Watch Chef Holli Ugalde on Hell's Kitchen

Watch Chef Holli Ugalde on Hell's Kitchen

With all apologies to Paul Harvey, the last time the Chef Holli Ugalde was featured on Blog Well Done, her story was only half finished.  When we last saw our intrepid culinary star, we learned how she get on the show, what her favorite ingredients were, and what, exactly a banquet chef does.  (Though we did fail to find out what part of India wraps their halibut in a banana leaf.)

However, there were still eight chefs fighting for their place in culinary history.  Not a single black jacket had been handed out and the horror of almost seeing Ed’s privates were still a little too fresh in our minds.

We couldn’t let that stand, especially the part about Ed’s privates!!  So, we invited Chef Holli back to finish the tale of her triumphant ascension into Hell’s Kitchen culinary fame.

And much to my surprise, she accepted.

The Truth Behind My Prediction

First thing’s first: my confession.

In my article, I boldly predicted that Chef Holli would win Hell’s Kitchen.  And I meant it.  Of course, when I was interviewing her, I might have said something like “You’ll get a black jacket for sure…” not realizing there were only two eliminations left until the final six.

Who knows how to sweet talk a famous chef?  (Hint: it’s me!)

Now on to more exciting matters…

What’s It Like to Win

Strangely enough, Chef Holli hates the fame, acclaim, and fortune that comes with winning.

Okay, not really.  She’s really excited and happy about the win.  “So many doors are opening,” she says.  At the same time, though, it’s “exhausting.  I’ve never told the same story so much in my life.”  (For the record, I’ve now made it a life goal to get bored talking about myself.)

In all seriousness, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Congratulations, Chef.  You deserved it.

The Truth Behind the Confessional

It’s probably not one of the top things you want to know about Chef Holli, but I really, really wanted to know how the whole confessional thing worked.  So I asked.

Apparently, there were soundproof confessional rooms all around the dorms and near the kitchen (“They were supposed to be soundproof,” Chef says “…I could hear them talking.”)  Chefs were free to go to the booths and spill their guts any time they wanted.

Still, did you ever notice how pissed off the chefs were during their confessionals?  That’s all real.  At any moment, one of the production staff could tell a chef to go do a confessional, including during dinner service! This means during the part of the show that would determine if they were staying or going home, the chefs had to balance the demands of reality TV with the exacting standards of one very vocal, grumpy chef and fifty hungry diners.

If the confessionals weren’t enough, the chefs had to deal with always being miked up and having to do battery checks.  Lots of battery checks.  Don’t even ask Chef Holli about battery checks.

It was not an easy feat.  “People say ‘It’s just cooking,'” says Chef Holli.  “’Anyone can do that.’  But there’s so much more.”

Blue Jay…Did He Fly Away?

Yes and no.  Chef Holli talks to Blue Jay all the time, even after the comments he made on the show.  “He’s such a dork,” she says, but they were just friends and flirted.  She liked the back and forth with him and much preferred spending time with him than say, Ben.  That was as far as it went.

Besides, she says “I’m so not a sweet little innocent person.  I felt like I was messing with [Jay].”  From the look in his eye after the “house in London” comment, she might be right.

So, to recap: for now, single men you’re in luck.  She’s still single and says she doesn’t see that changing.  Although, if you want to catch her eye, you’ll have to compete with the random guys who email her marriage proposals.  Which you never know, she might accept.  Although, as a suggestion for the emailing hopefuls out there, add a picture or two.  And maybe, I don’t know, use some blue hair dye?


I always give the benefit of the doubt to reality TV personalities.  I figure the way they are on the show can’t be how they are in real life.  “Ben was the same,” Chef Holli said.  She says she’s watched and rewatched the show and as far as Ben’s attitude goes “I think he hated women in the kitchen.  I don’t get it really.”

And the back thing…totally fake.

Why would he fake it?  Chef’s explanation: “[Ben] can’t stand to watch a woman kick your butt.”

And that’s all I am going to say about that, but you might want to ask Chef Holli about it.  Her opinion on the subject is quite illuminating.

Why She Won

One of the questions I received was whether Chef Holli deserved the win over Blue Jay.  Jay, as he himself pointed out, had years of head chef experience and looked very confident running the pass.  Chef Holli readily admits “It was a big shock to me.  I kept wondering if I had the wrong door.”

