Private chef Ivan Holmes has been described as ‘an incredible chef who cooks incredible food’. He has cooked for the super-rich throughout Europe and is now much sought after for his culinary skills
For the past three years talented chef Ivan Holmes has spent his winters working in some of the world’s most luxurious ski chalets and his summers cooking gourmet food for some of the world’s wealthiest people on super yachts.
When guests taste Ivan’s food they invariably re-book him and recommend him – hence his working week can typically see him travelling to St Moritz or Monaco catering for private parties or driving to Scotland for shooting weekends.
Ivan’s love of food goes back to his childhood when, as a six-year old, he opted to go into a kitchen shop, as opposed to a toy shop next door, and bought himself a balloon whisk. It was a move that was to forge his future.
More than two decades later Ivan, who lives just outside Longridge, now works as a private international chef throughout the UK and Europe. It is a far cry from his first job as a ‘pot-washer’. As a 15-year-old Ivan started his career at Haighton Manor moving up the ranks under the tutelage of Mark Birchall, who now has the two-Michelin starred Moor Hall at Aughton.
Gaining valuable experience with each job, Ivan went on to work for Paul Heathcote at Heathcote’s in Longridge, moving on to the Michelin-starred Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District where he worked under Chris Meredith.
At the age of 22, he returned to Haighton Manor where, as head chef, he began forging a reputation for his innovative cooking using seasonal and local produce.
“When I began my career my aim was to get as much experience as possible in different environments,” explains Ivan, who made the decision to set up his own business as a private chef four years ago.
“I had made some good contacts, working in various sectors, and by chance I heard there was a job as a chef going with one of the best, five-star ski chalet companies. I went for the interview which took the form of a cooking trial in Edinburgh and I got the job! It was a big step for me.”
“I could have gone for a job with any chalet company, but again, I wanted to gain first class experience. It was a real CV booster.”
Ivan’s first six-month ski season saw him cooking five-star food for 12 guests accommodated in a luxury lodge in the snow-covered mountains of Val d’Isere.
“I would be cooking six-course dinners every evening,” recalls Ivan, who was promoted to the company’s flagship chalet the following season.
With breathtaking views across the valley, the chalet boasts ‘sumptuous surroundings, first class service and gastronomic cuisine’.
“I loved it! I was cooking for 24 guests, devising my own menus. I had free rein so I made everything from the canapes to home-made chocolates. Desserts have always been my favourite. I didn’t get much time to do any skiing but it was an amazing experience.”
When he completed his first ski season, Ivan’s next aim was to find a summer job: “The chalet company was the name I needed on my CV. They are such a prestigious company renowned for luxury and five-star service – which is what they are looking for on super-yachts.”
Ivan’s first summer season saw him joining a 37m super yacht in Palma, Majorca cooking for eight guests and seven crew.
Over six months the yacht, chartered by different people over the summer at a cost of more than £100,000 per week, visited Nice, Portofino, Corsica, Sardinia, Ibiza, Malta, Sicily and Turkey.
“In the Alps I had been devising and cooking winter menus,” says Ivan. “Here I was in the Med cooking the freshest fish you could find for fantastic summer menus. It was amazing.”
At each port Ivan would be give the name of a provisions company for the yacht: “I would have a list to shop for provisions in each place and I kept detailed records of where to go. When I did the ski season, I was in a fixed place so it was much easier. When you are on a yacht you are constantly on the move. Again, it was all new to me but it was so exciting. I had to learn fast – and I am still learning.”
“I was in charge of the galley and catered for guests’ every need when it came to the food. I met so many interesting people – I’ve cooked for people from the world of show business and sporting superstars, you get to know them well as you are their first point of contact for food and drink,” explains Ivan, who would discuss forthcoming menus with the lead guest, before the start of each trip.
“I would have a list about likes and dislikes and the structure of the day. I think the most unusual thing I have been asked for on one trip was fried chicken for breakfast – it was usually blinis and caviar. At one point we had £15,000 worth of caviar on board!”
Alternating between the ski season and super-yachts took Ivan away from home for most of the year: “It’s not really sustainable, it was great fun but I worked hard. Most days I was working 15 hours a day but it was the best thing I did. It has opened up so many doors for me. I made some really valuable contacts – in this business you get most work from recommendations. You are cooking for wealthy clients whose guests are also wealthy and if they like your cooking, they re-book you,” says Ivan, who has a hugely busy year ahead.
He spent Christmas working in St Moritz and the south of France and his schedule over the coming months will see him cooking for private parties and shooting weekends all over the UK and abroad.
He will quite literally be driving the length and breadth of the country from Edinburgh to Cornwall in his estate car that is packed with everything he needs including fridges and cooking equipment: “I don’t know what sort of kitchen I will be cooking in so I take absolutely everything with me so I am in complete control.
“You have to be extremely disciplined and have the utmost respect when you are cooking in other people’s homes. You have to be smart and clean at all times, and you have to be able to talk to people. A lot of the time, I am cooking in a large, open kitchen so I get asked a lot of questions about the food I am cooking.”
“The type of people I am cooking for are quite often ‘real foodies’, they are very knowledgeable. I explain each course when I present it. While taste is key I think presentation and how the food looks on the plate, is just as important.”
An enthusiastic Ivan adds: “I am crazy busy at the moment. But I couldn’t have done it without the classical training I had under some fantastic chefs. At Michelin level you learn so much. You learn how to pair flavours and all about presentation and it’s thanks to them that I have been able to develop my own style.”