I was the Executive Chef for the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim and it is there that I began cooking for Michael Jackson in the late eighties, first along with his personal chef Mani Khalsa who cooked at his residence, then on my own. I had just been selected as a member of the U.S. Culinary Team, a prestigious accomplishment, going on to win three Culinary Olympics gold medals in the world competition, as the first Pilipino / Asian American in this elite group of chefs. So who better to cook for Michael at his "second home" than an international awarding winning chef? Mani and I would coordinate menus and product list via fax (no e-mail in those days) so Michael's frequent visits became "my baby". Michael visited Disneyland several times over a three period at the height of his career and I was blessed with the opportunity of cooking for the "King of Pop" every time he stayed with us.
Needless to stay, his status commanded the utmost security and care. Many celebrities rent out an entire floor when staying at a hotel, but Michael's handlers would rent out the entire floor above and the entire floor below Michael's floor. The logistics in mapping out Michael's every move were mind-boggling. From developing alternate travel routes to and from his suite, to the elaborate disguises I witnessed laid out in his parlor, to the coordination of his entire meal service. It took amazing effort to get Michael to and from the "Happiest Place on Earth".
Michael's menus at the time were a bit challenging, as he was a vegetarian and we followed strict guidelines in preparing his meals. Although I would have loved to introduce a few Filipino inspired dishes such as my Okoy, it was all about adhering to Michael's meal plan. Lot’s of fruit smoothies and purees, vegetarian casseroles and sandwiches, and his most favorite dish, tofu and cheese enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce.
With Michael in the hotel, I would "divorce" myself from the day-to-day operations to be on call “24/7” for Jackson, his entourage and guests. I would set up special storage areas for Michael's food products, even putting aside equipment, such as blenders utensils, pots and pans designated for “Michael’s food preparation only”. I would prepare Michael's food in our main kitchen as well as in his suite which offered me the opportunity to get a glimpse into his personal life, well, as personal as it could be, with the many handlers and assistants that surrounded him.
I would be in Michael's suite to prepare his dinners and at times, he would entertain large groups of people. Michael would wander into the kitchen while I was cooking and make comments on “how good the food smelled and looked”. He would even grab a taste of what I was cooking and comment favorably. It was through these exchanges that I drew my first impressions that Michael was a gentle, serene, and respectful person. He never appeared to be demanding or impressed with himself. These feelings would soon be confirmed in a big way. One evening Michael came to the kitchen, gently grabbed me by the arm and said, "Chef, you're going to sit down and have dinner with us". Totally caught off guard by Michael's thoughtfulness and generosity, I at first declined but Michael persisted and shortly I found myself sitting shyly at the end of the table, stirring food around on my plate, watching the King of Pop have dinner.
After cooking for Michael a number of times, I was asked by family and friends to take a picture with Michael as a keepsake. Never the autograph-seeker, I did not want to impose upon him to ask for a photo or an autograph. But I finally succumbed, realizing that I should that I should somehow document my experiences with Michael. So, during a visit, I got up enough courage to bring a camera to his suite. I kept taking the camera out of my pocket every time I thought the opportunity was right, only to return it due to my own shyness. I realized that Michael would soon be leaving the hotel and this was my chance or I may have to wait until his next visit. As Michael walked toward me in the hallway, he saw me fumbling to get the camera out and again a testament to his kindness, he took all the pressure off by saying, "Let's take a picture!" as he handed the camera to one of his assistants who snapped the photo.
Michael's global mega-star image was created by the persona. It was necessary to have the many handlers and assistants, as the demands put upon him were immense, but I feel his persona demanded ultra VIP treatment, not Michael the person. One example that stands out is an occasion where we misplaced Michael's ice cream. After all-out, property-wide search, it was later found, totally melted. I reluctantly reported this to Jackson’s aid, terribly worried because it was Michael's dessert that evening. The aid returned shortly, calmly saying, "The ice cream is no problem., but can we use your helio-port because we're going to have a pint of Michael's favorite ice cream delivered via helicopter for his dinner tonight." This is the treatment that a mega-star commands, but I think Michael would have easily settled for a fruit cup or another kind of dessert if he knew how much effort it took to get his ice cream.
Upon learning of his passing, my initial reaction was that of shock and disbelief. As the confirmations rolled in one after the other, I began to come to grips that the "World's Greatest Entertainer" had left us. The television news networks began running videos of Michael's many performances. And upon hearing Michael's gentle voice in a sound bite, a lump developed in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears.
Michael Jackson "The World's Best Ever" was sadly a prisoner of his own fame. And because of this, led a controversial and tumultuous life, leading many to speculate and make assumptions. These impressions are often based on what one sees or hears, but rarely based upon what one really knows. For me, I witnessed Michael's kindness, serenity, and humility and I did so firsthand, and this is how I will always remember Michael Jackson.http://www.bakitwhy.com/memories-michael-jackson-chef-larry