Archive for the ‘ Fascinating People ’ Category

A Conversation with Gilt Groupe Founder Alexandra Wilkis Wilson


Every shopaholic knows their true weakness and for many, that is online shopping. As one of the biggest innovative e-commerce sites in the world, Gilt Groupe  provides instant insider access to today’s top designer labels, at up to 60% off retail. Founded by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson in 2007, this “small office startup” has gained millions of devoted members in just a few years time.

To the excitement of Valley fashionistas and industry professionals alike, Alexandra visited Scottsdale recently as a Special Guest at the Arizona Chapter of Fashion Group International’s annual Spring Trend Report, discussing the success of Gilt Groupe and one of her newest projects. Alexandra, with Gilt Groupe cofounder Alexis Maybank, authored the book, By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop. If you are an entrepreneur or fashion professional, this book is a must-read.

I had the amazing opportunity to catch up with Alexandra during her busy workweek in New York City and chat about her fashion start, how Gilt Groupe has grown from 2007 and what you will currently find hanging in her closet.

Many of our readers are aspiring fashion entrepreneurs looking for inspiration or advice. Would you mind sharing with us the path that lead you to success?

“I grew up in New York City, where I attended a girls school for 10 years, then high school in New Hampshire and onto Harvard Undergrad. Education was incredibly important to my family. Out of school, I focused on banking full time in NYC and gained international experience during my time in London. I also had the amazing opportunity to work for retail guru Marvin Traub at Financo Inc. At Louis Vuitton (managing Leather Goods Sales Planning) and BVLGARI (managing retail operations), I honed my skills for selling and learned that I could sell nearly anything.”

You previously worked for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and BVLGARI. How did these experiences influence or help you in founding Gilt Groupe? 


Alexandra (2nd from left) joined Phoenix Fashion Week and other fashion professionals for a lunch meeting at Hotel Valley Ho during her visit

“Working in the luxury goods industry provided me invaluable knowledge and was crucial in helping me understand how to effectively frame Gilt Groupe to our customers and the fashion industry. These experiences not only gave me credibility, but allowed me to interact with top executives and build my network that supported my future work with Gilt Groupe.”

Your first designer ever on Gilt Groupe was Zac Posen in 2007. How did this come about, what was the reaction like from the designer/members and how did this effect the future of Gilt Groupe?

“We felt very lucky and pleased to work with an already recognizable fashion brand like Zac Posen. Our member feedback was great! They loved the mixture of ready to wear, dresses, handbags, polo, and trousers and embraced the idea of a flash sale. Alexis and I had interacted frequently with the brand’s then-CEO, Susan Posen (Zac’s mother) and had a personal relationship with her. It took a lot of convincing, but the Zac Posen team felt that if they were going to do it, they wanted to be first.”

As a former “small office” start-up, what advice can you give to other emerging designers/brands/entrepreneurs? 

“We created a culture of excitement, one in which we had never worked in before. At Gilt Groupe, we were encouraged to take calculated risks, test ideas and learn from our mistakes. I definitely feel like that kind of environment was the key to true innovation.

Building your personal networks is huge, especially working on an area that you may be weak in. Always look for mentors, and create an inner circle of supporters. You will only do as well as those around you want you to.”

How would you describe your personal style, and who are some of your favorite designers? 

“I would describe my personal style as classic, but I like to have fun. I love accessories, especially jewelry, and I’m not afraid of color. My closet is diverse, featuring global brands, fast fashion and timeless pieces I plan to pass onto the next generation. I love Marni, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, and Lisa Perry lately. I also shop vintage from time to time.”

What are your favorite hobbies? Name one thing people may not know about you.

“I love to travel and meet new people. I also love learning and I am fluent in five languages. Funnily enough, I actually met Alexis in a Portuguese class!”

Seeing as Gilt Groupe has its own buying team, what kind of advice can you offer emerging designers preparing to present their line to a buyer/boutique? 

“I know how hard it is for designers to get a break in the industry, especially when they are just starting out. For retailers, one of the first questions they will ask is, “what is your current distribution?”. It makes a difference and the buyer/retailer will take your brand much more seriously if you already have placement in a major department store, or online stores like,, etc. Designers should be prepared to tell a story with their brand and explain their vision, showing they are commercially-minded. It’s not just about selling clothing that’s beautiful, but the idea that they can turn shoppers into loyal customers.”

Where do you see Gilt Groupe going in 5/10 years with the constant changes in technology/e-commerce?  

“Seeing as we’ve only been around for five years, it’s hard to look that far down the road. However, we will strive to continue to be a fast paced, savvy company, especially when it comes to mobile-commerce. We are strong in our mobile applications and spend a lot of time and effort in the personalization aspect of our shopping experience, acting much like a personal shopper.”

