Burgers for Billionaires


By Emma Kobolakis

I spent my first full day as a private chef making French fries. The pile of russets nearly eclipsed the marble countertops. I had carefully peeled, soaked, and halved them, and was now forcing their bodies through a monster of a cutter that required more arm strength than I had in my entire body. The machine and I were soon covered with a mix of sweat and potato starch that took thirty minutes of diligent scrubbing to get off.

The kitchen staff had to keep a huge supply of fries on hand, par fried and laid flat in freezer bags. But why so many? It was a large family. Seriously? The actual answer is, despite the five-course menu the brilliantly talented, Per Se-trained lead chef invented and presented every day, the response would be something akin to “Nah. I’ll have a burger.”

And you can’t serve a burger without fries.


This is not what I had been expecting. When I got the call to drop everything and head to the Hamptons for a whirlwind weekend of non-stop concierge cooking, I was thinking more along the lines of small, exotic birds cooked in wines I had never heard of. Not a refrigerator dedicated exclusively to every Kraft dressing in existence. Images of charcuterie boards danced in my head, not Oscar Mayer bologna and grilled cheese. “Come on, people!” I’d shout to myself, shaking my head sadly as I took a wrong turn and ended up in the mansion’s soft drinks room, which supplied the drinks fridge, which was dedicated solely to between-meal beverages. Whoops.  

I realized, watching the serving staff dump bottles of Fiji water into the various coffee machines, that what was at play here was a fundamental difference in taste. For me, food was not a question of comfort zones, and I wasn’t happy sticking to stuff I grew up with. Ever since I’ve been gainfully employed, my disposable income (and a fair amount beyond that) has gone to food. What else is money for, if not eating your way through life? It turns out my worldview is not universal, and was definitely not shared by my employers.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the job. Feeding people is something I love, and making them happy at every meal is a true joy. But over that summer, I discovered that all the money in the world couldn’t buy a love for food. I had hoped that my position of service would allow me to provide an elevated dining experience for a family, wealth aside, not so different from my own. Not so. Billionaires or not, by the end of it, they were the ones missing out.  

Photos: Chia Messina