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What You Need to Know About Becoming a Personal Chef

Nov 30, 2016 | Harrison College

What You Need to Know About Becoming a Personal Chef

When you think of a chef, you likely picture someone working in a busy restaurant kitchen. But there’s one often-overlooked culinary career on the rise — the personal chef.

These culinary professionals have chosen a career path that keeps them relatively out of the hustle and bustle of a commercial kitchen. They still utilize all of the knowledge and skills they learned in culinary school, but their work environment will change based on the client.

If this variety sounds exciting to you, it’s time to do a little research before making your decision. Let us help you as we cover what you need to know about becoming a personal chef.

What is a personal chef, anyway?

Before we get too far into the details, it’s important to understand exactly what this position entails — and what it does not entail. Once you’re aware of the main roles and responsibilities of a personal chef, you will know if this could be a realistic career choice for you.

A personal chef is someone who is hired to cook meals for one or more clients. This is not to be confused with a private chef. A private chef is someone who works strictly with one client or family, often living under the same roof. Personal chefs, on the other hand, are often hired to help busy families by preparing nutritious home-cooked meals for a set number of days per week.

What does a personal chef do in an average week?

The work of an established personal chef can be broken down into a few distinct categories — planning, shopping and cooking. The timing of these tasks throughout a given week will vary greatly on client load and the days you’re scheduled to prepare meals.

That said, you will still want to set aside time early in the workweek to plan ahead. Organization is the key to having a smooth workweek, according to Ken Immer, former personal chef and now president of Culinary Health Solutions.

“You have to be incredibly organized and efficient. There is almost no room for error because it’s generally ‘just you,’ and you don’t have a staff of people to rely on,” Immer says. “If you forget to buy the tomatoes, you can’t just ‘run to the store’ because you can’t walk out of someone’s house while you’re cooking.”

This underscores the importance of first taking the time to plan out everything you’ll need for the week. You have a bit more independence in the variety of food you prepare when compared to a restaurant. But that independence also means you’re on the hook if something goes wrong — so be prepared to quickly pivot to another dish if something doesn’t go quite as expected.

Personal chefs will also need to set aside time for buying produce and other necessary ingredients. This can be a bit more challenging than purchasing for a restaurant as you may have trouble finding bulk suppliers (and their low prices) as a small purchaser. You’ll need to keep an eye out for where to find quality products at a reasonable price in your area. It could also benefit you to build relationships with local farmers who may be willing to sell directly to you.

On top of the planning and organizing, there’s also the obvious responsibility — preparing the meals! Depending on client schedules, the time management for this can be tricky to navigate, so try to avoid overbooking yourself as you get started.

What training and skills do personal chefs need?

It should go without saying, but to be a personal chef you’ll need a strong culinary background. Many personal chefs work their way up through professional kitchens to refine their skills, but much of that skill can be earned through a culinary arts training program.

Personal chefs also need to employ a good amount of creativity when it comes to menu planning. Your clients are probably not going to pay you to make the same meals over and over again, no matter how delicious they are. Dietary restrictions and client preferences may also push you into less-traveled culinary territory, so adaptability is a must.

Another critical skill for personal chefs is the ability to handle the business side of their work. You’ll need to be familiar with budgeting, inventory management and pricing to make this work worth your time and effort. You’ll also need to be an effective communicator, according to Immer.

“You must have good communication skills and have an ability to at least seem like you have an outgoing personality in order to do the job,” Immer says. “Not only for your clients, but one way to make money is to develop relationships with your vendors of food products to reduce your costs.”

The ability to effectively communicate as personal chef is closely related to another important piece of the puzzle — the ability to market yourself. It’ll be up to you to get the word out about your services to the right audience and in a way that lends credibility to your skills.

What else do personal chefs need to know?

Before you get too far along, it is important to be aware of any licensing or certification requirements in your state. You’ll certainly need a food safety or food handling certificate as well as a business license. Depending on the state you live in, you may also need a caterer’s license.

Your work environment will also be an important consideration. As a personal chef, you will be working out of a client’s kitchen. You’ll need to discuss with clients what equipment will be provided as well as any restrictions their set-up may have on your menu planning.

Ready to get cookin’?

Whether you want to become a personal chef or work in a traditional restaurant setting, you’ll first need to develop the culinary chops to succeed in any kitchen. Attending culinary school can help equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to launch a successful cooking career.

Learn how we can help you cook up your dream career in our article: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Chef’s Academy at Harrison College.

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