Former Bad Company member has new career dishing up food.
Paul Cullen hit the road as a member of the English rock band Bad Company in the 1990s.
These days, however, the Millsboro resident has been making noise in a different art form – the culinary kind.
Cullen runs an in-home dining company called Tune Your Pallet. He’s a one-man band in this business venture.
“When I moved to Delaware 16 years ago, I started getting back into cooking,” said Cullen, 57, clad in a black Bad Company T-shirt as he sautéed Italian sausage in his Millsboro kitchen May 1.
It was around 11 a.m. He was busy preparing sausage with gnocchi and dandelion pesto for an Ocean View private dinner for about 30 guests.
“My grandmother and my mom put an emphasis on food and making people happy through their belly,” Cullen explained. “I’ve gotten that from them, because that’s what I love to do.”
With Tune Your Pallet, Cullen is a personal chef and certified sommelier who takes over your kitchen. He prepares a four-course traditional Italian meal paired with regional Italian wines.
While cooking, Cullen entertains guests with tales from his storied career in music. Then the day culminates with an intimate and 45-minute live concert of original and Bad Company tunes.
Camden resident Sophia Ghanayem had Cullen prepare dinner for 10 at her home in January.
“My friends said all weekend how awesome the dinner was. But it wasn’t just a dinner, it was an entire experience,” she said. “Being around Paul, I wanted to know more about Italian cuisine and music.”
Making the band
During the 1980s, Cullen played in a rock band called The Boys of Summer. The band was based in Fort Myers, Fla., and had generated a large buzz in the area.
The group opened for big acts like Molly Hatchet and REO Speedwagon.
TBOS caught the attention of Bad Company singer Brian Howe, who also lived in Fort Myers. Howe, who wasn’t the band’s original singer, led Bad Company’s second incarnation.
Other Fort Myers locals who saw Cullen’s band were AC/DC members Cliff Williams (bass) and Brian Johnson (lead singer).
“They used to come out and see our band play all the time. So I got to be good friends with them from that,” Cullen said. “The bass player from AC/DC and I became great friends. He kind of pushed the singer from Bad Company to actually hire me.”
In 1990, when Bad Company had a job opening, Cullen got a call to audition. He was flown to England, where the group is originally from.
He landed the job that same day.
“Then I was off and running,” he said. “Within a couple of weeks, I had met Boy George, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and George Harrison from The Beatles.”
The bassist said it was a joy meeting those musical giants, who were very friendly, especially Gilmour.
“With David Gilmour, meeting him and him being a really nice guy and welcoming me into Bad Company, he thought it was really cool,” Cullen said. “And, of course, I thought it was really cool.”
A month after joining the group, Cullen went on tour and was playing before crowds of 3,000 to 16,000 people a night.
He was living the rock-star dream.
“Ritz Carlton Hotels, riding in million-dollar tour buses and making some serious cash,” Cullen said. “Was it sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll? Oh yeah.”
One of his career highlights was playing in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.
“I went to a small school and almost everybody from my school was there; and all my cousins. I have 20 cousins on my Italian side,” he said. “[Emotionally] it was the highest I’d ever been. And I’ve done a lot of drugs.”
Cullen’s high lasted from 1990-1994. When he came down, it was a rough landing.
“It was not my fault,” Cullen explained. “The singer, who was not the original singer, just ended up not being a very nice person.
“He did whatever he could to get me out of the band, because I had become friends with the original members. I got along with them well and he just wanted to make it hard on me.”
Reborn in Delaware
In 2001, Cullen moved to the First State, thanks to persuasion from a longtime buddy from Lewes.
It took him years to figure out what he wanted to do with the next chapter of his life. It wasn’t easy adjusting to life outside of a major rock band.
“When I played bass at a local bar, then I would compare it to Bad Company and it wasn’t fun for me,” he said. “But you learn to deal with it.”
His passion for cooking would eventually become his coping mechanism. It’s a skill he first practiced when he was in elementary school.
“I tell my clients when I was 10, my friends were playing baseball and I was making ravioli,” the bassist quipped.
In 2013, Cullen was gaining more experience cooking for people. He and his wife, Bonnie, would occasionally entertain about eight guests at their Millsboro home for dinner; and he would cook. Some of the guests were area chefs.
One night, a guest planted the idea that Cullen become a musical chef. He chuckled at the thought.
“Somebody I had over said, ‘Hey, can you do what you just did at my house?’ I’m like, ‘yeah,’ because I paired the wines and [cooked],” Cullen said. “Then he goes, ‘Bring your guitar.’
“I said, ‘I’m going to have to charge you if I bring my guitar.’ It was a funny joke, but he ended up paying me.”
A day after the meal, Cullen was in Ocean City, Md., doing an interview with Ocean 98 Radio (98.1 FM). During the interview, he discussed the private dinner and concert.
“The owner of the radio station heard me talk about what I did the night before and actually hired me,” Cullen said. “Then I was on my way. Instead of music gigs, I was doing in-home dining.”
Cullen has been a musical chef since 2013. He’s steadily booked about three times per week, sometimes more. He works all over Delaware and in the surrounding states. Many clients hire him for birthdays or anniversaries.
As a self-taught chef with no formal training, he’s sharpened his skills interning with a chef in Italy and at the Italian restaurant Osteria in Philadelphia.
Maggie Scarborough of Dover traveled to a restaurant in Italy with Cullen and his wife in 2015. It was part of his annual vacation package where groups can pay to go on a cruise with the bassist outside of the country, hang out with him and get educated on cuisine and wine.
“The food we ate there in Italy was cooked in the same style that Paul cooks in,” Scarborough said. “He’s the real deal.”
This year’s destination is Tuscany in October. Cullen said he’ll be joined with 24 guests and it is already sold out.
As Cullen chopped up a second batch of sausage to be sautéed for his May 1 dinner, he reflected on the winding road he’s traveled to get here.
“You never know how it’s all going to work out in life,” he said. “And you wish things would happen faster sometimes, because it took a long time from Bad Company to where I am now, to being that happy again.”
Cullen’s grandmother and mother were instrumental in helping to stoke his passion for cooking. But neither of them lived long enough to see him do it professionally. His mother’s words, however, resonate with him now more than ever.
“My mom used to say things happen for a reason, before she passed, and I always wondered what that reason is,” he said. “I think maybe now, after all that time, maybe now I know the reason. It’s getting to do what I do now for a living.”