Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this installment, we stepped outside of the restaurant world and inside the realm of being a private chef for a wealthy family.
I have worked in the food service industry all my life. I've been a dishwasher, busboy, waiter, and bartender, and I've worked every position in a kitchen. Fourteen years ago, I became a private chef for a multi-millionaire.
People fantasize about having a private chef because it really would make your life so much simpler. You'd probably be extremely happy with the amount of extra time that you could focus on work or leisure pursuits. The one downside: You'd find that going out to restaurants would be a lot more disappointing. I constantly hear from my employers that "it wasn't as good as what you make us." Just think about how nice it would be to have really good food, done the way you like it, three times a day, five days a week. It's not a bad life.
My employers make virtually no demands of me as to what they want to eat. Most of the time, they don't know what they're eating until they sit down. Few people would be willing to trust someone that much with their diet, so I'm definitely an outlier in the industry—I make all of the decisions having to do with menu planning and shopping. Occasionally, they might say they're in the mood for something special, but other than that, it's all up to me.
It's much more relaxing than a regular restaurant job, so the stress isn't a problem. The pay is good, and you can't beat the amenities. Before I got married, I did live with the family and follow them around. Now, I spend most of my time living with my wife, but five months out of the year the family I work for goes to Florida and I have to follow them. I'm essentially separated for five months out of the year.
My wife isn't thrilled with the whole thing, and it's caused a lot of tension over the years. Luckily, that five months is interspersed with times when we get to see each other. We talk all the time.
And if I was in the regular restaurant industry, it's not like it would be hugely different. I know what it's like: You're working 12-hour days, six days a week. You just don't have a life. After your shift, you're so worn out and exhausted that you end up drinking or whatever and go home, pass out, and go to work the next day. You barely see your significant other. Generally being in the cooking business is really rough on relationships.
Even now that I don't live essentially on top of my employers, being in such close proximity to them is kind of difficult to navigate. It can cause some awkward moments. I sometimes don't fit in very well with the East Coast, well-bred types—I tend to be a little opinionated and a little awkward.
One time, the family was having a dinner party with some people I didn't know. I was taking care of things, and at the end, I was cleaning up and they were deep in a political discussion. I just piped in and said something about what was being discussed. My boss replied and I walked out of the room. Later on, after the guest had left, my boss said, "You might want to be careful about what you say around some people. After you left, our guest said, 'Who the hell does this guy think he is?'" Essentially, that I'm a servant and not supposed to be speaking up about political matters at the table.
But most of the time, it's great. Guests are very respectful, and they're delighted to have people take care of them. Most of them are extremely nice. Once in a blue moon, they even tip me. People are just so happy to be in paradise, being fed by a private chef. There's nothing to complain about in regards to that. Plus, I'm pretty good at what I do.
They've got a million family members and friends. Down here in Florida, they have three houses. One for them to live in, one for me, and one for the guests. The total capacity is about 20 people as far as bedding and everything is concerned. During those times, it's crazy. It helps that I'm not doing everything on my own. The kids are willing to help out—they're not spoiled. They're always willing to pitch in and lend a hand to make things smoother. But quite frankly, cooking and cleaning up after 20 adults is exhausting. Some people leave a trail of garbage everywhere they go. Those kinds of people take up so much of my time.
For me, the best part is the people I get to meet. I hang out with hedge fund managers and politicians and famous people. You get to experience a very different sort of lifestyle, something that most average people wouldn't see. You get to see how people live when they make half a billion dollars a year.
Something that's pretty obvious is that it doesn't seem to matter how much money you make past a certain point. Either you're a happy person or you're not. Once you've reached a certain point in life, any X amount of dollars past that won't make you happier. I meet plenty of miserable rich bastards who are angry about all these things. They should be happy and live wonderful lives. But they're just people, and people are the way they are. Money doesn't change it—not that much. It just makes things simpler.
As told to Tove Danovich
This first appeared on MUNCHIES in April 2016.