Becoming a personal chef
Covid-19 has meant that a lot of chefs have lost their jobs. However, one area where there is still demand for chefs is in the private households of wealthy families.
So, with this in mind, we asked a number of personal chefs in our network what things others should know before thinking about making a move away from commercial kitchens.
Below is a list of the feedback we got (in no particular order).
Things to know: Being a personal chef isn’t glamorous
Can you get to cook for famous people and go to great places? Yes, but the work is very labour-intensive and stressful (just like a commercial kitchen!). You can know so much and have great technique, but the food can still go wrong. And when it does, it’s usually just you on hand to sort it out. Great personal chefs need to be highly adaptable and quick thinking.
Things to know: Your connections are crucial to finding chef work
The restaurant industry is extremely competitive, but being a personal chef is even more so. It’s as much about who you know, as it is about your reputation. It’s worth building up your contacts and network first before deciding to make the career transition.
Things to know: Strong relationships with suppliers are crucial chef
Supplier relationships are essential in the uber competitive world of being a personal chef. If clients know you always have access to fresh, high-quality and even rare ingredients it will help to ensure your distinction and contribute towards strengthening your reputation.
Things to know: Cooking at a clients home is just as much work as cooking in a restaurant
Restaurants can be intense because of the scale. Breaking down boxes of squash or crates of chives or de-stemming 2 kilos of thyme is a lot of work. But there’s still a tremendous amount of labour and time involved in cooking for a dinner party for a client, or even just dinner for one. The hours are still the same – it’s just the quantity that’s different (and the pay!).
Things to know: You need to put in a lot of work to gain a client’s trust chef
It’s important to try and establish a personal relationship with a client and get to know their likes and dislikes as quickly as possible. This takes time, effort and skills that don’t come naturally to a lot of chefs. You need to be prepared to ask a lot of questions so you ensure that the food you deliver always exceeds expectations and builds trust with your client that you’re the right hire.
Things to know: Someone always needs to eat
As a personal chef you’ll need to be on hand – most of the time! You’ll find that you’re at the beck and call of your clients, and there will be times when you get very little notice from them for dinner parties etc that would normally take a while to plan and prep for. This all means that you need to be focussed, very efficient and calm under pressure!
Things to know: Time off can be difficult
Typcially, when and how much time you can take off is very dependent on your clients schedule. Flexibility is key if personal chefs want to be successful.
Things to know: Dining is an experience beyond the food
Clients, just like customers in a restaurant eat with their eyes first so a large part of being a successful personal chef is being able to create the right ambiance and experience in a dining room in addition to the work that’s done in the kitchen.
Things to know: You’re not just the chef
You’re also the hostess, the server, the bartender and the dishwasher. Even when a dinner party is done, the chances are you’ll still be cleaning the china and crystal and putting everything away – even after you’ve been cooking for 10 or 12 hours! Be prepared to wear many ‘hats’ as a personal chef.
Things to know: Planning in advance is everything
There will be certain days where you’re just straight cooking and other days where you’ll be doing a lot of prep and set-up for future events. The difference from working in a commercial kitchen is that it’s very unlikely you’ll have anybody else to help you. You’ve got to be the commis, cdp, sous, pastry and head chef all rolled in to one. This makes being prepared and a good planner absolutely essential skills that all personal chefs need to have.
Things to know: You need to be constantly thinking about food
When your not cooking you’ll need to be checking out food blogs and talking to friends and connections in the industry — fellow chefs, sommeliers and mixologists — about techniques and applications. When it comes down to it, you’ll need to get you chef geek on to stay ahead of the game. Make sure that you’re on Instagram – which is a free and simple great way to stay connected to what’s happening in the food industry (globally).
Being a personal chef like any profession is not right for everyone, but despite the challenges and pressures this career path brings, it can be hugely rewarding in terms of both personal development and remuneration.