Ever wondered what it's like to be a celebrity chef catering to the uber rich and famous? I caught up with some of the world's most decorated celebrity chefs to ask them about working with celebrities, some of their top tips for aspiring culinary chefs as well as tips for cooking more at home.
These celebrity chefs have some serious culinary chops—just ask the female celebrities they've worked for – including Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, and Hilary Swank. These world-famous celebrity chefs have perfected the art of culinary genius – and working with very rare ingredients like 24kt gold leaf and diamonds (Yes, diamonds!).
Chef Alexia Grant
Chef Alexia Grant
Known for her savory selections like shrimp & grits shooters, jambalaya croquettes, and calypso chicken, Chef Alexia Grant is the epitome of feminine beauty and is tireless in her efforts to mentor young girls. Apart from mentoring young 11 and 12th graders, she's lending her services to charitable endeavors like the hashtag movement #TakeCareofNewark where with the help of local activists the New Jersey native worked to feed over 700 less fortunate members of Newark's population. Today she works as Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and La La Anthony's personal chef. In addition, she founded her own catering company, Eat Me Up Cuisine, in October 2014.
Cuisine/Technique you're known for: I'm known for vegan and vegetarian food as well as meal plans and lifestyle dietary adjusting.
Celebs I have cooked for: I've worked a number of athletes and celebrities including Ne-Yo, Angela Simmons, Malcolm Jenkins, La La Anthony and Sanya Richards-Ross.
Best things about working for the rich: The best thing about working for people of affluence is what you learn! There is so much to be gained by being a fly on the wall. I've learned about finance, business, public relations, fine wine, other cultures and just how to be an all around adaptable person. Those have been some major life lessons.
Worst things about working for the rich: The worst thing is when your friends and family don't understand the boundaries of what you do. As a chef that's just what I am… a CHEF. Unfortunately, when you work for celebrities your friends and family tend to think you're a celebrity also. It can put a strain on your relationships and sometimes alter who you can be around or not.
Chef Alexia Grant with 4-time Olympic gold medallist, Sanya Richards-Ross.
Best piece of advice for aspiring chefs: To any aspiring chef, if you don't love it, don't do it. This is a profession of passion. In order to excel in this field, you have to have a burning desire to push through when things get hard. This isn't an industry to enter wanting fame and glory. There are definitely ways to accomplish that in this field but if that's you're only mission, you will crash and burn because its the fire within us as chefs that have people gravitate towards your food. You are what you serve, take pride in that. Pride, Passion, Professionalism. These are the 3 major keys to success.
My personal favorite food: My favorite personal food is tacos! I love tacos. In fact, if I had a food truck, tacos would be a staple!
The most in-demand universal appetizer: I would have to say… as boring as it may be..salad. Most people would say things like wings or nachos but those are just American things. In all the places I've eaten, almost every culture will start you off with some sort of salad native to that region. Hopefully the health curve is in full effect and America can catch on!
Tips for cooking more at home: To all my ladies wanting to cook more at home... my first and most important piece of advice is keep it simple!! There are tons of recipes for 30 minute meals or meals with 10 ingredients or less. Start there, get comfortable in the kitchen and with following instructions. After you've mastered a few of those then you can break into the more difficult recipes.
Chef Jack Lee
Chef Jack Lee
As former Banquet Chef of the legendary and esteemed Hotel Bel Air, in Beverly Hills, California, Chef Jack Lee boasts a stunning reputation as personal chef to celebrities and Hollywood's cognoscenti. Through his catering company, Chinoise Cuisine, he has catered to the Oscars and Oprah's wedding of the Century. He prides himself on incorporating high quality proteins, super healthy carbs, organic vegetables, amazing sauces with bold flavors that enrapture the tongue, coupled with garnishes that include 24kt gold leaf. I call it food architecture - and the sexier the better – his sculpting abilities are second to none.