At the same time, Chef Holli feels that Chef Ramsey was looking for someone he could mold and who wasn’t done growing.  In other words, someone like Chef Holli.  Now, she’s on her way to London.  (Though she promises not to let the molding go too far.  She’s doesn’t see herself screaming nearly as much as he does.)

So, if she’s heading to the Savoy, it begs the question:

And You’re Not in London Because…


Apparently, the Federal government doesn’t take culinary stardom as seriously as they should.  The paperwork allowing her to take the job in a foreign country is still in progress.

To appropriate governments, I say: HURRY UP!  Chef Holli opens in October and she’s got to get over there because I have reservations.

When she does finally head for the Savoy, it will just be her and her son (and maybe her mom for the free babysitting.)  No one else.

I know you want to know more.  That’s all I’m going to say.

Where’s Chef Holli?

In the meantime, it’s not like Chef Holli is sitting around doing nothing.  She just relaunched her website (which is dead sexy.)  She is working on a cookbook, for which she is trying to get input.  If you go right now (and promise to come back), you can tell her ingredients you are scared of and she’ll make recipes based on them.

For instance, I am afraid of preserved duck eggs.  What are you going to do with that, Chef?

Also, she’s been doing hotel, restaurant, and beverage consulting and will continue to do that wherever she goes.  Though you have to figure that California restaurant consulting is a bit different than London restaurant consulting since California restaurants rarely serve haggis or steak and kidney pie.  For this we are thankful.

She is also releasing a line of gourmet olive oils.  They are cold pressed and flavored with blood orange, meyer lime, or kumquat.  (Yes, kumquat.  I don’t get it either.)  There is also a white truffle infused oil.  In addition to the olive oils, she is very excited about her line of 25 year old balsamic vinegars.  They come in traditional, vanilla fig, raspberry, pomegranate, and kumquat.  (Yes, kumquat.  I don’t get it either.)

Editor’s Note: I am pretty annoyed because it sounds like they won’t be available in Kansas City any time soon.  Whole Foods, I’m looking at you here.

She’s also the voice behind her Twitter account @ChefHolli and had enough time to talk crap on my son after he picked Blue Jay to win.  (Good use of your time there, Chef!!)

Anyway, with all that going on, it’s probably okay to say that Chef Holli has been a little busy.

And now you know the rest of the story…sort of.  While the book of Chef Holli’s time on Hell’s Kitchen has been written, the future has yet to come.  Who knows what she will accomplish?  Who can say what she’ll do in the future or when she’ll have her shabby chic eatery or whether I can convince her to partner with me in a Kansas BBQ joint.

Still, though, at the end of the day, there is one final question that I fear may forever remain unanswered.

C’mon, really, the halibut…the banana leaf…Indian…really?

Watch Chef Holli Ugalde on Hell's Kitchen

Watch Chef Holli Ugalde on Hell's Kitchen

Chef Holli Ugalde from Hell’s Kitchen

For some, greatness comes after years of hard work.  For others, greatness is thrust upon them by fate.  And for one special Chef, it came after a whole bunch of coffee and Red Bull.

Or so the story goes of how Chef Holli Ugalde earned her spot on Fox’s cooking reality television show, Hell’s Kitchen.  “I had never watched the show,” she said, but people kept telling her to try out and she kept saying no. 

But on the day of the audition, “I had the day off and I was bored,” she said.  So, like any champ, she woke up at the crack of dawn, stood in line for hours with resume and professional headshots in hand and then delivered a lengthy dissertation on cooking and food chemistry… okay, that’s not true. 

“I got loaded on coffee and Red Bull and showed up at like 4pm.  People had been there since 7 with books of head shots and menus they’d written.  I just went in and talked.”

Then she got a callback.  So, she got loaded on coffee and Red Bull again and went in and just talked about her life and what was going on in her relationship.  Then she got a place on the show.

Of course, then she watched the show and started to wonder what, exactly, she gotten herself into.  Well, as of July 6th, she has gotten herself three eliminations away from a black jacket and few weeks away from culinary history.

Now, she shares her thoughts on Hell’s Kitchen.

