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Jul 13, 2013 03:48 PM

Home cooking...for a living?

Has anyone here worked in the capacity of personal cook...for another person's home?

There is a whole universe of House Manager/Cook/Butler-ing in major cities like NYC and LA, for example:

For the past four years I've been cooking three nice meals a day, 5 days a week, for my partner, who works from home (while we traveled everywhere). Very, very particular palate. And I've become a good cook...and an aggressive marketer.

Things are changing, and I'm wondering if there is a path from doing this doing it professionally. I've never aspired to restaurant work because I don't think I'd ever be fast enough to work in a kitchen. Also, I really like cooking for specific people and their palates on an ongoing basis.

Any direct knowledge about this line of work...or how you get from here to there, would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you!

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  1. 2 paths: you can be a personal chef for a family, OR sell pre-made meals that can be delivered weekly and re-heated. the latter gives you a bit more personal freedom and is more dollar-friendly for potential clients not quite of the 2%.

    successfully cooking for two is a far cry from cooking for a group, or cooking for several homes. if you have the temperament (and you will be a servant, keep in mind), that's a start. like being a a nanny, you'd need to find a good fit with a family. you will be required to work under budgets, deadlines, be available to entertain, be responsible for shopping, food costs, keeping everybody's favorite snacks in-house, etc. there is little tolerance for "zomg! i forgot to buy chloe's favorite fruit roll-ups."

    i don't know anybody who has worked as a personal chef that has not worked in either restaurants or catering, i'm sorry. you can try advertising on craigslist, but people will want references.

    you can start by designing menus. cost out your food, estimate your time, extrapolate servings. cook for free for friends. let them be your references.

    4 Replies
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      +1. being a cook is not being a chef. Understand the difference, and then get cracking.

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        Hi hotoynoodle,

        I do plan menus and cost out food. I also keep meticulous expense records. I've gotten better at estimating my time and rarely waste food. I understand it's different to do that on a professional level, but I've got the mind and inclination for it.

        Vis-a-vis cooking for larger groups, I have some experience, but not enough. And I understand service (will leave it at that).

        In your experience, is it easier for a self-taught cook to finagle a job in catering over a restaurant kitchen? Any thoughts on how to swing it?

        I understand that chef-dom is different from cook-dom.

        1. re: chloehk

          In your experience, is it easier for a self-taught cook to finagle a job in catering over a restaurant kitchen? Any thoughts on how to swing it?

          depends on if you have any connections and/or if you can find somebody willing to give you a shot. offering to work for free or minimum wage will sweeten the pot. be honest about your goals and you may need to keep this job while you get your business up-and-running, so it may not be super-short-term. you may also find you prefer catering! :)

          as i said, if you have friends or casual acquaintances for whom you can run sample meals and get their opinions then using them as references will help.

          design a week's worth of various kinds of menus, like vegetarian, low-fat, gluten-free, etc. to cover all sorts of special requests that may be out there. include snacks and micro-waveable stuff for in-between times.

          get yourself organized, determine your worth and start putting yourself out there. good luck!

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            hotoynoodle, thank you for the feedback. This is helpful!

      2. I have been a personal residential chef since 1979. It has been a very rewarding career and given me many opportunities. I am also self taught and confident in my skills, having been doing it for 34 years.

        1 Reply
        1. re: robt5265

          Hi robt5265, thank you so much for responding. Will message you directly!

        2. My guess is that it's a lot like any other kind of freelance work. Yes, you can start from scratch completely on your own, but it's going to be a lot more difficult to get clients than it would be if you had some restaurant or catering work on your resume, or had people who were familiar with your work in some public capacity. I'm a freelance writer, but I worked for two years as an editor in the offices of a publishing company, and for the first few years after I went freelance, almost all of my writing clients came from connections I made while working on the editorial side in the office. Without those kind of connections, you may have to spend some time (and money) doing a lot of work for free to try to get people to try your services. Just a thought, hope it's not too awkward a comparison.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Skippy1414

            Hi Skippy1414,

            Thank you. Since I have also been food-blogging while cooking (and thinking about freelance writing work as well) -- your comment is very interesting to me on a couple of levels.

            Thanks for replying.


          2. I have known people who've done it. The biggest initial cost/challenge is the kitchen and having it overhauled for Health Dept. approval. Find out what it takes in your area but the people I know have redone their kitchens and it's a costly process. I think a good initial step is to work for someone who has done it, see how it can be done well and then proceed. One thing to remember is that while some clients can be angels, others can be incredibly trying and you have to be patient enough to deal w/ nitpicky details. I used to do calligraphy for brides but only do it for friends/family now (one bride could not be convinced that, same line of paper, same brand, matching in the midday sun, that the invitation she picked was the exact same color as the envelopes. And, I heard she was far worst w/ the caterer).

            1 Reply
            1. re: chowser

              Catering is different from personal cheffing. The Personal Chef prepares food in the client's home, so no health dept kitchen inspection is needed. More important is a safe food handlers' certificate and business insurance.
              One of the biggest challenges for me, as a self-employed personal chef, is the unpredictable income stream.

            2. I have been operating my personal chef business since 2006. Personal chefs can be certified by various associations, notably US Personal Chef Association. As I am in Canada, I chose not to be certified by the USPCA ( I maintain business insurance and and business license, and work for several different households and agencies.
              A personal chef is a business operator/entrepreneur, working in the public market.The personal chef may prepare several meals for the client to consume over a period of time. A private chef is either an independent contractor or employee, working for one or two households. The private chef might prepare meals for one or two days at a time.
              Being a self-employed chef provides me the opportunity to define my own schedule, choose my clients, and be generally self-determined. Before becoming a personal chef, I worked in commission sales in a non-food industry, and have formal education in physical metallurgy. I have been cooking for families and groups up to 100 for nearly 40 years.
              Hope this helps.

              5 Replies
              1. re: KarenDW

                Hi KarenDW, thanks for your reply. This is very helpful. I had read about the USPCA while researching cooks for a relative who has a serious health condition. But I would imagine in a turbulent economy, that stable work can be hard to find.

                1. re: chloehk

                  people who are hiring personal chefs are not struggling in this economy. :)

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      maybe not struggling, but they are cutting back. Ive been in this line of work for more than 30 years. They are watching their money, that's why they still have it.......

                    2. re: chloehk

                      Most of the personal chefs in our region (southwestern British Columbia, Canada, regional population about <4 million) have had part time jobs while they started up their businesses. Some even maintained full-time other contracts for the first couple of years of operating. But this scenario is much the same across many industries. Careful business planning, which considers the regional economy, is the key. You may find that working a bit outside of your own locale is needed.