About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Private Chefdom - Part 2: The Interview

Part 2 of a 9-part series

So I called the number in the classified ad and spoke with a woman named Karen.  Karen was the personal secretary for the Lady of the House and she was also the right person I needed to speak with about the job.  I told her a bit about my background and experience and she told me a little about the job:  There were, basically just two people to feed lunch and dinner usually 5 days a week (but sometimes more).  There were also business lunches to prepare from time to time for meetings at the Husband’s office (a separate building on the property) and occasionally business dinners, dinner or lunch parties, family gatherings or other special events.  Karen mentioned, several times, what a nice working environment it was, what a beautiful quasi commercial kitchen they had “with every piece of equipment imaginable”.  

She mentioned a salary range “depending on experience and other factors” which sounded acceptable so I set up a time a few days later for an interview.

Showing up a little early for my job interview I was quite impressed as I drove up the long, winding, private road toward the main house.  Along the road I could make out numerous out-buildings; a 6-car garage, a horse barn, a work shop and several more further along.  There were several romping horses visible as I drove past a pond full of ducks and acres and acres of manicured grounds.

The main house itself was gorgeous.  A huge 200-year old farm house was at the center of what looked, from my vantage point on the driveway, like dozens of very sympathetic and very well executed additions.  I guessed the house to be 10,000 square feet in size and absolutely flawlessly modernized and maintained.
As I approached the large front door it was opened by a young woman who greeted me coolly and introduced herself as Karen.  She gave me a quick tour of a few of the first floor rooms as we headed towards the kitchen and I was saw that every room was well furnished with an extraordinary collection of  magnificent antiques.  One piece, a small, unusually-shaped, table made from tiger maple caught my eye and I made a comment about it.
Karen had been somewhat aloof up until then but seemed surprised that I had an interest in the antiques.  She warmed a bit saying, “You have a good eye.  How interesting.  That table is quite unique and has been written up in several antique magazines”.   “It’s priceless”, she added as an afterthought. 
We proceeded on past a tall bank of windows which looked out onto their back yard where she pointed out the two guest houses out past the pool and tennis courts.  As we passed through a swinging door Karen stepped aside and let me go ahead of her.  It was the kitchen and it was impressive, as promised.
The focal point of the large room was a huge center island, probably 12 feet long and 5 feet across. About ¾ of the counter top for the island was an enormous slab of polished pink and gray granite and the rest was solid cherry wood.  Above the island hung a large, oval, wrought iron rack on which was hanging 30 or 40 gorgeous copper and copper-clad pots and pans which twinkled and gleamed brightly.  The rest of the kitchen had white Corian countertops over brilliantly polished cherry wood cabinets and there was a 6-burner commercial gas range, as well as a double set of doors for the two built-in Sub-Zero refrigerators. 
“Nice” I said in approval as we slid tall bar stool-type chairs up to the island were we were apparently going to sit and talk.
Karen began the interview by having me tell her about my family, my recent work, what kinds of food I liked to make and such.  I answered, succinctly and positively.  Giving an up-beat and professional accounting of myself (at least I’d hoped I had), doing my best to toot my own horn.
She spoke more about The Family (there was no question that she was capitalizing the words) telling me that both the husband and wife had been interred in concentration camps by the Nazis during the Second World War.  Mentioning their great suffering and losses during the war, she went on to describe their arrival in the USA with nothing and their eventual attainment of their wealth through years of hard work.  The Husband ran his own commodities investment business from a building just down their private road, trading via satellite on the Chicago Markets daily.  He had a number of employees working for him there.
There was also a household staff consisting of a full-time maid, head grounds keeper, mechanic, a driver and, of course, the cook.  There were also numerous other miscellaneous gardeners, pool men, handy men, maintenance guys, stable guys working on the property at any given time.  It was Karen’s job as a sort of Chief of Staff, to oversee all the house help and the Wife of The Family oversaw her.
“You know”, she said, “The Family has never had a real professional chef cooking for the them.  Just had housewife-type cooks.  As a matter of fact”, she went on, almost to herself, “they’ve never had a male cook.  I wonder what they’d think of that?”
I asked Karen if she liked working there.  She said she’d been with them for seven years and had always found The Family to be good employers, generous and hard-working themselves (not the type to just sit with their feet up and boss others around).  She went on to say that The Family had definite ways that they wanted things to be done, but that there was nothing outrageously weird.  She said “It’s a good job”.  She had not actually answered my question but I hoped that it was an innocent oversight, and that she was not being evasive.
I asked her a little about the family’s (I mean The Family’s) eating habits. She said they knew  much about and enjoyed good food and wine (they had an extensive climate-controlled wine cellar in the basement).  They often traveled to Europe and would bring back interesting food stuffs with them.  They also went into NY City regularly, several times a month on business or just for shopping and would bring back whatever goodies caught their eyes.  In counterpoint to this, she said that they were both conscious of being overweight and tried to keep it in check.  The Husband had had heart surgery and was trying to lose 20 lbs.  He was currently on the Scarsdale Diet, but it didn’t really effect the cook too much.  The Wife, she said, always counted calories but wasn’t actually dieting.
She asked about my hobbies.  I told her I did some wood working and drawing but recently I had gotten into learning about computers.  PC computers were still pretty new and not in general usage and while I was sure that The Husband had some kind of computers in his trading office I had noticed that Karen had but an IBM Selectric typewriter on her desk.
“Ooh, computers”, she remarked, “I really don’t know anything about them.  What kind of things can you do with one?”
I was definitely no geek but I told her about word processing and how much easier it was than typing.  I told here about spread sheets and how useful they were for bookkeeping chores.  I said there were animated games which could be played.  Admittedly, these were all extremely crude, and often cumbersome applications (running in DOS, switching out 5.25” floppies because there were no hard drives and looking at it all on a little amber screen) but at the time it was pretty cutting edge.  She seemed fascinated by it all and I had an idea.
I had just recently gotten a program called Diet Analyzer.  With it you could enter the amounts for ingredients for a menu item and it would calculate dozens of different dietary values for the dish.  With it you could put together the dietary impact for a whole meal including calorie counts, vitamin amounts etc. and relate it all to the recommended daily allowance guidelines published by the US Government.  And it was all available to print out to my little 9-pin dot matrix printer.
As I began to tell her all about Diet Analyzer, I could see her face light up, hear the wheels turning in her head.  Heck, I could almost smell smoke!
“Does that sound like something that The Family might be interested in; the ability to easily calculate meal calories and the like?” I asked.  I could see in her eyes that this was really exciting for her and knew her answer before she said…
“Oh yes, I think that might be just the kind of thing they would be interested in.  How fun!”
She had made her decision about giving me the job but it wasn’t all up to her.  She said that I needed to do an audition for The Family, where I would come cook them a dinner.  That was fine with me.  We set up a tentative date about two weeks down the road.  Karen asked me to come up with two or three complete menus as suggestions and to submit them to her.  She would discuss them with The Family, pick one and that’s the one I’d prepare for them.  She said that they would reimburse me for the cost of the ingredients.
With that, the interview was over.  Well, almost.  On our way out, just as I was going through the door, Karen asked, “Do you know what would really impress The Family?”
“What?”
“That Diet Analyzer thing.  I you could bring  a copy of the analysis for the menu you are doing for your audition, I think they’d be fascinated.  Would you do that?”
I agreed.

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