How Can I Become a Personal Chef?

Research what it takes to become a personal chef. Learn about job duties, required skills, training, professional certifications and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Personal Chef?

Working for one client at a time, personal chefs plan, shop for and prepare meals in a safe and sanitary manner, according to the client's dietary needs. They must keep their employer's preferences and budget restraints in mind as they develop menus. They are trained in baking, grilling, boiling, steaming and frying a variety of foods. They also arrange a dish to appear the most appealing. They are typically responsible for cleaning any utensils and equipment after cooking, as well as maintaining inventory and ensuring that all ingredients are fresh. Personal chefs may help cater parties, cook for social events or prepare luncheons. They may be self-employed or work for one full-time client. The following chart gives an overview of a career as a personal chef.

Training Required On-the-job training and/or associate's degree or higher
Education Field of Study Culinary arts
Key Responsibilities Prepare meals, coordinate with clients, plan meals, shop for food
Certification Optional
Job Growth (2014-2024) 1% increase (slower than average) for private household cooks and chefs*
Median Salary (May 2015) $26,300 for private household cooks and chefs*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Personal Chef?

A personal chef has many of the same tasks and education as a restaurant chef. In both positions, you'll prepare and cook meals following sanitation and safety regulations. The difference is that you'll work solely with one client at a time. You'll consult with your client about their meals, dietary needs and dislikes. With the client, you'll plan meals for a week or longer. You'll shop for ingredients, cook the meals and store them with reheating instructions.

You may also be called in for a specific event or dinner party. In this case, you'll cook the meal and serve it to guests. You'll do the dishes and clean the kitchen as well. Along with family meals, you may also cook for other household staff.

What Training Will I Need?

There is no exact training to become a personal chef. Many times, you work with restaurants and gain experience as a chef without any formal training. You can also be mentored by a personal chef. With experience, you can begin your own catering or personal chef company.

If you want to be classically trained, many schools offer culinary programs. These programs teach you the basics to working in a kitchen, such as how to hold knives, which pans work for each job, sanitation and safety practices, how to sharpen knives and how to cook on gas and electric stoves. You'll also learn basic cooking techniques, such as braising, chopping, searing, baking and sautéing. In practice kitchens, you'll learn how to make classic dishes, and through trial and error, you'll learn what flavor combinations work.

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers certifications for chefs and bakers (www.acfchefs.org). Two certifications are aimed at personal chefs, the Personal Certified Chef (PCC) and the Personal Certified Executive Chef (PCEC). To be eligible for the exam, you must have three years experience as a chef and one year experience as a personal chef. The United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA) also offers certification for personal chefs (www.uspca.org). To sit for this exam, you must have at least two years experience as a personal chef.

What Skills Should I Have?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you'll want to have skills that enable you to work with clients (www.bls.gov). Communication skills and customer relations are key to ensuring proper meals are planned. You must have menu-planning skills in order to prepare more than one meal at a time. Organization and time management skills allow you to plan out meals and cook items so that they are done at appropriate times.

Owning your own business requires business skills. You should understand financial matters and have business management skills if you want to have others working for you.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Bakers and food service managers are a couple of related careers. Bakers require no formal education, but likely receive on-the-job training. They prepare and bake bread, pastries and other baked goods. Food service managers run the daily operations of an eating establishment, including overseeing staff and ensuring that a business is profitable. They often check-in with customers to make sure they are satisfied with their experience. Food service managers need at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

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