Lobster Chowmein with Caviar
Cuisine/Technique you're known for: Asian Fusion, California French cuisine, French Vietnamese cuisine. I like the sous vide cooking technique, the braising technique, and slow cooking.
Celebs I have cooked for: Oprah Winfrey, President Donald Trump, Charlize Theron, Hilary Swank, Quincy Jones, Lisa Vanderpump, the Jackson Family, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey.
Best things about working for the rich: They have a distinct palate and they appreciate refined cuisine. They also appreciate expensive and rare ingredients.
Worst things about working for the rich: It can be super demanding because they want what they want and are very picky. And everything is always last minute.
Best piece of advice for aspiring chefs: I believe every aspiring chef should work hard, do not take short cuts and cook with passion.
My personal favorite food: Meditteranean Bouillabaisse, Braised Short ribs and my $100 egg roll paired with Dom Perignon.
Most in-demand universal appetizer: Crispy Lobster Ravioli with Curried Pumpkin Sauce.
My cooking philosophy: Refinement, balance, personalization, and authenticity.
Tips for cooking more at home: Have fun and cook with all your senses. You eat with your eyes first. Beautiful, refined visual elements like a vibrant garnish or stacking items that you usually wouldn't think to stack can bring in fun and drama.
Chef Gilles Arzur, Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach
Chef Gilles Arzur
As the former Executive Chef of the Four Seasons Beverly Willshire Hotel, Chef Gilles Arzur, is known for his bold, innovative, fusion flavors. During his tenure at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire his team enjoyed serving up specialty dishes for President Barack Obama and The Jackson Five, among other VIPs. I had the opportunity to savour his amazing artistry while visiting Dubai earlier this year – and his skills are superb. It's no wonder as he thrived under the tutelage of his mentor, Paul Bocuse, named the top chef of the 20th Century by the Cullinary Institute of America and hailed as one of the greatest, most significant chefs of all time. As Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Resort Dubai, Gilles Arzur oversees five restaurants and caters to royalty.
Cuisine/Technique you're known for: Being raised in a small oceanside community in Brittany, in the northwest corner of France, and being mentored by Paul Bocuse – (the “pope" of modern French gastronomy), I have to say I would be most known for my Modern French Cuisine.
Celebs I have cooked for: My clientele includes celebrities, high-profile chefs, corporate leaders and heads of state. However, I strongly support and believe in full discretion for all of my clients and for the industry which is why I prefer not to mention my clients by name.
Best things about working for the rich: Not only do you get to create spectacular and personal menus, but you are designing an entire experience. From room décor to fine china – it's about evoking an emotion and setting an ambiance for that particular person or event and each dinner is unique and completely different from the previous one.
Worst things about working for the rich: You often find yourself creating menus based on a presumed diet of a client which can be misleading.
Best piece of advice for aspiring chefs: Work hard, very hard and stay humble no matter what. Keep dreaming and visualizing of what is about to come and where you want to be next.
Your personal favorite food: I love fish in any shape and form. However, when it comes to home cooking, my ultimate favorite food has to be crepes.
Most in-demand universal appetizer: I find that whenever an appetizer featuring raw tuna or mozzarella is listed on the menu, these are the most popular items and will noticeably be picked over the rest.
My cooking philosophy: First of all, I am convinced that you need passion in order to become a talented chef. Passion is what motivates you and inspires you to be great every single day. Secondly, I believe in using locally sourced ingredients - this ensures the highest quality and freshness of the product as well as knowledge of the provenance. Lastly, I feel that it is important to stay true to the location where you are cooking – the food needs to resemble the lifestyle and fit certain expectations. When you are working around the world it is of great significance to adapt your food and cooking methods to suit your surroundings.
Tips for cooking more at home: I would encourage women not to be afraid of exploring new food and recipes. Don't over-complicate things, start with ingredients that are easy to work with and if you are ever unsure about unfamiliar products – ask for professional advice to help get you started.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.