Thanks Alexandra! We can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring to you and Gilt Groupe! You may even see Alexandra make a guest appearance at Phoenix Fashion Week 2013!

*We love our readers! And so does Gilt Groupe! Post a comment below with your favorite designer pieces to shop on Gilt Groupe for a CHANCE TO WIN a personalized copy of By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop, signed by Alexandra and Alexis!*
by invitation
Article by Lauren Pfingstag for Phoenix Fashion Week
“The Resource For All Things Fashionable”

VIDEO: Emerging Designer Announcement at MIM

Just a few weeks ago, Phoenix Fashion Week’s 12 Emerging Designers, chosen from all over the country after a seven city tour, were announced to the world at our Official Emerging Designer Announcement at the Musical Instrument Museum on July 21st. The event was sold out twice over and was packed with loads of media, fashion bloggers and local fashionistas eager to catch a glimpse of the next “it” designers before their collections hit the runway in October!

The event not only featured a cocktail reception and an opportunity to shop our Official Accessory Designers, but a mini runway show and press conference followed by a fabulous after-party at Narcisse Champagne Lounge.

Watch this video for a recap of the successful night, as well as a sneak peek into each of the 12 talented designers! For more information on Official Emerging Designers, visit our website! Also, don’t miss our next big event,’Shop Garment District’, coming up August 10th at the beautiful Degree 270 lounge at Talking Stick Resort! This event will not only feature a Style Villa-esque set up, where you can shop all the emerging designer collections, along with a runway show featuring not only these designers but our Top 40 Models! (this is their Runway Challenge!) For more information and to purchase tickets, visit our Eventbrite page!

*We love feedback! Post a comment and let us know which emerging designer is your favorite and why and you would win a limited edition PHXFW Tshirt!*

Article by Lauren Pfingstag for Phoenix Fashion Week

“The Resource For All Things Fashionable”

Miss Arizona USA (2011) Brittany Brannon : New Fashion Host of PHXFW TV

Phoenix Fashion Week has always been known to provide fashionistas an inside look into the industry, from interviews with fashion designers to trend forecasting via street style and live social media updates. We are excited to announce that we are creating ‘PHXFW TV’ and have chosen quite the fashionista as our  new ‘Fashion Host’…Miss Arizona USA 2011 Brittany Brannon! Brannon has been involved with PHXFW for years, which is why this announcement feels like a natural and fitting transition. Whether it’s giving behind the scenes access to our designers’ creative design process, to live video interviews with key industry professionals at each event leading up to and including fashion week, Brannon’s role as ‘Fashion Host’ of PHXFW TV will be a must see!

Her first official hosting assignment will be at the Emerging Designer Announcement Event at the Musical Instrument Museum on June 21st.  So, we decided to catch up with Brannon and get our own behind the scenes look into her background as a crowned beauty that wears many hats, including a graduation hat, just last month from Pepperdine University!

Introduce yourself and what your role will be with our team.
“I am Brittany Dawn Brannon and I am thrilled to be the ‘Fashion Host’ for Phoenix Fashion Week! My origin is a combination of German, Irish, Scottish and Mediterranean. I am a native to Arizona and currently reside in Paradise Valley. My parents have always believed that travel is the best for education. This was an important part of my childhood and continues to be an important part of my life today, as travel has given me an appreciation for different cultures, ways of life, art, fashion, food and the excuse to shop.”

Provide us a background on your previous experience that will help you in this new role.
“I was Miss Arizona USA 2011 and competed for Miss USA 2011 on NBC. I placed in the top 15 and won the ‘Most Photogenic Award.’  This last year was much more than just wearing a crown and sash, it was a year I spent working with the USO Wounded Warriors, La Hacienda Medical Center and speaking on my chosen topic of Leaving a Legacy. I graduated from Pepperdine University with degrees in Broadcast News and Art HIstory. My studies also include English Literature at Cambridge and Oxford University as well as Art History in Florence, Italy at the SACI School of Art. I have worked on NewsWaves 32 in Malibu, CA as Head Anchor for four years and worked at NBC’s Nightly News and The Today Show. Some of my experience also include interning on the Hill in D.C. for two senators and thoroughly loved my time spent in the nation’s Capital. I have my SCCA Racing License and attended the Bob Bondurant School of Racing. My dad races Formula 1’s and Indy cars, which interested me in getting my license and racing Formula Fords.  My future goals include a career path that directly effects and improves others lives and an arena where I can incorporate my love for individuals, art, fashion and travel.”

