About Bonnie Belknap
Bonnie Belknap was 8 years old when she walked into the family kitchen and told her mom she wanted to make a dessert. Chocolate chip cookies? Fudge brownies? Try Baked Alaska.
The seeds had been sown for what this Portland, Oregon third grader was destined to do with her life. Bonnie ultimately went on to study with some of the culinary greats before she took her special talents and pioneering spirit to Hollywood where she created the “prop food” styling niche for television and film, founding her company, Gourmet Proppers. Since 1984, Bonnie has elevated Gourmet Proppers into the entertainment industry’s premier catering specialist.
Bonnie came by her interest in food the old fashioned way—it was in her genes and environment. Her Dutch grandfather was a chef, hotel owner, and restaurateur. Her next-door neighbor was renowned gourmet chef and author, Richard Nelson. But it was the Belknap family home where Bonnie truly forged her epicurean tastes. Bonnie’s mother was a delight in the kitchen and a born hostess. Each night at 5:00 p.m., Bonnie joined her two brothers, sister, parents, and usually a wayward soul or two, for family dinner. Belknap meals were never ordinary and they frequently possessed a touch of her mother’s Dutch influence. Bonnie’s mother dressed the table to compliment her made-from-scratch feasts, which ranged broadly with favorites such as family recipes of Dutch split-pea soup and Butter Cake to more exotic fare like Hawaiian Lomi-Lomi salmon, Kalua pig, Mexican chili rellenos, and homemade tortillas. Every dinner was an event and even the simplest food seemed special.
These meals and the elegant parties her parents often hosted left quite an impression on young Bonnie. “I loved the cocktail parties—the elegance, the fashion, the style, and the silver trays beautifully adorned with seasonal flowers,” Bonnie recalls. “Even as a kid, I loved creative presentation. To me, food was always more than just food, it was art.”
Bonnie’s fascination with the culinary world was just beginning. She was intrigued by all the influences on food: ethnicity, geography, history, and life experience. Her childhood was diverse and active. Little did Bonnie realize that discovering how to cook over an open fire on family camping trips, learning place settings at finishing school, or finding out how to identify edible wild mushrooms while on hikes with her father, would ultimately feed her success as an accomplished Hollywood food stylist.
Of course, Bonnie also has had substantial technical training. After studying cultural anthropology and English at the University of Oregon, and on the recommendation of Richard Nelson, who recognized her innate and distinctive talent, Bonnie headed to San Francisco to continue her culinary education at the famed Tante Marie’s Cooking School. During this period, Bonnie had the opportunity to learn directly from some of the greatest teachers in the field, including Julia Childs, Alice Waters, and James Beard.
Although immersed full-time in cooking school, Bonnie was eager to gain practical work experience. She approached several restaurants in San Francisco’s posh Nob Hill area and soon found herself working overtime, preparing dazzling desserts for their evening menus. She later subsidized her training working with distinguished pastry chef Jean-Yves Duperret of La Nouvelle Patisserie, and miniature pastry specialist Flo Braker. Marion Burrows, then The Washington Post’s food critic, also hand-picked Bonnie to purchase and prepare food for more than 500 people a day attending the three-day, 1981 National Food Convention, of which Burrows was an organizer.
Bonnie’s career was just beginning. After graduating from Tante Marie’s with honors and winning the Sweet Tooth Olympics (the culinary equivalent of a gold medal in pastry), Bonnie returned to Portland where she apprenticed and later assisted Richard Nelson at the Richard Nelson Cooking School and opened her first catering company, As You Like It. Her company name was fitting. As You Like It quickly became a sought after and in demand catering company, and Bonnie’s signature dishes graced the tables of many of the city’s best events. Bonnie was busy, but not too busy to step in to help her friend and mentor, Richard Nelson, who recruited her to teach at the James Beard Cooking School in Astoria Oregon. There she taught pastry courses and assisted in testing and developing recipes for upcoming cookbooks. As Bonnie’s reputation grew, so did her opportunities. She was offered a job with the pasty chef at the famed Windows on the World restaurant atop the New York World Trade Center, as well as a continuing position at the James Beard Cooking School. Yet, as enticing as these opportunities were, Bonnie chose to relocate to Los Angeles to fulfill her vision of establishing a food styling and catering business in Hollywood.
After initial success catering privately within the entertainment industry, Bonnie got her big break—she landed a job food styling for Aaron Spelling’s production company on the television show The Love Boat. Bonnie’s background served her well and she quickly learned the nuances of preparing food that tasted great and looked good on camera. The producers were so impressed with her rapid grasp of the business, her one-episode deal quickly turned into an every episode deal, which turned into more TV work. Bonnie went on to provide food styling for Dynasty, The Colby’s, Hotel, Falcon Crest, Cheers, Six Feet Under, Friends and The Sopranos to name a few. Her successes in television ultimately led to extensive credits in feature films including Hook, Dick Tracy, Beethoven, Naked Gun, L.A. Story, Waterworld, Freaky Friday, Princess Diaries II, Wild Hogs and The Wedding Crashers. Her opportunities were endless as her clients’ requests grew to include commercials, music videos, and print publications.
It has been an incredible career. Bonnie is now admired and deeply respected in the Hollywood community. Her professionalism and versatility have landed Gourmet Proppers more than 1,000 feature film, television, and commercial credits. Film professionals have been so taken with Bonnie’s artistic eye and flare for presentation that she has been asked to prepare intimate, private dinner parties for some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Bonnie has even been hired to teach actors—for their roles—how to cook. Bill Bellamy (Men, Woman and Dogs), Chris Pine (Princess Diaries II), and Justin Benfield (Malcolm in the Middle), to name a few.
Honored repeatedly by the Daytime Emmy Awards, Bonnie and her career have been chronicled in People magazine, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, TV Guide, and Soap Opera Digest. Even CNN showcased Bonnie’s unique culinary talents in a news story featuring her extraordinary work and contributions within the entertainment industry.
In her personal life, Bonnie enjoys yoga, music, and theatre, all things outdoors, her dogs, and, yes, even throwing personal dinner parties. She continues her culinary studies and keeps a watchful eye on food trends and styles whether her travels bring her to New York, Europe, or Latin America.
Bonnie believes deeply in giving back to the community. She makes certain all surplus food from film and TV shoots makes its way to local charities and soup kitchens. In 2003, Bonnie lost her Mom to cancer, prompting her to dedicate the following year to producing a beautiful calendar to benefit weSPARK, an LA non-profit cancer support center. The first of what Bonnie hopes will be an annual calendar, “Working Women Behind the Scenes, the Real Women in Hollywood,” was a resounding success. (That’s Bonnie as Miss April as well as the mystery woman on the cover).
Through it all, even after working with some of the most influential people in the entertainment industry, Bonnie has never forgotten the everyday lessons she learned from her Mom and Dad back home in Portland. From the comfort of punctual family dinners, she learned the importance of being on time and meeting deadlines. From the lavish cocktail parties, she learned the importance of how things look—the presentation. And, from Tante Marie’s, she learned the real art of food preparation. You can see it in the way Bonnie carries herself and her company these days, that adorable 8-year-old chef-wannabe having become an attractive, stylish, accomplished businesswoman.