Today we’d like to introduce you to Justine Whitney.
Hi Justine, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Born in Sydney, Australia, I was brought up in a household of cooking. My mum was as frugal as one could be. Cooking every meal was a means to saving money and feeding me and my two older sisters. Mum would spend hours cooking, baking and braising dishes. My way of spending time with her was to chop, stir, clean and best of all taste. This sparked my love of food, entertaining and encouraging zero waste in the kitchen.
So 22 years ago, I graduated from the local culinary school in Westlake Village, California and started my little private chef business. Out of the gate, I noticed. a need for great in-home service, quality food and “outside the box” menus along with input from my frugal childhood. I love to shop the farmer’s markets and forage through my own garden and veggie boxes.
My clients are a range of wonderful people. I have started traveling more with some… It’s a constant whirlwind of cooking, packing, driving, unpacking and figuring out how to make the best food for each and every person.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I will say that some of my biggest mistakes have been my biggest lessons. With cooking, you will never know everything. You are constantly learning and trying new things. I really do believe there are no rules with cooking and food but you do have to have respect for ingredients and 100% believe in what you are putting on a plate before you send it out to someone.
I’ve really had to learn to stand up to some clients and not let them take advantage of me or my staff. When I started working as a private chef, I let so many things slide to invest in building my clientele and name. Some of them have made me cry. Some have been ridiculously rude. Some I have actually sent the “dear John” email to… I definitely notice there is a difference as a woman in the kitchen. People try to break you emotionally so you give in them. But us women chefs cannot be broken that easily. It was hard for me to stand my ground with some of those bossy clients. Now with that said, 99% of my clients are really bloody amazing but that 1%… I guess after 22 years, I have learned to be selective and to be honest in how I feel about certain issues.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
My menus are all custom-developed to the client’s needs. I really pride myself on the attention I give to them. Some have never experienced working with a chef or caterer and really need some hand-holding. I am sure it can be quite terrifying for those that have not. Plus, they are trusting you in their kitchen and house so it is very important they know you and feel comfortable with you.
I love to work with sustainable ingredients and will search high and low for items at the client’s request. Once a menu is established, I really love the creative process of elevating the simplest meal to something they have never tasted or seen.
My focus in the last few years has been gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan menus as so many people are turning to this way of eating. And I love coming up with gorgeous and unexpected dishes.
This is one of the reasons I think it sets me apart from other chefs and boutique caterers. I use ingredients that most of my competition would not use. Especially as I have so much in my garden and I constantly play with recipes.
If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
Way too much energy and a super crazy kid. My poor mum. Oh lord, she had to do something with me so she put me into gymnastics at age 8 to try and settle me down. I was a swimmer, diver and competitive gymnast till around 16. I was in as many sports as she could get me in.
I did not like high school. I attended a Catholic college for girls and wore wool kits, felt hats and ugly brown knee socks and ugly brown shoes. It was run by scary nuns and the girls were nasty. I was bullied for my athletic achievements which I eventually gave up and began rebelling against religious pressures while hiding from the mean girls.
I found refuge in my sister who is ten years older than me and who was working for Sony Music Australia. She let me stay at her flat in Sydney’s eastern suburbs on the weekends as a young teenager. I spent those weekends going to see bands and hopping around the city with her. All that good stuff of dressing me up to look older and sneaking me through the back door of a pub or venue to see the latest music act. Mum had no idea where or what we were getting up to.
I left school early and moved out of home at 17 and learned pretty quickly that I had to pay rent and buy food. Frozen lasagna was not an option and the dead-end jobs I was working barely paid for that crap.
At 19, I was excepted into Sydney Acting School where I studied for three years. It was a period in my life where I felt really safe and confident with my fellow acting students and we had a really great bond. So many fun and hilarious memories. Pub nights and midnight beach swimming off the Balmoral Pier. I graduated and got an offer from an agent pretty quickly and was booking commercials and stages quite regularly. I ended up at Sony Music following in my sister’s footsteps and had a crazy few years in the head office in Sydney. I moved over to a small artist management company and tour managed for an Australian / New Zealand artist. During all the ups and downs of juggling auditions and work travel, I always came back to cooking and making people happy through a meal or a fun gathering.
I moved to the US in 1997, working another corporate job for two years when the lightbulb finally went off. I went to culinary school at night and on the weekends and was offered my first private chef job before I graduated. I was terrified.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: justinesprivatecuisine.com
- Instagram: Chef Justine Whitney
- Youtube: Justine’s Kitchen
All photos owned by Justine Whitney