November 2008
A Q&A session with a personal chef who owns his own business in California.

Q: What is the most requested service you provide?

A: In-home cooking. I have a long list of clients who live in this area who are in need of a personal chef to come into their homes to cook for them. It may be for a family dinner or a series of healthy menus designed for proper nutrient intake and dieting.

Q: How long have you been a personal chef?

A: Ten Years. I could probably add more to that number because even when I was younger, I had an opportunity to cook for my family and friends. Now that I have been properly trained for over 8 years, I find that I enjoy my job more and more with each service.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your training and school experience?

A: I began cooking when I was very young…probably cooked my first dessert when I was 6 or 7. During high school, I really began to think that cooking was the career path for me. I found every opportunity to cook and, at the same time, whenever I could find a contest or prize for cooking, I would enter an item. After high school, I attended and graduated from the New York French Culinary School. During my time spent at the school, I had intensive training in the manipulation and presentation of flavor. It is because of my love for cooking, and the high-caliber training I received, that I enjoy the successes of today. To become a quality representative of the food service industry, the ability to succeed with your product as well as your knowledge of the same are necessary.

Q: What’s your favorite part about being a personal chef and, in contrast, what is the worst part?

A: My favorite part is being good at what I do. As for the worst part of being a personal chef would have to be the business side of the operation. While I may have learned plenty about my menus, I could have learned more about the business. There were a couple of instances where I felt taken advantage of because I didn’t follow the right protocols for my business plan. By not taking control of every situation and having a program to accomplish all goals, you find that there are people who will take advantage of the inexperienced businessman or woman. I do not like when this happens. I have taken the time now to correct those issues, and am now well prepared to handle the food and the business side of what I love to do.

Q: Tell us about the average day for a personal chef.

A: Taking a full day into account, I wake at 4:30AM to make my first meal appointment. Out of the house by 5:15AM, I will usually visit one of the open markets to get a few accents to the meal I will prepare for the breakfast serving. I always arrive at the right time as it is so important to maintain an exacting schedule. People expect you to be ready when they are, and I maintain that theory to the ‘nth degree. By 7:00AM – or according to the request – I have the first service ready for the clients. Service is complete, I have to complete my cleanup and I leave. Depending on my schedule, or the type of service, I adjust the timing and the requirements for the service. It’s always about the food, and the commitment to the clients I have that keeps me going through a long day. I’ve had days that started and ended 36 hours apart, so for someone without the commitment, being successful may be hard for them.”

Q: If you ever take the next step in business, what would that be?

A: I am happy to say that, if all goes well, I would make my entire career exactly as it is I’ve seen other chefs look to owning their own brand name or restaurant, but I have never had those types of ambitions. The work I do now will be able to support me and my family now, and in the future. I would say I am happy where I am, doing what I do.

Q: Did your previous work history have anything to do with your current business position?

A: If you look at my entire life, I have been doing this type of work. In the early years, I cultivated a love for cooking. Because I made good food, I got the support of my family and friends whenever I made food for them. That support got me through school, and onwards with what I am currently doing now.

Q: As a personal chef, what kind of benefits do you receive? By benefits, I mean insurance, vacation time, etc.

A: Because I am an individual who performs these tasks outside of a big company name, I do not have available those company benefits. But, because I am smart and I want to be able to take care of life’s little problems, I pay for my own insurance and savings programs to be sure that those items are not neglected because of my work. Anyone can go and find quality health care, life insurance, and 401K programs to enroll in. Once I began to have enough business to pay for these items, I enrolled in the programs that fit my needs. As far as vacation, I have the freedom to not schedule a service at any time. Though I haven’t taken a vacation in about 3 years, I still can have that time off if I so desired.

Q: Can you tell me a little about the kind of money you make?

A: Let me just say this. I make over $75,000 a year.

Q: What makes someone good at this profession?

A: The ability to create and execute high-quality menus. They should always maintain a great reputation in the area. I would say a people person too. It takes a lot of ambition to search out and find these types of clients. Being knowledgeable of the market and how to get into those groups to solicit work is always one of the biggest hang-ups for new personal chefs. Besides the marketing and sales, the business side of life takes someone who can handle the things that can bring a small business owner down. Bad business stops most personal chefs’ dreams, not the food they cook.”

Q: Would you recommend this career path to others?

A: I recommend this profession to those folks who have a love for the food first. What matters most to the client is the food, and the high quality of service that comes only when you are able to add a little love into your work. It shows. It matters.

Do you enjoy cooking? Are you thinking about a career in culinary arts? Check out a list of culinary arts programs offered in California to get the training you need.