We sat down for a round of 20 questions with Chef Janette “Puttie” Clark, founder of Simply PUTT’s Pancakes and the mastermind behind Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s all-time favorite coconut banana pancakes.
Chef Puttie discusses how she fell into cheffing, the time she worked out with The Rock’s mom in Iron Paradise, and how an innocent pancake request from The Rock himself helped launch her brand.
How would you define what you do?
My 9-to-5 is a private chef.
Is this what you always saw yourself doing?
Not at all. I actually wanted to be a journalist, and was actually working as an editor when I started cheffing. I was on track to be a TV journalist, and that’s what I wanted to do. The idea of doing manual labor … let’s just say I’m not that type of person.
What prompted the change?
2012 wasn’t the best year for me. My grandfather was in the hospital for several months and I took work off to take care of him. I went through a breakup. I turned 30. I was at risk of losing my apartment … and I decided to give myself just one summer to take time for myself to pursue hobbies, and at the end of the summer, I’d start looking for a different job. That hobby could have been swimming, biking, or sewing. I chose cheffing.
I wanted the summer to just have a feeling that I wasn’t just wasting away. I needed some time for me.
All I really knew about cheffing is that I was good at making stuff taste good. I actually found a client over the summer, and I was making lunches for them. By the end of the summer, I had my apartment paid off, and I started interviewing at different jobs. I kept getting the same feedback though. I’d ask people I knew if they knew of anyone hiring, and the response I’d get would be, “I heard you were doing that chef thing.” But I wasn’t convinced.
By January 2013, enough people had mentioned it that I decided to keep doing it for a little while longer, but even then, it wasn’t something I saw myself doing for a long time.
Seems like you were pretty resistant to this particular path. Why?
I was overly stressed about where my next job was coming from, and was definitely very resistant for a while. The inconsistent income and low wage was stressful for me, and so I was still looking for another job.
I had this one interview with a VP, and It was a pretty unusual interview. When I got to the building, he insisted that we go outside to chat. He was very interested in getting to know me, and what I wanted. I told him about what I was doing. I was very qualified for the job, and it was a good job.
After I told him a bit about my story, he told me, “I can’t hire you. You’re meant to be doing something different, and you need to stay on the path you’re on.”
He was right, and I kept going, and it has been working out.
Did you ever have that “I made it” moment?
I try to be reflective, and I feel very blessed, and I know it looks amazing, that I’m working for these really big names, but there has never really been a moment where I feel like I’m just at the peak.
I’m in a very good space, but I feel just like every other person. I’m working to take care of my household, and what I do is how I make money. I know that I’ve made some very big strides, but I also just feel like every day I’m going to work.
What’s the best part of what you do?
I think being a part of the household I’m with right now. I’m not blowing any smoke, but one of the kids asked her nanny to help her make me a cake for my birthday. She’s 6, and she wanted to make me a cake.
They really look out for me. If I need something, like for my wellness, they’re like, I know a person, let me call them. I’ve worked with families before, but I’ve never been in a dynamic like this. It’s such a kind environment.
I thought at this point in my life, I’d be married with four children. I thought that’s what I wanted, especially because being out here in L.A. and the rest of my family in New York, I was really missing the family dynamic. And all of those things I was missing, that I wanted, I get this love and support from my job. It’s very special.
So, we’re talking about Dwyane (The Rock) now. Why pancakes? How did Dwayne get involved with those?
Alright, there’s a lot to this.
Before Dwayne was involved, my friend and I were talking about what else I wanted to do in the future. I remember seeing Aunt Jemima in the grocery stores and thinking, I could be that.
Something I have always prided myself in is making simple things exciting. Making little changes to update the taste on classics. I have a pretty good pancake recipe, and I had an idea to start some sort of pancake label. I already had the name picked out and everything. But I wanted everything to be perfect, so I had been kind of stalling getting it started.
My current employer’s [The Rock] previous chef had given me their pancake recipe because the family really liked that particular recipe. I’d use that one, but every once in a while, I’d squeeze in my own recipe. I never really got any feedback on the times I’d use my own recipe, and had no idea that they actually loved it.
Last year, I was in Hawaii with them. We were out at a restaurant that sold coconut pancakes, and Dwayne asked me if I could make them. I was like, “Uh, yeah.” Later some other people that work for the family came up to me and said, “Chef, did you hear? He just said that they were the best pancakes he has ever had.” I guess he had posted about them.
What did you think of the post?
I’ll admit that at the time, I didn’t really stay up-to-date on his social media. I wanted to keep things professional. But then one day [Dwayne] comes up to me and is like, “Hey chef, I kind of said I’d give the recipe to your pancakes online…” and I realized that it was the perfect time to let him know what was up with my idea for a pancake label.
I told him, “Yeah, sure, but if you share it, could you just make sure I’m associated with it?” And he was so kind about it. He was like, ‘Of course, I was going to do that anyway!’
And now you have Simply PUTT. What’s the name?
So I had this name picked out a long time ago. The PUTT stands for “products you truly trust.” I really believe in using high-quality products, especially in food. And it aligns with my nickname, which is Puttie.
Where did the nickname come from?
I’m from Brooklyn, and everyone gets nicknames in Brooklyn. It started when I was a kid. I had an uncle named Pudding, and my family started calling me Pudding, too, because I was a bit of a chubby kid. And then it got shortened to Putput. Now it’s just my name. Even if I introduce myself as Janette, people soon call my Putput, or Puttie. It’s a name of endearment.
