Personal Chef Careers and Education

Personal chefs are more accessible than you might think.

When you think of the work of personal chefs, you may imagine fancy cuisine served on silver platters to a pampered starlet or wealthy businessman. However, the day-to-day work of the thousands of current professional personal chefs located throughout the country is much more diverse than just that.

Culinary Arts

Unlike restaurant chefs, who prepare meals in keeping with the theme or focus of the restaurant, its location, and its clientele, personal chefs focus on one or a handful of clients, preparing meals according to their particular tastes, desires, and needs. They plan, buy ingredients for, and prepare meals for clients. Some personal chefs may prepare meals on a weekly basis and freeze them so that clients may later reheat them as needed, while others may cook to order for one client each day. Personal chefs keep their clients' dietary and budgetary needs in mind, presenting challenges that often require specialized training.

Who Do Personal Chefs Work For?

Employers: Many personal chefs are self-employed, although others may work for catering businesses or a growing number of dinner-assembly businesses. Some others may work in-house for businesses or corporations, government agencies, resorts, or nonprofit organizations, preparing meals for a small set of workers or participants on a regular basis. Restaurants or hotels can also hire personal chefs, who are dispatched on a per-event basis to prepare meals for client parties or special events.

Customers: Example customers for personal chefs can be the stereotypical businessman, but the more typical client is the two-income family. These clients may not have time to cook or, in the case of disabled persons or seniors, are unable to prepare their own meals.

The Workplace: Workplaces for personal chefs can either be the client’s home, a professional kitchen, or out of the chef’s own home kitchen.

What Do Personal Chefs Need To Know?

Flexibility with their cooking: Personal chefs are expected to be talented in the kitchen, but they also need to know how to tailor a diverse range of recipes to their clients’ preferences. Some clients, for example, avoid salty foods, prefer to put more garlic than normal in their sauces, or simply do not like mushrooms. Other clients may want a certain calorie cap to their meals, may have gluten-free diets, or may be avoiding a high-fat diet to lose weight. Since personal chefs cater to specific client requests instead of replicating an order from an executive chef, they need to know how to adapt menus to different needs.

Cook both fancy and familiar foods: It helps to have a skill set on par with that of professional restaurant chefs. However, clients often order familiar foods such as beef stew, pot roast, or pasta with shrimp as opposed to fancier dishes.

Know good nutrition: Some personal chefs tout good nutrition as part of their culinary repertoire. Part-nutritionist, part-health coach, these personal chefs take pride in the fact that they not only help busy clients free up more time in their schedules, but that they can help others eat a healthier diet.

Business essentials: Self-employed personal chefs, who currently constitute the majority of the profession, must understand the business essentials for keeping their cooking operations sustainable. Good customer service skills are also a must: personal chefs, whether self-employed or working for a company, must understand common practices for keeping customers happy.

Is a Formal Education Necessary to Become a Personal Chef?

No stringent regulations require personal chefs to pursue professional training prior to this line of work. In lieu of a formal culinary education, many personal chefs learn the trade through years of restaurant experience or are simply cooking enthusiasts who use a prior understanding of business operations to start a new career.

Still, there are certifications and degrees that can provide highly applicable training for a career as a personal chef. The American Culinary Federation, for example, offers a Personal Chef Certification which demonstrates a level of knowledge in the field. Applicants for this must meet educational and work prerequisites before taking a written exam. In addition, culinary schools offering a range of certificates, diplomas, and degrees can also build solid cooking techniques and business skills. Relevant courses offered in culinary school can include:

  • Knife techniques
  • Use and care of kitchen equipment
  • Nutrition
  • Menu planning
  • Portion control
  • Food storage and sanitation methods
  • Food service management
  • Inventory and purchasing

In the end, clients base their hiring decisions on a personal chef’s mix of prior experience, certifications, and education. In this sense, a culinary arts degree can add significant appeal to a resume. Those who are interested can consult a guide to culinary arts schools that provides additional information on coursework, degree programs, and financial aid.

Personal Chef Salary and Job Outlook

This small segment of food service workers is growing rapidly. The American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), for example, puts their membership count at 9,000 people and expects that number to double in the next five years. Salaries for personal chefs vary widely depending on the employer, the number of hours worked (part- or full-time), and a variety of other factors. The APPCA lists member salaries ranging between $200 and $500 a day, depending on the clientele.

Additional Resources for Personal Chef Careers
American Personal & Private Chef Association information
American Culinary Federation: Personal Chef Certificate instructions

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            5 Program(s) Found
            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
            • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
            • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
            • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
            • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Received the 2015 and 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
            • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
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            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
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            4 Program(s) Found
            • Hands-on culinary education with focused attention on each student
            • An ACCSC School of Excellence with multiple “Best Vocational Cooking School” awards*
            • 15,000 graduates, including celebrities like Bobby Flay, David Chang, and Christina Tosi*
            • Programs in Culinary Entrepreneurship, Professional Culinary Arts, Professional Pastry Arts, and much more
            • Campuses in New York and Silicon Valley with nearby housing available
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            • Students get real-world experience through the required externship at the end of the program.
            • Curriculum includes laboratory sessions, academic preparation and hands-on experience.
            • Program objectives are to provide students with skills needed for cooking wholesome, attractive, food preparations and to assist graduates in obtaining positions in the food service industry.
            • Accredited by the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
            • Has campuses in Melbourne, Sarasota, and Tallahassee, Florida
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            • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Ranked the 13th  Best College for Veterans in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • A private institution founded in 1977 with a current total undergraduate enrollment of over 15,00.
            • Its student-faculty ratio is 12:1, and 89.3% of classes have fewer than 20 students.
            • Has students attend one class at a time to ensure easy access to faculty and a more hands-on education.
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            Lackawanna College is the premier, private, accredited two-year college serving the people of northeastern Pennsylvania. With a focus on keeping higher education affordable and accessible to our immediate community, Lackawanna draws 80 percent of its student population right from our own region.

            With a main campus situated in downtown Scranton, Lackawanna’s expanding footprint also includes satellite centers in Hawley, Hazleton, New Milford, and Towanda.

            4 Program(s) Found
            • Gives students the opportunity to earn their associate’s degree in the culinary arts field in less than 15 months or bachelor’s degree in the food service management field in 2.5 years through their year-round schedule.
            • Located in Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia.
            • Offers externship experiences to students for experience in the field.
            • Hosts regular career fairs for employer recruitment.
            • Has student housing available.
            • Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC).
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