Modern Muse, our series celebrating accomplished, stylish, real women. In other words, women just like you.
Marcia Stone Tanck has cooked for Cher, dined with the Reagans, and believes that sometimes you just need a cookie. The personal chef talks feeding body and soul.
[Bailey44:] What was your first job?
[Marcia:] I was an office manager in Honolulu, Hawaii for an interior designer named Phyllis Spalding. She worked for George Harrison and the Rockefellers and was friends with people like Princess Margaret, the Reagans and Jackie Kennedy, so I got to meet a lot of interesting people. It was Phyllis’ personal chef who sparked my interest in cooking – we really connected and she taught me a bunch of tricks she learned at cooking school.
You’ve gone on to cook for some notable names. Tell us about working for Cher?
It was one of those right place, right time situations. Cher had told her masseuse, who happened to be a friend of mine, that she was searching for a new private chef. Specifically someone who knew about nutrition and healthy food. I wasn’t a professional chef, but I thought it’d be fun to meet Cher. She didn’t ask about my experience or request references, but instead invited me to cook a meal for the family, which ended up being Cher, her sister, her mother, her grandmother, Gene Simmons, Gene’s bodyguard and a couple of friends. After I cooked the meal they told me I was hired. I’d never done anything like that before.
How did you build your A-list clientele?
My business grew by word of mouth. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I knew I should start small. Even now, I do everything myself. I have clients that I’ve never met in person, just corresponded with over the phone or coordinated with their assistants. Looking back, I should have been personally delivering to Steven Spielberg.
Wait, you’ve cooked for Steven Spielberg?
Yes, his primary chef was going on vacation for a few months, so I cooked for him while he was away. He heard about me because I worked for Goldie Hawn, Kathy Kennedy and Frank Marshall.
Who’s your most memorable client?
Reese Witherspoon! She’s absolutely gorgeous without any makeup and the most down to earth, polite delight.
What’s your philosophy on food?
Enjoy food, because food is gorgeous, delicious and nutritious. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. Years ago I wrote a cookbook called Sometimes the Soul Needs a Cookie, which promoted eating in moderation instead of dieting. This was in the early ’80s before anybody was talking about this concept. The main message was, “You can have a cookie and life won’t end.” I didn’t like the idea of rigid diets and I feel like they can be harmful.
With that in mind, what’s the most indulgent dish you’ve ever made?
My chocolate mousse! I use my mom’s double boiler from the 1940s to melt the chocolate. The only three ingredients are eggs, heavy cream and chocolate. That’s it!
Take us through a typical day.
I’m up by 5:30 and start my day by prepping veggies and roasting yams. When you walk into a house in the morning you expect the smell of bacon, eggs and coffee, but here it’s garlic or chicken and pesto. Some days are nine or ten-hour days, but others are five or six. In the afternoon I love finding time to read. It’s very important to me to have quiet alone time. Then at the end of the day my husband comes home and we have a martini.
What are your closet staples?
Button downs, jeans, black leggings, long skirts and boots pretty much cover all the bases.
And makeup? We can’t help notice how beautiful you look without any.
You know something? I love my age and I’m comfortable with myself. When you wear makeup all the time you can become insecure without it. It should be the other way around.
We love that. Tell us about your style icons?
Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, Michelle Obama, Blake Lively, Kate Middleton, Tilda Swinton and Rihanna. They’re all uniquely themselves.
Who are your Modern Muses?
Audrey Hepburn for her beauty and humanitarian work and Jane Goodall for her tireless work on behalf of animals. Also Cher, because she’s authentic, honest, talented and down to earth. It if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have this career.
Last question: as a chef, how do you feel about chocolate?
Who doesn’t love chocolate? A box of See’s candy is my definition of perfection.