Name, age, occupation, where are you from and where do you live now.
Jennifer Lynn, 23. I work as a Personal Chef and in the kitchen of Chef Daniel Boulud's restaurant, Daniel. As a Personal Chef, I prepare six- to nine-course tastings for up to 12 guests in the homes of my clients. I grew up all around the States, but spent most of my time in Orlando. I've lived in the Lower East Side for the last few years, and I think I'll be in New York forever.
How did you decide to become a personal chef? How long have you been doing it? And is it lucrative enough that you don't need a day job?
It all came about rather naturally. I was looking for a way to apply the techniques I was learning at Daniel to some creative work of my own. Some people find the reality of hosting dinner parties -- menu planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning -- to be dreadful, but they want to host them nonetheless. I started this service to create exceptionally memorable dinners for the youthful, busy, and culinarily curious. I am lucky that there is an incredible demand for this sort of thing in this city.
How do you design the menus for your clients? Is there anything that you refuse to make, if requested?
My approach is relatively unusual, in that I don't offer a list of dishes to select from; rather, I meet with my clients to talk about their reasons for celebration, invitees, favorites, childhood food memories, and wine preferences (I often build a menu around a client's wine collection), which inspire highly-specialized menus for their events. I mull these suggestions, scrawling ideas on scratch paper, over a glass of wine and something to nibble at a cozy neighborhood restaurant like Falai, Little Giant, or Jadis. I then consult classic French texts to refine each dish.
Perhaps I wouldn't serve brownies from a box or Doritos or Cool Whip. But someone once begged for canned cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving and I served it -- shiny, gelatinous, cylindrical -- next to a bowl of my homemade version stewed with cherries, cinnamon sticks, and port.
Is there a certain style or flavor to your cooking? What ingredient do you like to work with the most?
I am guided most heavily by traditional French techniques. I use fresh produce from the greenmarkets and herbs from my garden. I really love working with game and big hunks of meat -- leg of lamb, crown roast, whole rabbit, whole birds -- both because of the grandeur of presentation and out of respect for the animal. I like knowing what part of the animal my food comes from; why one bite is tender and another is tough because of the different muscle groups involved.
All this customization must come at a cost - can you ballpark what a typical meal might cost per person?
Costs for events vary according to extravagance of the food, wine, and number of courses you prefer, but are generally commensurate with restaurant prices at a similar level of service, roughly between 80-150/person.
While we've seen some fancy kitchens in the city, we can't say we've ever had our own spacious kitchen. Is it hard to work in the smaller kitchens in the city? Is there anything that a kitchen must have (besides a stove) for you to use it or do you bring everything yourself?
I've found most kitchens to be welcoming and workable. I augment the clients' supplies with tools of my own when necessary. And I always bring my own knives.
Have you been fascinated with food for as long as you can remember? Did you always want to become a chef?
As I was growing up, my mother fed me the few savory items she could cook for dinner: bologna and processed American cheese sandwiches on white bread, Lipton Noodle Soup, cardboard-boxed macaroni and cheese, and ziti baked in Prego (or Ragu, depending on which coupon was in the previous week's paper). By Saturday afternoon, my father and I were itching for the types of meals written about in the stacks of Gourmet we horded in our kitchen. Together, he and I combed our grocery store aisles for the most exotic ingredients we could find - in the suburbs, this amounted to hummus, sultanas, pine nuts, and edamame. At night, we would rely on these ingredients, the descriptions of culinary techniques we had read, and intuition to improvise bold feasts. Even though my mom loathes cooking, she is a phenomenal baker. She fondly taught me how to properly smush chocolate chip cookies mid-bake to guarantee their softness, to use dental floss to divide one thin sheet cake into two thinner layers, and to always whip your own cream. These home tricks really stick with you. I've integrated my father's sense of culinary adventurism, my mother's crafty technique, and their respective admiration for the savory and sweet into how I approach food today. I've always loved to cook, but I think I got addicted the day I walked into the kitchen at Daniel.
What place or thing would you declare a landmark?
Momofuku. I hope it never disappears. David Chang is an inspiring example of a classicly-trained chef who is cooking bright, unfussy, grounded, and seasonal food that is affordable and accessible to everyone in this city. That incredibly unctuous pork in the Momofuku Ramen has generated a delicious new flavor memory for me.
What advice, if any, would you give to Mayor Bloomberg?
Involve more schools, chefs, and greenmarkets with programs like Spoons Across America, an organization that provides culinary and nutritional education to kids.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone?
I just love to curl up on my couch with a glass of wine and the Times. Or cook and sing to Carmen.