Cooking For Chef Gordon Ramsay

Before starting the show, Chef Holli thought working with Chef Gordon Ramsay was going to be terrifying…and that pretty much turned out to be accurate.  She had never dealt with anyone that “in your face.”

His attitude was infectious.  When she got back from the show, she got a job at a resort hotel with 900 acres of organic lavender.  In this pastoral setting, she was a terror of a head chef, shouting out orders, cursing out anyone who forgot, and earning the nickname Ramsay…  (At her new place, she swears she’s nice, which doesn’t mean she’s not going to the Savoy eventually.  There is, after all, a year-and-a-half gap between the filming of the show and when it aired.)

Did the Show Get Edited to Make it More Dramatic?

Surprisingly enough, Chef Holli says no.  (I figured the answer to that would be an emphatic “Yes.”)  Still, as she says, she did, in fact, say all of the stuff they put on the air.  (Well, she does admit to a little prompting from the show…)

If anything, Chef Holli says they calmed her down and cut out some of her vulgarity.   However, she doesn’t think the show kept her from looking like a ditz, but as she says “Yeah, it’s me.  Yeah, I say strange stuff, but I’m a ditz and I can cook, so it’s okay.”

What’s It Like Seeing Yourself on TV?

Without hesitation, Chef Holli said “It’s weird.”

But she doesn’t get the chance to enjoy it much, at least not on Tuesday nights.  She watches each of her shows at a big viewing party with a bunch of her friends (you can check out her Facebook page to see the pics.  Everyone looks like they’re having a good time.)  However, she does DVR the show so she can watch it the next day and wonder “did I really say that?”

DVRing also allowed her to notice a minor wardrobe malfunction in the last episode.  (“What was that?” she asks.)  Strangely enough, they don’t teach anything about how to handle that in culinary school.

Do You Have Any Regrets?

“Everyone thinks I am going to say the porn thing, but I’m not, because it’s true,” she says.  (Editor’s note: I didn’t think she was going to say that.  Just sayin’.)

Instead, she remembers on the first show that she said she can cook as well as everyone else, but she’ll just look better doing it.  “That’s so not me,” she says.  “I’m not conceited.”

(Editor’s note: On the other hand, if it’s true, it’s true.  I’m looking at you on this one, enitre blue team except Autumn.  Just sayin’.  Second editor’s note: I cleared that comment with my wife.)

The Raw Chicken Incident

In one of the episodes of Hell’s Kitchen airing June 29th, Chef Holli served raw chicken to Chef Ramsay, who responded with a fairly succinct summary of his feelings about the chicken and Chef Holli in general.  (And it actually was fairly succinct.  On the show she was only told to get a grip.  Had it been Fran, the tirade could have lasted for hours.)  It was only fair to give Chef Holli a chance to defend herself.

“It wasn’t that bad,” she says.  She thinks it would have been fine in another few seconds, but she didn’t want to serve dry chicken to Chef Ramsay.  That, too, would have lead to one of Ramsay’s infamous tirades.

The Ever-Changing Team

Then there was the subject of the constant additions to the red team (which seemed to have a run of bad luck in elimination challenges.)  “New people threw us for a loop, but we needed it,” she says. 

The red team was Chef Holli’s first experience with an all-female brigade.  Most of the kitchens she has worked in have been 95% male.  She admits having a guy on the red team cut down on the team’s tendency to go after each other.

Of course, the team would not have been constantly in flux if they had done better in elimination challenges.  Frankly, Chef Holli would have liked to have won more, but she actually saw an advantage in not winning the challenges.  She says “We had an advantage.  We were always in the kitchen and we got to know the product.”

Where You’ll See Chef Holli Next?

Well, if I had to guess, I’d say the Savoy in London, England.  (She didn’t say that, by any means, but it’s not that bad of a guess.)

Right now, she’s the executive chef at a top secret hotel in Palm Springs, California and she’s doing viewing parties every week.  She’s also working on a cookbook and a line of gelatos.  (Sneak peek: she has a commercial kitchen and is working on gelatos that mix sweet and savory together.)  She’s also traveling and doing culinary shows.

She also wants to open her own restaurant with a concept she calls “shabby chic.”  It will be small, intimate, comfy, but high class.  Reservations for three, please?

Ultimately, she was fun to chat about food with.  She’s really passionate about ingredients (ask about fennel, I dare you), eating locally, and her time on the show.  My only regret was I didn’t get to ask one question.

