As summer comes to an end, the ultra-wealthy prepare to bid “see you next year,” not only to their coastal vacation homes, but also to their private chefs. In places like the Hamptons, culinary-trained millennials boasting impressive resumes — from fine dining at the Ritz-Carlton to cooking stints in Italy — hold summer placements from June until Labor Day, cooking up everything from spreads for lavish soirees to light lunch for the families and friends of the one percent.
Do you want, perhaps, freshly baked bread tomorrow? Reilly Meehan, a Phoenix-based private chef, can make you some from scratch. “I’ve worked hard to become well rounded in the kitchen,” Meehan tells us. This is his third summer in the Hamptons with one client. “I bake all my own breads, make all my own desserts and can cook pretty much any dish my clients have thought of.”
If you’re looking for global flavors, don’t worry — Juliana White, a born-and-raised Hamptonite and freelance private chef, agrees that part of the job description is knowing how to prepare anything. “I grew up in a Polish-Italian household, so I didn’t grow up with things like sushi and sashimi,” she says. “But I learned how to make it for when clients request.”
Meehan and White are just two of a handful of private chefs running popular TikTok accounts alongside their full-time gigs. On social media, they’ve gone viral for their easy to binge recipes and “a day in my life” vlogs featuring farmer’s market runs and strolls on the beach. Viewers feast on the dreamy escapism: footage of cozy homes reminiscent of Nancy Meyers movies, hydrangea in neatly hedged lawns and breezy Northeastern beaches, successfully capturing Gen Z’s favorite aesthetic: the coastal grandmother.
What Does a Private Chef Actually Do?
Private chefs are responsible for cooking meals, developing menus, stocking the pantry, meal preps and clean up. There are dinner parties to cater, an especially popular activity in the Hamptons. “I love making an experience for my clients,” says Seth Boylan, a Culinary Institute of America graduate and private chef. Boylan maps out timing and smaller details so the client doesn’t have to. “I envision it as my own little restaurant,” he adds.
Private chefs have extensive knowledge of seasonal produce so clients can always enjoy fruits and veggies at their absolute best. Think organic heirloom tomatoes, peaches, cauliflower and corn at their ripest and sweetest. To come up with the freshest and most flavorful dishes, White suggests local substitutions whenever possible. When clients want branzino, for instance, White points out that it’s one of the only fish that can’t be sourced in the Hamptons and offers the seafood mecca’s best local substitutes.
For private chefs, every day is an opportunity to innovate new recipes, especially when clients trust them with both a credit card and creative freedom. Meehan, who lives-in full-time with one client, spent his first few years getting to know their palate. At this point, he’s even familiar with what his client’s friends would enjoy and can confidently run the kitchen with loose instructions. His client might just indicate what protein they want for dinner, and Meehan will whip up something memorable. Boylan is educated in French technique (heavy on butter, salt and cream) and naturally gravitates towards Italian cuisine. Private chef work has expanded his repertoire and helped him explore dairy-free, gluten-free and more health conscious options that meet his clients’ needs but still taste indulgent.
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Taking Over TikTok
The cult following surrounding #privatechefhamptons is credited to Meredith Hayden (@wishbonekitchen) for establishing the genre, and to user Pamela Vetrini for catapulting the buzz. Vetrini, a social media consultant by day, started a weekly video series ranking Hayden alongside Meehan, White, Boylan and other social media-savvy chefs. Think Top Chef meets Barefoot Contessa — but there’s no actual competition, and high-end grocery Citarella is a persistent inside joke. Social media was new territory for the chefs, who all started posting on TikTok for the plain old fun of it, but now describe it as juggling a second job after becoming sensations. White believes that the platform’s speedy video format works well with both a chef’s swift pace around the kitchen and the audience’s hyperactive attention span.
Part of private chef work is thinking on your toes when inevitable hiccups arise and, just as importantly, making sure your client never finds out about it. “If I, say, burned carrots, I’ll pivot and add other vegetables to bulk up the dish,” White says. “I would never not give the client what they booked me for. Part of being a private chef is performative.”
Yet on TikTok, curveballs bring engagement. In one of Boylan’s “a day in my life” videos, he narrates with sincere disbelief a car accident saga on his morning grocery run. A plot is necessary sometimes for viewers to latch on. “When they go through some trial and tribulation in a three minute video, viewers like myself want to root for them,” Vetrini says.
Dramatics aside, the immediate appeal of private chef TikTok is that it indulges human nosiness. These chefs pull back the curtains on the secret lives of people who can afford summer homes in the Hamptons and private chefs to begin with. You are, quite literally, presented with what they’re having for lunch — it can’t get any more invasive than that.
The chefs assert that their client’s privacy is of utmost importance: they only film when and where permitted, and no chef has publicly stated who they work for, nor will they ever confirm or deny suspicions. This only gnaws at the allure. Is it a famous actor? A billionaire? We’re hooked to keep guessing.
Video calling the three chefs, I could already catch a glimpse of the imagery that feeds fascination: a shingled cottage (how many bedrooms? Whose bedrooms?), whitewashed walls, sunshine pouring in a window. The glamour of the whole ordeal is undeniably enamoring. The houses are essential characters.
“We want to see the kitchen, the herb garden, the pool deck,” Vetrini says. “We all want to imagine we’re there.” You’d assume that the visceral decadence would be met with some form of public outrage, but viewers online are simply in awe of it all. The comments sections are littered with heart-eyes emojis and sweet nothings like, “That tuna looks amazing!” and “good job!,” reminiscent of a time when there was an innocence about sharing your life on the internet.
In the era of “eat the rich,” what makes private chefs on TikTok an ironic exception? Meehan, who started making videos as an efficient way of sending friends his coveted recipes, is acutely aware of why private chef TikTok is such a phenomenon. “I operate in it through the lens of someone who is more relatable,” he says. “You’re seeing this over the top lifestyle with the credit card that doesn’t decline and the Range Rovers everywhere, but through someone who works with food and is an industry worker.”
There’s definitely a different impact to seeing a talented chef operate in a beautiful kitchen versus someone on the other side posting, “here’s what my private chef cooked for me today.” As a viewer, it’s overindulgent to imagine ourselves as the billionaire. It’s much more rewarding to root for their chef.
In this economy, perhaps we don’t all have access to the freshest ingredients or have the money to spend on experimental recipes. Yet, a lot of us can. Vetrini believes that private chef TikTok presents a relatively accessible human experience that is just slightly out of reach. That’s why it’s so fun to watch: we can witness a chef make a dish with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil and think, “hey, I can do that, too.”
Take away the luxurious homes and overall fascination with the Hamptons lifestyle, and you’re left with what private chefs on TikTok are at their core: all about food. The internet has given these charming young chefs the opportunity to share their creations, and viewers get to come along for the ride. There’s a simple joy to going through the motions with them — grocery shopping, laying out ingredients, cooking, plating and finally digging into a hearty meal or sharing it with others. “You get to see different grocery stores, the techniques chefs are using, different creations,” Boylan says. “Everyone loves good food.”
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