From New York to LA – cooking for the Learjet set

Alison Taafe has seen it all in a thirty two year career as a chef.

Growing up in the UK, Alison decided pretty early on she wanted to pursue a career as a chef, trained at Westminster Hotel School in London, and by the time she was 21 found herself working in the elevated circles of the kitchens of the millionaire set in the United States, in places like New York and The Hamptons and at the Carlyle Hotel.

Alison certainly got more than just a glimpse of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, cooking for countless parties and dinners. On one occasion, for a party being thrown for Lauren Bacall and Robert Mitchum, Alison had wanted to offer milk fed veal on the menu but the local butcher didn’t have it.

Within minutes of mentioning this to the organisers, she was whisked off to the airstrip and flown in a private jet into New York and taken into town to get the veal. On another occasion when they couldn’t find Bath Oliver biscuits locally they were especially air freighted in from Fortnum & Mason in London.

The kitchens revolved around luxury ingredients like lobster, truffles and caviar, with a typical 200g truffle from Dean and Deluca weighing in at around US$1500.

In her time she has also cooked for two US presidents (George Bush senior and Ronald Reagan) and the Queen.

Now based in Queensland Alison – perhaps better known as ‘The Sassy Chef’ – now writes books and runs a school where she teaches cooking skills for professionals and enthusiastic amateurs alike.

Alison has been using IO Shen knives and Nirey Sharpeners for a while now…

“I first got my hands on an IO Shen knife a few years ago I think at one of the Good Food & Wine Shows, and I was really impressed by its balance and the way it felt.” said Alison.

Alison has six tips for selecting a good kitchen knife and keeping it in top condition:

1) Knives are very personal, so you need to buy a knife that feels comfortable for you to use
2) When buying if possible hold the knife and go to a shop where they will let you cut something with it before you buy
3) Sharpness is important – not only how sharp it is when you buy it, but how long it will stay sharp (a triple edged steel knife will hold its sharpness for a long time)
4) The way it looks is also important, particularly if you’ll be showing it off in your kitchen!
5) Choose the right knife for the right job – in a set you’ll need a 10.5” chef’s knife, a 3”-4” vegetable/utility knife and at least one serrated knife
6) A good knife will only need sharpening every 2-3 weeks to keep it in top condition

Alison also has a Nirey sharpener at the school, which she uses in class.

“Although we still teach the old way of sharpening knives with a whetstone so our students know how to do it if it’s the only option available,” explains Alison, “we use the Nirey sharpener here for all our knives, simply because it’s quicker and it’s also better for the knife – you can’t oversharpen the knife as you can with a stone, the angle is always spot on and there’s less scratching of the knife surface, so your knives stay sharp and looking good!”

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