Why did you choose to accept this new role with PHXFW?
“I accepted this role with PHXFW because, as cliche as it sounds, fashion is one of my passions. After meeting Brian Hill and Brenna Moses, I knew that this was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up because they do not just see relationships as business, but strive to make them as personable and valuable as they can. I met some of the team members last year and they are truly the kindest people who are all working together for the same cause. Everyone on the team has a unique fashion outlet and when we all get together, we will work in a unique and artistic way to bring you the best fashion week we can.”

What are you most looking forward to about this role with PHXFW?
“I am looking forward to the people I am going to meet in the next few months! The media team is launching PHXFW TV Channel and we will dive into the lives of the designers more than in the past. Getting to know every single person, from set-up crew, designers, models, the PHXFW team to the audience members is the main thing I am excited about with my role as your host.”

How have you been involved with PHXFW in the past?
“I first met the team back in 2007 when I walked in the celebrity fashion show as Miss Teen America 2007. I absolutely loved the entire experience. Then in 2011, I reconnected with Brian when I attended the Emerging Designer Runway Challenge as Miss Arizona USA 2011.”

What do you hope to bring to the viewers of PHXFW TV? 
“My goal as your ‘Fashion Host’ is to not just host the Channel or emcee the live events, but to bridge a relationship between the designers and our global followers. I plan on doing this by getting to know those who are creating the designs, their stories and how their experiences have influenced their brands.  I also hope to bring you not necessarily fashion ‘trends’  but fashion that you can use to dress as your personality. Fashion is constantly emerging as it’s own language for men and women, as fashion is art influenced through culture. Ultimately I am here for YOU as the person who wants to help you learn more about what goes on before and behind- the- runway shows. Furthermore, I want to be here for you and give you a look into the daily lives of people who have inspiring stories of overcoming trials, beating the odds and being successful as they pursue their passions in life.”

Thanks Brittany!

Make sure to look for Brittany at the Emerging Designer Announcement Event at the MIM on June 21st beginning at 7pm! Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post featuring this event and it’s ten (10) talented emerging designers!

To get to know Brittany even better, visit her website, follow her on Twitter and “Like” her on Facebook!

Article by Lauren Pfingstag for Phoenix Fashion Week
“The Resource For All Things Fashionable”

Fascinating People…Meet Local Fashion Model Kelly Mittendorf

With Phoenix Fashion Week only days away, a local fashion model’s success story could come at no better time. Unless you’ve been ignoring the constant media buzz, we’re sure you have heard about local model and former Phoenix Fashion Week model, Kelly Mittendorf, who became a fashion sensation overnight. She was the talk of the town after shooting the fall PRADA campaign with famous photog Steven Meisel and her name and image as been splashed across blogs and websites ever since. She walked for Anna Sui at New York Fashion Week, as well as closing the Marc Jacobs show. Currently, she is walking in London Fashion Week, already strutting her stuff for Topshop Unique! I had the pleasure of catching up with Mittendorf and her “mother agent,” Margaret Merritt, of The Agency Arizona via email while she was in NYC. Read on for insights into this Arizona native’s jet setting life, including advice for PHXFW’s own models.

Q: Please give our readers a brief description of your modeling history/experience/background.

K:I was discovered when I was fairly young and signed with The Agency Arizona when I was 14, they’re amazing and helped me grow as much as I could in Arizona and got me in front of the right people in LA and NY.”

Q: Congratulations on landing a spread in the fall PRADA campaign! How did this come about and what was the experience like?

K: “It was booked by my NY agency, Marilyns! They partner with my Arizona agency on all aspects of my career! Finding out was really unexpected, but the shoot was so much fun and the reaction to the campaign has been great which is more than I could ask for.”

M: “As Kelly’s mother agent, I am in charge of her placement in other markets!  We placed her with Marilyns NY because it was a great agency for her. The Prada campaign originated from NY. It is a relationship you build on trust and experience with your model and can be for life. That is very special!”

Q: How has The Agency AZ helped many local models make it in the industry?

M: “Agency Arizona has great faces in all our divisions! By having strong relationships with agencies all over the world, we are able to offer more opportunities to our models to further their careers. We keep a pulse on the industry and what is the right fit for the individual model.  It is very personal attention.”

Q: How has life changed for you after shooting the PRADA campaign? 

K: “I’m most definitely busier, I decided to do online school so I can have a better balance of my career and my studies. That was the biggest change!”

Q: You were also a runway model in PHXFW last year. How do you think that experience prepared you for the industry?

K: “The industry is really different in different places, but doing a couple of shows was just a big confidence boost! I was able to prove to myself, hey, I can do this!”

