Food: Word of mouth - Caroline Stacey quizzes Jaxon Keedwell, private chef to the Gettys

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Everyone thinks Jaxon Keedwell has landed in cushy-number corner. The 24-year-old agrees that being private chef at the country house in the Chilterns where Sir Paul and Lady Getty spend their weekends is a dream job. But he also insists there are pressures that envious colleagues might not be immediately aware of.

"Physically it's not that demanding, but mentally it takes more than working in a large restaurant kitchen," he explains. And he knows what he's talking about. Since the age of 16 he has worked at the Savoy, Dorchester and Lanesborough hotels before moving on to become one of the chefs involved in last year's launch of the Axis restaurant at the One Aldwych hotel in London.

"The most difficult thing about this job is thinking of something different all the time," he says. This means he is forever looking through magazines and cookery books, more often than not those by Jean-Christophe Novelli, Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White. Recent reading material includes Street Food by Clare Ferguson, which gives ideas for everything from hot dogs to tapas.

But is he taking a risk by withdrawing from the cut and thrust of the London restaurant scene? "I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the buzz of service in a busy restaurant, there's nothing quite like that adrenaline rush. But there's a lot of compensations and I'm quite happy to be working on my own."

Keedwell had never considered this exclusive line of work until the call came. He had a conventional training as a chef, the profession he'd wanted to follow since winning a school prize for home economics, and enrolled on the specialised chefs' course at the Bournemouth and Poole College of Further Education, run in association with the Academy of Culinary Arts, an organisation of top chefs. When the Gettys turned to the Academy to help them recruit a chef last year, Keedwell needed little persuading once he'd seen what was on offer.

He lives in a cottage just up the hill from his employers' house. His workspace is a kitchen that's large by domestic standards and equipped with that country house fixture, an Aga, to which he has added some heavy-duty professional equipment to make the job easier. His working week starts on Thursday, planning for the weekend's menus and shopping for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and some Monday meals - anything from supper for two to a buffet for 120 guests. From now on the kitchen garden will provide many of the vegetables, herbs and fruit he needs since, at the beginning of winter, he discussed with the gardeners what he wanted and they started planting.

Although he draws his inspiration from other chefs, and restaurants where he or the Gettys have eaten, he has to adapt presentation. Dishes are not arranged on each plate as they usually are in restaurants; guests help themselves from a dish passed round "butler-style".

Each day he prepares everything from scratch. "I do anything from a souffle to tomato soup. Not too rich. You can't cook restaurant food every day because while foie gras and truffles are nice, they're so rich you can't eat them seven days a week."

A recent weekend's menus comprised cod in breadcrumbs with chips and petits pois a la francaise then lemon tart, for lunch; grilled goat's cheese with braised lentils, then fillet steak, wild mushroom sauce, saute potatoes and green vegetables followed by Champagne jelly for dinner. Sunday lunch was roast chicken then roast fruits and mascarpone cream, supper was penne with tomato sauce and basil pesto followed by zabaglione.

This line of work needs a versatile and ingenious approach. Keedwell doesn't practise untried recipes first, but he does allow time for mistakes to be put right. Once a confit of duck recipe turned out disastrously salty, so he produced the duck breast from the freezer in time to serve it Chinese-style with five-spice seasoning.

Unlike most chefs he doesn't have to reveal what he is going to cook in advance, but Jaxon Keedwell has to have an infinite supply of dishes to please those who are used to the best of everything. Even the most experienced chef might find that a daunting career move

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