Unless you’ve been living under an umbrella, ella, ella, you’ve heard of Rihanna. The multi-platinum artist and fashion designer is now a beauty mogul with Fenty Beauty, which grossed about $550 million in its first year. She has sold millions of albums and was just recently named the world’s wealthiest female musician.
Debbie Solomon has been Rihanna’s personal chef for six and a half years. In that time she has traveled around the globe, cooking in lavish homes and five-star hotels, and making the same Caribbean-infused cuisine that landed her the gig in the first place. Scrolling through Solomon’s Instagram is like exploring an eclectic Caribbean menu. You’ll see beautifully prepared dishes that range from sizzling curried filets and jerk pork to shrimp fried rice, callaloo, and saltfish. I had to know more about what it's like to cook for Rihanna all the time. I got in touch with Solomon to chat about her food, and the weird and wild world of cooking for an A-list celebrity.
MyRecipes: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you start cooking?
Debbie Solomon: I was born on the beautiful island of Jamaica and raised by my loving single mother. I moved to New York and started helping my mother in the kitchen for her catering business. But being in New York really helped me define my palate. Because of that experience, I decided to go to the French Culinary Institute in New York and have been cooking professionally ever since.
A post shared by Debbie (@chefdebbiesolomon) on Dec 25, 2016 at 8:07pm PST
How did you get the job with Rihanna?
I was working at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles and I got a phone call basically asking for me to cook something and drop it off at a sound stage. I didn’t know who I was cooking for, but they wanted to know if someone could make Caribbean food and drop it off. I did that like two more times before I got the job and found out it was for Rih.
What’s like being a chef for such a high-profile celebrity?
The hours are definitely demanding, but honestly, working for someone like her should be demanding and should require your time. You’re away from friends and family a lot, but it’s a great opportunity in so many ways.
A post shared by Debbie (@chefdebbiesolomon) on Aug 13, 2016 at 5:28pm PDT
What’s your favorite part of the job?
The people. It’s like a family, you know? Everyone gets along and everyone is working for one common goal. And that’s to make the client happy. So, it’s like a team and I love that atmosphere.
How much traveling do you do?
A lot [laughs]. Probably something like nine months out of the year. But you know, I get to see amazing places like Thailand, South African, Japan, and others.
Are you incorporating different cooking methods based on the country you’re in?
Honestly, it’s whatever the client wants, but there’s time to explore new spices. The way I cook for her is to her liking. When I’m in Japan, I’ll get knives. In South Africa, different spices. But the job is more about eating consistently so the country doesn’t have that much influence. But I cook what I cook, and really no one else can do that in the way I do for her.
What are some of the dishes you like to cook for her?
It’s mostly Caribbean, but I also do other things, like Asian fusion and Italian.
A post shared by Debbie (@chefdebbiesolomon) on Apr 9, 2017 at 6:18pm PDT
What are some of the perks of the job?
Events, parties, meeting new people. Traveling for sure. Traveling is the thing I love the most about the job.
Does anything ever go wrong, or is it smooth sailing because of Rih’s profile?
So, we always advance a rider to wherever we stay to make sure all the food is there and prepped for me to cook. But sometimes I’ll show up to my hotel and the food just isn’t there. At times like that, we improvise and figure it out. I’m really good at figuring stuff out.
A post shared by Debbie (@chefdebbiesolomon) on Apr 15, 2017 at 2:41pm PDT
What are some insider things people may not know about this job?
From the outside they probably think its glitz and glamour. But it’s hard work. And it’s knowing your client. For me, and remember this is all to the client, the [high-end hotels] probably don’t grant access to everyone. For us, hotels will allow me to cook in their professional kitchens and allow me to see what it’s like from the other side, and how the hotel runs. It’s interesting to see how these five-star hotels operate and how it works in each hotel. Ultimately, seeing the passion behind the food from all these incredible chefs is just so admirable.
A post shared by Debbie (@chefdebbiesolomon) on Jan 29, 2016 at 11:31am PST
But every experience for me is great because I work for an incredible client who gets off-the-chain treatment. And they want us to come back. At the end of the day, if you’re kind to people, people will be kind back to you.