William S. Bloxsom-Carter examines a batch of cakes that have been baked overnight, checks out the cold store and squeezes past an assistant to taste a stock.
While it sounds like the everyday routine of a chef, that title doesn’t quite capture Carter’s role. He’s the director of food and beverage at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles and he has been catering for Hugh Hefner and his parties for more than 25 years, serving about 100,000 guests annually.
“It really annoys me when people say I have a cushy job,” says Carter, 55, who is so affable it’s hard to imagine him getting more then slightly irritated. “They think the girls are in lingerie and six-inch heels standing by my desk and waiting for my next command.”
It’s an image, yet not one that accords with life in the mansion, at 10236 Charing Cross Road, Beverly Hills. Entry is by invitation and you gain admittance by speaking into a rock (with hidden microphone) at the main gate.
The mansion, with its private zoo, pool, games room and manicured lawns, is tranquil on a summer’s morning. At the back, workers are preparing a giant marquee for an event with hundreds of guests. Peacocks strut past.
It’s easy to forget the tales of wild parties -- Charlie Sheen was photographed there last year -- and the book by a former resident complaining about life in the mansion. If Carter knows one or two secrets, he’s not telling.
“Mr. Hefner’s hours are a little different,” Carter says diplomatically. “We run a 24-hour operation here, seven days a week. Hef starts his day with breakfast around 10:30, 11:30 in the morning. He eats very healthy. He has lunch about 5:30 and he has his dinner ordered up about 10:30 at night.
“He enjoys lamb chops, and he has half a grapefruit every day,” says Carter. “He likes fried chicken with mashed potatoes, which is his mother’s recipe. He’s a Midwestern gentleman, so he enjoys those kinds of foods. He has two piles of mashed potatoes with a poached egg placed in each one. Pretty wild stuff but it’s OK.”
(Hefner, 85, founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., didn’t emerge from his wing of the mansion during my morning visit.)
The main dining room, facing out onto the front lawn, is dark and elegant, with a David Hockney painting and three 15th-century tapestries. It can seat as many as 26 people. Judy Joo - - a former Morgan Stanley trader who is now executive chef at the new Playboy Club in London -- came here to meet with Carter, who also prepares meals for Playboy executives and models.
“We do cook for the Playmates,” he says. “We want them to feel relaxed and at home, as if they were in their own kitchen. That’s very important to Mr. Hefner. We try to make them healthy. It doesn’t always work out. They want the cheesecake with the strawberries on top but it’s a lot of fun and it’s a wonderful time for me and my staff.”
Carter was born when his father was in the Army, stationed at Fort Dix, near Trenton, New Jersey. He has a business degree in air commerce from the Florida Institute of Technology and learned to cook under Gerard Gasparini at the Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Connecticut. He got the Playboy job after answering an advertisement to join a West Coast corporation.
He has since developed an internship program, promotes Californian wines and food on radio shows and cooks at an annual dinner to raise money for scholarships. In the mansion, he says he runs a classical French kitchen. Wednesday is card night for Hefner and his friends, which involves a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, peas and gravy.
Does he enjoy his job? Carter smiles.
“I like to say that Hef has a really big sandbox and he lets me play in it,” he says.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)