“Assistant” is a bit of a catchall term. Sure, assistants schedule meetings, take notes, and retrieve coffee, but they can also act as a quasi-concierge, sending fruit baskets to top clients and buying gifts for partners. In an effort to unearth the highly specific material needs of powerful people, we sat down with “Camilla,” who, until recently, worked as an executive assistant to one of the most famous chefs in the world. We spoke to her about the 18 identical white coats he keeps in rotation, the calligraphy pens he uses to sign 300 books at a time, and the Canadian fruit gummies he can’t resist (but still feels a bit guilty about eating).
The chef has multiple restaurants, projects, events, and appearances to juggle at all times, and Camilla’s main job for the last four and a half years was “managing his whereabouts.” Their tiny office above one restaurant served as the “epicenter” of the company, where she and an office manager kept track of and prepared their boss for all his engagements. As such, the chef was in and out of the space multiple times a day and particular about a few things he always had to have on hand.
Camilla’s boss has “beautiful penmanship,” an attribute she says is supported by using this calligraphy marker that she keeps at least four or five of in the office. He uses them to sign his own books — sometimes 300 in one sitting, in an assembly-line process in which Camilla bends a page in each copy so that it lies flat (“he hates it when it’s not flat,” she says). He’s signed chef jackets, photos, aprons, and even the Bernardaud porcelain plates from one of his own restaurants. “There was this couple that was so enamored by their experience [dining there], they asked if they could buy a dish,” Camilla says. “I don’t think that they sold it to them — they gave them a dish. And then, lo and behold, they mailed it, and asked him to sign it.”
“He is notorious for always having a measuring tape nearby,” Camilla says of her boss. That’s because, she says, he’s so involved with (and has so many opinions on) his restaurants, in highly specific ways: the size of a kitchen cart in a dining room, the dimensions of menu paper and invitations (for which he uses the Westcott ruler), the height of a bar stool, the width of a tablecloth. Once, the measuring tape came in handy when Camilla’s boss bought a few pairs of jeans on sale and took them to a high-end tailor. “He was getting robbed, robbed, robbed,” Camilla says, so she told him about a more affordable shop in her neighborhood. He asked her if she would take the jeans there for him. “And I’m like, ‘Chef, I’m not bringing them unless you try them on,’” Camilla says. “‘I don’t want to be responsible if they’re not right.’” So he put on a pair, and then she took his measurements. He’s been going to her tailor ever since.
Camilla always keeps candy at her desk to satisfy her boss’s “terrible sweet tooth,” and one of his favorite kinds is what he calls “Canadian gummies,” a brand she brings back from Montréal whenever she travels there, which happens at least four times a year. They taste “delicate,” she says, because they’re made from real fruit with no artificial flavors or colors. Even so, Camilla’s boss is French and therefore “very regimented,” she says, so he only likes to snack on a few at a time. “I’ll just shake two or three out, and if more fall, he goes, ‘No, no. It’s too much,’” she says. “I’m like, ‘Seriously, dude. Just eat them.’”
Camilla is in charge of ordering gifts on behalf of her boss. Oftentimes, that means gift baskets, specialty items from his own line of products, or, if the person on the receiving end is especially notable, a bottle of wine sourced to match the year of their birth. But in a couple of cases, the gifts have been even more particular than that.
Recently, Camilla ordered two custom Bragard chef’s coats for the hosts of a popular morning show when her boss did a segment alongside them. “We wanted to surprise them, so I had to eyeball their measurements,” she says. They ended up fitting perfectly. Camilla often works with Bragard, as all the cooks at her boss’s restaurants wear their jackets, each monogrammed in black with the respective establishment’s name. Her boss wears one every day, too, though his are always white embroidery on white cloth, so the effect isn’t flashy, Camilla says. She calls it his “armor,” always tailored the same way: taken in an inch on the sides, an inch at the bottom, and then he flips up the sleeves. He has 18 identical coats, some at his various businesses, and others for travel or events. Camilla also says they put extra care into cleaning and starching his jackets so they always look pristine. During the pandemic, when those services weren’t active, she ironed them herself.
When his daughter got married, the chef tasked Camilla with buying an extremely special (and extremely expensive) bottle of cognac. Made from handcrafted crystal with a 20-karat gold neck, the bottle was monogrammed with the bride and groom’s initials and their wedding date before being placed in a red velvet case. “Oh my God, it was so beautiful,” Camilla says. The chef presented it at the event and offered everyone a shot from a different, unmarked bottle of the same cognac. Camilla was so impressed that she ended up buying her husband the miniature version (about two pours’ worth, she estimates). They’re waiting for an “exceedingly special” occasion to open it.
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