Halibut wrapped in a banana leaf… Indian, huh?  What part of India was that, exactly?

If you can’t get enough of Chef Holli, you can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or watch her on  YouTube.

JasperEating with Chef Jasper Mirabile

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me mentioning a meal I recently had at Jasper’s in Kansas City, MO.  Some of you may have even gotten the chance to see the picture I took of some of the amazing food Chef Jasper made for us.  Others probably saw the repeated comments that at any moment, I was sure I was going to burst.  Despite the worries about my own mortality, that meal was sooooo worth it.

Jasper – The Tradition

To set the stage for this meal, I should let you know that the Mirabile family has been serving up outstanding Italian food to hungry Kansas Citians for over fifty years.  It all began in 1954 when Leonard Mirabile opened Jasper’s with his son Jasper.  According to their website, back then you could get a three course meal for seventy-nine cents.  (I can only imagine how fat I’d be if I could still get Chef Jasper to cook for me for seventy-nine cents…  Yikes.)

Since 1954, Jasper’s has seen a lot of change.  For instance, they moved from their original location on Wornall to Watt’s Mill on 103rd and State Line.  They have also gone from a neighborhood restaurant to one of the most decorated restaurants in the country, earning a Mobil Four Stars for dining excellence, the AAA Four Diamonds and DIRONA award (among others).  The restaurant has also seen a third generation of Mirabile, Jasper’s sons Leonard and Jasper, Jr., enter the restaurant business.

Chef Jasper – The Culinary Icon

However, Jasper’s is more than a restaurant.  If there is a food event in Kansas City, Chef Jasper is probably there.  He teaches numerous classes all over the Kansas City area, on such varied topics as making mozzarella to teaching kids the joy of cooking.  He has cookbooks.  He has a radio show on AM 710.  His smiling face can be found in any Hen House market.  He works with cheese producers to evangelize good, artisan cheeses.  He helps local food producers.  He knows everyone.

In other words, there may be no single name more synonymous with food in Kansas City (which is saying a lot, since Kansas City is starting to establish itself on the culinary map.)

Jasper’s – The Menu

And there I was with Mrs. WellDone at Chef Jasper’s invitation eating the best (and by several pounds of food the largest) meal I have ever eaten.

For reference, here’s the menu:

  1. Lobster cappuccino with pancetta and foam
  2. Shrimp Scampi alla Livornese Over Polenta
  3. An “Appetizer” of Eggplant Othello and Lobster Ravioli
  4. Half a loaf of good Italian bread
  5. Caprese Salad with Mozzarella Made Tableside, Heirloom Tomatos Chef’s Wife Grew, Basil, and a Homemade Balsamic Reduction
  6. A Pasta “Tasting” Consisting Of
    • Pasta Nanni with Prosciutto, peas, romano, mushrooms, and tomato sauce
    • Gagootsa sauce (Italian gourd) sauce over ditali pasta
    • Rigatoni with a Melon cream sauce
  7. For our entrees:
    • Five hour slow roasted pork shank
    • Chicken Saltimbucco
  8. For dessert:
    • Peach Napolean with Chef’s mama’s pastry cream
    • Death by Chocolate
  9. After Dinner Drink:
    • Homemade Amaretto
    • Homemade Limoncello
    • Homemade Anisette
  10. House Wine

With a menu like that, I don’t even know where to start describing everything.  It was all amazing.  However, in the interest of space, I will limit this article to the two times in the meal when the food was so good I lost the ability to speak English.  (Later, I’ll talk about more of the food and maybe sniff out a recipe or two.)

Pasta Nanni – The First Moment of Silence

The first time I lost the ability to speak was when I took the first bite of the pasta nanni.  It came served on a long plate with three individual sections, one for each of the pastas on the tasting menu.  I didn’t know what it was, and frankly, I was far more excited about the gagootsa sauce.  However, I think the nanni was closest to me, so I started with it.

Mere words defy the flavor of the pasta.  I can tell you there was salty Prosciutto, earthy tomato, sweet peas, savory mushrooms, and rich cream.  But those are just words.  They cannot convey how perfectly those ingredients worked together.  The saltiness of the Prosciutto was perhaps the lead flavor, but the tomato sauce and the peas wouldn’t let that flavor dominate.  Then there was the touch of cream, giving the dish just enough richness to take it from great pasta to something magical.

