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Dec 6, 2007 07:43 PM

Personal Chef

Hey Folks. I am currently embarking on a major career change. After 11 years as an investigator for the FBI, I am leaving to do what I love most - cooking. I want to start a business doing personal caterering/chef services on a small scale, cooking food for groups ranging from romantic dinner for two to dinner party for 12, and not much bigger. I want to keep it small, high-end, and gourmet. The business will include cooking dinner for clients who have the money to spend on someone coming into their home and cooking their family dinners five days a week because they themselves don't have the knowledge/ability/patience/imagination to do it themselves. That's the "chef services" part.

I do a ton of cooking and entertaining at home and I've caterered events as large as 50 people by myself; but beyond whatever knowledge and skills I possess on my own, I do not have any formal training. On one of my two days off from the Bureau, I currently "stodge," or apprentice in the kitchen of a major restaurant owned by a big-time chef in Philadelphia. I plan on doing that for a year. When the time arrives to start my business and build a clientele, I will cite this apprenticeship for credibility. In addition to that, however, I want tobe able to cite some formal credential in the way of cooking.

After mild investigation, I've learned that there are organizations out there that, after multi-day seminars/conferences/courses, one can earn a certification as a "personal chef." I learned of two organizations: The United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA), and the American Personal and Private Chef Institute and Association. Does anyone have any familiarity with these organizations, or any other credible organizations? Are these organizations valuable or a waste of money? Is my plan a smart one? Any tips from experienced personal chefs/caterers? How important is having a full-blown culinary degree in this line of work? Any advice would be helpful. Thanks.

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  1. I am a former catering sales manager for a Major Hotel Chain. I cannot speak to being an every day personal chef, but catering a few ideas....

    I would say that if anything, these certification's will make your more legit to your clients. If you don't get anything out of it - fine, but it's something to add to your resume/credentials. It will make your clients feel assured that they are not hiring some "guy" who liked to cook for his friends.
    In addition to acquiring your state food handling liscenses, etc. Plus, they may be good networking opps.

    I think your apprenticeship at a restaurant is great. Esp. if it's a place people (namely, the ppl you want to work with) eat at. Which, it sounds like it is.

    I think the biggest challenge folks have is branding/selling themselves. They know how to cook, prep, clean, manage, but when it comes to the sales/business side thats where they fail. You may want to take some entrepreneurs/small business classes- good ones, not ones where they tell you to join the Chamber! The financial part can also be a challenge. You seem like a professional person, so I'm sure your business plan is strong.

    If you are doing small events only, you have to make some up in volume. So, you may want to think about if you want to get into the staffing part - (i.e. - making food offsite and then running it to location by people other than you), using a staffing/bar service, etc. We had some banquet servers that moonlighted with personal chefs when the hotel biz was slow and made a ton of money. The host would pay them directly in cash or by check and the chef would supply the servers, but not mess w/ paying them.

    Other things to consider - are you going to do pastry or are you going to outsource it? I knew a lady that only did pastry and sold to chefs. Depending on your strengths!

    Most homes have the equipment to make what you need, but make sure of it and it's working - especially GRILLS. You may want to develop a good relationship with a rental company.

    Will you be doing the shopping for the family? Typically, this is the case (esp. for someone who can afford a 5/week chef!). If you become a caterer, you can get the better pricing on wholesale foods rather than going to the reg. store. So, check out those options, too.

    You may also want to work with a caterer in addition to the restaurant. I'm sure you are doing lots of covers at the restaurant, but you're not experiencing the set up, tear down, books balancing, scheduling, etc. that you will be later.

    Congrats on living your dream!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: stellamystar

      Excellent advice--and one bit sparked a memory. I once met a personal chef who made a jacket with the name of her business and wore it whenever she went grocery shopping. She got most of her clients that way.

    2. In response to your culinary degree question- it is absolutely not necessary. If you are a good cook, you are and that is just it. Some people go to culinary school and do not even become that. In my experience, if your food is good, which I'm sure it is, people who ask you about this are not very smart as they think a piece of paper is the only thing that qualifies to do what you love. You will learn more doing that apprenticeship and just paying attention to all things culinary. Save your money!

      I'd say one professional affiliation should be enough for some credibility to get things moving, but really, just make sure your bio is written very well with some very inventive menu ideas when marketing yourself and people will believe in you and give it a go. I think your main credibility is just word of mouth. Good luck to you!

      1. Phil_A_Mignon - it's been a couple years since you posted your inquiry on personal chef services. Did you end up taking the plunge and did you get certified? I'm considering the career switch myself, and am trying to weigh all the drawbacks and benefits of going this route. Thanks!

        1 Reply
        1. re: soygirl2

          I'm a Personal Chef (hence the moniker The Kilted Cook) and a member of the US Personal Chef Association and graduate of their culinary school.

          We can discuss things in detail outside of Chow if you like:

          TheKiltedCook at Mindspring dot Com

        2. "I currently "stodge," or apprentice"

          I sincerely hope you meant Stage. Stages typically only last a weekend up to a few weeks. You are not an apprentice unless you are employed by the Chef. You are not staging if you are employed.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Fritter

            Yes, I meant "stage" and I spelled it phonetically for the unfamiliar.

            I wasn't employed. I was there one day a week for 6 months. Staging. Why the semantics of this matters to you is weird.