Fascinating People…Chef Frank Otte Wins One For Fashion
You may not have thought about it, but if you do you’ll see that there is a real connection between cuisine and fashion. Like great fashion, great cuisine requires a significant amount of consideration in the areas of engineering /patternmaking, complementary color choices and wonderful textures. Designers have even tried creating apparel out of food. Remember Lady Gaga’s meat dress?
Recently I attended a wedding , followed by a casual get together of good friends and family at a dear friend’s home, where we were treated to an amazing brunch created for us by Chef Frank Otte, a family member and friend. It was amazing to watch the care and precision taken as he considered and then created the beautiful and delicious dishes he offered.
As we sat chatting, he mentioned that he was going to be a contestant on the August 3rd episode of a reality show on Bravo called Rocco’s Dinner Party. This particular episode was entitled Runway Ready. The participating chefs would be tasked with creating special dishes based on a given theme which was to create dishes that would be inspired by high-end fashion, as well as mass produced ready to wear. To add a special twist the guest of honor would be designer Nicole Miller.
He wouldn’t say much more about it, so of course I couldn’t wait to see how it played out. Chef Frank neglected to tell me that he’d won! Of course I had a million questions… so I asked.
How did your appearing as a contestant on this show come about? Was it fun?
I was between contracts in the process of moving from Las Vegas back to the Bay area. I had a few weeks off and my wife while looking for a new home for our family stumbled on a classified ad for Rocco’s Dinner Party. I sent in my bio and resume. A day later was contacted and described the initial criteria for the show. The process was actually a lot of work with many hurdles, interviews and even a physical.
The show was so much fun! The staff was awesome and the experience was incredibly positive all around
How was it trying to impress a well known fashion designer?I was really excited to find out I was cooking for Nicole Miller. Through my wife I have had some basic knowledge of who Nicole Miller is and her haute couture fashion. I have cooked for incredibly food savvy clients who are extremely
demanding on every level. Maybe that is why my demeanor in the kitchen is so serious. I always try my best to make the guests more than happy. I am confident and honestly rarely intimidated by who I am cooking for. I just always try my best and that is the best I can do.
How difficult was it to come up with dishes to meet the given criteria?
This in fact was the most difficult part of this whole experience. I think sadly after production, this was the part of the show that was lost. On a daily basis I overcome really difficult odds and make it happen for the guests, last minute details of all kinds, over the top expectations…..but this show (pardon the pun) really took the cake. I was told the criteria for my dinner party and immediately I was swept away to the local grocery to shop. There was no time to really plan or to think straight and I did not dare think too hard as I knew I needed to be flexible in case the store did not have ingredients that I typically use. Things changed second by second and to make things even more difficult I was trying to make things flow with the forties glam style. So to answer your question it was REALLY difficult.
What part did you enjoy most?
Like every day I work, the part of my day I like best is the cooking. Once all the shopping and planning is out of the way comes the cooking. The cooking will always be the hi-lite for me, a time to put my head down, roll my sleeves up, and simply get to work. Cooking is a time for meditation, a time for self expression and a time for me to feel like I am doing what I do best.
How real is the reality show?
Honestly I am not allowed to talk so much about the production of the show. BUT in my own defense I am really a lovable teddy bear of a guy. I think I was made out to be a bit of an egotistical, chauvinistic, jerk but I assure you I am a sweetheart! I will admit I am extremely confident in the kitchen and do feel like the alpha chef when I am in my own environment. Is reality TV real? Well yes, the action and stress of the show was real and many things to enhance the script are done to make it good TV. Those things are done by production minute by minute and are not shared with the cast to actually keep the reality of it real.
What path led you to become a private chef?
I am refreshing your question!!!!! What path led you to being a private chef?? (better question)
I graduated from the California Culinary Academy in SF in the early nineties and started climbing the hierarchy of the kitchen brigade. I spent 10 years in top restaurants, working under extremely militant detailed chefs. I paid a lot of dues taking baby steps learning as much as possible, always moving on when I thought I was ready to spread my wings and not a minute sooner. I became kitchen management responsible for the kitchens of 3 star Michelin trained Relaix & Chateaux chefs. I was at a crossroads one day when working back east and wanted badly to return to the San Francisco Bay area. I found myself looking for a job and came to the conclusion I was not going to be happy employed by the majority of Chefs in the city so I started my own private chef business that really took off. Then later went from working with several families to working only with one family at a time. I work with extremely high net worth individuals who appreciate the attention to detail that has been instilled in me by those passionate chefs.
You’ve traveled all over the world to experience various lifestyles and cuisines. When you create a new dish what do you base your choices on?
I am a hugely driven by products. I love seasonal perfect items that represent someone else’s passion whether it’s small farmed produce, boutique wineries, local artisanal cheese, local neighborhood honey or the neighbors farm fresh eggs. I love walking into a store with no plan and leaving with one hundred ideas. I will sometimes have a style in mind but not always the specific dishes. I am really driven by smells, if you see me at the farmers market you will usually find me smelling everything I pick up. I get this recall from smells that make me salivate and think of other things that will make this smell/taste even better. I rarely do things twice the same. I rarely leave well enough alone. Sometimes good and sometimes bad, I am an overachiever that always tries to do better and better.You cook for a lot of dignitaries. What do you focus on when creating a menu?
When I have a VIP menu to write it is really important to keep the offerings well grounded. Heaven forbid your VIP guests have an embarrassing moment of not liking your food. I offer extremely innovative menus that have very typical items. Things the average person would enjoy no matter how complex its preparation. Their assistants always give the kitchen general guidelines as well as dietary aversions. Also when entertaining guests are coming from out of town I love to offer local things that show off my own pride for the Bay area. I live in a demographic where the products may be hands down arguably the best.
I know you’re a believer in presenting fresh, healthy food. How do you find ingredients that aren’t readily available? Do you grow some of your own vegetables and herbs?
I do grow quite a bit of my own produce. I have a very large and productive garden and it is awesome to go with a pair of scissors and a basket and return with lunch. I also buy the neighbors fresh eggs. I visit 3 local farmers markets. I order fish from the east coast and have wild European/Mediterranean fish Fed Exed in. I have great relationships from all over the world that have stayed with me from years ago. I am able to have my purveyors hand pick most of my ingredients to my specs and will not work with vendors that don’t have respect for our planet, its resources and sustainability. I pay close attention to seasonality, as well as how my decisions will affect my children’s future.
What’s the best thing about being a private chef?
The best thing about being a private chef is the ability to run your kitchen as if you are self employed. It is my show. Much depends on your clients but currently I have the most supportive kind clients that I adore cooking for. If you are lucky to great clients that have resources the sky is the limit. There is no end to the best tools, the very best products and everything imaginable you ever wanted can come into focus if you have supportive clients that want you to create the very best for them.. I have 2 assistants and house cleaners that assist. Sadly I think most restaurant chefs think less of someone like me who goes to private cooking. I must admit I did. BUT let me tell you something this has been one wild ride. I have worked more hours and I have worked with cruel overly demanding nasty people. I have had to put my name on every single plate that leaves my kitchen and be 100% accountable for every bite. Being a private chef is no walk in the park. You need to have really thick skin and most importantly incredibly flexible and put you and your family second to your clients needs.
Thank you Chef Frank. It was fun.
To learn more about Chef Frank Otte and his amazing culinary creations, visit his website www.cheffrankotte.com
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Article by Liz Riley, Editor
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