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 1: Introduction

I recently read an amusing article about chef Darren McGrady.  McGrady, originally from Great Britain, is currently a private chef in Texas and is a philanthropic cookbook author as well but the most interesting bits on his resume revolve around his work cooking for various members of the royal family at Buckingham Palace from 1982 until 1997.  I too spent some time working as a private chef during that time (1989 for me), though at nothing near McGrady's level of service. 

There was a particularly precious line in the article about his "giving everyone the royal treatment, regardless of whether [the meal] was destined for President Clinton's plate or the Queen's twelve Welsh corgis" that struck a chord with me and has inspired me to share my own story from that segment of the business...

Private Chefdom 

“ The British Broadcasting Corporation, like the British tabloids, adores aristocrats. Their houses are big and their servants are cute and, when they aren’t eating immense amounts of overcooked food, they stand around on their broad, rolled lawns like croquet hoops waiting for history to pop through the holes in their heads.” 

John Leonard, “Television: Costumes without Drama” New York 30 Apr 84
In chatting with friends while attending culinary school the talk often turned to the future.  The future was pretty important since the present, for most of us, was pretty banal.  We needed to look to the future and to dream about the lives that were before us.  One of our favorite discussions centered, naturally, around our future jobs.
We would try to guess what we would be doing 2 years, 5 years and, 10 years from graduation.  Some of us wanted to own our own restaurant or be head chef at a world-renowned venue.  Many wanted to eventually get into management.  There was a guy who was focused  on  being a TV chef and another one whose dream was to be a test kitchen director for a major food corporation.  Despite the differences in our visions, two themes almost always showed up in everybody’s dream career at some point:  Working on a luxury cruise ship and being the private chef for a millionaire.  Just about everybody thought that a private chef career would be about as good as it got.
I’m not sure what it was about this job that sounded so appealing.  None of us had actually had, or even knew anybody who had, held a private chef position in reality so details were sketchy.  I don’t think that it was money related since we didn’t really know what kind of wages these chefs might expect to make.  It could well have been the allure of travel, exotic locations, or famous people but I don’t think that was quite it.  My best guess is that it was the appeal of a job where you got to work with the very best ingredients, of your own choosing, making meals that you planned from the start, working in plush (even pampered) conditions, probably even scheduling your own hours.  I think the concept of “Culinary Freedom” might sum it up best.
In the autumn of 1989 I was living in Millerton NY. had recently completed my work as Executive Chef at the Interlaken Inn in CT.  I'd taken a little time off to work on the old farmhouse we were restoring but was ready to get back to work in a kitchen.  I started periodically scanning the newspaper classifieds looking for anything interesting.  There weren’t very many cooking jobs out there at all and for weeks there hadn’t been anything even remotely interesting to me.  Then, one day, I spotted an advertisement for an open position for a private chef position for a family.  The location was in a lovely and very rural area just North of the CT State line in Massachusetts.  So I called the number for some more information.
Private Chef position eh?  I called the number for some more information.

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