As a side note, I have two regrets from the evening at Jasper’s.  The first was that I shared any of that pasta with my wife and the second was that I saved some it for later.  See, our entrees arrived with the pasta course, so there was other pasta, pork osso buco and my wife’s chicken to eat.  All the while, the pasta nanni got cold and while it was good when I got back to it, it was nothing compared to when they first brought it out.  Plus, I think my wife ate all the Prosciutto.  Which is a crime in some places I think.

To this day, I still want more.  I will not consider my life complete unless I can go back to Jasper’s and eat that pasta again. 

Chef Jasper’s Chicken – Pure Bliss

The second moment of bliss so intense words failed me was when I ate my wife’s chicken dish.  When she ordered chicken Saltimbocco, I laughed. 

When I saw it on the menu, I didn’t think it was anything special.  It’s a Roman dish of chicken breast, ham, a little cheese, and some tomato sauce.  Traditionally, it’s rolled, but Chef Jasper says that it dries out the chicken too much so he left it unrolled.  There’s also a sauce made from lemon, stock, white wine, butter, and sage.  But still, when I saw it on the menu, I wasn’t excited.  I came for the big, the fancy, and the impressive dishes with hard names to say (ie osso bucco.) 

Don’t get me wrong, the pork was fantastic, but the chicken Saltimbocco was unreal.  It just worked.  The chicken was moist and the ham was perfect for adding a bit of salt, a bit of pork fat, and a bit of flavor.  The tomato sauce was gently nestled on to the chicken and added a nice bit of earthy tomato taste.  Then there was just enough cheese to top the dish to add a bit of extra saltiness and keep the dish together. 

Then there was the sauce.  That slightly citrusy, slightly tangy, slightly sagey butter-lemon-sage sauce.  To be honest, I shouldn’t like the sauce.  Citrus and wine together are about my least favorite sauce pairings, but there was I soaking it up with a piece of bread.

More than the ingredients, that dish worked because of the artistry.  You can probably find a frozen dinner with the same ingredients as that chicken Saltimbocco, but you probably can’t find a hundred chefs in the world who could make them absolutely sing like Chef Jasper.  I just can’t get over how there should be nothing special about an unrolled rolled chicken dish, but in a master’s hands, it was simply sublime.

Like the pasta, I would say that I wouldn’t consider my life complete unless I went back and had that dish it again, but I took care of it already.  So that part of my life is complete.  Though I am kinda jonsing for it again.

Chef Jasper Mentioned Melon Pasta Special

Also, I should mention the Rigatoni melon, which was the completely odd, but absolutely fantastic pasta dish with a sauce of melon, parmesan cream, and a little bacon.  If that sounds familiar, you might have seen Rachel Ray make it in her magazine, though Chef Jasper assures me his was the better version because of the bacon.  I refuse to argue against either Chef Jasper or bacon.

What amazed me was that dish its utter potential for chaos.  When you mix sour/salty parmesan cream with sweet melon and salty/fatty bacon, you should have a mess on your hands.  However, in the hands of a master, that combination was something both my wife and I loved.

And so that just part my meal with Chef Jasper.  I plan to talk about so many other parts of that dish and everything I learned from talking with him.  But for now, I need to go.  I hear some pasta nanni calling my name.

The logo was taken from Jasper’s website.

Chef Jennifer Iannolo

Jennifer Iannolo

I knew there was something special about Jennifer Iannolo (aka @foodphilosophy) when she once tweeted her favorite meal.  The details have long since been forgotten except for the fact it started with “when me and Charlie” sat down for a meal. 

Now, for the rest of you who aren’t on a first name basis with the culinary greats, the “Charlie” she spoke of, was none other than Charlie Trotter, one of the best chefs in the world.  And the restaurant they ate at belonged to Alain Ducasse.  

I knew she was a great podcaster and food vlogger and I had visited her site at the Culinary Media Network (CMN) many times.  I just had no idea she was so close with Charlie (that’s Chef Trotter to the rest of us) and that she had so many great stories to tell. 

