Private Chef to Mr. & Mrs. T. from New York, NY
Many Americans are spending more time eating at home, whether it’s restaurant food delivery, at-home cooking or even hiring personal or private chefs. We decided to feature this interview to see into the life of a Private Chef and understand this world a little better. There is a clear distinction between being a personal chef and private chef as personal chefs typically own their businesses and work for multiple clients, unlike private chefs, who are employees of a particular household. Chef Andrea Heinly is an incredibly talented Chef who began her journey earning both an Associate degree and Bachelor of Professional Studies degree from The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Working part time cooking for a private family while attending classes full time, Andrea got her first exposure to this “private chef” world. With a focus to launch and develop her skills, she rose through positions in restaurants such a Daniel Boulud Brasserie, Las Vegas, NV, Stokesay Castle, PA, Borgata Hotel Casino-Amphora Lounge/Society Club, NJ, and she even had time to finish Third in Season 5 of Hell’s Kitchen! It was in May of 2016 that she received a call asking her to return to work for the family that she cooked for many years earlier and her dream job became a reality. While now completing coursework for her master’s degree at CIA, working full time and balancing cooking for her employer at both their NYC home and their country estate in Dutchess County, NY, Andrea was both energetic and humble to spend time sharing an inside look into her work and dream job.
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” quoted from Michael Pollon, is on a magnet on Andrea’s refrigerator which inspires her. I learned some fun-facts about Andrea such as her favorite kitchen tool being her 10” Chef Knife and her favorite item to make right now is baking rosemary, olive bread and then decided to stir in the questions to find out how she got started…
Q – How did you get started in the Private Chef world?
A – Mr. T. was a Board Member at CIA, and it came to my attention that he and his wife were looking for a part-time chef to work for them, at their home in Dutchess County, NY. I accepted the job, and it was just for a season. But I stayed in touch with Mrs. T’s Personal Assistant and she called me one day, out of the blue, and asked me if I wanted to come back for the position, ten years later! Staying connected with the Personal Assistants and networking were important…and a bit of luck and good timing!
Q – Tell me about how your position is structured from an organizational chart standpoint. Who do you report to and who reports to you?
A – I report directly to Mrs. T. No one reports to me. Mr. T. has one Personal Assistant who reports to him and Mrs. T. has two Personal Assistants who report to her and various other household employees.
Q – Do you feel your culinary skills have been enhanced working as a Private Chef? If yes, how so?
A – Yes! I receive specific meal requests and they have expectations for different cuisines from around the world. They are huge “foodies,” deeply knowledgeable about food and both have acute palates. Mrs. T. would know if the chicken were purchased in a different location than normal. They have expectations of restaurant quality yet can also want every-day-meals. This keeps me interested. My culinary education and working in restaurants were critical to be able to do this job. It’s important to have a solid foundation. My cookbook collection has grown (in response to asking what happens if they ask her to make a dish she has never prepared); You must figure it out and do research; you don’t have a Chef boss to go ask. I was asked to make Peking Duck for the first time and I just had to figure it out. I wanted a micro-audience and get hyper-critical feedback on minute details and this job gives you exactly that!
Q – How do you compare the pace of your work compared to when you worked in a restaurant?
A – The pace is more enjoyable. I have a huge amount of autonomy. I need to be ready at a moment’s notice as one cannot say “no” in this job if something comes up. Flexibility is key. There is no room for an ego. If asked to run to the store to pick up one item, I remind myself how lucky I am to be in a job that is the pinnacle of my cooking career.
Q – What do you specifically enjoy about the position?
A – To be able to cook again. Working in restaurants/hotels, you have to complete order guides, chef logs, staff evaluations and a lot of administrative components; here I am able to cook again. Also, not having a set budget and having the ability to not compromise on the quality of ingredients. I can set the pace and not push the limit, but if I need equipment or the best of the best products, I do not have to compromise.
Q – What is your most difficult challenge?
A – Setting boundaries with co-workers and clear communication with the Personal Assistants. In the past, the Housekeepers had the reign of the house, but I wanted the kitchen to be my space and ensure health guidelines and proper cleaning measures. Having someone come into the kitchen, taking a bite out of a piece of bread, and then placing the half-eaten bread back on the cutting board is not acceptable. I have learned to be discreet and set boundaries with my co-workers. Learning to extract information in a timely fashion is also important. If I had a dollar for every time, I heard one of the Assistants say, “you know this is a moving target”. Building trust and communication are key to defusing power dynamics.
Q – What were some important traits/characteristics that you were asked about from the family that hired you?
