Chef John Paul Kline of John Paul Custom Cuisine: Q&A, Part Two

Categories: Rants
Today, we continue our interview with John Paul Kline of John Paul Custom Cuisine, whose food- and winetasting series at the Museum of Art has been selling out.

So what did you do after culinary school?
I attended Johnson and Wales in Providence when I was 25 or so. I worked at the Back Eddy in Providence with Chris Schlessinger, a James Beard winner. It was a beautiful area with wineries and farmland. You were literally waiting for the lettuce from the farm, not the fridge. I was there three years, the whole time I was in school. When I graduated, I wanted to get other experiences; I was burnt out on cooking. So I moved to Portugal and went to school for massage therapy -- but that's when I started cooking again. I was there for two and half months, in this beautiful area of Portugal where everyone in Europe goes to summer. I'd carry a water jug to the market and fill it with olive oil. I'd cook for the whole class -- 18 of us. Every night, we'd be at my apartment. There I was in Portugal, aiming to learn a new skill and take a break from cooking -- but I was actually falling deeper in love with food. 

From Portugal, I headed over to Morocco, as I was fascinated by the flavors and the culture. It was all mind-blowing. A lot of what I cook today is inspired by those ingredients and the balance of flavors, particularly in Moroccan cooking. I traveled around Spain and Morocco and then came back to the States. My girlfriend at the time wanted to live on the beach, so I ended up rolling sushi in Nantucket. I went to Martha's Vineyard... and worked for Jackson Kenworth at the Sweet Life Cafe (which has since been sold). Then I decided I didn't want to work for anyone else. But I still did [laughs].

So how did you come to work for yourself?
I interviewed at [a fancy restaurant] -- they had 500 applicants for six positions. When they showed me the pay and the long contract they wanted me to sign, I thought, "Not in a million years." I realized you could write your own ticket. I pretty much write my own now.

But before that, I worked at a sweet little place in Nantucket. I helped open a sitdown restaurant in a movie theater. But I got tired of the short season up north. My parents had moved down here. I came on vacation in 2004 and took a sous chef position at L'Opera in West Palm Beach, worked on Clematis Street, did some catering. When I did my first wedding -- for a friend in New England with 250 people -- I had never done a party. There was no refrigeration; I sent someone to go get ten baby pools and kept everything on ice, hired some bartenders and servers -- and realized, "This is what I want to do."

How have you been handling the recession? 
The first year in business was great -- I had lots of private, corporate, and political clients, and at one point, I had 30 people working with me and two events a day. Then -- bang! -- the market crashes and parties literally got canceled overnight. Even the people that still had money canceled as they didn't want to be flashing their wealth.

How did you cope?
Like everyone, I had to cut right back, and I actually got offered a private chef position for six months on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. 

What does it cost to hire you?
Depends on what the client wants and the time it takes.

Do you have a specialty?

Whatever's fresh. My menu gets dictated by the season. Whatever the client wants. If I don't know, I learn.

What are five words to describe your cooking?
Comfortable, creative, fresh, historic, and genuinely enjoyable!

What do you eat when you're not working?

One of the staples of my diet is pizza. It's comfort food. That comes from growing up in New Jersey, in Seaside, on the boardwalk every day.

Wood-fired or coal-fired?

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