Kate Paul - Chef To The Stars
Chef Kate Paul has toured with Madonna, cooked privately for The Osbournes and catered events for Louis Vuitton – to name but-a-few. So this month I caught up with her via email in Australia, where she is touring with rock star Pink.
I wanted to know how this “glamorous “ culinary life started, what an average day was like and had it transcended into her L.A based company FoodInk Catering? This is what she said...
G.C. - Can you give us a quick few lines on your background?
K.P. – I went to a culinary college in Australia post high school - I didn't complete the course due to not feeling the food style they were presenting was any good (early 80s in Australia)
Before that I was always cooking for family & friends; one of my first commissioned meals included a croquembouche for my sister's 18th birthday. Then, I worked in London with a film caterer & freelanced around town with various culinary agencies. Finally, the tour catering came about.
I spent many years touring Europe from Ireland to Russia. In between tours I worked with other agencies, travelled & ate, worked in Australia for friends' restaurants & catering companies as guest intern....basically absorbed food through travel, eating & mentors at the various companies I was with. I also did a year in Seville in 1992 running a restaurant for the Expo Crowds...
G.C. - How did you end up touring and cooking for musicians?
K.P. - A random referral by someone who thought I might like to be paid to cook AND travel... and once you are on that loop, one tour leads to another...
G.C. - Who have you worked for?
K.P. – Hmm...
Tour chef: David Bowie, Madonna, Rolling Stones, Metallica, Judas Priest, Spice Girls, AeroSmith.
Private Cheffing: The Osbournes/MTV, Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Cher, Pink, White Zombie, Pantera.
Catering: Bulgari, Burberry, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Vanity Fair, Vogue, William Morris Agency, David Mamet, Alicia Silverstone, Jessica Alba's Christmas Party....Naomi Watts & Liev Schreiber, AOL, Billabong, Quiksilver, Annie Liebovitz, Oceans' 11, 12, 13.....off the top of my head!!
G.C. - What (if there is such a thing) does a typical day look like?
K.P. - Depends where I am & what I am doing! If touring, it usually starts when I work out the first meal timing/requests - all other meals flow from there, especially if it is a show day which are more structured. After the hotel meals, pack up food into a portable cooler, get transported to venue, unpack, cook & repack! Head off to explore the city if my duties are over for the evening, or travel onto next city. If working in LA with an event for my catering company FoodInk Catering; start at my commercial kitchen at around 8-9am, checking on orders, final front of house & back of house pack, coordinating staff & their last minute changes; head over to client's house or venue to check on rental installation; oversee staff arrival, soothe client, check on food, do sample plates or set up buffets/food service; check timeline and....GO! Load out kitchen first, then front of house, send the team back with the equipment & head on home. Usually both end up being at least a 12-14 hour day!
"...like the mafia, drew alongside each other, the tinted windows came down & the sandwich was passed over..."
G.C. - When you stay in hotels, do you generally find the kitchen team helpful? Any great stories of a team helping or horror stories of non cooperation, what would be the perfect kitchen reception?
K.P. - Overall I have only ever had amazing experiences in all the hotels around the world. I view them as an opportunity to meet my kitchen kin, explore new ideas, learn new techniques & possibly even try to improve my French/German or Spanish vocabulary. I don’t recall any non cooperation; usually an abundance of help, assistance & of course questions - how did I get into this, what is my day like etc!! What is "she/he/they" like. I am fairly organised; if there is any standard items I use, I have emailed my hotel "rider" to the Executive Chef, with equipment/cooking space location requests. I usually want to be in a quiet, out of the way corner so I can concentrate on my task at hand - frequently I am working alongside the hot line, sort of on display! The perfect kitchen reception is with a fresh cappuccino (morning) or bottle of champagne in my room (pm!)
My favourite hotel kitchen story is when I was at the George V in Paris, in their restaurant hot line area for Le Cinq. The Executive Chef had me work in what I think was his prep area, where he did his testing etc, right outside his glass windowed office. On this tour, my client was a very plain eater, same meals every day. Non fat chicken burritos with El Paso seasoning was the preferred treat meal when fresh fish/greens was exhausted as a flavour. The entire brigade was gathered around me in fascination at the non fat spray, the non fat cheese, the low carb tortillas - nothing they had ever seen before or would ever use! The team were wonderful to work with - we were there for two months on & off - & I spent a couple of nights at the pass with the Exec, trying to make sense of the orders in rapid fire French. They treated me every day to some of the new flavours & ideas that came out - they were awarded their first star about 6 months in, first ever for a hotel restaurant.
But, it does also compete with another French hotel story, this time at the Ritz (there for 6 weeks, suite across the hall from Woody Allen), when I had the Exec there do a degustation for my client, her husband & some of our group - and we sampled a wonderful wine from 1904, laid down in the cellars by Escoffier. (Or so we were told). It was not at all on her diet plan, but we all enjoyed ourselves, dining privately with the chef himself waiting on us with some of the plates.
G.C. - What is the most obscure environment you have had to cook in?
K.P. - In the back of a Mercedes, travelling the autobahn at high speeds on the way to a show, running late, communicating with my client's security detail via radio from the car in front, when a sandwich request was relayed - I had the food, but nothing was cut - so out came the knife, the board - the car never slowed down, but got a fresh roast beef, tomato & sliced cheese sandwich done. We pulled into a rest area, and like the mafia, drew alongside each other, the tinted windows came down & the sandwich was passed over...
