Interview Series: "What does it take to be a private chef?" w/ Chef Rose Johnson

This is the first our series of interview with some of the top private chefs in the Bay area. If you are considering hiring a chef, or becoming one, the aim is to help you understand how to do that. We'll be sharing trade secrets, end even some recipes, so stay tuned! Our first interview is with Chef Rose Johnson. A former Kitchit Marketplace chef, Rose Johsnon is the daughter of a restaurant owner and granddaughter of hotel and restaurant owners. Her introduction to the hospitality industry came at an early age. As a child, her immersion was complete as she made homemade donuts and set out continental breakfast for hotel guests, baked pies and made appetizers.

From Head Pastry Chef at legendary Philadelphia restaurants, White Dog Cafe, and The Striped Bass, to chef and teaching positions at New England boarding schools, health care food service, teaching adults and children, catering and conference cooking, Chef Rose has worked in all aspects of food service. She owned and operated an evening dessert cafe and her cooking segments have been featured on Canadian TV. Since opening Rose Johnson Catering & Cooking Classes, she has cooked for the US and Canadian Ambassadors to Denmark, ladies nights-out, non-profit fundraising events, a Danish wedding, and other gatherings up to 50 people.

Lawson Gray: What do you think it takes to be a private chef in the SF Bay area?

Chef Rose: To be a top chef in the SF bay area, you must be attentive, creative, cutting edge and highly skilled. That would be the same for any big city, what makes this area unique is that you must also source as locally as possible and be well versed in your California wines!

LG: What do you see as your "job", what I mean by this is, what is it that you think you can/should do for your client? What your goals are when you are on-the-job?

CR: My job as a private chef is to first of all, to create a menu together with my client and to make the entire experience as seamless as possible, and then of course to cook and taste and finesse the food to the best of my ability. Since I am a tough critic, I think about what would impress me as a client and go from there. In our trade, you get one chance to impress so you better be on top of your game every single time. My ultimate goal is to create memorable meal. It is also my job to ensure the timing, service and clean up is executed without flaw,

It is important that any chef plan, based on menu and service style, number of courses, to have enough staff members.  Beyond that, its my job as a private chef is to communicate what I will need; for instance making sure I have a place to park to load and unload, clearing their counters, making a little space in the refrigerator etc.

LG: What is you "cooking philosophy", if you will, your approach to food?
CR: My philosophy is to " keep calm and let the passion flow " and to remember, "you are only as good as the sum of your ingredients " and words of wisdom from an old Catholic nun, "good, better, best- never let it rest, until your good is better, and your betters best"!

LG: What would you say are the top 3 criteria a client should use when hiring a private chef?
CR: • Number one- look for a chef who menus are within the realm of your own tastes. For instance, maybe you've read rave reviews about a chef but when you read their menus you think meh, or you think, what is this " frozen hibiscus air on chicken feet with mushroom dust, kale froth and a tarragon strawberry squid ink cream"? You want to choose a chef whose menus resonate with the kinds of food you love.

• Number two-try to find a chef that communicates well with you.

• Number three- do a quick search to check them out. You want a chef with experience, not fresh out of culinary school. A chef that has " paid their dues” working out in the field-- be it restaurants, hotels, cruise ships etc. or even just years as a private chef or caterer. Those kinds of working experiences help build the chef's ability to handle any situation in a cool, calm and collected way. Some websites, like IfOnly and Private Chefs of the SF Bay pre-screen and qualify the chefs they promote, so this a good place to look as well as just "googling" your chef, of course.

LG: What are the top 3 things a client can do to make sure an event is the best it can be? What can the client do?
CR: Follow the directions you send ahead of the event, set the table (unless you have agreed, ahead for time, that your chef and their staff will be responsible to do this), make sure the chef knows if you are particular about anything in your kitchen. For example, make sure your chef knows not to use the garbage disposal it isn't working well or to open the windows if the stove fans aren't very strong so as to minimize smoke. And for me, if you have air conditioning please put it on because I am a hottie!