Ironically, the women who are largely responsible for this transformation never trained to be chefs. Jewels and Jill's culinary education began in their childhood home in Arcadia, California, a place where food mattered a lot but caring for people they loved mattered even more. They recall piling into the family car in their nightgowns so their mother could drive a home-cooked meal to the studio where their father worked the late shift as a sound engineer. As teenagers the sisters found jobs with catering companies—"the school of hard knocks," as Jewels puts it. "We worked for a lot of chefs who yelled and screamed and threw things." She was the first of the pair to be employed as a private chef, and, one day, on location in Florida with her client, overwhelmed and tired and homesick, she reached a breaking point. In tears, she asked her boss if her sister could come out to help, and next thing she knew, Jill was there at the kitchen counter, chef's knife in hand.
In the decade that followed, Jewels and Jill worked separately for a series of high-profile clients. Then, two years ago, Jill had a baby. Six months later, Jewels did, too. It seemed like a sign that they should work together again. Now they share the job of cooking for Jen and her circle, taking turns with the day-to-day work and doubling up for dinner parties.
In their spare time, they also teamed up to write a cookbook, The Family Chef, which was published earlier this year. "People used to always ask us, 'What does Jen eat?'" says Jewels. "We'd reply: 'Healthy, clean food...like we do!' But they'd look at us blankly; they didn't know what that meant. So we figured there's a need for a cookbook like ours."
While the recipes that fill the book's pages are important to Jewels and Jill, for them cooking is as much about the people they feed as the food they create. "Being a family chef is about nurturing," says Jill, "and being a part of a household." And it explains why the talented duo has chosen the relative obscurity of cooking in a home over the power and celebrity that can come with running a restaurant kitchen.
"Cooking is such an intimate thing to do for someone," says Jewels, who uses her intuition like a Geiger counter to pick up on her clients' needs. "When you know the people you're cooking for, you can see when they need a boost. There are days when Jen is so busy, she'll put herself on the back burner. I can help her take care of herself."
Over the past few years, the sisters have learned to read Jen's friends just as accurately. Which explains why Jewels is eyeing the crowd like a Secret Service agent as the clear, amethyst-tinted dusk settles over Jen's terrace. "You're hungry!" she says to one guest. "You need to eat!" No arm-twisting required. The velvety guacamole disappears, and soon people are helping themselves to tostadas, chili-rubbed chicken, and mashed yams. Jen's friends call the chefs to the table. Kristin Hahn, Jen's partner in Echo Films, raises her glass to Jewels and Jill. "I want to thank you two," she says, "for infusing your warmth into this food. It doesn't just taste good; it tastes of love."
Jill smiles as Jewels wipes a tear from her eye. "We're so lucky we get to do this," she says. "To cook for people we adore. It's like Christmas every day." She starts to head back toward the kitchen, then turns and delivers one last message to the table. "It's just Mexican food," she calls out. "And you love it, so eat it!"
Get the recipes:
Jewels and Jill's Healthy Festive Menu
We Hear You!