Itâs a tale told by many a chef â how they learned their craft at the knee of a family elder. Not RoblĂ© Ali.
Though his grandfather was, indeed, a caterer who once cooked for JFK, RoblĂ© â consulting chef at New York City’s celebrity hotspot Avenue and star of Bravoâs new docuseries Chef RoblĂ© & Co.Â â says what he learned from his family is that he likes to eat. And eat well.
âA light bulb went off in my head one day that, âHey, if I want to eat the way that I want to eat all the time, then I need to figure out how to cook!ââ RoblĂ© laughs. âSo in fourth or fifth grade I picked up a book at a book fair about making classic American sweets like brownies, chocolate chip cookies. I was like, âIf I can buy this book and figure out how to make my own chocolate chip cookies, I am set.ââ
He never did master the cookies.
But RoblĂ© did discover a natural talent for savory cooking, and after briefly considering a career in psychology, he took his momâs advice and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America campus that was right around the corner from their Poughkeepsie home. In short order, RoblĂ©âs sister Jasmine, who worked in media, helped her little brother score catering gigs with R&B diva Faith Evans, music magnate Russell Simmons and hip-hop magazine mogul Datwon Thomas, to name a few.
âI cooked for Michael Jackson once, for an event that he was doing,â RoblĂ© recalls. âI cooked for him and his team and his kids for, like, three days in a row. He just wanted basic stuff like curried chicken sandwiches â he didnât want anything fancy. But the cool thing was, in between each meal, I actually got to sneak off and watch them rehearse. I got to watch the entire Jackson 5 rehearse! I got to watch Michael Jackson yelling at Tito! That was awesome.â
As he made a name for himself catering to entertainmentâs elite both at Avenue (where he says the most popular things glitterati like Kanye West, Bono and Johnny Depp order are sliders and waffle fries) and at their private events, RoblĂ© wondered if a new business venture might make for good TV. Chef RoblĂ© & Co. Â follows the chef, strong-willed older sib Jasmine and their crew as they iron out the bumps in their business and feed a quirky A-list clientele. âYouâll see musicians, youâll see the fashion crowd, very successful entrepreneurs,â RoblĂ© says. âFinanciers, socialites. A lot of familiar faces.â
And some not-so-familiar food, if youâre used to the usual company-party fare. âI might be cooking Thai food one day, vegan Russian food the next,â he says.
Asked what he thinks is the biggest difference between working in a busy restaurant kitchen and catering a celeb event, RoblĂ© rifles off a list of the reasons that catering is more predictable â if not necessarily easier.
“WhenÂ Iâm catering an event, I know who is coming; I know when theyâre coming; I know what theyâre eating; I know when theyâre eating what theyâre eating; and, I know when theyâre leaving.” he says. “So you have a good amount of information ahead of time that you donât have at restaurants. But at a restaurant, at least you can get into a rhythm. You know what a Wednesday night is like. You know what a Thursday night is like. You know when youâre going to get hit. You know where the sautee pans are, where the oven is, the temperature it’s at.
“I might be setting up a kitchen one day in a stairwell â I might be in some amazing penthouse kitchen the next day,” he continues. “I might be in an elevator shaft the next day. I might be in a backyard in the Hamptons the following day. I have to build a kitchen everywhere I go.”
Tasked with producing everything from a doggie wedding in the tony Hamptons to a carnival-themed birthday blowout for a socialite who wants a live monkey on the guest list and only red, white and black food on the table, RoblĂ© Â and his outspoken employees push themselves to the brink Â in their quest to provide unconventional, unforgettable soirees.
“People ask me what my specialty is,” RoblĂ© says. “My specialty is catering to the needs of my client.Â I donât have standing menus. I go in and meet with my client and create something around what weâve discussed.”
What RoblĂ© prefers not to see on a clientâs request list? Nah, not live monkeys … think more porcine. Or in the 37th hour of its 15 minutes of frosting-laden fame.
âBoring stuff like pigs in a blanket,â he sighs. âAnd I donât think the red velvet cupcake will ever die.â
Chef RoblĂ© & Co.Â premieres Sunday, Dec. 4 on Bravo.
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