At 6 foot 5 inches tall, chef Tom Hogan stands above the crowd.
His stature doesn’t just involve his height. He stands out because he’s cooked for five presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That’s quite a resume for a chef who calls the desert home, and has done so off and on since 2005.
Chef Tom—that’s how he’s known in the restaurant business—has been cooking for 39 years now. He started learning the trade as a kid in his aunt’s hotel in Atlantic City, right on the Boardwalk.
“I’d go down there to vacation with my parents, but I’d rather stay in the hotel’s kitchen with chefs, fascinated with cooking,” Hogan said.
From then on, Hogan, 53, followed his gastronomical passion all over the United States.
“My first job was in my birthplace, Holyoke, Mass., at The Log Cabin, one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in New England during the late ‘70s,” he proudly states. “After that, I moved to L.A. and got a job at the Hard Rock Cafe.”
Hogan’s career took off following his apprenticeship at the renowned Beverly Hills Hotel. He continued his culinary education under the tutelage of Elka Gilmore, a pioneer chef in fusion cuisine.
“Elka taught me how to think outside the box in the kitchen,” Hogan said.
Hogan later joined the Along Came Mary catering company, famous for its service to numerous stars and Hollywood studios. That’s how Hogan learned how to throw grand parties—from owner Mary Micucci, generally recognized as one of Hollywood’s biggest culinary names.
Hogan then reached for the stars—the movie stars, that is. His cooking for celebs such as Barbra Streisand eventually led to attention from the political world. Naturally, the Secret Service needed to check Hogan’s background, and he received security clearance to cook for presidents.
“Reagan was the first president I’ve cooked for,” Hogan said. “It was a small intimate gathering for 12 people in L.A., and the president and the first lady were among the guests. President Reagan entered the kitchen. He said: ‘Boys, what are we having for dinner? Mommy said we’re going out peas!’ I thought it was a little odd. Then Nancy came in and said, ‘Hi, guys, I heard we’re going to have a great meal!’ She held the president’s hand and led him out of the kitchen.”
He later cooked for Jimmy Carter, after his presidential term had ended. Hogan said his experience with Carter was special, because they were able to chat a bit.
“President Carter was speaking at a large gathering in Holmby Hills in L.A.,” Hogan said. “Security was very tight, but Carter came into the kitchen. He gravitated toward me. He asked me my name and where I was from. We talked a little about my father, who was a postman. We had a nice conversation. He gave me a tap on the shoulder and shook my hand.”
A fancy meal is not always necessary to please a presidential palate, according to Hogan. President Reagan enjoyed a roast leg of lamb, while President Carter loved Hogan’s pecan pie. For President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle, a buffet with roasted baby veggies, rosemary potatoes and shrimp cocktail was sufficient.
“President Bush and Vice President Quayle were getting off the plane at the Santa Monica Airport,” Hogan said. “We did a buffet for them, but we were unhappy with where the kitchen was set up. It was in an airport hangar, and although I was told I’d meet President Bush, I didn’t get a chance to do so.”
On another occasion, President Clinton, delighted by Hogan’s fried chicken, asked to meet the chef.
“It was a fundraiser at a private estate in Malibu,” Hogan said. “I made a mean fried chicken! President Clinton asked the host of the party, ‘Who made this fried chicken?’ The president was expecting someone with a Southern background. He told me it’s something like his mom would make! I told him that I created that recipe for Streisand’s Prince of Tides premiere. We talked for maybe five minutes, about my fried chicken, basically. I told him, ‘I’m just a Yankee.’ He started laughing.”
Then there was a fundraiser for President Obama, up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hogan’s not certain where the event was held, exactly, since he was driven to the location.
“I think it was a Larry Ellison estate,” Hogan said. “There were lots of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and San Francisco-area politicians. President Obama came into the kitchen to thank everyone. I found him and President Clinton to be extremely charismatic. The moment they’d walk into the room, they both immediately became the epicenter of attention.”
Today, Hogan—who spent a four-year stint at Tropicale in downtown Palm Springs—primarily works as a private/executive chef here in the desert and elsewhere. He said he may join forces with Dr. Jane Smith, the owner of a local historic ranch, for a pure organic-food venture. In other words, the chef to the presidents has come the full circle—back to farm-to-table cuisine.
For more information, visit www.mycheftom.com.