Most personal chefs start their business on a small scale, renting time in a local commercial kitchen. As their business grows, they find they need to purchase or build their own commercial kitchen. Once you have your own commercial kitchen and catering insurance, you'll be able to cook all your clients' meals at your location and deliver them on a weekly basis, allowing you to accommodate a greater number of clients and grow your business even larger. With your own commercial kitchen, you'll also be able to cater your client's parties and have the option to cater larger off-premise events too.
Since being a personal chef doesn't involve all of the business and logistical aspects of the catering business, some people who have the goal of starting their own catering business begin as personal chefs. By doing this, they gain experience cooking for a client for a fee. They can also experiment with marketing techniques and build their cooking resume.
If you want to start as a personal chef, get a professional cooking job or two under your belt and onto your resume so that you're a credible candidate. Cooking for friends and family isn't the same thing as cooking on demand for paying clients. You'll also want to develop a portfolio of meal menus for prospective clients. Develop a roster of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, so that you have plenty of variety for clients to eat a different meal every day for at least three weeks. If you plan to target athletes or people on special diets, make sure to develop appropriate menus.
Some people become personal chefs because they like the lifestyle. Often, chefs who begin their careers working in restaurant and hotel kitchens start their own personal chef businesses when they're in their forties and fifties after years of line cooking take their toll. Typically, middle-aged chefs suffer from arthritis and joint problems in their wrists, knees, and hips. Women in particular choose to start their own chefing business, so that they can enjoy their family and be around for their children.
A personal chef will usually have five clients at a time, cooking one day during the week for each client. An experienced personal chef can shop, cook, store, and clean up for a client in a six-hour day, making the job quite manageable.
Personal chefing is a great option if you want to have direct input on helping people eat healthier. For clients, knowing that they'll have a delicious home-cooked meal to sit down to whenever they get home is a big relief. Personal chefing also provides a more relaxed atmosphere for chefs who are passionate about cooking but don't necessarily thrive with the pressures of catering. With personal chefing, unlike in the restaurant business, no one is sitting at a table, waiting for you to finish cooking their entrée so they can eat.
Jim and Brian Davis run a thriving personal chef and catering business called Brian's Kitchen and a cooking school in Rockville, Maryland. In the beginning, the father-son team needed some help. Although Brian was a professionally trained chef, he didn't know anything about personal chefing. Jim turned to the Internet and got advice from a professional personal chef association.
Private chefs have to work out their schedules with their client. They may be needed all day, or parts of the day, and may sometimes have to work weekends. Private chefs will often cook meals and serve them immediately to clients seated in a nearby dining room.
Make sure your commercial kitchen is licensed and you have the necessary permits and licenses for your vehicle, such as commercial plates. Laws vary from state to state, so check with your municipality to see if it requires a business license for a meal-serving business.
Types of Personal Chefs
Most personal chefs prepare a variety of dinner entrées and side dishes for clients who want wholesome meals ready to eat whenever they choose. That's a pretty broad spectrum, and you may want to specialize in making meals for people with special requirements. It can be challenging to make delicious and filling meals without common ingredients like dairy or gluten, but if you can earn a reputation for cooking spectacular meals under such restrictions, you can gain a foothold in the market.
Consider some of the factors in specialized chefing, and keep in mind that you can concentrate on multiple areas:
Dietary requirements. There are many people who are on restricted diets, and they can depend on you to make sure they can still eat delicious meals with the right nutrition. Clients may have specific food concerns such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease, but personal chefs can also carve a niche for themselves by cooking for clients with other conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Family situations. Young families with infants and small children present special challenges, especially if the children are picky eaters.
Diets. Clients may want you to prepare meals that are wholly organic or vegetarian. Others may adhere to the Zone Diet or the Atkins Diet. You may not be asked to stick to a particular diet at all, but some clients will ask for meals that are low-fat, low-carbohydrate, or low-calorie.
Kosher diets. Clients on kosher diets will want you to use only kosher products and follow kosher practices.
Athletes. Athletes often require specialized diets to maintain their physique.
Some vacationers splurge on personal chefs when they go on vacation. Often, when clients hire a yacht with a professional crew, a private chef is included as part of the crew. His job is to tailor every meal to the vacationers' specific requests. The same is true of exclusive villas.
With baby boomers aging and older adults living longer, the opportunities for personal chefs will dramatically increase over the next twenty years. Adults who can no longer cook for themselves and who must stick to specific diets will increasingly be hiring personal chef services to work with their doctors and nutritionists to keep them healthy.