Chef Q&A: John Paul Kline of John Paul Custom Cuisine

Categories: The Verbal Nosh
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Chef John Paul Kline, proprietor and namesake of John Paul Custom Cuisine, works as a private chef in Delray Beach. He has cooked for U.S. presidents and in soup kitchens and frequently caters private dinners and political fundraisers. Recently, Kline loaned his talents to the hugely successful "Art of Wine and Food" tasting series at the Museum of Art|Fort Lauderdale. 

After a tour of his property -- which includes papaya trees, dragonfruit trees, garden beds, and an expansive patio/dining area -- Kline talked to Clean Plate Charlie about the joys and travails of working as a private chef and why fleeing to Europe to escape the kitchen took him right back into it. 



Congratulations on the tasting series at the Museum of Art. Turnout has been awesome.

We expected a turnout of 30 at the first one, but 50 people actually showed up. Now we're capping them at 75. It's great. We have more scheduled through December and could continue after that. The theme for the next one is "Bootiful Reds." I'll choose foods for fall to go with the wines. Braised items, root vegetables, late summer/early fall foods -- like squashes, earthy foods, mushrooms.

What else are you working on these days? 

I'm working with a school called Space of Mind. It's a charter school. A lot of people don't do well in public school settings or even private school. These are teenagers [who perform better in an unconventional setting with hands-on activities]. We'll do everything from cooking to learning about ecosystems, gardening. It's farm-to-table. Well, garden-to-table.

What will you grow?

I'm going to leave that up to the kids. Herbs, tomatoes, edible flowers -- now is the time to plant! In 45 to 60 days, we'll be cooking them!

I hear you have a big project up your sleeve called the Secret Palate...

Ahhh... coming soon! [smiles]

I've also heard you've cooked for some presidents. Can you tell us more about that?

[thinks for a moment] No. Chef no tell.

Come on ... Does his name start with a "B" and end with an "arack Obama"?

I've cooked for everything from soup kitchens to super-high-end fine dining. I used to volunteer at the Providence [Rhode Island] soup kitchen in an old church. We'd put meals together using the standards that were on hand: boxes of powdered potatoes; we'd get creative with soups. We'd feed 200 people a day. Then I've also done fine dining, white-tablecloth events... wine pairings with exotic foods, with hamachi flown in from Hawaii or whatever. Events where money is no object.

How did you get into cooking?
In my early 20s, I had my own T-shirt and airbrush business. I was in and out of college; I did construction... Then I started doing banquet sales. The general manger quit. I stepped up into the position. It got to the point where [I had learned everything about running the front of the house], and I couldn't help anymore unless I learned how to cook.

I had an army of staff working alongside me in the front of house. Back in the kitchen, there was a whole other army of staff, and I wanted to know how to join these two armies together so that we became one complete force to be reckoned with. To do that properly, I had to get into the kitchen so that I understood them, and this inspired me to go to culinary school. It was totally utilitarian -- I simply wanted to become a better general manager, but then I found out that what I really wanted was to become a great chef.  

Read the rest of our interview tomorrow.
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