Once he wanted a chocolate fountain but when I asked where to put it, he looked at me, waited a beat, and said, “I do the music.”
As told to Gabrielle Langholtz
I was barely out of cooking school when I heard that Prince was looking for a private chef.
It was 2008 and I had moved to LA right after graduation with dreams of breaking into food TV. Then Andy, a friend of a friend who occasionally cooked for Prince, told me the singer sought someone 24-7. Until cooking school, I’d lived on take-out. Now I had about three weeks of real-world experience under my belt. I was like, “No way.”
“You should do it!” Andy said. “I bet you could split it with someone. Just try out!”
That week, Prince was hosting an after-Oscars party and Andy roped me in. A pescetarian at the time, Prince loved Asian flavors and, since I’d tested recipes for Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Asian (by Farina Kingsley, my teacher and mentor) I wrote a quick menu. The party started at midnight and music blasted down the hallway into the kitchen. Stevie Wonder was there. I cooked potstickers for hours on end. Salma Hayek ate a Vietnamese summer roll right off my cutting board. I thought, “Maybe I can do this...” At 4:30 AM, I met with Prince’s assistant in his giant office. I told her I’d never been a private chef but that I’d love to try. She said they’d call me.
A few afternoons later my phone rang at 3:30 PM. Prince wanted me to do a tryout. In two hours. And serve three courses.
I ran to buy ingredients—including salmon filets and a bottle of Soy Vey marinade, which I stealthily poured into an unmarked glass bottle so it looked homemade—and raced back to Prince’s. He, his manager, and his girlfriend sat at the kitchen counter to watch me cook, while Prince explained that his next record deal ought to be better than Madonna’s. Inside my head I was like, “Don’t listen! Don’t look at them! Don’t fuck up! Just make it taste good!”
I cooked teriyaki salmon like I used to make for myself all the time (with that Soy Vey assist!) with grilled asparagus on the side, plus a hot-and-sour soup that I’d literally never made before and a coconut sorbet with fresh mango for dessert. It was terrifying.
The assistant had warned me that Prince eats like a bird, but he finished everything and asked for seconds. I drove home so proud. Even if I didn’t get the job I’d have a story to tell my grandkids someday.
A few days later I was en route to a wedding in Vegas when Prince’s assistant called and said, “You got the job but you can’t split it, he only wants you. You have to be on call 24-7. Oh and by the way – he’s nocturnal. And you start tonight. Ryan Seacrest is coming to dinner.”
I turned around, missed my friend’s wedding, threw my suitcase into my apartment, grabbed my chef’s jacket, and ran to Whole Foods with no idea what to make.
An hour later I was back in Prince’s kitchen cooking miso-glazed sea bass over a “noodle pillow” – something I had made exactly once before, back in cooking school. But I stupidly made the noodle pillows first and they’d gone completely chewy by the time I served the dish. It was an epic failure. I served it to Prince and Ryan Seacrest myself, trying not to sweat, carrying it down a long hallway to a very formal dining room. For dessert I made ice cream with a sugar crisp, the kind you liquefy and then pour onto a Silpat baking mat to cool. But I made it too thick and watched Ryan get his teeth stuck in it. I thought I’d be fired on my first night.
Instead, Prince’s assistant texted me a little while later that “P” was downstairs (practicing on the full, in-house stage) and wanted a cappuccino. I had never made one in my life and had to call someone to talk me through how to use the machine. I carried it down to him, the cup trembling on the saucer. He was riffing on the guitar, alone in the dark, but paused to thank me. I went back to the kitchen to clean up. When I thought he was done, I looked around the corner and saw him strutting down the candle-lit hallway to bed, in white boots with clear high heels studded with flashing red lights.
For the next three months I was always on call. Every day I’d wake up, watch TV and wait. They’d call around 3 or 4 and say, “He’s hungry.” But about once a week they’d call and say, “He’s going out.” When the phone rang, my heart would pound.
I never knew what to cook. I kept a list of ideas but would inevitably call friends in a panic for advice. It was like being on Chopped every single day.
The assistants—one of whom wore a three-piece suit even when doing the laundry—made me bring all my own pots and pans (back at my apartment I had exactly one knife, one pot and one cutting board). They said they could only afford to hire a dishwasher when there were more than six guests.
They had told me not to speak to Prince unless spoken to, and at first I felt like I couldn’t even look at him, but over time he made me feel comfortable. Prince was very private, mysterious and eccentric but very polite and kind. He introduced every single guest to me, even though he didn’t know my last name, where I was from or if I had a boyfriend.
Prince had guests about every other night— Orlando Bloom, Cornel West, Kristin Chenoweth. He kept a floor-to-ceiling stack of Jehovah’s Witness Bibles and gave one to every guest.
One time he decided to throw a late-night party for every A-list celebrity in town—and only gave me two days’ notice. Another time he asked for a birthday cake—at 11 PM (I bought it at the grocery store). He liked to eat healthfully but then he’d ask for quiche and a milkshake. Once he wanted a chocolate fountain but when I asked where to put it, he looked at me, waited a beat, and said, “I do the music.”
One day I thought I could try a new restaurant for lunch before he needed me, but my phone rang at 11 AM. It was the assistant saying, “P wants to host a traditional English tea party—in an hour.” Scrambling, I ordered everything from scones to cucumber sandwiches to go, and raced back to serve it as if I’d made it all myself.
But Prince also loved to relax, like anybody. He asked for that salmon teriyaki nearly once a week. I know he made himself scrambled eggs for breakfast because the pan would be waiting in the sink when I showed up. One night I made fill-your-own soft tacos, which he and his girlfriend ate in front of the huge TV watching American Idol and basketball, right in the open room where I cooked. They sprawled on the couch next to a beautiful, aerodynamic white piano with just two legs. It was surreal.
And of the 75 three-course dinners I made, he returned exactly one dish: a five-spice soup. Since I’d omitted the chicken stock to make the recipe meat-free, I doubled the amount of onion (I’d read somewhere this can enhance flavor). But the result was horribly bitter. There was nothing I could do to fix it but he had guests, and I needed three courses. Minutes later he carried his full bowl back into the kitchen, put it on the counter and simply said, “No.”
But more often, he expressed gratitude. One night I made mung-bean crepes stuffed with vegetables, followed by fish over black rice. He came back to the kitchen and said, “This is so beautiful. All my guests are very happy.”
My only break was the three days he played Coachella. When he got back to the house afterwards, he said, “Where were you? I thought you’d be backstage.”
I explained that his assistants had said I couldn’t come, and he said, “We’ll fix that.”
He led me downstairs to the private theater and together the two of us watched the playback of the whole show. He told me what an idiot the sound guy was, and how the police told him to stop but he played five more songs anyway.
After three months, I asked the assistant for two days off, even if they weren’t next to each other, but she said that wasn’t possible. I knew if I kept it up I would never go on another date or even have a drink with a friend, so I quit. I needed a life.
Prince loved soy candles burning all evening on every surface, so on my last night, I bought him one and wrote a note saying, “I know you love these, and I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed my experience, and how much I learned from you.”
He opened it while getting a private pedicure and his girlfriend came out and said Prince liked my gift and wanted to invite me to Bible study.
It was tempting to have an excuse to see him again, but I said, “I’m not religious. I’m sorry but thank you for the invite.”
To this day my friends still sing to me: “I just want your extra time and your qu-qu-qu-qu-qu- quiche.”
Margaret Wetzler never returned to private cheffing. Today she is Vice President of Marketing at chef Michel Nischan’s non-profit, Wholesome Wave.