Kimberly Van Kline never thought she’d be creating delectable meals for celebrities and royalty as a young girl learning to cook with her grandmother, a woman who worked as a personal assistant and cook to legendary Hollywood actress Margot Grahame.
A focal point of her best childhood memories, Van Kline, 43, grew up helping her grandmother prepare meals for the family, and became the primary cook in her household upon her grandmother’s passing.
As an adult, she worked as a professional at Verizon for more than a decade, but always knew her passion was cooking. On her 40th birthday, she decided to pursue her dream full time, and founded Passion for the Palate, a catering services firm, in 2008. Her client list now includes artist and actor Common, hip-hop artist Fabolous, haircare giant Bronner Bros., and royalty in Antiqua and Barbuda.
BlackEnterprise.com talked with Van Kline on how she got her start, what excites her about creating the perfect dining experience and how she plans to give back to her community via culinary education.
BlackEnterprise.com: What inspired you to become a chef and how did you get started?
As a little girl, I knew my grandmother as a great cook. She would cook every Sunday, and I grew up helping her prep meals. She always made me feel like I was part of every meal.
As I got older and my grandmother passed away, my grandfather couldn’t cook, so I had to get in the kitchen and start cooking. At age 12, I was the chef of the house, and it became my passion.
How did you make the transition from a full-time, white-collar worker into becoming a professional chef?
I had a 9-to-5, working in different industries, but wasn’t fulfilled with a desk job. I always had a cookbook on my desk. Upon reaching my 40th birthday, I asked myself, ‘What makes you happy?’ and it was cooking. So I decided to study it. I’d work during the day and do an externship at night. Initially, I had to find my niche. I found that the restaurant business wasn’t for me. I wanted to be more creative, and I found that private cooking was more suitable— I had control to create a menu, put thought into it and give it my own flair.
How important is training and education in becoming a personal chef?
For me, I was always confident in my cooking, but there’s always that desire to better myself. I need every tool and every aspect to make me better and help me grow professionally. There are a lot of great chefs who didn’t go to school, and there can be long hours for many, which means learning on the job. But going to school gave me the background and the technical training for food preparation.
I think you have to educate yourself if you’re going to be the best at any craft. If anybody is serious about going into the chef business, it’s a good idea to gain the knowledge on different types of food, food safety, cooking styles, and what fits them. Even now, every day that goes by, I’m online, researching what’s new, what’s out and whats on trend.
The whole thing about the culinary industry is that there’s always something new, so the more knowledge the better.