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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.

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