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Chef Jeffrey Kramers Art & Soul of Food
December 12, 2013 - By Flavia Potenza
PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFFREY KRAMER
Chef Jeffrey Kramer is in demand for his creative menus, private parties and themed events.
Its hard to know where to start with Jeffrey Kramer, celebrity chef and owner of Topanga Catering Company. His life moves at light speed; his mind moves faster.
I can never stop thinking, he says. I do about 100 menus a month. Im always customizing and accommodating to my clients needs, which is what he did when he interviewed for the position of private chef to Robert Downey, Jr.
They were looking for a chef since September and went through 25 chefs, said Kramer. My agent asked me if I knew how to cook all these different methods. I didnt know who I was being interviewed for, but I was handed the Red List [of foods to avoid] and asked to prepare a lunch for the next day. I spent six hours at Barnes & Noble with books all around me and by the next day, I had created a four-course lunch. In he walked saying, Hi, Im Robert Downey, Jr. He enjoyed it and hired me in February 2012. Kramer worked for Downey through the filming of Ironman 4 and, more recently, was on tour with Pink.
Kramer graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 1988, going straight to chef school out of high school. I always wanted to be a private chef, he said, and worked with all the European chefsCordon Bleu, Jacques Petain, Gordon Ramsayand cooked amazing things with them in their homes. I shot a boar, deer and learned how to clean them up. I was in a gun club with Vietnam Veterans and learned to shoot.
He worked at several prestigious restaurants including Chez Panisse, French Laundry and Fleur De Lys and moved on to hotels including the original Bistro Gardens in Beverly Hills, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Saddlepeak Lodge, Wolfgang Puck and Border Grill.
In 1998, he started his own business as a private chef and caterer to the entertainment world where his creativity, skill, confidence and passion for cooking created a buzz. He often finds himself in demand for his creative menus, exquisite private parties and large, themed events.
I would just as soon do a fundraiser, he said. I work with peoples budgets and make it happen. We do everything from BBQ to French Laundry cuisine. I love smoking with hickory, apple juice and whiskey. Smoke is a new way of cooking. I love cooking with beer. Now theres an undiscovered world of flavor: fruit beers, sour ales, marinades, reductions. Fruit ales are exquisite with fish.
Despite his celebrity chef status, youre just as likely to meet him at a Topanga fundraiser or a private dinner party where the most entertaining dessert is Dragons Breath Meringue Bites dipped in liquid nitrogen that smoke when unsuspecting guests bite into them.
To watch Kramer in the kitchen opened a wondrous gustatory world as he deftly prepared Umami wraps filled with green tea kelp noodles, crab, porcini mushrooms and a mango avocado salsa.
Im not in my head when Im doing this, he muses as his hands fly. I guess Im in my heart. Umami, he explains, is not one flavor but a medley of flavors. The experience is when you have all the tastes going on in your mouth. The secret is putting it together to get to the taste.
WHERE DOES FOOD COME FROM?
Kramer likes to know where food comes from and how its treated, so that will take him out foraging in the Topanga hills for mushrooms, watercress and other edibles growing wild here. He has established relationships with the growers and will hire someone to go to farmers markets. There are three or four divers who will call him to let him know they have lobsters and local scallops.
He learned about mushrooms in chef school by camping, hunting and foraging for them in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. He has been a micologist for 20 years and is a guest chef for mushroom clubs up and down the coast.
We cater to anyone but not just with anything, he says. Balance. Thats exactly whats in the food. Our vision is beautiful food, conscious food. Putting it into your body, thats sacred.
Topanga Catering Company served delicious food like this misty, mysterious Dragonís Breath at the recent City Hearts fundraiser. (L-R) Daniel Garcia, Juliet Jason (daughter of City Hearts founders Sherry and Bob Jason), Chef and company owner Jeffrey Kramer and Claudine Marshall.
As if being a private chef and caterer wasnt enough, Kramer has added another layer to his repertoire and in the last six months has found a niche that he thinks no one has thought of yet. He may be right.
He calls it Jeff's Chefs, a business that provides private chefs to care facilities, such as adult day care centers, homes for the aging and rehabilitation centers.
Kramer maintains a training kitchen for his chefs who come from high-stress environments into his relatively stress-free environment. He currently services eight facilities, matching each ones specific needs and personality with a compatible chef trained to work in each facility's environment, so we will always care for the care facility, he says.
As with his catering business, Kramer will design each menu to meet the facilitys specific dietary needs, such as gluten free, dairy free, soy free, allergies or medical requirements.
There is even a take-out service of packaged meals prepared for out-patient programs, other locations or travel. Jeffs Chefs can also prepare packaged meals to simply store for later use.
Its a big challenge and a big investment but its amazing how smoothly everything is working now.
For more information: jeffschefs.biz; (310) 210-2518.
A RARE MOMENT
When we first talked to him one late afternoon in June, 2012, he was wearing his chefs jacket, but relaxed as he settled into an Adirondack chair in a friends garden hidden away in one of the nooks of Fernwood. Never mind that he was leaving the next day for North Carolina for four months, hadnt yet packed and his wife, Cheryl and son, Kailen, were eager for him to come home.
Its great to stop and slow down for a bit, he sighed, but it didnt take long for him to launch into a description of grilled ahi. Want to try that Ahi recipe? Pound it super thin, have a hot grill and flash cook it, sear until crisp, and serve it straight onto the plate with artichoke, fennel and arugula salad with shaved manchego cheese, or beet salad, baby potato salad, crustini. Its all about the dressing: Meyer lemon, jalapeno, lime and olive oil.
Jeff Kramers mind is never far away from food. Lucky us.
For more information: (310) 308-8654; firstname.lastname@example.org; topangacatering.com.