In the Hamptons, where luxury living meets exquisite dining, The Culinistas stands as a beacon of culinary excellence. Founded and led by remarkable women and based in the Hamptons, this private chef company offers a seamless connection between clients—many of them celebrities—with top-tier private chefs. Whether it’s an intimate dinner party, a special event, or simply an exceptional meal at home, The Culinistas make every meal a memory.
For me, I can 100% admit that dinner-related stress is REAL—shopping, prepping, cooking, plating, serving—not really my favorite way to spend a Summer day in the Hamptons! Obviously, I must not be alone because The Culinista’s mantra is “Never Stress About Dinner Again.” Needless to say, I was intrigued.
Hamptons.com spoke with The Culinstas’ founders Tiana and Jill to find out their recipe for success!
Can you describe your services for those who haven’t had the pleasure of experience?
Tiana: The Culinistas is a culinary resource that empowers people to gather. Our mission is to give everyone the freedom and confidence to connect around a meal. We match vetted private chefs with households for weekly meal preps, gatherings (dinner parties, brunches, etc.), and all sorts of custom needs—from full-time placements to travel to postnatal nutrition. All of our recipes are developed by our culinary team, and our menus are tailored to your diet and preferences. No matter the job, our chefs handle the prep, shopping, cooking, and cleaning, so you can focus on having fun and making meaningful connections at the table.
Private Chef Content is definitely having a moment. What can you share with us about Culinista Kitchen, your upcoming content platform?
Tiana: We are currently creating a dynamic content platform that will provide the ease of gathering to everyone. Looking forward, The Culinistas will be a one-stop shop for booking chefs plus discovering cooking tips, menus, recipes and hosting must-haves — all in an effort to make it easier to connect around the table.
What was the inspiration behind The Culinistas?
Jill: While attending Barnard College in the early 2000s, I was working in restaurants and as a personal chef in New York City, and for Rebecca Ynocencio, the former managing editor of Gourmet, who went on to own a catering business. My work with Rebecca helped me understand the value of providing an intimate, beautiful culinary experience. So around 2006, I founded The Culinistas to provide small-scale, in-home chef services: everything from weekly meal preps to dinner parties and special occasions to placing live-in chefs in homes.
Tiana: I came in about a decade later, after studying business and working at JP Morgan Chase for five years. I was ready to explore other avenues, so I took a course at NYU in culinary entrepreneurship and through that, I met Jill. I loved her story, loved her business, and wanted to help her scale it. So we partnered with the goal of scaling a private chef platform and becoming a resource for chefs and hosts alike.
Everyone I’ve spoken with about The Culinistas raves about the experience. What do you think separates your services and makes them stand out?
Jill: We work exclusively with chefs who are trained and vetted, and we handpick chefs for our clients based on their unique preferences and needs. This is not just a job for Culinista chefs. Cooking is their life and calling.
Our chefs work each job from start to finish — they hand-select the product that they will cook. They manage the evening…make sure the kitchen is clean…[a] hand-held approach. Our client services team is extremely dedicated and works in the background to make sure every service is exceptional.
Then, of course, there’s the food. We develop all of our dishes and menus in-house so that there is consistency but develop them in such a way that encourages Culinista chefs to take a receptive approach to their clients’ preferences, altering recipes to accommodate.
Lastly, it is transformative and special to take part in a meal cooked by a chef entirely in your home. Many of our clients work with the same chef or chefs on a regular basis, and we’ve witnessed incredible bonds grow. We are living in a world where connecting with one another isn’t always easy. Our services unite those to gather…
I remember an ad you ran—you have fantastic marketing, btw—that said, “Have your Dinner Party and Eat it Too.” Can you elaborate on what that means?
Jill: We are so often bogged down and anxious about the planning, the menu, the guest list, the weather, the dietary restrictions, the glassware, the seating chart, the music, and all the other minutiae… when will I get to blow dry my hair? It can be enough to distract the hostess from sitting down to enjoy the actual gathering. We make sure you’ll be able to have the party as well as enjoy it.
What trends in tastes have you seen over the past years that you’re most excited about? How do you feel about the “Butter Board”?
Jill: Oh la la the butterboard. I love vessels so am sad about any trend that foregoes the vessel. The relationship between the food and vessel is an important one in that it holds the nourishment. Vessels protect, preserve, and present. I like trends that use special vessels — fondue, tagine. That reminds me, I’ve liked to see the zeitgeist go in the direction of embracing spices from all over the world. People try harissa-spiced florets of cauliflower and soon they are curious about Moroccan food. The trendiest trend I find delightful is the hasselbacking of everything. We hasselback a butternut squash and the crowd goes wild.
Can you share any memorable moments or success stories that stand out in your journey?
Tiana: Having Gwyneth Paltrow come on board as an advisor was a big moment for us, same with Dana Cowin, the former EIC of Food & Wine. We landed a major partnership with Casa Dragones tequila, which was a huge testament to the brand we’ve built. Oh, and the business survived the pandemic!
The Hamptons is known for its discerning clientele. How do you tailor your services to accommodate these distinct tastes?
Tiana: Our services—weekly meal preps, gatherings, cooking classes—are all tailored to a discerning clientele. All dishes and menus are customizable to account for family size, appetites, dietary restrictions, and other preferences. For clients like those in the Hamptons who need a chef for a certain period of time, we offer seasonal and long-term placements. These placements are also fully customizable, whether you need a chef for weekend gatherings only, meals during the week, or full-time for the duration of the summer.
As a female-led company, what advice would you give to other start-ups run by women?
Tiana: Stay focused and avoid getting distracted by people’s perception of your business. Focus more on actual accomplishments. When hiring, don’t worry so much about the title. Hire people who are smart and eager to get involved.
Jill: Discipline yourself to learn. Learn to understand. Avoid mimicry. This will help define what you want so that you can lead the conversation.
Where did your passion for food come from? What were dinners like in your families?
Tiana: My passion for food came from my grandpa. He lived close to me when I was a kid, and on Sundays he’d pick me up for church, then afterward, we’d spend two hours doing the food shopping for the week. We’d get a newspaper at one place, coffee at another, cinnamon twists and black and white cookies somewhere else, then meat at the butcher, cold cuts and cheese…you get the idea. He ran a wine shop, so after we did our shopping, we’d go to his shop and make bologna and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Beyond that, my family always ate around the table, and the food was simple but always homemade. We weren’t fancy, but I never ate anything from a box.
Jill: I caught the eye of a guy named Chris Wilson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who worked in a restaurant, and moments later, we were eating expertly cut pineapple excessively drizzled with chocolate out the back door of the kitchen. We bonded, and I realized the power of sharing deliciousness. Food is power. If you can cook then you can host, and if you can host then you’re the one running the show.
We ate together as a family every night — Mom, Dad, my two brothers, and me. Mom cooked most nights but there were dad meals peppered in as well. Mom always made and still makes a huge salad. We ate mostly fish. My dad shapes pizza dough in the air. We ate healthy but made room for ice cream often. I grew up a walk away from a Graeter’s Ice Cream parlor. A walk and an ice cream after dinner was standard summer protocol.
Fall is here in full swing – are you available all year?
Tiana: Yes, we have chefs available throughout the year, both Out East and across the NYC metro area. We also service LA and DC, so tell your friends!