The Public Life of the Kardashians’ Private Chef
On the penultimate episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Kim Kardashian walked into a rental mansion on Lake Tahoe.
“Did I not say no to these cookies?” she snapped, gesturing toward an artfully arranged display of homemade animal cookies. “Like, they have to be taken away. I gained 15 pounds!”
“Like, this is a joke,” she said, picking up the tiered serving tray. “I’m going to throw them in the toilet.”
Ms. Kardashian’s younger sister Kendall Jenner moved to stop her. “OK, well then control yourself, Kim, because I like them!” she yelled.
The provenance of these all-too-tempting cookies was not discussed on the show. Their creator, Khristianne Uy, was hiding off-camera in the kitchen. The private chef, who prefers the moniker Chef K, spent years working on the margins of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” as well as the family’s latest reality program on Hulu, “The Kardashians.” But now, she is stepping into the frame — on TikTok.
In a little over two months, Chef K, 40, has racked up over 100,000 followers on the platform, sharing the meals — and cookies — she makes for her famous clients, which she says have included Charlize Theron, James Cameron, Ryan Seacrest, Sean Combs and Charlie Sheen.
In June, Chef K was catering a birthday trip for a client when he pulled her into one of his social media videos. “At the end of the last dinner he goes, ‘Chef, do a TikTok with me!’” she said on a Zoom call from her own spare white kitchen in Los Angeles. “I know this is going to sound horrible, but I was like, ‘What’s TikTok?’”
Since then, Chef K, who has short, dark hair and a constellation of tattoos on her neck and arms, has been uploading her own “day in the life” style videos. One of her first posts, a behind-the-scenes video of her making Chinese chicken salads, taco bowls and chocolate chip cookies for Kylie Jenner at her Kylie Cosmetics office, has more than eight million views.
She also shared a clip of Ms. Kardashian’s on-camera animal-cookie freak-out with the caption “When you accidentally make Kim K gain 15 pounds.”
Ms. Kardashian apologized for that, by the way. “She was so kind, I wish they would have aired it,” Chef K said. At the end of the trip, she recalled that Ms. Kardashian walked up to her and said, “Chef, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to say that about your cookies — they’re great. They’re really good, I just have no self-control.” All was forgiven.
‘No eggs, no sweet potatoes, no gluten’
As she manages her own rising profile, Chef K is still dealing with the daily demands of her high-profile clientele. When we spoke, she had just worked a 19-hour day catering a 1950s-diner-themed 21st birthday party for Dr. Dre’s daughter Truly Young, as well as another private event. And she was getting ready to embark on a multiday trip to Miami to cater to Philip Sarofim, a venture capitalist who used to date Avril Lavigne and is a son of the late Texas billionaire Fayez Sarofim.
On top of her many private engagements, Chef K still regularly cooks for all the Kardashians and can recite their dietary restrictions and preferences with the command of a high-ranking military officer.
“Scott: no dairy,” she began, referring to Kourtney Kardashian’s former partner, who is still a major presence on the show. “Kourtney: depends on what the doctor says — no eggs, vegan now, no sweet potatoes, no gluten. Khloe: chicken, only white meat. The kids: I memorize their dietary restrictions too. Kendall: nothing spicy. Kim: no cilantro. Kylie: soup all the time.”
These kinds of disclosures have drawn fans more deeply into her world, making “private chef” a paradoxically public role. The Kardashians have helped bolster her profile, too: Kourtney and her new husband, Travis Barker, have posted about her menus for their family dinners and children’s birthday parties on Instagram.
Mr. Sheen sings her praises. “Early on in our time together, I dared her to perfectly duplicate what I considered to be the greatest cheeseburger on planet Earth, the Five Guys — double bacon,” Mr. Sheen said. “Less than 24 hours later, she served me one. I took one bite and never went to Five Guys again.”
