Don’t let Chris Kidder’s soft-spoken manner fool you. The highly acclaimed chef is a master in the kitchen, whether that kitchen is in a West Coast restaurant, a catering canteen, or a private home . . . or the American Embassy in Madrid, Spain.
Destination: East Coast Restaurant
Chef Chris’s desire to cook started early in life, in his Midwestern hometown of Canton, Ohio. He cooked as kid for family functions, worked as a server in college, and then decided he wanted to attend culinary school to become a chef. However, he felt he needed to gain experience working in restaurant kitchens before filling out any applications.
So off he went to New York City to begin mastering his culinary craft. As with many would-be chefs, Chef Chris started close to the bottom of the kitchen ladder, finding a job as a busboy at Zoe in SoHo. He soon climbed up that Zoe ladder (where he worked with our very own Chef Peter Cooke on the line!) to become a sous chef there. And he did all that climbing without attending culinary school. In fact, he got so good, that he ended up skipping culinary school completely.
Next Stop: West Coast Restaurants
Chef Chris’s culinary drive and his reputation as an excellent cook got him to top restaurants in California to gain even more experience and to finally become a master chef. His first stop was San Francisco, where he worked at the famous Zuni Café. Next, he arrived in Sonoma, where he worked in Drew Nieporent’s Freestyle.
His final stop was Los Angeles, first at Campanile, where he landed a position as sous chef and eventually became Chef de Cuisine. While Chef Chris pursued his mastery of all things farm-fresh there, the James Beard Foundation named Campanile its 2001 Outstanding Restaurant of the Year. He then left for West Los Angeles to head Literati II, where his mastery continued alongside his wife, pastry chef Kimberly Sklar.
During his time between working at Campanile and Literati II, Chef Chris discovered the opportunity to execute his culinary mastery as a private chef. He enjoyed it then and he’s enjoying it now after leaving Literati II. He currently cooks for one main private client while he also runs his catering business.
Chef Chris prepares a lot or a little, exotic or simple, depending upon his client’s needs. Some days, he might cook only for the client; other days, the guest list can range up to fifty people for a party (that’s when he’ll hire an assistant and/or a server). On some occasions, Chef Chris might devise the menu himself; on others, he will incorporate his client’s preferences—in all cases, Chef Chris requests his client’s final approval before he shops for the event.
Chef Chris also does quite a bit of cross-cultural cooking, in a sense. Sometimes he travels with his client. He gets to shop and cook in places like Madrid, Spain where he once prepared a traditional Thanksgiving feast at the American Embassy. Most recently, he remained in Los Angeles to cook for a dinner party. There, Chef Chris took the tastebuds of forty guests on a tour of his take on Brazilian cuisine. After rising to the challenge of some new recipes and some unusual ingredients—most of them organic and local—Chef Chris presented a menu that included: pão de queijo (cheese bread), empadinhas with guava paste and cheese, churrasco, sea bass with pepper chutney, chicken breast with hearts of palm salad, yucca fries . . . and the list went on until the dinner ended with a lovely coconut cake.
When asked about the types of compliments he has received from customers, clients, and guests, the shy and modest chef hesitatingly admits “everyone always loves the food.” Surely they loved that Brazilian dinner!
Besides applying his expertise and creativity in his client’s kitchen, Chef Chris possesses a few other traits that make him a successful private chef. These include being well organized, working clean, and being friendly. This friendliness includes the ability “to work well with clients, to be able to deal with the client one-on-one, whereas in a restaurant you don’t have that same direct relationship with the customers.”
And while he’s not necessarily looking to get back into a restaurant at the moment, he is keeping his eyes open for the right opportunity, one that would allow him to continue working as a private chef so he could experience and contribute to the best of both culinary worlds.
In the meantime, Chef Chris appreciates his mastery over his own life and the work-life balance that comes with being a private chef. He enjoys the fairly loose work rhythm that his varied schedule offers. He likes that he’s “not cooking the same thing every day.” More importantly, as a father, Chef Chris appreciates how, for him, being a private chef is much less routine than being a restaurant chef. “It allows me to have a better family life,” he happily admits as a young child sings and drums lightly in the background.