M: “I have always believed in Phoenix Fashion Week’s grass roots approach! I support and believe in what they are doing for the local market!”

Q: What advice can you offer to PHXFW’s Top 40 models hoping to make it in the industry?

K: “Keep your chin up! It’s what I always say. This industry is a real roller coaster and it’s important to stay confident through the good and the bad moments.”

Q: What has been the biggest perk for you since modeling for PRADA?

K: “The people I’ve met! Prada opened a door into the industry and I’ve been able to meet amazing fellow models, make-up artists, photographers you name it, that I’ve only dreamed about before. They’re already really cool and down to earth for the most part too.”

Q: You walked for the first time in New York Fashion Week this year! What was that experience like?

K: “I was really surprised that I wasn’t nervous at all. I really looked forward to walking and felt really comfortable up there. I was really excited beforehand though, I was jumping all around everywhere.”

Q: You also closed the Marc Jacobs show, which also happened to be the last show of fashion week and had a lot of people talking. How does that feel? 

K: “It felt great! It was a big surprise and honor to close Marc Jacobs; I know that it’s a really prestigious spot. It felt amazing! His show was more of a theatre performance instead of a fashion show, it was so beautiful.”

 Q: What was it like to not only be in NY during fashion week, but walk for such prestigious designers as Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs?

K: “It’s really indescribable. It’s this weird mix of being really grateful, honored and excited to just get to meet these people who I’ve only dreamed of meeting for most of my life.”

Q: What does the future hold for you? Any new campaigns or brands you are working for? 

K: “You’ll have to wait and see!”

Thank you Kelly and Margaret!

For more information about Kelly and The Agency Arizona, visit:

For a look into Kelly’s life as a high fashion model, follow her on Twitter: @K_MITT

*We love feedback! Post a comment or question about this article for a chance to win a free PHXFW t-shirt!

Articles by Lauren Pfingstag for Phoenix Fashion Week, Pictures provided by The Agency Arizona

“The Resource For All Things Fashionable”

Fascinating People…Meet Fashion Photographer Jo Lance

Jo Lance

If you are looking for an industry expert with experience in everything from photography, to creative direction and styling, look no further than Jo Lance. With many years of experience shooting everyone from celebrities to supermodels, Jo’s award-winning photography work has been featured in magazines and on television.  Jo and his work have appeared on MTV Mexico, Telemundo, Univision, Telefutura, FOX5 News NY, and WB11 News NY,  as well as The Latin Grammy Awards, Project Runway, Despierta America,Alexis Valdez, ECO, Fashion TV Mexico, and more! His work was also featured in the book Pixel Surgeons and in the film The New Yorkers. He recently released two records, as well as releasing six books covering topics from art to Fame for Dummies.  He can currently be seen as a judge on Mexico’s Next Top model next to super model Elsa Benitez.

I had the chance to catch up with Lance via email and discuss his exciting career as a fashion photographer and more!

Q: What inspires you?

“Life. I was born a very creative person so anything & everything.”

Q: How would you describe your personal style?

“Eccentric & eclectic chic or the famous term , ‘Freak is Chic’. Thank you to SWAROVSKI for being my sponsor and helping me out with the bling and the fabulous jewelry designers of FOUFOUCHAT.”

Q: Do you have a fashion icon? If so, who and why?

“John Galliano, for breaking all the rules, making a statement in life…for being such a creative genius.”

Mexico's Next Top Model

Q: I heard you are one of the judges on Mexico’s Next Top Model…congratulations! How did this come about and what has the experience been like?

“Everyone is Latin America was going to the casting, from all the top magazine editors and stylist agencies, to be on this show. One of my great friends in the show told the producers, ‘I have this guy, and there is no one like him’, and they keep on asking her why him… she insisted, ‘the day you meet him, you will realize there is only one Jo lance in Latin America, with his fashion sense & magnetic personality.'”

My experience has been amazing! Everyone is friends on the show. For the past 20 years we have all worked together, except Alan, he is the new guy in town. It was like a family reunion coming together. I love being on Mexico’s Next Top Model, especially because we are the only Latin show  for models.”

Q: What is the most bizarre situation you have observed or been in as a photographer?

“At this stage of life nothing scares me, but…this may sound strange, but normal people that get shocked or scared with the most simple things and say ‘OMG!’. Honey, they are so clueless it’s not even funny. Now that’s scary to me!”

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

“I’m super spiritual and connected to the universe. I’m like a walking life coach, and yes I wear a mask on TV,  it’s called acting.”

Photo by Jo Lance

Q: What are your plans for the future? Any other projects in the works?

“I have a dance song coming out called ‘Posa Sexy,’ and I also have five books coming out on my work with various topics, as well as a few surprise secrets I can’t share until the contracts are signed.”