From listening to her podcasts and watching her vlogs, I always had this romantic notion that her days are filled with hob knobbing with chefs, eating their delicious foods, and then coming home at night to Tweet about it.  This, of course, would be her regular schedule.  On special days she’s jet setting halfway across the world to hob knob with chefs, eat their delicious foods, and then go back to the hotel to Tweet about it. 

When I finally chased her down, she slightly disabused me of the notion.  Apparently, there is more to being the CEO of the CMN than the whole hob knobbing/eating/jet setting thing, though that is a very visible part of what she does because she podcasts and vlogs about it.  (If you’re interested, you can see some of her work on the CMN site and on her own  Still, despite all of that work, she’s a businesswoman first.

Using the business degree she earned from the Stern School of Business at New York University, she offers food consulting to various restaurants.  While she already has a presence in Web 2.0 consulting and media, there’s something else in the works that she hinted at, but now all I can say is that it is coming soon.  This project will allow her to consult with restaurants on the full range of Social Media marketing opportunities.  More to come…

In the meantime, she’ll have to content herself with all her other jobs.  Like the food consulting and being a cookbook author.  Together with her Culinary Media Network associates (including Chef Mark Tafoya who was interviewed earlier on the blog), she assembled The Gilded Fork Cookbook, a cookbook containing 3-4 years’ worth of recipes from the website.  Even though the recipes are on the web, “there’s something about a physical cookbook,” she says. 

The goal of the book was simple.  “We wanted to convey our idea of entertaining.”  Jennifer, Mark and the others all believe the entertaining should be fun and stress-free, which is why they’ve taken care of all the details, even the wine pairings in their book.  (A full review is coming, I promise.)

She also runs an online boutique, the Gilded Fork (, where she offers artisan products that are hard to find anywhere else.  The site features brownies, oils, flor de sel, truffle salt, black garlic, and a special Italian olive oil that “people buy by the case,” she says.  It’s a store “for foodies” by people who know food.

So podcaster, vlogger, social media master, online store owner, cookbook author, and a woman who rubs elbows with the finest chefs in the world, all describe Jennifer, but they still don’t form the complete picture because they don’t explain her philosophy.  For a woman known to many as @foodphilosophy, it’s important to know what drives her, because beliefs about food drive everything she does.

At heart, Jennifer is a sensualist who believes that food is something that can excite every sense: smell, sight, touch, sound, and, of course, taste.  It was something she experienced while working in the kitchens and in the businesses of some of the greatest chefs in the world : Thomas Keller, Charlie, Daniel Boulud, just to name a few. 

While working with these great chefs, she also learned quickly that being a chef is not a glamorous business, so she wanted to find out “what moved their [the chefs] souls.”  She wanted to find what it was about cooking that got them through the tough times and share that with her readers, listeners, and watchers.  She wanted to give them a chef’s point of view.

All of this culminated in, what she calls, a “moment of truth.”  She sat down and wrote an article called “On Food and Sensuality,” (read about it here) which was a phrase she used to describe food that was as pleasing to the mind and body as sex.  It was something chefs grasped intuitively, but as she wrote the article, she was not sure how the idea would be received. 

Fast forward five years and her article continues  to captivate readers and is opening up avenues which may or may not be suitable for a G-rated blog like this one, she explains while laughing.  It’s also allowed her to open “Bachelor Bootcamp” so that she can teach us guys a few things about the sensual pleasures of food and how to use it to accentuate the sensual pleasures of …other things.

Ultimately, though, I save the best for last.  After all the time in the kitchen, directing a “space camp for foodies” called L’Ecole des Chefs from Relais & Chateaux, managing the James Beard Award, and writing an article that is changing the way people think about food, there is one thing that amazes me about Jennifer: she has no formal culinary training.

When compared to being on a first name basis with Michelin-rated chefs or getting a cookbook out in three months (which is seriously how long it took to get The Gilded Fork out), it may not seem like much to anyone else, but she and Chef Mark are inspirations to any of us who want to play with a food for a living.  It may take some hardwork, but it can be done and for that bit of inspiration, we owe Jennifer a big thanks.

So when you’re done here, check out her site.  You can get a feeling for her recipes by checking out the cocktail below.  Oh, if you do go to the website, that is actually her with the grapes.  Most importantly read her words, watch her have fun and know that this is a women who has inspired chefs to keep cooking, people to learn to be chefs, and more than one blogger to think about living and playing with his food.

