It’s not every day that you get to meet a celebrity chef extraordinaire at the Howick Village Market. FARIDA MASTER delves into the world of Peter Chaplin, a former personal chef to the Queen of Pop, and to rock legends such as Iggy Pop, Thompson Twins and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders.
Would you like to try a delicious bowl of daal-pumpkin soup made by Madonna’s personal chef? I asked a friend who looked like she was trying to digest what I’d just said, as I handed her a container of pure goodness. I couldn’t wait to tell her a fascinating story of the celebrity chef to rock stars who’s been on a mission to bring healthy food into people’s home.
Peter Chaplin has had a cult following. Imagine travelling with the pop icon on two world tours starting with a nine-month Who’s That Girl music tour followed by a 10-month The Blonde Ambition concert tour.
The Material Girl needed to be super fit on her demanding world tours. She started her day with a nine km run followed by a three-hour work-out, after which she energetically performed for two hours on stage. Peter was there to raise the bar with nutrition, fitted around her intense training.
It meant being in Madonna’s personal space at exotic locations like the Italian Riveria and the iconic Ritz in Paris, preparing a healthy concoction, first thing in the morning.
“The kitchen was the heart of the tour. They trusted me. I was constantly thinking on my feet, setting up a kitchen anywhere we possibly could. I carried my stove, juicer, grinder, blender, and ghetto blaster around the world,” says Peter who planned menus, shopped for fresh fruits and vegetables at local markets, set up breakfast, lunch and dinner with clockwork precision. He soon discovered that crew members switched sides from being meat-eaters to vegetarian meals, which led him to renegotiate his contract.
Plenty of media coverage, followed the high-profile chef. The Sunday Review, Australia, described the culinary artist saying: ‘Peter Chaplin has done with vegetarian food what Jean-Paul Gautier did to haute couture and Madonna did to pop. He’s rewritten the books… tossing Chinese cabbage through pasta, turning mushrooms into dim sims and throwing fresh pear into a Thai salad. He calls his cooking Performance Vegetarianism and is such a glowing example of it himself, that one doesn’t dare argue that.’
“The 60s and 70s rockstars were synonymous with drugs, sex, and alcohol. Pop stars were expected to die of a drug overdose,” reflects Peter who still has a residue of the rock star image in his swag and style. His trademark colourful beret teamed with a contrasting jumper, off set with semi-precious stone pendants, tell a tale of his heady, rock n’ roll days.
There’s a worldly wisdom about him as he reasons saying that once the music scene got very competitive in the 80s, rock stars were beginning to get health conscious. They were concerned about the quality of life. Pop stars like Madonna, Chrissie Hynde, Jim Kerr, Thompson Twins, and Iggy Pop had given up on the excess and self-indulgence.
“It was my job to give the people who employed me a much cleaner image as eating is more than tasting and digesting food. It’s an integral part of an approach to one’s body, and life in general.”
Known to have started the clean green eating revolution in the 80s and 90s at a time when most vegetarian meals didn’t go beyond salad leaves, alfalfa and roast potatoes, Peter introduced nutrient-filled, world cuisines with integrity and character—mainly influenced by his extensive travels.
To say that his fans treated his popular restaurant Musical Knives based in Melbourne and in Ponsonby as a house of worship, isn’t much of an exaggeration.
It wasn’t before long that women diners at the restaurant begged him to host cooking classes which culminated into the Musical Knives Cooking School.
Soon after, someone suggested that he teach clean cooking in schools. Peter happily obliged as he was keen to impress on high school students the importance of healthy food.
“I must have taught thousands of people how to cook organic, alfresco cuisine and the medicinal value of what we eat,” says the food designer who enjoys painting a plate.
“Food must always look appealing and well garnished. It’s an artwork on a plate.”
It was his food philosophy stirred in with his prowess at whipping up creativity on a plate that endeared him to pop icons.
The story goes that on a trip to London, a girlfriend had a chance lunch with the Thompson Twins’ business manager who asked if she knew of any vegetarian chefs. She said she did, and soon Peter found himself at a huge colonial house in Ireland looking after the band and entourage rehearsing for a world tour.
“There were 15-16 of them. Soon after, they gave me a raise and asked me to accompany them on their world tour.”
Peter couldn’t have asked for more!
“Having been involved with the production side of rock n’ roll at the Western Springs, I was passionate about music and food.”
His reputation preceded him, and he was approached by other bands including Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Chrissie later recommended him to her friend Madonna who was looking for the best vegetarian chef in rock ‘n roll. She introduced him to Madonna while on The Pretenders tour in LA.
“Chrissie was the one who encouraged me to start teaching. She said you can’t cook for everyone in the world, you need to share your culinary skills.”
Peter takes pride in the fact that he’s played a big role in people’s lives, nourishing their mind, body, and soul.
“What we eat reflects the way we live, think, behave, our moral values. Food is our currency. We have a primal response to it. It has memories.
“There is no difference in my serving food to Madonna or to my own family or our regulars at the Howick Village Market. One thing that doesn’t change is the quality of food. It’s about giving yourself as well as feeding people something healthy.”
Peter gave up his fast-track lifestyle at the age of 48 when his son was born. “I wanted to be there at home to have dinner with him every night, I wanted to watch him grow up,” says the award-winning chef.