G.C. - What are the benefits and drawbacks of the job?
K.P. - Benefits: great travel, interesting & creative people, new locations, new food & culture exposure, great bathrooms, never having to make your own bed!
Drawbacks: missing out on family & friends' special events, forgetting things at hotels when you are on-the-fly & tired; 30 - 40 days in a row with no day off; not getting to make your own bed...
G.C. - Do your clients ask you to cook specific foods or do clients give you free reign?
K.P. - I do a profile meeting with my clients; ask them all about their food types/preferences. I am usually called in for high performance/low fat food tailored to taste preferences, so I start with some basic concepts & after a few meals, learn where their palate is. After the initial meals, usually I get free reign - within their parameters! Nearly all my clients want some form of zero calorie comfort food that feels like they are eating lobster mac ‘n’ cheese every day - whilst not!
G.C. - What's the craziest culinary situation that you have ended up in? (Drug fuelled rock stars wanting the strangest thing or any crazy situation or super fun situation you can talk about?)
K.P. - Nothing I can publish! I have been asked to provide a raw chicken for a metal band. I can't disclose any further! Dodging dog s**t whilst working for the Osborne’s....in the middle of the kitchen, during my cooking. And refusing to pick it up! Or even teaching Ozzy how to deep fry a turkey - off camera, even funnier, we had fire extinguishers standing by....
G.C. - Do you plan your menus ahead of time or do you have to wait until you get to your destination to see what's available?
K.P. - Being Type A, I do plan. I want to know that I am able to respond to changes in the day, tastes, and difficulties. I also shop locally once I get to each city, stocking up, getting the market sense - and do make menu alterations on the spur of the sight of delicate fresh asparagus, beautiful green herbs - truffle season!
G.C. - You will return to LA after this current contract, will you stay there or has this given you the taste to get back on the road?
K.P. - I will always have a love of the touring industry, being on the road. I am by nature a gypsy...but I also crave the stability now of my own locally situated kitchen. I sometimes felt that my recipes were never the same twice, given the "terroir", but in LA I have been able to refine my ideas, & create a loyal client base that requests my signature dishes... and I feel that they are what they are meant to be! I will always be open to re-visiting my clients' to fine tune their road diets, I have done that a few times - taught their new chefs what my methods were for coping!
G.C. - Why did you decide to stop travelling and start your own catering company?
K.P. - It was just time! I wanted to be able to plan my life - be available to family & friends, have dinner parties!
G.C. - What was our goal when you started your business? Has it followed the business plan or ended up different from what you intended?
K.P. - There was no plan! It happened organically - people found out I was in town temporarily & started asking me to do their parties... I was lucky with some great Entertainment Industry contacts, and of course was in the right town for that. Word of mouth has been my best plan. I feel that I have come a long way since the early days back in LA, and have grown with the company, getting my "MBA" on the run...
G.C. - Has your celebrity cooking background helped with your business? Who have you cooked for?
K.P. - Of course! LA is fascinated with them & people love the concept that the Rolling Stones’ chef is in charge of their food.
G.C. - What type of events and size events do you cater for?
K.P. - From a wedding anniversary for 2 people to 1500 people across three counties in four different events...
G.C. - What's the coolest event you have been part of?
K.P. - So hard to choose! Vanity Fair parties....a Tobey Maguire hosted sit down dinner honouring LACMA, Alicia Silverstone's 30th birthday party (all vegan), recreating an 18th century naval meal for David Mamet - shooting an advertising campaign with Karl Lagerfeld in Vegas. I have a great photo of him & myself on set, he is admiring his own cookbook at the very moment the shutter clicks. He literally said to me "you know, this is a wery good buch. I like it"
G.C. - How many people work for you, how many events do you average each week?
K.P. - Four full-time, and a cast of up to 50 part-time, mostly actors - literally!
G.C. - What do you enjoy most about having your own catering company?
K.P. - That I think I'm the boss! Really, creating a work environment that allows everyone with me to explore their best ideas & skills & to work outside the box but still have a life...
G.C. - What's the biggest challenge?
Aagh! The paperwork - it’s non-stop, small business life....
G.C. - What's the first thing you'll do when you get back to the US?
K.P. - Host Fig Fest, an annual affair involving my brown turkey fig tree, which by that time in the fig season we are all sick of picking, so we get all my friends over for a full fig menu & their own jam at the end... we generally yield about 100 gallons of caramelised fig jam every year, which makes its' way onto our menus: cheese trays, fig, gorgonzola & pancetta pizzas, fig jus for lamb racks....always looking for new fig recipes! Let me officially reach out to your audience here & request some more!!
G.C. - Professionally, what's next for you?
K.P. - Who knows! Hopefully Foodink continues to cook on; plus consulting for my private clients - possibly opening up something in Australia on a beach, giving me even more of an excuse to run away every January for extended periods...always many interesting requests coming my way, ideas on the boil!
G.C. - Can you offer some words of advice to the chefs that would like to follow in you footsteps?
K.P. - Be open to possibilities. Be open to what that weird job offer could lead to, what opportunities may present! Don't assume that there is a standard path to success - be it via school, an internship or whatever. Some of the best chefs I have ever met call themselves cooks & have learned through their love of food.
Always strive for perfection. Food & catering is in the details. Yes, you do have to sweat them!
For more information on Kate Paul and Foodink Catering visit www.FoodinkCatering.com
By: Jeremy Emmerson