Q: I heard you will be walking in Phoenix Fashion Week’s Fashionably Pink Show! What made you want to be involved?

“I’ve been a part of many different types of charity events helping the world, and I’m happy to be a part of Phoenix Fashion Week to help bring more publicity for such a great cause .”

Q: As a fashion photographer out of New York City, what advice would you give to those hoping to make it in the industry?

“Believe in yourself and break all the silly rules wherever you are from. Start living outside of the box and stay focused!”

Thanks Jo!

We love feedback! Post a comment about this article to win a free PHXFW t-shirt!

Article by Lauren Pfingstag for Phoenix Fashion Week

“The Resource For All Things Fashionable”

Madison Buyer and Phoenix Fashion Week: A Natural Partnership

It’s no secret the fashion industry is highly competitive. Emerging designers must work their way up and many times do not receive the support they deserve. However, organizations such as Phoenix Fashion Week and now Madison Buyer, have become known within the industry as providers of assistance and a platform to showcase these designers’ talents. I had the opportunity to catch up with Shawn Madawi, Co-founder of Madison Buyer, via email, before their big trip to Las Vegas for the largest fashion tradeshow in the world, MAGIC, taking place this week.

Explain for our readers what Madison Buyer is.
“Madison Buyer is an online collection of fashion designer portfolios designed to extend brand awareness beyond the show floor.  Both social and searchable by product categories, price points, tags, and events, Madison Buyer provides retailers the opportunity to browse and target designers before the show, and revisit portfolios after.  It’s a simple and efficient tool for discovering new and independent designers”.

What is the story behind why it was started?

“Initially my intention was to open a boutique and stock it with my favorite Brazilian inspired designers.  I enlisted my business partner’s help but we couldn’t find the designers I was interested in.  We realized we were missing out on up-and-coming designers because we didn’t know a specific name to Google. And it was even more difficult to navigate the many trade show sites to determine which one(s) we should attend. Did we really HAVE to go to Brazil? Didn’t anyone exhibit here in the US?  Where? Vegas, New York, L.A., Miami? So we decided to try making the process a little easier by providing one place to search for designers by criteria such as categories, price points, tags, and trade shows”.

What does your company offer to designers and buyers?

“Designers create a portfolio that lets their audience know who they are, what they do, and where to find their brand.  They can create a searchable profile with tags, price points, pics, video, and upcoming events, making it easier to be found by the people

Designer featured on Madison Buyer

who seek exactly what they design. On the flip side, retailers can look for designers whose product lines appeal to their customers.  Once retailers have signed up they can discover designers they may not have been familiar with, targeting the right designer fit before the show, and revisiting those they may have missed after the show” 

Why did it make sense for you to partner with Phoenix Fashion Week?
“We meet Brian Hill last year at POOLTRADESHOW and he has been keeping us updated on what PHXFW is doing.  We really enjoy working with fashion communities outside of large markets because we get to meet a lot of emerging, talented designers.  The fit was natural as we share the same passion in providing affordable tools to help designers succeed.  We are continuously impressed with the progress Brian and his team have made in putting PHXFW on the map.  But even more so by their commitment to educate emerging designers on properly showcasing and launching their line”.

We are excited to hear about your debut at the Magic show this year! How did this come about and why is it important to Madison Buyer?

“Yes, it is very exciting for us! We’ll be situated on the concourse at WWDMAGIC.  Being a part of WWDMAGIC is an amazing opportunity for us to collaborate and connect with the very people we built this for…designers and retailers.  In addition, we get to work with Macala Wright, founder of and Why This Way.  We’ve learned so much from her and every time we see her we learn something new!  She really has been the engine driving the tech and fashion train and we are very lucky and grateful she brought us along for the ride”.

What does the future look like for you? Plans?

“The long-term objective is for Madison Buyer to become a fashion hub for the business side of fashion, with a solid representation of apparel & accessory designers across international borders, and across genres as well–such as outdoor sports or vintage wear.  Our goal is to have retailers check out Madison Buyer before heading to market week or trade shows, and for designers to have Madison Buyer as one of their top resources for promoting their product”.

Thanks Shawn!

For more information about Madison Buyer, visit If you are attending MAGIC, don’t forget to stop by their booth on the concourse and tell them PHXFW sent you!

We love feedback! Post a comment or question about this article and you win a free PHXFW t-shirt!

Article by Lauren Pfingstag for Phoenix Fashion Week

“The Resource For All Things Fashionable”

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?

Designer Nicole Miller and Rocco

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.

Chef Frank and Rocco

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

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Article by Liz Riley, Editor

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