A – They asked about my classical cooking and training. They wanted someone who would fit seamlessly into their lives. Someone who is independent. Skills are key. Receiving feedback and being open to receiving specific feedback. You need to put your own food philosophies aside.
Q – How do you balance working full time, juggling your time between NYC and their country estate and your work on your master’s degree?
A – Time management! (laughing), I plan and think well ahead. Wednesdays and Thursdays are my days off, so I plan accordingly. I typically work one of my days off with procuring and prep; not that the T’s know this, but it’s important to manage your time. I leave myself gifts, such as if I am making a dish with ground beef, I may make some meatballs and freeze them for ease of a later meal. I make sure that I have free time to relax with such things as having a facial, walking in Central Park, listening to podcasts, swim and spending time with friends.
Q – How has COVID changed the work that you do for the Family?
A – I have changed the location of where I now cook. Prior to COVID, I would cook and provide full table-side service to the T’s. Typically, I would prepare two courses and if they had guests, I would prepare and serve four-courses. Now my home kitchen has been professionally designed and I make meals and have them delivered, with heating instructions, for them to finish off. Mrs. T. will often send me recipes from the NY Times articles. I find that I keep myself more isolated so that I can stay healthy. Mr. & Mrs. T are in their eighties, so I want them to remain healthy. If I am asked to serve, I limit my service, will not pour the wine and I try to stay six feet away.
Q – We understand that Private Chefs are asked to do things that are not always kitchen related, such as walk the dog, pick up the kids, etc. Is this a fact, and if so, what things have you been asked to do?
A – The T’s have a team of people for such other tasks. They have been very respectful. I was providing chauffer service for Mr. T. when driving from the city, the 90 miles north to their country home. But I guess I have been lucky, and I am thankful.
Q – I am sure living with a family can be challenging at times. Have you ever been in the middle of a family dispute?
A – Yes, there have been times. You need to pretend that you do not hear anything and learn how to give diplomatic answers. If asked of your opinion or to take sides, it’s so important to stay neutral. You cannot take a side! It is really good to have a neutral answer and practice them, the same way you would practice with interview questions. For example, if cooking for a dinner party and you are called in to hear of a discussion about a proper cooking method for one of the courses, you don’t want to state that your employer has the wrong answer, nor insult the guest, so saying something such as, “everyone has their own opinion,” or “what’s good for one person may not be good for another” or I find myself saying, “that is a very subjective topic.” Stay neutral and get out fast! (laughing).
Q – Are you often ask to dine with the family you work for?
A – Yes, but not often. It’s very tricky to navigate and can be awkward. You don’t want to get personal. You do not assert your own opinions. You will be told that you are “part of the family,” but you can never lose site that you are an employee. It is a big deal to be asked and shows trust from the employer so you never want to say no, and it can be an insult if you decline, so you must play a part and navigate being the guest and then quietly excusing yourself to ensure each course is out, cleared and the food is properly prepared.
Q – How do holidays work for you? Are you in the background cooking and serving or do you participate?
A – The T’s typically have their traditional family plans for the major holidays and they either dine out or are with their family or friends, outside of their home.
Q – Discretion has to be an important requirement of the position. Can you elaborate on as to how you have been instructed on this subject?
A – Discretion is a huge requirement for the position. They did not have me sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), but it is known going into the job. You hold discretion on all company, personal and cultural matters, discussions of their well-being and discretion with speaking with all the other workers.
Q – For anyone looking to get into becoming a private chef, what advice would you give to them?
A – Make sure you know how to cook! Listen for and accept feedback. There is NO room for an ego. Know that you are providing a service. Be flexible. Be open to suggestions. “No” is not allowed in your vocabulary. And if you are allowed into a family’s world and their home to be able to cook for them, be thankful. As the face of the restaurant and dining world is changing, I would highly recommend this profession!
Chef Andrea Heinly is an inspiration to chefs who have made it to the position of Executive Chef and has worked with highly acclaimed chefs and food establishments and now how she realizes that she is at the very pinnacle of her cooking career and thrives every day being a Private Chef.
Thank you, Chef, for allowing us the opportunity to capture you in print. We appreciate your insight and valuable contributions to anyone who wishes to know more or may even be considering becoming a Private Chef in the future!
Andrea’s Fare & Style
- English spring pea soup with herb creme fraiche
- Roasted Hasselback potatoes
- Roasted pepper soup with olive and golden oregano
- Sweet corn agnolotti with fresh whey beurre blanc
- Carrot macadamia salad
- 72-hour sous vide beef short rib with cabernet reduction and piquillo puree
- 72-hour sous vide beef short rib with port syrup, morels, and stuffed swiss chard
- Chicken breast roulade with morels, shallot confit, and Romanesco