“IT’S a tough life but someone has to do it.” So says 35-year-old Irish man Stephen Hartigan as he lounged by a pool in South Beach, Florida, while mingling with the rich and famous last week.
Hartigan, 35, will spend two weeks in Miami before he goes back to cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for New York’s elite.
And elite they are. The Cork chef works for Allen and Debbie Grubman, one of the most powerful couples in New York City and the Hamptons.
Allen is a top entertainment lawyers; he numbers Madonna, Elton John and Jennifer Lopez among his clients and Debbie, as senior V.P for at the Corcoran Group, is one of the top real estate brokers in New York.
Hartigan, who moves to the Hamptons with the family for the summer, will be kept busy while the wealthy put up their feet on the East End. An average Saturday in the Hamptons will see Hartigan cooking up a storm for up to a 100 people.
“There could be 20 for breakfast, 30 for lunch and 50 for dinner so I’m kept busy, but I love every minute of it,” he said.
Hartigan can also be found preparing meals for Calvin Klein, Colin Cowie and Martha Stewart. In fact, Hartigan is due to appear on Stewart’s radio show next month to talk about his favorite dishes and some of the secret recipes he uses.
Hartigan, who comes from a large extended family in Gurranabraher, Cork City, started helping out in the kitchen as a child, helping both his grandmothers prepare meals for the 124 people in their family.
The experience stood to him when he later prepared 4,500 breakfasts in some of Europe’s finest hotels!
Hartigan, who once oversaw a sit-down gala event for 560 people at the Tate Gallery in London for the late Princess Diana, said his career just “happened by accident.”
“It was a total accident because I had no intention of going into catering. However, my school grades said otherwise,” laughed Hartigan.
“It’s gas really. I went working in Euro Disney in Paris when I was 18 for a summer job and I instantly loved the buzz of the kitchen.”
Hartigan, who was named Young Chef of the Year while still in college, worked at some of London’s top tier restaurants, including the Ivy and Le Caprice.
He moved to New York three years ago to head up private dining at Café Gray, a snazzy restaurant located at Columbus Circle in Manhattan, where he regularly created multi-course tasting menus for Manhattan’s business, entertainment and social luminaries.
Hartigan loved his new life in the Big Apple. He was on top of the world and it was only the beginning. After a few months at Café
Gray a bigger opportunity knocked.
“A friend of mine from Carlow was playing golf with Mrs. Grubman’s hairdresser in North Carolina last April and he said they were losing their chef and she was frantic,” said Hartigan.
His friend said he knew just the man for the job.
A few days later Hartigan found himself sitting face-to-face with the power couple. The interview went well. Hartigan’s Irish charm worked wonders.
That same afternoon, the Grubmans wanted to see if the Corkman’s culinary skills were as good as his gift of the gab.
“There is a funny story actually. Mr. Grubman called me into the kitchen after dessert, and he just lay back and said to me, ‘The worst meal I ever had in my life.’ I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me,” he recalls.
While Hartigan looked for the nearest exit, Mr. Grubman, after the longest pause, put the Corkman out of his misery and added, “… was in Dublin and you obviously weren’t there.” Hartigan was hired on the spot.
Hartigan later learned that the meal Grubman was referring to was one he shared with U2 in the Irish capital a few years earlier. Hartigan has now been with the Grubman family for three years and claims it’s “the best job in the world.”
“I absolutely love it, I really do,” he said.
After becoming very comfortable in the world of A-listers, Hartigan gained the confidence and contacts required to set up his own successful business of placing chefs.
“Friends of the Grubmans would ask did I know other chefs that were like me, good in the kitchen, good to have around the place and nice and friendly. So I found chefs for them and then I realized I was working as an agency,” Hartigan says.
Hartigan, who recently placed a chef with music mogul Tommy Mottola, Mariah Carey’s ex-husband, has been in business for the past few months and it’s a roaring success. He has placed several competent and high quality chefs with many A-list celebrities.
“I interview the chefs first myself and then I get them to cook for me to see how good they really are, and if they are up to par they will then be placed with one of my clients,” says Hartigan.
As if he hasn’t enough on his plate, Hartigan decided to pen a book with a friend of his, Jerry Boak. They put together a do-it-yourself visual guide to cooking, No More Takeout.
While training and during his years in the industry, Hartigan has studied countless cookbooks and found one common denominator.
“Most of the books are not very visual. If I have to read a recipe twice what chance has someone who doesn’t know much about cooking,” he said.
“I just want to give everyone the tools, the knowledge and guidance to be able to cook at home and gain their confidence in a lot of things like how to dice an onion, how to crush a piece of garlic, how to roast a chicken, how to make gravy or how to make a simple desert. The book makes it all so simple.”
Last summer, Hartigan and another chef, Mickey Filosa, would cook up the meals featured in the book and take hundreds of pictures that were later used in No More Takeout, which is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders and John Wiley & Sons. Visit www.nomoretakeout.com.