next year. Though it eventually takes what Patrick calls an army to put the final show together, early discussions of where to go next may start with a small conversation between two people in a hallway.
Monsters, like fashion trends, seem to come and go in popular culture, and Universal often taps into that. Vampires had a long run before fading out, but zombies still appear to be going strong thanks to such television series as The Walking Dead. They have fit right in at Halloween Horror Nights.
“I love zombies. I think they’re fantastic,” Patrick says. “I love the impending, slow, creepy death. No matter what you do, you can’t get away from them.”
Patrick declines to speculate when zombies will run their course, or what might replace them as the nightmare de jour.
“Every monster gets their due,” he says. “I look forward to seeing which one is next.”
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