The Big Irish Stu
He makes a living cooking for celebrities in the order of Owen Wilson and Sharon Stone, but Nenagh-born and Los Angeles-based chef Stuart O’Keeffe insists that the razzle dazzle of Hollywood hasn’t compromised his passion for simple, uncomplicated dishes.
I did halibut in a lemon sauce for Owen [Wilson] who was having a small private party in Malibu a couple of months ago. Often celebrities come over and talk to you, but Owen was quiet and reserved,” Stuart reveals from his home in the Hollywood Hills. The 30- year-old Irish chef describes his cooking as “homely and tasty”, and believes in using fresh ingredients to make delectable, though refreshingly uncomplicated dishes.
“If you want high-end French cooking you don’t come to me. I did fillet of beef with potatoes for Sharon Stone when she had a party, and I also did something simple but tasty for Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, when cooking for him.”
It’s good news for Herald readers, as you’ll soon be able to try some of Stuart’s recipes when he kicks off his new cooking column in the paper.
“My first column will be on what to cook for a first date, as I think it is one of those occasions when people get very fussed and anxious about cooking,” says Stuart. Having hosted his own cooking show on TV3 called Stuart’s Kitchen, he is officially a celebrity in his own right. Stuart has also appeared on TV in the States on the show Private Chefs of Beverly Hills.
Yet it remains all about the cooking for the Tipperary chef who learned to cook from his mum and aunt before achieving a BA in Culinary Arts from the Dublin Institute of Technology.
“I won’t say it’s not thrilling to cook for celebrities, but at the end of the day it’s about building up a business profile and getting bookings, because they allow me to do what I love for a living, which is cooking,” he says.
Stuart has found most of his work opportunities in the States but is now building up his profile as one of our most promising young chefs at home too:
“I’m home three to four times a year and I love doing jobs and making appearances, but in terms of making an income, the States is still where most of my work is.
“I’ve worked hard to get my Green Card, getting an employer to vouch for my invaluableness, and I paid thousands of dollars on an attorney. I’m considering becoming an American citizen.”
Stuart first discovered the joys of cooking when as a young lad he watched his mum cook casseroles from scratch and his aunt cook cakes when he was meant to be doing his homework at her kitchen table.
“I loved food growing up and it was an instinctual step to ask how food was made, what went into things, and how I could make them. It was a case of ‘let me have a go at it.’ I got into cooking for a living almost by accident.”
Cathal Brugha Street was Stuart’s third or fourth preference on his CAO form. Like most lads, he was big into gadgets and technology featured high on the list.
“My parents said, ‘Do you want to repeat the Leaving?’ and I immediately knew there was no point. Once I had considered cooking seriously for a living, it made total sense,” he remembers.
His cooking career in California began by working in the Napa Valley Wine Country, where he concentrated on matching fresh local produce with the best of the wine region’s vintages.
He now lives the typical Southern California lifestyle of riding his motorcycle around Los Angeles and visiting friends at their beach houses: “It has taken four to five years to get to the ‘good life’. I arrived in Los Angeles knowing nobody and my savings didn’t go as far as I had hoped. For the first two years living here, I didn’t have a car and had to rely on friends to drive me to jobs. I’d have thrown in the towel if I wasn’t so sure that this was the job for me.
Stuart slowly built up a client list “through working for catering companies that worked the Oscar parties for the likes of InStyle and Vanity Fair magazines, to which just about every celebrity goes.” Now he feels closer to reaching his goal than ever: “The phone rings and the bookings are regular so I’m more sure that I’ve made the right choice for me.”
So what can readers expect from Stuart’s forthcoming cooking and recipe column? “I understand that people are tired when they come in after a day working. I know I’m often too tired to cook for myself and will make a tasty sandwich instead. So I’ll be advising on the ingredients you should have in your kitchen to make tasty and nutritious meals in 15 minutes,” he explains.
“For the more ambitious cooks, I’ll be looking at dinner parties and Christmas parties, and all the events for which friends and families gather around.”
The California-based chef adds, “I’m home often enough to know how the cold and damp weather makes warm healthy food an essential in winter. These are the recipes I’ll be working on.”
Anna Coogan, Evening Herald-The Dubliner