Between the spectacular view, the constant flow of friends, and the luscious, healthy, irresistible food served up by a sister act of brilliant chefs (grilled-tomato gazpacho! chili-rubbed chicken! spicy shrimp tostadas!), you couldn't ask for a more crowd-pleasing experience than dinner at Jennifer Aniston's house.
The hottest dining spot in Los Angeles as far as Jennifer Aniston is concerned has no sign out front, no mâitre d' at the door, and doesn't take reservations. The lax dress code means she can show up barefoot if she's in the mood, and from its terrace she can sip a frozen margarita while taking in a breathtaking 180-degree view of the city, laid out like a sparkling magic carpet at her feet. Best of all is the clientele: On a typical day, anywhere from three to 30 people might stop by for cocktails or a meal—and they're always just exactly who Jen wants to see, from her yoga teacher and publicist to her bevy of close friends.
Slideshow: See photos from Jennifer Aniston's dinner party
"Jen's house is a beacon," says television producer Ellen Rakieten, one of the regulars at her table, who has arrived on this cool Monday evening, along with seven other friends, to share a meal, toast the chefs, and shake off the detritus of the day gone by. "You always know you're going to have a great time, and you're going to leave feeling better than when you came."
As lively as her home is, Jen seldom entertains—at least not in the fussy-hostessy sense of the word. What occurs here feels closer in spirit to those spontaneous gatherings that used to crop up in that dorm room everybody was magnetically drawn to in college—only with a considerable uptick in sophistication and square footage. "Her friends are in and out all the time," says Jewels Elmore, who, with her sister, Jill, shares a job as Jen's private chef. "Jen's a homebody. It's been so much fun to create a place where everybody feels comfortable, like one big family."
"Comfortable" is putting it modestly. Because while Jen's friends might credit her with the house's appeal—"She makes it a place where people want to come and hang out," says Jennifer Meyer—Jen herself knows that the real secret to its buzz is the delicious nourishment of all kinds that emerges from the kitchen. "My friends love coming over because they get fed," says Jen. "It's the best restaurant in town."
And indeed the food that's being served this evening is not merely delicious, it actually seems to satisfy a body's deepest, cellular-level craving for wholesome, fresh, pure ingredients. Take the tostadas, for instance: tangles of shredded raw kale and cabbage, cilantro, corn, black beans, and tomatoes served on crisp corn tortillas with grilled shrimp on top. Or the salad of mâche, cotija cheese, and avocado tossed with a dressing whose main ingredient is fresh Cara Cara orange juice.
Jen's dinners weren't always like this. The actress once saw her kitchen as little more than a place to store PowerBars and prepackaged Zone meals. Then, six years ago, along came Jewels, and the changes she brought with her are as clear as sunshine. Jen now describes her kitchen as "a sanctuary that has become the most important room in the house." She loves to drop in as dinner is under way, hopping up onto the counter and sampling the various dishes as they come off the stove. "This kitchen is the best place to be," says Jen, nibbling on a shrimp. These days, she fuels her body with ripe fruits and vegetables, cheese and yogurt, and, for the first time in her life, fish. "I used to hate fish," she says, "but one day Jewels handed me this thing, and I tasted it." Now she asks for Jewels's salmon all the time. She's also become a convert to Brussels sprouts. And, at 40, she's never felt—or looked—better.
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
Printed from Oprah.com on Monday, March 10, 2014
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