In the past, we’ve shared conversations with many different kinds of artists and extraordinary individuals, but it’s rare that we have the opportunity to speak with a top-level Executive Private Chef such as Mr. Nicolas Virolet.
Virolet, born and raised in the South of France, has always had a passion for cooking and sharing the joy of food with others.
That passion led him first to several Michelin Star restaurants, where he built his reputation for culinary creativity and excellence.
Following a request from a colleague, Virolet started working as a private chef, and his success in the specialization led to even further success.
These days, Virolet is a celebrated Executive Private Chef who has worked for many high-net-worth clients at their estates, special venues, and even superyachts at sea.
We’re excited to present this fascinating conversation with Virolet, who shared some of his favorite stories from years of experience working at the highest possible level.
We’d like to hear about the start of your culinary journey. Where did it all begin?
Nicolas Virolet (NV): I grew up in the South of France. From a young age, the kitchen was always my happy place, as my parents owned a bakery. I have vivid and fond memories of spending time there and baking cakes. As you can imagine, the dinner table became a place of comfort, happiness, and tradition.
After graduating from college, I naturally enrolled at Ecole Hoteliere de Monaco, where I studied for four years to obtain my culinary diploma. After this, my professional culinary career began, as I went to work at the Café de Paris and Hotel de Paris in Monaco, a 3 Michelin Star establishment, under the direction of Mr. Alain Ducasse.
About when did you transition from working in restaurants to working for private clients?
NV: My transition from the restaurant scene to working as a private chef was rather natural. A friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in replacing a temporary chef on a private yacht. I happened to have some vacation time and accepted the position. After two weeks on the yacht, the Captain came and asked me if I would be interested in working for the yacht’s owner, who had multiple international properties.
I accepted the opportunity, first on a trial basis, and after five years of working for this ultra-high-net-worth individual, I never looked back. From this point, I never went back to working in a restaurant, only as a private chef, both on land and at sea.
What would you say are some of the unique challenges of working as an executive private chef versus working in a restaurant?
NV: The goal of both positions is to create and cook delicious food. However, the approach to such culinary work is where these two positions differ. In a restaurant, the chef has a set menu. Sometimes, depending on the season, there will be some slight variations. The chef will practice for weeks, sometimes months, to perfect a dish. For each dish, they will also have a team tasting the dish and giving feedback. A restaurant chef, therefore, prepares the same dishes for weeks until a new menu is developed. It is a long process, and it’s a team effort.
On the other hand, when you are a private chef, there is no team effort nor time to prepare and perfect a handful of dishes. As a private chef, you are almost always the only chef hired by a family. You must create an endless repertoire of dishes and have expert knowledge of all cuisine types and styles. You must be able to prepare dishes from scratch and exceed the client’s culinary desires.
No mistakes are permitted when you are a private chef. There is no practicing or tasting prior to service. As a chef in a restaurant, you cook to your preferences. When working as a private chef for ultra-high-net-worth families, there are constant palate changes, dietary restrictions, varying venues, culinary requests, and more. You must always say yes to these requests. As a restaurant chef, you can refuse a client’s demand. As a private chef, you cannot.
You’ve worked for so many high-profile clients. Earlier in your career, did you ever feel intimidated?
NV: I have always thrived under pressure cooking for high-profile individuals and ultra-high-net-worth clients. I am not intimidated, but rather inspired and motivated. This is one of the most exciting elements when working as a private chef. It is an honor to cook for such influential people across the globe. In these settings, it is even more important that service is flawless and the food is perfect. There is constant pressure in this kind of environment.
Are you comfortable working in all kinds of kitchens, from residences to yachts, etc.?
NV: I have been privileged to work in well-equipped kitchens in both private residences and mega yachts. There are many important factors with regard to these varying culinary settings: size, storage, and location.
On a yacht, the kitchen is way smaller than on an estate. This can be very challenging when you have to prepare fine dining for twelve people. Organization in this setting is even more important as skills must not suffer at the expense of limited space. Counter space on a yacht is considerably less than a chef’s kitchen in a home. In a yacht kitchen, appliances are often not located in the same area, so walking up and down a lot of stairs is required.
For example, the food storage area or walk-in refrigerator may be on a different deck to the main kitchen. Therefore, physical agility is key. Residence kitchens are considerably bigger, with lots of counter space, storage, and the necessary kitchen appliances on the same level.
However, often on the estates of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, they have many kitchens, so versatility, organization, and immaculate cleanliness are key.
Do you have any stories about unique situations or challenges you’ve faced as an Executive Private Chef?
NV: Working as a private chef, there will always be an unexpected element to the job, for example, a last-minute request or an important guest joining for a meal. No challenge is too big, everything is achievable. If my client makes a request, I will do everything humanly possible to fulfill this demand. The most unique element of being a private chef are the guests we cook for.
By way of example, I had the privilege to organize and prepare a dinner for Her Royal Majesty the Queen of England for her 90th birthday at Fort Belvedere. This was a small private dinner with sixteen guests. At the time of this distinguished event, I was working for the honorable Hilary and Galen Weston. The most unique part about this experience was not the pressure of cooking for the Queen, but rather the preparation, being surrounded and observed by the Queen’s secret service entourage.
Another incredible and unique experience that stands out in my career was the weekly secret Saudi desert events for Prince Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud. Every week, we would go to different locations in the desert for an extravagant experience put on by the Prince. At each of these events, mega tents were set up and filled with entertainment: from full-size kitchens to performers, camels, armored vehicles, and more. This opportunity still amazes me.
If you could give a message to your younger self, at the start of your career, what would it be?
NV: Learn, understand, and dedicate yourself to the client. When I first started off as a private chef, I was young and naïve. My first private chef position was very difficult, but it taught me the fundamentals of being successful. To be a private chef is more than just cooking, it is about knowing who you are working for, tastes and preferences, their likes and dislikes, and being versatile with every meal and event. It is the attention to detail, exemplary culinary skills, professionalism, adaptability, and organization which make you stand out as a private chef.