Star attraction: : Pip Priestley’s celebrity clientele. ele
Beer Goggles. Short order.
When Pip Priestley had the audacity to become the first boy at Geelong East Technical School to study home economics, schoolyard retribution was swift. The Australian personal chef, who today cooks privately for British royalty, celebrities and billionaires, often during their stalking and fishing sojourns on Highland estates in Scotland, says it was lucky he was “a slip of a kid who could run bloody fast”.
“Back then in the mid-1960s, boys in Australia were going off to electrical and mechanical trades, but I didn’t like the black grease on my hands and wanted to do cooking,” he says. “I saw cooking as one aspect of it and the other as being the only boy with all these girls but, by god, did I get jip for it in the playground. I regularly got chased by bullies calling me a poof and a girl. I was fair game but I had found my forte.”
Leaving school, Priestley did an apprenticeship at what was then a Travelodge on St Kilda Road, Melbourne. There he learned every section of the kitchen and its techniques. How to butcher, bone out and fillet. Pastries and sauces. Canapes. Desserts. Later he cooked at Mirrabook, formerly at the National Gallery of Australia, and the Lobby Restaurant, the go-to lunch place for Old Parliament House politicians. Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating were regulars.
Now 60, Priestley lives in Edinburgh. A snappy dresser with a plummy burr and a penchant for fine cigars, it is here while doing canapes and catering for the castle city’s business stalwarts for the past two decades that Priestley quietly built a stable of elite, and very private, clients. Lords and ladies. Duke and duchesses. HRHs and honourables. Marquises and earls. Film stars, actors, comedians. The landed gentry, millionaires and the uber nouveau riche all look to Polo Chef (Priestley’s company, named after his enduring love of horses and playing polo-cross) to bring that spot of je ne sais quoi fine dining (and presumably antipodean flavour) to dinner parties, trips aboard, soirees and inner entertaining circles.
Hugh Grant is a sometime client. So are Rowan Atkinson, Barry Humphries, Gary Barlow and All Creatures Great and Small actor Robert Hardy. Former Thatcher minister Malcolm Rifkind is a long-time repeat customer, as is the Rothschild family and the Duke of Northumberland — one of Britain’s wealthiest men, his home Alnwick Castle was used as a backdrop to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.
The duke’s daughter, Catherine “Katie” Valentine, is a leading light in what one British tabloid recently dubbed “the glossy posse” led by princes William and Harry. Pip recently cooked at a private function attended by Harry, Katie and their mutual up-market friend, Alexander Mavros, son of Zimbabwean-born London silversmith Patrick Mavros. The family’s flagship store on Fulham Road is full of expensive jewellery and exquisitely sculpted silver figurines of African animals, reputedly greatly favoured by Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
“I was away with Harry at a shooting lodge for about a week last year,” recalls Priestley, adding he has also cooked for Harry’s aunt, Princess Anne, on several occasions. “Very nice guy. I already knew his bodyguard quite well through a friend of mine who was his commanding officer in the army.
“All my work comes through repeat business and by word-of-mouth referrals, and these social connections help because you get a reputation as someone who not only has all the cooking experience but also understands protocol, presents well and can hold a conversation. Granted there’s a fine line at times knowing what you can say and what you can’t say to some of my clients, but being an Australian helps, I think … I tend to call a spade a spade.”
Priestley says his food can be “as luxurious or as simple as the client requires”. He charges clients about £400 ($760) a day, depending on the work. Menus costs are worked out on a per head basis, and charged £25 to £60 a person depending on ingredients. Most clients hire Pip to come away with them a minimum of a week. He is off to the Cannes film festival with clients for a week next month.
“There are things I always say upfront to new clients,” says Priestley. “That ‘ you will remember the
‘Granted there’s a fine line at times knowing what you can say and what you can’t say to some of my clients’ PIP PRIESTLEY