It’s 7pm on a Monday night and Sami Udell is prepping a five-course dinner for her brother’s wedding party. Wearing her signature “Eat Good Food” t-shirt and apron, she chops fresh sweet potatoes while reading off a handwritten menu taped to her cabinet. As usual, the dinner will be centered on fresh fruits and vegetables, paired with a lot of heart. The potatoes will ultimately accompany the main course of crispy vegetables, halibut with cashew cream sauce, and a smokey, olive and herb relish. Though Udell has just returned from San Francisco, where she was invited to cook for NBA superstar Kevin Durant, she accommodates a last minute request to add four more people to the dinner party. These are the sorts of spur of the moment pivots she’s grown accustomed to as a personal chef.
At just 27 years old, with no formal training or accolades, Udell is a full-time personal chef for some of the world’s biggest athletes and musicians. She began teaching herself how to cook in college as a means to be healthier. When she moved to Los Angeles, she spent most of her time cooking for her friends, gardening, and learning everything she could about food to hone her craft. In a serendipitous moment of preparation colliding with an extraordinary opportunity, Sami’s hearty but healthy fare caught the attention of the personal assistant to Ludacris, after she catered a party he was at. After months of persistent follow-up, Sami received a call from Ludacris himself inviting her to cook for him. Her warm, disarming demeanor and infectious curiosity for nature and food have parlayed that into a star-studded list of clientele — including NBA star DeMarcus Cousins and rap icon 2Chainz.
I recently sat down with Sami in her makeshift commercial kitchen to discuss the highs and lows of working in such a physically demanding yet rewarding profession. She was incredibly candid about the difficult moments, the breadth of personalities, and the day to day joys and struggles behind all the glamour.