Your pancake flavors are pretty tropical. Where did that influence come from?
Most of the flavors came from what Dwayne was asking for. He wanted coconut banana, and I used the base of my pancake recipe, and made coconut banana. He asked for lemon poppyseed, I made lemon poppyseed. Then one day he asked for pineapple. I was a bit skeptical at first, but it surprised me how well it came out—pineapple just infuses in such a nice way.
The Rock is known for having some pretty epic cheat days. How big of a role do you play in those?
He really has fun with food on his Sundays, and I am around to help with those meals.
I get to dream up the meals. He tells me what he wants, and then I get creative. But I have to say, on the other days of the week, I don’t know anyone who is as disciplined as he is.
There are other people that help with his weekday meals—during the week, I cook mostly for the family. But his mid-week eating is very rigid and meticulous. He’s very focused on his well-being. It works well for him.
How many of your pancakes can he put down in a sitting?
I make a pretty good-sized pancake, and he can pretty easily get to four on a morning he’s in a mood to go in. I’ve made eight before for him, just in case he was feeling extra hungry. But I haven’t seen him finish eight.
Ok Dwayne, you’ve been called out! So, you’ve got him covered on the pancakes. Does he ever give you some workout tips?
Before this job, I was in pretty good shape. I was used to working out before starting work, and when I work out after work, it’s a pretty tired effort.
I reached out to a friend recently asking for some help getting back into working out, and he was like, “I KNOW you aren’t asking me for workout advice when you work with a guy like that.”
But when we travel, there is a trainer that will do some workouts with us (the staff/family). So I have gotten to work out in his gym.
Like THE Iron Paradise?
Yeah, his mom and I worked out there.
You worked out with The Rock’s mom in Iron Paradise?
Yep! But I didn’t really think of it that way.
I worked with him for a whole year without looking at his social media, so I never really thought of it as anything more than going to the gym. I can’t explain enough how normal my working life is.
Obviously I know who he is, he’s a huge star. But if you walked in the house, talked to the people, saw the daily interactions … it’s all so normal.
He’s honestly the most normal and down to earth public figure I’ve ever met in my life.
What was the first time cooking for him like?
There’s an outside chef that does most of his weekday meals, but I do one every once in a while.
The meal that really sticks out to me is an omelette with bison meat. The former chef was showing me how to make it … it was maybe four whole eggs, four egg whites. I was getting a very precise rundown on everything from how to seal the omelette with a very particular spatula, exactly where to drop the bison meat.
That used to stress me out big-time. But he knows that it’s a human cooking, not a machine. There wasn’t much of a reason for me to be stressed.
How would you define your cooking style?
I would call it savory American. It’s a bit of a fad right now, but I appreciate and try to stick to the farm-to-table idea. I don’t like working with processed foods, and I love to cook with love. I like to make simple stuff taste good, so I just decided to call that savory American.
Is there anything you would have done differently in the last 10 years?
I’m really hard on myself, and I used to be obsessed with the idea that I couldn’t do anything unless I had the education to back it up.
I had gotten into the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, but right before I was going to go, something came up. It ended up working out. At the time, I didn’t understand how there could be a space for me in this industry without having gone to school for it.
So I would have tried to enjoy the course more, and to trust that I’ll get where I need to go by working diligently. So I didn’t go to culinary school, and that isn’t saying anything against culinary school, I’m sure it would have been a good experience, but it all worked out how it was supposed to.
So what’s next?
I’m going to let my pancake business evolve, and I would like to get involved with journalism in some way. I love talking, and I don’t know if I would be a speaker, but I really enjoy connecting with people verbally, so I’d like to evolve in that direction.
I have a vision of seeing myself on a shelf. My family is very big on food, and my grandmother is very influential in my community. I want to be the person that makes things different for my family. I want to show the world where the Clark family comes from. And I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to do that.
But really, I love my current role so much, and I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. I don’t know how things are going to unfold, but I think the plan for the next year is to figure out how to use my voice and develop my brand more.
Simply PUTT’s Banana Coconut Pancakes Recipe
What You’ll Need:
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp cane sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
10 Tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
2 medium bananas, diced small
1 cup coconut water
1 cup canned coconut milk
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Extra virgin olive oil spray, for griddle
How to Make It:
1. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the sugar, salt, and shredded coconut. Mix lightly with a wooden spoon.
2. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs, coconut water, coconut milk, whole milk, vanilla extract, coconut oil, and butter.
3. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and pour in the milk mixture. Mix lightly to combine, leaving the batter clumpy. Add the bananas to batter; briefly stir to distribute evenly. (Do not over-mix, a few lumps are ok.)
4. Heat a lightly oiled griddle to 275°F or frying pan on medium, using a combination of spray and butter. Ladle or pour the batter onto a griddle using Using a 1-cup-sized ladle or measuring cup for large cakes or1/4 cup for small. Cook until top of pancakes have bubbles and a few bursts, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip carefully with a thin spatula. Cook until brown and crisp, another 2 to 3 minutes, adding more spray and butter if needed. Transfer to plate or platter and serve, ideally with 100% maple syrup. Makes 6 to 8 large pancakes.
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