In 2009, Kayla Greer, a private chef and entrepreneur, was asked to create a menu for a private party in celebration of a show on VH1. At the time, she was a week away from graduating culinary school at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, and ready to cut her teeth cooking for and catering to musicians and athletes. Now, 15 years in, she’s launched her own consulting practice called The Saffron Agency, and developed an artisanal all-purpose seasoning blend.
Originally hailing from LA’s Crenshaw District and now based in Larchmont Village, the 33-year-old chef has worked with a number of clients over her career, including members of the NBA (Ryan Gomes, DeAndre Jordan) and NFL (Von Miller, Melvin Ingram), and figures in entertainment (Demi Lovato, Diddy, Dame Dash, Justin Bieber, Jhene Aiko, DJ Mustard, YG, Future and the late Nipsey Hussle).
The turning point in her career came, Greer says, when Drake posted her on his Instagram account, during a three-year stint working for him and even traveling with the rapper on tour. “That was a huge moment because I feel like that’s when a lot of people started actually recognizing that I was really doing this.”
Greer spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about life as a private chef, the flavors that inspire her and how clients’ tastes have changed over the years.
How has growing up in Los Angeles and being a part of this environment impacted you and your career as a private celebrity chef?
I was homeschooled by choice in high school, so I was able to have a bunch of different jobs. I had a job at Jamba Juice, and quickly learned that I didn’t mind being in the kitchen environment and working with my hands. That shaped my decision to become a private chef fairly early; I went straight to culinary school.
As far as working for celebrities, I just [knew] I wanted to be a private chef and work for celebrities, especially musicians since I really enjoyed music. Honestly, living in LA and knowing so many different people, word of mouth just traveled.
How would you define your palate and style of cooking?
I love for food to be really fresh. I’m so picky when it comes to the quality of food. I shop a lot at farmer’s markets, Erewhon and the Grove farmer’s market when there aren’t local ones. I think my flavors are pretty simple: salt and pepper, citrusy, spicy — I mean, I’m from LA, I love tacos, I’m used to eating Mexican food. We’re used to eating fresh, flavorful food [here], so I feel like that comes out a lot in my food because I do use a lot of garlic, onions, cilantro, fresh herbs. Kind of like a modern soul food.
What made you decide to develop your own all-purpose seasoning, and what was that process like?
The idea behind it was basically that [I’m triggered] by how I used to run around town working every day. I’ve slowed down a lot. I’ve been doing this [job] for 15 years, but I’ve tried to come up with so many different ways to make it easier, especially traveling with seasonings. I started realizing that I’m always using the same stuff, so I just decided to mix it all up. And after the second try, it was perfect. It is basically dried parsley, dried chili flakes, onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Those are [the ingredients] I think savory food should taste like; I feel like it is a solid base for seasoning food. And it gives the food a really rich, nice color, a fresh type of look.
I really made the seasoning to help people cook, and to make their food taste better. A lot of pre-mixed seasonings that are on shelves right now are either too bland or too salty, but this seasoning is the perfect medium — you really do not need anything else when you use it.
The plan is for me to come out with more flavors. The can is like a mini paint pot, so eventually you’ll be able to stack them eleven other flavors come out, and each flavor will have a different color. It’ll simplify everyone’s cabinets and counters.
How do you balance cooking and artisanal seasoning creation with your other business, The Saffron Agency, and your role as creative executive chef at The H.Wood Group’s 40 Love in West Hollywood?
For my agency, I interview and vet younger cooks and chefs who want to break into the industry who may need help finding work. I try to help staff these cooks and these newer chefs in finding jobs. I get calls all the time asking if I’m available, and if I’m not, if there’s somebody I can refer. And that’s really how it came about.
At 40 Love, I am basically the creative director and executive chef. I am the face of the brand, so I develop the recipes, the menu, and also come in regularly to maintain quality control as well as bringing on new items. It’s a sports bar, so we’re open after four o’clock, and [I’m done] cooking for most of my clients by that time. So it works out.
Where does your inspiration come from when you’re coming up with a direction for the menu and developing new recipes? Are you thinking about the setting and the audience?
I’m definitely thinking about three main things: where we’re located, what we are and who our clientele is. And then I wrap all of that up into who I am as a person, and I try to give that to the restaurant. I think about what I like [to eat], what my friends like and the people around me. I feel like I’ve had to do so many things on the fly as a private chef, developing a menu, and having something that’s set in stone that is going to be [at 40 Love] every single day is definitely different, because I’m so used to just going into work and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner — I’m just creating constantly. For some of the menu items, I did grab certain dishes I’ve made for clients that got great reactions: one of them is my kale Caesar salad. I’ve made this salad a ton of times for clients and for parties, and everybody always loves it; it’s one of those things that people really know me for.
Over the course of your career, have you noticed a change in food trends, especially in terms of dishes your clients are requesting or ingredients they are gravitating toward?
I feel like people [in general] are a lot more interested in food than ever before. And they like to see creativity, they like to see regular things kicked up. A lot of people are taking basic dishes and putting their spin on it.
[My clients] are paying more attention to their health, and are cutting out a lot of things like beef and chicken. Especially since I work with a lot of athletes for a long time, from when they were younger until now, I always see them start cutting out meat and bread, really leaning toward seafood and vegetables. I think that is definitely the biggest trend right now: more food restrictions and people being a lot more aware of what they’re eating.