That’s the case for one estate chef in the Hamptons, whose work days are spent chopping away at the kitchen counter for a family of five.
The chef, who wanted to stay anonymous for privacy reasons but whose identity Business Insider was able to verify, said he never gave much thought to the possibility of quarantining with the family but that the subject came up naturally in late February. As he tells it, his employers anticipated ensuing chaos before the coronavirus was even declared a pandemic and asked him not to leave the property unless going grocery shopping, even on his days off.
He said he stayed out of respect and partly because he was afraid of being furloughed, although his employers never insinuated that would happen during the request. “They’re kind of freaked out, and I’ve become family to them,” said the chef, who has spent four years working for them. “Plus, I’m not exactly roughing it in the guest house.”
He says he’s currently staying in one of several guest houses on the three-acre estate, which also includes an eight-bedroom main house. The chef, who lives by himself in a non-quarantine world, doesn’t have family quarantining away from him but says he misses his own shower and bed.
The chef wasn’t offered a raise for quarantine, but he’s still found himself taking on more work than normal since he’s the only household staff member working. The four other housekeepers, he said, are all quarantined in their own homes.
Because of this, he’s had to become a jack of all trades. He said he’s tried to “step up” by acting as a partial house manager, whether by picking up stuff around the house or desanitizing all packages that come in. “It’s more of a juggling act now,” said the chef, who dons a mask and gloves while working.
Many wealthy people are riding out the pandemic in the Hamptons.
PhotoAlto/Jerome Gorin / Getty Images
In the kitchen, the chef isn’t just whipping up lunch and dinner for his clients, but for two other households — the employer’s friends, both families of six — who live nearby and don’t have the luxury of a private chef quarantined with them. He said he packages their meals in takeout boxes and each family’s household manager comes by every day to pick up each meal.
These families also aren’t paying him, he said, although one gave him a bottle of tequila as a thank you gift. According to him, cooking for more than one family isn’t unheard of in the Hamptons right now.
But the chef is managing this all in his typical 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. shift. Instead of picking up more hours, he said, he’s increased his time management.
It also helps that he has access to two ovens and a double oven, which allows him to cook multiple meals at once. He’s also making less snacks during lockdown as the boss has complained that “her clothes don’t fit,” he said.
The chef told us that the biggest challenge during lockdown has been that “the needs and wants of the clients don’t change.”
In the midst of a pandemic, delivering those needs requires creativity. Consider the time the chef needed to serve filet mignon. He couldn’t find it anywhere the week his employers requested it, so he bought ribeye instead and had the butcher cut it thicker and shape it like a filet. “You have to make it happen,” he said.
The chef began stockpiling goods when he was first asked to quarantine and says he stays stocked on pantry staples for three weeks ahead. Regardless, he still shops twice a day, in the morning and after lunch, to accommodate the needs of his clients and whatever they want to eat that day.
While there’s not a massive food shortage, he said, it’s still difficult to obtain some ingredients like flour and yeast. Like many other places, the Hamptons had been out of those baking staples for a month, he said.
Estate chefs need to get resourceful during lockdown.
It’s resulted in what the chef dubs “drug deals” among the Hamptons chefs, who meet in grocery store parking lots to trade off yeast for flour, the latter of which is sometimes substituted with cocoa powder. The chef has also taken to ordering some from Baldor, an online food purveyor, when he’s required to make bread.
Joe Gurrera, owner of Epicurean market Citarella, where the chef likes to shop, also told Business Insider that flour has been hard to come by. While most stock is pretty constant, he said, “From time to time we come across an item that we can’t get for a few days, particularly something like chicken because not all the processing plants are open.”
While Gurrera saw a “tidal wave” of panic buying in the beginning of lockdown, customers have since realized Citarella is constantly replenishing and have cooled off on their stockpiling. But it’s still busy, he said.
The chef said that grocery stores have been packed, and there’s always a line to get in that he tries to skip by entering through the back of the meat department. He likened it to peak summer season or a “war zone.” Apparently, in the Hamptons, they mean the same thing.
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