Chef Kayla, please tell us a little about yourself.
Thanks for having me! I hail from beautiful Oakland, California originally, but fell in love with NYC years ago. I’m so happy to call it my home now. I’m a private chef servicing mainly the city and the Hamptons. Before I landed in NYC, I was doing private chef work in the greater San Francisco area and Silicon Valley. Weekly meal prep and private in-home dinners are my bread and butter, but I also cater intimate events, retreats and parties, and I do recipe development and consulting as well. I have a really wide culinary range, but in general, my style is clearly influenced by my Bay Area roots: think ultra-seasonal “slow food” a la Alice Waters, California spa cuisine, classical and pan-global flavors alike. Fun fact: in a former life, before I became a chef, I was a nanny and an after-school/substitute teacher - I’ve worked with and cooked for kids of all ages for many years.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
Becoming a chef wasn’t part of the plan! It happened very organically and somewhat accidentally as I followed my passion for food and cooking, and kept saying yes to various opportunities that came my way. I got my start in college with summer jobs as a cook at sleep-away summer camps kitchens in Vermont and Northern California. A few years later, I found myself hired as the head chef at one of the largest sororities (yup!) at UC Berkeley, and it became clear this was actually a viable career path. The rest, as they say, is history!
What’s your favorite thing about being a chef?
The artistic creativity! And the simple joy of feeding people beautiful food that tastes amazing - food is such an important part of life, socialization and culture.
Which is your favorite cuisine, to cook and personally?
This is a tough question! I am very much in love with Southeast Asian food (Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian, Malaysian). I spent two months traveling through Thailand many years ago and fell hard for those methods, fragrant flavors and ingredients. A very close second would be Northern Italian cuisine - so comforting!
Tell us more about your private classes.
My classes are casual and very student-driven. I aim to foster a genuine love of cooking along with the recipes and technical instruction. I’ve done both larger corporate demos and cook-along classes with individuals and groups. We laugh, snack and just have a good time in the kitchen - the way it’s supposed to be!
Do you have any tips for moms at home?
In my experience, kids love to help out in the kitchen. Even small menial tasks can be fun and rewarding - picking herbs, buttering bread, stirring pots, dipping the chicken in egg, and breadcrumbs for chicken parm. At first, it can feel like more work to supervise and teach them, but it can pay dividends as they develop confidence, skills and independence. Soon you might have a full-fledged assistant to delegate to!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I had ostrich meat in South Africa. It was delicious!
What’s your favorite ingredient? And your least favorite one.
I love citrus zest - it does wonders for so many dishes. And I love cooking with various alcohols - traditional wines, cider, cognac, sherry, mirin, Shaoxing wine. The depth and sophistication of flavor that can be achieved is heavenly. My least favorite is probably commercial truffle oil. It’s often a knockoff and personally, I just think it’s overrated!
Your favorite tool in the kitchen?
I have a cute little ultra-portable mandoline - nothing more satisfying than those paper-thin slices. Oh, and my stockpot- I’m obsessed with bone broth!
Which is your favorite wine, and favorite cheese?
Probably Apothic Red, which is a deliciously dark sweet blend. I love rich soft cheeses like triple creme or truffled bries and cambozola, and I’m a sucker for the ashy goat Humboldt Fog of my native Northern California!
Is there any good book you would like to refer to our readers?
Anything by Michael Pollan. "The Omnivore’s Dilemma", "The Botany of Desire", "In Defense of Food". He does a great deep dive into food systems and the fascinating relationships between humans and the foods we eat.
When you are not cooking, what can we find you doing?
These days you can find me in my apartment listening to jazz or soul music, reading sci-fi, and hanging out with my cat (and sous chef) Dinah. Also, I’ve been salsa dancing fairly seriously for several years and although it’s confined to Zoom at the moment, it’s still one of my favorite things to do!
Who’s the one person you want to cook for living or dead?
Probably my bubbe (grandma). I have wonderful childhood memories of her cooking, which was so basic - spaghetti with store-bought sauce, baked potato wedges, salad with ranch dressing, chocolate chip cookies - but always tasted out of this world. Although I tried for many years, I’ve never been able to recreate the exact flavors she magically brought out of those simple ingredients. It’s cheesy, but her secret was definitely "love"!
What is the best way to reach you?
You can get in touch with me through the contact form on my website, or e-mail me. You can also check out my Instagram to keep up to date on my latest projects - and if you’re lucky, see some snapshots of Dinah the cat!
Macaroni Kid Lower Manhattan is the family fun go-to source for the latest and most comprehensive information in our area. Subscribe for FREE today.