You might think that being the personal chef for Marc Jacobs would be a demanding job. But that doesn’t stop Lauren Gerrie—who cooks two meals each day, 7 days a week for the fashion mogul—from relentlessly pursuing her own creative and culinary ambitions.
I first met Gerrie when I attended her modern dance class in Chinatown, Manhattan, on a Thursday night in February. Gerrie, who is 32 and has dark pixie-cut hair, thrives on collaboration and sharing. About twenty people showed up to dance, and it felt, as all great movement classes do, like a party. The dance classes, along with pop-up dinners she hosts with her business partner Flannery Klette-Kolton, are Gerrie’s way of expressing herself outside of Jacobs’ kitchen.
Lauren Gerrie is a force to be reckoned with. Photo by Heidi Solander
Gerrie started working for the fashion mogul and virtual “mayor” of the West Village (where Jacobs lives and owns several blocks of real estate) about four and a half years ago. She got the job as most of us ultimately find work—through various personal and professional connections. Gerrie shops for him several mornings per week in the Union Square farmer’s market, which is one of her favorite aspects of the job.
“I am always trying new ingredients, products, juices, etc. and because he trusts me and my palette he is open to my experimentations,” she says. Over the years, Gerrie has developed friendships with many of the market farmers, something that she carries over into her side career of hosting pop-up meals.
Certain specialty markets around the city also factor into Gerrie’s meal-planning, like Kalustyan’s , known for its wide array of exotic spices, and the whole-animal butcher Dickson’s . Like many chefs in the city, she has loyalty to certain farmer’s market vendors, like Rick Bishop , who is known for his wild ramps, as well as his tristar strawberries.
But even with her busy schedule cooking for Jacobs, Gerrie needs a side hustle as a creative outlet. bigLITTLE Get Together is Klette-Kolton and Gerrie’s venture, They started the company in their early 20s, on a whim: they threw a Great Gatsby-themed, ticketed dinner party for a friend’s birthday. About 80 hungry people showed, and Gerrie and Klette-Kolton managed to whip up a menu of beans, octopus, and bruschetta.
“We had almost no money,” recalls Gerrie. “But we were fucking fearless.”
Photo by Heidi Solander
The two filed for an LLC a week later, and started networking immediately. For a while, Gerrie held two jobs, rising at 5a.m. to make pastries at Williamsburg institutions Marlow and Sons and Diner , then meeting Klette-Kolton to host elaborate dinners at night. Dancing fell out of the picture, and she’s glad to have it back in her life now; it adds balance.
Gerrie originally moved to Manhattan at the age of 17 not to cook, but to study art and pursue professional dancing. During school, she bartended at the Lower East Side bar Piano’s, and after graduating she worked at the restaurant Room for Dessert, in the kitchen as well as the bar. None of that swayed her, however, until she took an opportunity to apprentice in the kitchen of a restaurant in Tuscany, Italy called Daniela , in 2006. During that summer in Tuscany, Gerrie “first fell in love with having cooking be your life,” she recalls. “The family I worked for, they were running everything—the restaurant, a bed and breakfast, a pizzeria. Their lives just revolved around food. For me that was very crucial, to see that.”
The simplicity of Italian cooking also struck her, the focus on using local ingredients. “The olive oil truck would pull up, and we’d go out with beautiful glass bottles and fill it from the pour spout,” Gerrie says.
She loved how the menu changed based on what ingredients were available that week. Rather than using recipes, the cooks worked intuitively. “They weren’t chefs, they were cooks,” says Gerrie of the Tuscan women who taught her how to break down a rabbit and make handmade pasta.
Photo by Heidi Solander
Stemming from that experience in Tuscany, collaborating with intuitive women has become to be a bedrock of Gerrie’s career, a source of inspiration for her and something that makes her “side hustles” of dancing and pop-up cooking about far more than just extra income. The hashtag #ladychef appears often on her Instagram account, alongside photos of her beautifully plated meals for Jacobs. But she is quick to explain that “ladychef” is about more than gender categories; it’s about attitude.
“I don’t believe in the ego trip of being a chef,” Gerrie says, “and it tends to go along with a masculine, cocky approach, an arrogance.”
For this chef, the ultimate thrill is collaborating with someone who inspires her, whether her best friend and business partner, or a forward-thinking local business. Their latest collaboration is a series of pop-up dinners at Heatonist, a curated hot sauce shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which they last hosted in March (future dates are currently being set). Each dish features a different sauce; even the welcome cocktail, a “Spicy Chocolate Margarita,” incorporates heat. To develop the pop-up dinner menu, Gerrie and Klette-Kolton spent time tasting with the shop owner, learning about the flavor profiles of different hot sauces and the companies making them.
Photo by Heidi Solander
“We wanted to show that hot sauces are not just an afterthought,” says Gerrie. She and Klette-Kolton actually built the dishes around the sauces, rather than treating them as a condiment. The result was an incredibly creative, colorful, flavorful—and, yes, spicy—meal, with Gerrie and Klette-Kolton working together to plate each dish, and then taking turns announcing each dish, and a celebratory feeling throughout the room.
Like the dance class in Chinatown, this, too, felt like a party, as each dish stimulated conversation at the communal tables. There’s something about a pop-up setting, where a meal is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you don’t fully know what to expect or who will be seated next to you—and clearly, these ladychefs find it inspiring, too.