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Meet Rihanna‘s Personal Chef- Jamaican born Chef Debbie Solomon

Debbie Solomon is a Champagne woman. She offers to pop a bottle of bubbly as soon as I arrive at the West Hollywood apartment she shares with her husband. But that seems like a little more than I can do on a weekday afternoon, so instead we end up sitting at her dining room table, sharing a couple glasses of red. It’s the day before Christmas, Los Angeles feels nearly empty, and the streets outside are quiet and bright. Inside, it's festive and cozy, with a lighted tree in the living room and a glittery red centerpiece on the table. Solomon has been home for a few days; she takes off for London the following week. This is the first time she’s had the holidays off in four years.

Solomon is Rihanna’s personal chef—yes, that Rihanna: RiRi, island queen, Puma designer, and multiplatinum-selling artist whose most recent album, Anti, had her hailed as one of three black women who radicalized pop in 2016. Solomon serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and plenty of late-night snacks to the music icon.

She stumbled into the job almost by accident when she was working as a chef de partie at the Sunset Marquis Hotel and doing a little bit of private cooking on the side. One day she got a phone call from an unknown number; the person on the other end of the line had seen a blog post that a former client had written about Solomon’s cooking and liked her style. Could she drop off some food at Sony Studios?

Solomon made curried chicken with rice, peas, and plantains. The unknown number called again the next day and asked for a lamb shank. After that, it was pasta carbonara. (“Carbonara,” Solomon repeats, worshipfully, and we get off track for a few minutes talking about how much we love pasta.) She only found out who she’d been cooking for once she got the job.

Like just about everyone in America, Solomon was already a Rihanna fan. “I bought [Rihanna’s first album] because she was a Caribbean girl, and I'm a Caribbean girl,” Solomon says. “I was proud to see a black girl really doing her thing. I liked that she doesn't give a shit. I liked that she can be herself and have others be comfortable enough to be themselves.”

Solomon is a stylish, stunning woman herself; I spend half of our interview trying to figure out someone this young could be this successful before she mentions her actual age—and it turns out I was under by about a decade. She could be her own lifestyle brand if she wanted to be. But that’s not what Solomon’s about.

No, she’s a chef—and her life is, even by a chef’s standards, particularly insane. Her first weeks on the job were trial by fire: “First was Super Bowl at her house. Deep end. Then her twenty-fifth birthday party in Hawaii. Then tour. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing.” Rihanna had never had a personal chef before; there was no one Solomon could ask for advice.

It was Rihanna’s mom who helped the Jamaican-born chef navigate the nuances of the Barbadian and Guyanese food Rihanna grew up eating. All three cuisines are similar, Solomon says, but often dishes will have different names in different places. Google was no help: “It was just, like, her mom coming up and saying, ‘This is how we make it,’” she says.

Now Solomon has been on two world tours. She estimates she’s been home a week out of the month—on a good month—for most of the past four years. So she’s made sure her home is her sanctuary on the nights she does get to sleep there. She recently converted one of the three bedrooms into a walk-in closet. It’s full of jeans and sweaters and going-out dresses—plus a handful of extremely gorgeous, extremely precarious heels, including a pair from the line Rihanna designed for Manolo Blahnik in 2016.

Rihanna is “a moody eater,” Solomon says, so her cooking process is all about what her boss feels like eating that day. “[With previous clients] I would send in a menu on a Sunday or Monday and they would pick for the week, and then I'd be able to shop and prep, but this is nothing like that. We don't know what we're gonna want to eat tomorrow, so why even pick today?”

Solomon does have a standard set of groceries sent to wherever they’re staying—“Every protein that you can think of that [Rihanna] eats,” plus vegetables, rice, and pasta. She also travels with a case of spices that includes bouillon-like maggi cubes, curry, jeera (also known as cumin seeds), Old Bay seasoning, adobo, and five-spice, as well as garlic and onion granules. Anything she doesn’t have, whatever five-star hotel they’re staying in can provide.

Solomon’s own approach to food is all about pleasure. She advises eating everything rich and delicious— in moderation, of course. “There shouldn't be shame in eating food,” she says. “I won’t waste my calories on bullshit. If I take a bite of something and it's shitty to me, I'm not just going to eat it because I’m hungry. I'm going to stop eating that shitty thing.”

The red we’re drinking is definitely delicious—a Cabernet her husband picked up, since he’s the wine drinker in the house. He’s been at a wedding all afternoon, but he’s on his way home; he calls Solomon so that they can confer about ordering takeout tonight, and what they’re cooking for Christmas tomorrow.

On my way out, Solomon insists I take the half-full bottle home with me. Her generosity is like everything else about her: enviably certain and elegant. That demeanor is likely one of the reasons Solomon has been so successful at her wildly unpredictable job: She gets what the perks are, but she understands the stakes, too.

“There's a platform for me, being a black woman, and working for who I work for,” she says. “But I always think, it's not gonna be worth it for me to jeopardize something for just a like on social media. I’m getting paid. I don’t need the likes.”



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