Being a restaurant chef can be a tough gig. Being a personal chef to the stars brings a whole other set of challenges; and being the home chef for a royal family sounds down right terrifying.
But Kristianne Uy, 2002 Culinary graduate of The Art Institute of California — Los Angeles and executive personal chef to the royal family of Saudi Arabia, says she loves the challenge of working for the high-profile family.
“It’s very high paced so you always have to be on your toes,” says Uy, who also worked as personal chef to Hollywood director James
Cameron for two years, and spent time working for Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and American Idol judge Simon Cowell. “I have to come up with a menu everyday.”
In addition to putting together the menu, Uy is never quite sure what might catch a client’s fancy at any given time, making her work even more “exciting.”
“You never know what a client will want,” Uy says.
The Life of a Royal Personal Chef
The Saudi Arabian royal family that she works for is comprised of only four people, which might seem like a relatively easy job for an accomplished chef, but when you add in all of the handlers, staff, drivers, housekeepers, and, yes, even a taste tester to assure that nothing is poisoned, Uy ends up cooking for about 50 to 60 people at each meal.
Uy says that people always joke that she is putting out some kind of a giant buffet “fit for a king” and that the royals eat first, and then the staff has their opportunity to glean the leftovers, but this is exactly what happens, and because of this system, there is very little waste. The leftovers are even sent home with the staff for their families to enjoy the royal feast.
To get these royal feasts ready is a laborious process, but luckily it is not a year-round job. Uy says the Saudi royals are usually in the county for four months in the summer and a couple of months in the winter, but when they are in town, she is literally working from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week for as many as 120 days in a row.
“So it is basically whenever they are here, I’m nonstop,” she says.
But Uy has no complaints about the schedule, and even has time to moonlight, cooking meals for the rich and famous of Los Angeles and dropping the meals off in their homes so that they can be reheated and enjoyed later. She says that she can usually handle about four extra clients in addition to the Saudi royals.
Getting it Right as a Home Chef
To meet the needs of a family with international tastes, Uy has a method to finding out what each member of the family likes to eat, that, although a little unorthodox, has always worked for her.
She starts off her consultation process with a new client by asking the client what their favorite candy bar is, or what kind of ice cream they like and whether they like it in a waffle cone or out of a cup. These may seem like pointless questions, but they get to the root of the flavor combinations that the client enjoys in their most indulgent moments, and it really helps to paint a picture of the clients’ palates.
Once she has ascertained what she believes the client likes to eat, its time to do some testing. Uy says that she usually asks for a weeklong probationary period to test her theories on the client’s tastes, and by then, she has it down, and they are ready to enjoy her food.
“It’s not like a restaurant,” Uy says about doing everything possible to match the right food with the right tastes. “It’s their kitchen. Totally different from a restaurant.”
Once she finds out what they like to eat, she has to make sure that she can keep her menus fresh and interesting. She describes her cooking style as “rebel nostalgia,” and likes to serve new twists on old classics. She says, that like other artistic fields, she is also able to stay fresh by following the trends in the industry.
“Food is always changing, like music and art,” Uy says.
And although she has worked with some of the most refined diners in the world, it’s also important to mix in a little home cooking.
“Sometimes it’s all about casseroles,” she says.
To get that at-home feel, Uy collects old cookbooks from around the world to help her perfect the art of making good home cooked meals.
“I try to get the grandmas’ cookbook from that country,” she says.
A Personal Chef and the Family
Although she is a trained chef, and has worked as a chef in a number of restaurants, Uy says it is important to her that the food she prepares for her clients makes them feel like they are in their own dining room.
“For me, I want them to feel at home, which is the number one thing,” Uy says.
“Eating at home with your family is important,” she adds.
And by helping people to enjoy a home cooked meal, Uy and the families she works for inevitably become close.
“You form a personal bond with them,” Uy says. “You gain a trust with them. You even spend all of your holidays with them.”
To keep the process as personal as possible, she keeps her kitchen very hands on. She could easily take on more clients if she hired more help to do the cooking for her, but for Uy and her clients that personal touch is what it’s all about.
“When you produce something in mass quantities, I would lose touch,” Uy says.