Kourtney, Chef K said, is an especially big fan of matcha, so she has created matcha cookies, matcha protein balls and matcha ice cream to suit her tastes. Kourtney put the recipe for the protein balls on Poosh, her lifestyle website.
Why do fans care about the minute details of the Kardashians’ diets? Chef K compared the interest in private chefs to the comparatively longstanding fascination with celebrity hair and makeup artists. Today, a private chef is just one more element of the celebrity ecosystem about which people are eager to learn more.
And “with food, it’s still untapped,” she said. More people can relate to the act of cooking than spending three hours in a chair getting glam, she said. Cooking is “the essence of the home,” she said. “That’s where the heart is.”
Chef K is not the only private chef to find fame online recently. Meredith Hayden, a private chef in the Hamptons, has gone viral on TikTok more than once this year by sharing “day in the life” videos from her job catering to a wealthy family at their summer home. Using the handle @wishbonekitchen, she has collected more than 900,000 followers, a success so tantalizing that two of her clients, the fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra and his husband, Seth Weissman, decided to start their own account. Ms. Hayden, 26, helped Mr. Altuzarra get started by doing a “client reveal” video in July.
Ms. Hayden said in an interview that Mr. Altuzarra and Mr. Weissman are supportive of her social media work and give her plenty of time to take photos of her meals before she serves them. “I remember last summer Joseph was like, ‘I got a ring light, do you want to use it?’”
She attributed the success of her videos and private chef content in general to the idea that the videos are aspirational on a couple of different levels. “I’ll get comments that are like, ‘I don’t know if I want to hire you or if I want to be you,’” she said. “Some people aspire to be able to hire a private chef, and others are like, ‘I’m so jealous of you as a private chef living that life and having that job.’”
Chef K is still figuring out what she wants to share with her new fans. But she has lots of stories saved up from working for celebrities over the years.
She started cooking early. After immigrating to California from the Philippines when she was 11, she began culinary school at 15 and made a career working as a pastry chef at restaurants in Los Angeles.
It was during a stint working at BOA Steakhouse in the mid-aughts (which incidentally is now very popular with TikTokers) that she met her first client. From there, she started working for the director James Cameron and the “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller.
She speaks lovingly — almost reverentially — about all of her clients. Nick Jonas is “one of the sweetest gentlemen.” Charlize Theron: “Love her.” Ryan Seacrest was her “favorite client” and the “nicest man.” He was also the one to connect her with Kris Jenner, which started her journey working for the Kardashians.
Chef K also fondly recalls working for Mr. Sheen, even though she started at a tumultuous time in his personal life. It was 2011, she said, “when all that tiger blood thing happened, he had just done the interview.”
But he turned out to be the nicest guy who always asked for liverwurst sandwiches and chicken and dumplings, she said. Fans assume that her moniker, Chef K, is related to her work with the Kardashians, but she said Mr. Sheen was the one to start calling her that, after he couldn’t figure out how to spell her name on one of her checks.
She said she loved working for Mr. Sheen because it also gave her the opportunity to cook for his ex-wife, Denise Richards, and their children. “They lived down the street and would come over more,” she said. “It was like the children eating and smiling with their father and their mother, and I thought, wow, this is happening through food.”
It was during this time that Chef K got her first taste of fame: She said Ms. Richards connected her with Patti Stanger, who at the time was hosting the reality show “Millionaire Matchmaker” on Bravo. Chef K ended up appearing on the show as its “first lesbian millionaire.” She also appeared on Season 1 of “The Taste,” an ABC cooking competition show, which she won.
After those appearances, however, she got busier with her private clients and retreated somewhat from the public eye. Now, with her new social media profile, she is eager to create a lasting brand. She is considering writing a cookbook and has a beverage collaboration in the works. Mostly, though, she wants to show fans at home what it’s really like to work in a celebrity’s kitchen.
“People don’t know what happens in the back of house,” she said. “There’s a lot of grit, there’s a lot of sacrifice, there’s a lot that goes on for just that 10 minutes of their lunch.”