No matter how famous a chef becomes, he's still for hire
You’ll never play nine holes with Tiger Woods. Frank Gehry won’t look over your plans for a new deck. But to get a celebrity chef in your kitchen, all you need to do is ask.
Grace’s Neal Fraser faces off on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” Jan. 22. Sona’s David Myers is a Food & Wine chef of the year. And Wolfgang Puck is a brand name unto himself — but, for a price, any of them would be happy to be your personal chef for a night.
“It’s a little like a rock star who plays at a bar mitzvah, but they’re not supposed to say anything because it damages the exclusivity,” says Norman Van Aken of Norman’s on Sunset, adding, “I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Today, the most successful chefs acquire global profiles that can extend to TV shows, cookbooks, publicists and agents. However, unlike an author or actor, a chef’s acclaim always boils down to intimately serving the public.
Still, no one hires a celebrity chef solely for the sake of being fed. Jeffrey Klarik hired former Bastide chef Alain Giraud for “Friends” producer David Crane’s birthday, but eating was only the final act.
“He gave me a day of cooking with Alain,” says Crane, one that began with a morning of shopping at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and ended eight hours later after a four-course lunch that included seared scallops with cranberry bean ragout and molten chocolate cake. “It was like watching a painter,” he says. “It wasn’t cooking. It was art.”
Giraud was acknowledged as one of the city’s finest chefs when he ended his partnership in Bastide two years ago. (Owner Joe Pytka announced that he would close Bastide later this month and reopen under a new name this spring.) Since then, Giraud has been a private chef, cooking teacher and consultant through his own Four Stars Private Cuisine — and in no particular hurry to return to the public.
“Maybe we’ll do (another restaurant),” he says. “I’m waiting to have the right concept, location, people.”
In the meantime, “This is more adventurous, for sure. I like it a lot.”
“Everyone gets a kick out of it,” says Myers, who won’t identify his clients but fondly recalls cooking dinner for eight investment bankers in Malibu. “They spent $60,000 in wine, and it was six courses, right on the ocean. It was awesome.”
Chefs also find themselves working in kitchens that are sometimes nicer than the ones in their own homes, although Myers says he’s also been the first person to turn on the oven two years after the owners moved in. And Van Aken remembers panicking when a plastic lid melted on a heretofore hidden griddle, only for a woman to walk in the kitchen and say, “Oh, that’s OK. I never use the thing anyway.”
However, chefs say all of it would be meaningless without the sense that their clients appreciate the experience as much as the meal.
Fraser remembers cooking a dinner for 10 “and half the people were A-list actors.” However, that wasn’t what made the evening memorable.
“Everyone was amazingly appreciative of what we were doing,” he says. “That’s what it really comes down to. I never want to be someone’s houseboy. I don’t want to hear, ‘While you’re sautéing, why don’t you polish my shoes and walk the dog.’ Being a private chef is much more lucrative, (but) I’ve drawn a line in the sand. I relate to people who really enjoy food.”
Dial-a-chef: takeout from your kitchen
Chef : David Myers, Sona
Recent Menu: Maine lobster with pea wasabi purée; roasted squab with foie gras and figs; and milk chocolate tart with crème fraiche sorbet
Requirements: Anywhere from 1-30 people
Dinner for 12 (includes food and service) : $3,000
Chef : Jared Simons, Violet
Recent Menu: House-cured white salmon; Kabocha squash soup with sage croutons; braised short ribs; caramelized pineapple with cinnamon gelato
Requirements: None, other than making it worth his time
Dinner for 12 (includes food and service) : $2,400
Chef : Alain Giraud, Four Stars Private Cuisine
Recent Menu: Fresh foie gras sautéed with pears; white truffle custard; Maine scallops with lemon and pistachio sauce; and warm chocolate cake with mandarin sorbet
Requirements: Twelve-person minimum
Dinner for 12 (includes food and service) : $4,800
Chef : Norman Van Aken, Norman’s on Sunset
Recent Menu: Crispy yuca shrimp; California Osetra caviar and peekytoe crab with heirloom tomatoes and vanilla-scented hollandaise; chocolate “Goddess Cake”
Requirements: Will cook for 2-50, prefers to keep it under 40
Dinner for 12 (includes food and service) : $8,500
Chef : Neal Fraser, Grace
Recent Menu: Abalone with pasta and sea beans; saddle of hare with forbidden black rice and huckleberry sauce; roasted pheasant with root vegetable ragout; chocolate truffles
Requirements: Will cook for any number
Dinner for 12 (includes food and service) : $2,200
(All prices are approximate minimums and do not include wine. Per-person labor costs decrease with larger groups.)