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It took about ten seconds of tweeting with Chef Mark Tafoya (that’s @ChefMark on Twitter), a personal chef in New York City, for me to realize he knew great food.  Probably because I’m slow, it took me a couple of days to realize he was the same chef I had been listening to on his Remarkable Palate Podcast on the Culinary Media Network.

That’s why I was all a twitter (sorry…) when I got the chance to call him while he was on the job.  We talked about what it means to be a personal chef and how to make great food.

The Meals Chef Mark Prepared

The Meals Chef Mark Prepared

“So, what is a personal chef?”

I wanted to start the interview with an easy question.  Apparently, it wasn’t that easy.  According to Chef Mark, there is confusion over the terms “personal chef” and “private chef.”  Private chefs are employees of a patron and work only for that one employer.  Like a butler or a driver, they are part of the household staff and they are expensive.

Mark is personal chef.  He is neither a full time employee, nor expensive.  Instead of living with his clients, he goes to their homes and prepares meals for them in their own kitchens.  After cooking the meals for his clients, he places them in storage containers and puts them either in the refrigerator or the freezer.  It’s kind of like having frozen dinners if your frozen dinners were made by a gourmet chef and cooked to your exact standards.

“What’s the most important thing for a personal chef?”

Chef Mark wastes no time answering that good communication is key to his business.  “I’m not here to stoke my ego,” he said.  Instead, Chef Mark wants to make food that his clients want to eat and the only way he can do that is if his clients tell him what this is.

He recalls one client who kept apologizing that he didn’t like one type of food or only liked another in certain situations.  Mark laughs, saying he had to finally tell his client to stop apologizing.  “It’s going to hurt my feelings a lot more when you fire me than if you tell me you didn’t like my dish,” Mark informed the client.  This apparently relaxed the client and Chef were able to go on and provide his client with the exact dishes he wanted to eat prepared exactly the way he wanted to eat them.  Such is the way to success in the personal chef business.

Over time, Chef Mark learns what his clients love.  For instance, the client whose house Mark was at was an admitted carnivore.  When I talked with him, he was making all sorts of amazing dishes like pork loin stuffed with chorizo and jalapenos, broccoli with a Dijon vinaigrette, a fresh apple salsa for another meat dish, and a salad (even carnivores need some greens.)   Of course, if the client had been a vegetarian or had special dietary needs, Chef Mark could have easily prepared dishes for them.  Believe me, I’ve seen his vegan recipes (available in Gilded Fork Cookbook.)

“How did you get started as a personal chef?” 

By asking this, I found that Chef Mark got started in the normal fashion: he went to Yale to study French and theatre.  Like you do.  After realizing he might not make it as an actor, he got hired as the food director/event coordinator at his friend’s party house.  There, he realized how much he loved cooking and eventually became a personal chef.

“Do you do private events?”

I figured he did, but I wanted to ask Chef Mark anyway.  I was right, they account for almost fifty percent of his business and are, in fact, one of his favorite parts of being a personal chef.  In fact, after he got done with his client’s weekly meals and our call, he was headed to a home in New Jersey so he could cook a three year anniversary dinner.  And, oh yeah, he cooked the couple’s proposal dinner five years ago.  (I have no doubt, the food sealed the deal.)

Anything else?

During his career as a personal chef, Chef has done so much more than I can fit here.  He was voted Marketer of Year twice.  He appeared on Fox News as an expert on personal chefs.  He is a member and an instructor in the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA) and as I write this, he is in New Orleans teaching personal chefs to appear on television.

As I mentioned before, he’s a great podcaster and he’s also a cookbook author, having recently worked on The Gilded Fork Cookbook with Jennifer Iannolo from the Culinary Media Network.  Oh, and he’s an expert in storing and cooking food so that it freezes in such a way that it reheats perfectly.  (Which may be of interest only to me.)

The only thing that keeps Chef Mark out of my kitchen is the fact I live in Kansas, but it doesn’t stop me from asking him questions, listening to his shows, or buying his cookbook.  If that sounds like the type of chef you want cooking for you, head out to his website or call him at 917.405.0088.

The picture was taken by Chef Mark on his iPhone after we stopped chatting.  That is the actual set of meals he did for his client.  Looks good, huh?