Julia Shirley, Private Chef
Julia Shirley has been catering professionally for over 35 years, making a name for herself both at home and abroad. In addition to spending 6 months as the personal chef for the late actress Elizabeth Taylor, she has had extensive experience curating and preparing menus for large corporate institutions in both London and Hong Kong, as well as living and working as a chef in France. Now based on the east coast of Northern Ireland, Julia uses only the best available locally sourced produce to provide individually tailored lunches and dinners, as well as catering for large events such as weddings and parties. Julia prides herself in taking time with each client to compose bespoke menus. Early in her career, prior to her Le Cordon Bleu training, Julia was awarded a silver medal in the Salon Culinaire food and cookery competition Northern Ireland division at Belfast Castle.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Since graduating from Le Cordon Bleu London, I have lived in Hong Kong, New York and France. These experiences have given me a rich source of inspiration for my culinary adventure, gathering knowledge, inspiration and different techniques along the way. I have 3 adult children, all of whom are very interested in food and its preparation.
Why did you choose Le Cordon Bleu London?
Le Cordon Bleu London was the inspired choice of my parents, who recognized in me an artistic and creative potential. I will be forever grateful.
When did you realise you wanted to become a private chef?
I wanted to become a private chef after years of working in various areas of the hospitality industry. I decided that I wanted to be my own boss, thus allowing me to be as creative as possible without any restrictions.
What are your main responsibilities?
My main responsibilities are to ensure that all the food I produce for my clients is of the highest quality, and to the standard that everyone has come to expect from me.
How did studying the Intermediate Certificate help you to achieve this role?
Studying the Intermediate Certificate gave me the confidence to go out into the industry with the knowledge that I had the very best training in my chosen field.
Talk us through your average working day…
An average day might begin by liaising with clients, and planning a selection of menus for the given events. My working day would revolve around contacting local suppliers and wholesalers. I would then set to preparing food for upcoming events.
How do you work with your team?
I work on my own, preparing all the food, and when required I call on staff to serve the food at the events.
I work closely with a trusted group of loyal staff who all respect the hard work that goes into the preparation of my food.
Is there anything that surprised you when starting the role?
The enormous range of dietary requirements!
What has been the best moment in your career so far?
Spending 6 months as Elizabeth Taylor’s personal chef.
What have been some challenges you’ve overcome in your role?
Accommodating dietary requirements!
What’s the best thing about being private chef?
The best thing about being a private chef is the freedom it gives me to express my creativity and artistic flair.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Be prepared to work hard. Remember that your eyes taste the food before your palate does, so presentation is just as important as flavour.
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you in one word/sentence?
To me Le Cordon Bleu represents the highest of standards, and a knowledge of classical culinary techniques.
What’s your fondest memory from Le Cordon Bleu?
Working alongside my fellow student and friend Vanessa Wickham, and feeling privileged to be given the opportunity to learn at such a prestigious establishment.
What's the best piece of advice you’ve received?
To love what you’re doing. When you stop loving the creative process and the creativity it unleashes, it will most certainly show on the plate.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Rosamund Roberts. We worked together in the 1980’s preparing food from her flat in Chelsea for events such as gallery openings and City lunches. She introduced me to the joys of food presentation. Her influence has been with me for over 40 years.
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