Kitchen Anthropology: 5 Common Characteristics of the Super Successful As Viewed Through the Eyes of a Private Chef

As a private chef-for-hire in one of the most affluent and expensive areas in the United States, the amazing and beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, I have had the good fortune of working in hundreds of kitchens with countless inspiring clients. My client list includes CEOs, founders, and other top executives of companies whose names you see every day. There are venture capitalists, investment professionals, and world-changing entrepreneurs. Doctors, scientists, philanthropists, artists and art collectors. So many different careers and vocations, but personally, they all share the defining characteristic of being “the success story”. Each of these people has achieved the American dream of financial freedom combined with a healthy dose of happiness and emotional well being.

This may be the overwhelmingly visible trait as these folks move through their public lives, but having been into the heart(h) of each of these peoples’ homes (aka, the kitchen), I have had the opportunity to uncover so many more commonalities! Being a private chef invites one to see the world through the eyes of whomever’s kitchen you are in, like an anthrolopogist accepted into an exclusive tribe, if only for one night, and I have learned SO MUCH.

Now, the following list may not apply to EVERY hyper-affluent person that you or I chance to meet, but with 400+ kitchens under my belt in the last 4 years and a decade as a chef on superyachts beforehand, it is a very well compiled one. There are MANY more characteristics that apply, but the following five are the first to come to mind!

1. Everybody shops at Costco.

“WHAT?! Costco?! You’ve got to be kidding me…” is what you’re likely thinking right now, and by Costco I do mean that amazing superstore wholesale warehouse, but this statement applies to the regional equivalents as well. (BJ’s, Sam’s Club, et cetera, though personally I think Costco is the best!)

Shopping — or having an assistant shop — at warehouse stores is one of the biggest money savers around, provided one has the space for bulk-bought items. They actually cater to the affluent with high-quality goods for the lowest price per unit.

The hyper-affluent and successful pay attention to how their money is spent, even in the smallest transactions. Where those aspiring-to-be-hyper-affluent may be attracted to the branding of Whole Foods and the like (which, come on — do you know ANYBODY who doesn’t call it Whole Paycheck?!) so as to appear more well-off, those who have already reached the peak go for the value/quality combo. Why not skip that expensive middle step?

2. They never fully switch “off”.

We see photos of our favorite music and movie stars prancing along the beach in St. Barth’s, in private villas on private islands in turquoise seas, or lounging with a newspaper on the sundeck of a 250-foot private yacht. What we don’t see pictures of or hear about is the 24-hour satellite connection for phone and wifi, the trades that are made as a result of that newspaper reading, or the meals that are delayed due to conference calls — even when they’re on vacation.

Most of the day may be devoted to play, but chances are at least an hour or two is spent handling business. Financial super-success requires constant maintenance, and there is usually an always-present “how can I do better” script running in the minds of the successful. This principle segues nicely into the next one:

3. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

Have you ever heard the saying “Time is money”? Of course you have, and the uber-successful know, above all things, what their time is worth and leverage accordingly with outside assistance to maximize the return. Let’s look at a realistic example, like house cleaning.

Let’s say a person earns $20/hour, working 50 hours per week (let’s face it, the 40 hour work week disappeared a long time ago and is now just the stuff of arbitrary laws and fiction…). They clean the house on the weekend, and it takes 5 hours to do everything, 2 times a month, or $200 worth of their time.

A housecleaner, who specializes in cleaning and therefore does it faster, takes only 3 hours per whole-house cleaning, charges $60 twice a month for a total of $120 in their time, and usually gets the house in better shape.

If time is money, hiring the housecleaner saves $80 AND frees up 10 hours per month for the person to do other things, like spend time with family or just recover from the 50 hour work week! And the house looks better! How can you argue with that kind of delegation?

Speaking of spending time with the family,

4. Family comes first.

“Family”, in this situation, can refer to the family we share DNA with OR the family we adopt in so many forms — it is the group of people most important to a person, their network, safety net, support system, squad, tribe, however you want to call it. And every extremely prosperous client I have known holds their tribe close and takes time to nurture those relationships.

I may have said earlier that these flourishing folks never fully shut off, but they also make time amidst the work every day to connect with their loved ones in some way and often have photographs of their nearest and dearest nearby. The daily reminder that there is a trusted and reliable support system, especially when it feels like you’re scaling an incredible mountain whose top is the pinnacle of success, brings the emotional well-being and feelings of safety that make it not as daunting to take the next step.

5. They do not get drunk in public.

This is a fun generalization to share. Notice I did not say “They do not get drunk.” In public is a very important qualifier. Do you remember the last time you saw Beyoncé even tipsy in a photograph? No? I’ll tell you — 2006. And now she is known as Queen B, just sayin’.

Why, you may ask? Because reputation is everything when it comes to success. Let me say that again: REPUTATION IS EVERYTHING.

Financial victory comes from a combination of good decisions, hard work, and knowing — read:being respected by — the right people. The right projected image, the right persona, is key to building the relationships a person needs to advance to the next level of whatever career they are in. That being said, what happens behind the closed doors of a house, a yacht, any securely private place (*cough* — Bohemian Grove) with the trusted members of the aforementioned tribe is a different story, assuming one doesn’t keep blabbermouths among their besties. For the record, my experiences with the families and friends of my clients has shown me that gossips don’t generally get invited to the party…

So, you wanna live the American dream? Here are five ways that you can start acting like you already are. Let me know in the comments what you think!

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