Everyone loves food. But when it comes to cooking, some people head to the kitchen while others take a seat at the table. If you're thinking about how to become a personal chef, it's safe to say you're someone who enjoys feeding people as much as eating. Cooking for others can be fulfilling and meaningful — and a great career choice for someone with strong culinary skills.
Before diving into how to become a personal chef, you should first understand the difference between a personal chef and a private chef. These terms are used interchangeably, but their job descriptions are a bit different. If you're looking to start your own culinary business, it's helpful to understand the nuance:
If you want to know how to become a private chef, don't get too hung up on the differences since you may be asked to perform a combination of these functions. The important thing to know is that both will require expert culinary skills. Whichever path you choose, the steps for getting there are essentially the same.
Let's get the most obvious sign out of the way. You must be able to cook well. You may be incredibly passionate about cooking and spending hours planning and preparing food for others, but the proof is in the pudding. Do people love your cooking?
Here are some signs that you really are a great cook:
Maybe you went to culinary school or spent years working in restaurants, but plenty of talented cooks don't have formal training. Don't let the lack of a degree stop you from following your dream of becoming a personal chef. Instead, find ways to gain the culinary skills and experience you're missing:
Great chefs are naturally curious about food and are always looking to learn new skills.
You may be known for your homemade pasta and pesto, but variety is the spice of life. It's important to demonstrate range if you want to become a personal chef. You should be able to prepare dishes that reflect various cuisine styles, including Italian, French, Mexican, and Mediterranean.
Once you've mastered the basics, you can move on to more exotic fare. Although you may never be asked to prepare a sizzling balut, you may find that having one or two "specialty dishes" will earn you some serious street cred.
Find inspiration by exploring local farmers' markets and trying new ingredients. Traveling is another way to discover unique cuisine.
Being a versatile chef means that you’re adaptable and able to cook for a variety of dietary preferences. You'll need to have a deep understanding of ingredients and appropriate substitutes to cater to dietary restrictions while keeping your food tasty.
You may have to serve two or even three versions of the same dish if the family you're cooking for has multiple concerns. Food allergies, gluten sensitivity, and low-carb diets are becoming the norm these days, so it's best to brush up on the best ways to accommodate changing dietary needs.
You know the saying — if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Kitchens can be pressure cookers. Even the most prepared chefs encounter mishaps and surprises. As a personal chef, you will need to think on your feet without getting flustered or derailed.
Think about how you'd handle the following turn of events:
If your gut reaction is to cry or panic, this probably isn't the career for you.
On the other hand, if you've already whipped up a second souffle, then that's a sign you're an unflappable cook — and someone who would make a fantastic personal chef.
Many personal chefs share common traits and habits that make it much easier to pivot when a crisis pops up. Time management skills allow you to leave some room for error or unforeseen disasters.
Running a clean, organized kitchen makes it easier to begin to prepare something new in a flash. And being able to juggle multiple tasks at once means you're able to quickly shift your attention without losing sight of the whole meal.
Some chefs are perfectly content to work in restaurants, but it's not for everyone. There's little room for creativity when you're cooking the same menu on autopilot. Maybe you envision putting your culinary talents to work in a more rewarding way.
If you're ambitious enough to turn your cooking skills into a small business, make no mistake that you'll need to be driven and self-motivated. No matter how you slice it, cooking will always involve long days and many hours spent on your feet.
Being a personal chef means that all the responsibilities fall on your shoulders. You'll be the one finding your clients, planning the menu, shopping the ingredients, and running the kitchen. At the end of the day, the dishes are all yours too!
The payoff is that you will be able to set your business up in a way that fits your lifestyle, whether that's working for multiple clients or one family. Another bonus is the sheer enjoyment of sharing your food with others, watching them savor it, and receiving all the compliments!
Before committing to this new career path, be certain it's a good fit for your personality. You'll be invited into people's homes, interacting with family members daily, so morning chit-chat and evening small talk will be the norm.
If you're already a people person, you'll love the idea of getting up close and personal with the people you cook for. As a constant presence in the home, you may become a trusted confidante like some private chefs of high-profile clients.
If you're a bit shy or introverted, consider whether these daily interactions will stress you out. You don't have to be a constant chatterbox, but you'll need to be engaged and comfortable with social interactions.
Some clients will want you to announce your menu — especially if you're cooking for a special occasion. Don't be surprised if this happens while you're pulsating bread crumbs or basting a turkey.
While it may be an unwelcome distraction, this is a sign that your clients are impressed with you. After all, they've hired you for your expertise, and they will want you to flaunt it. Indulge them with the details of your menu, then find a way to move them along.
Becoming a personal chef means operating like a professional chef. There shouldn't be any question about your ability to shuck oysters or whip up Eggs Benedict at a moment's notice. That doesn't mean that you've cooked every dish under the sun, but you should be confident enough to know how to tackle almost any request.
Identify the gaps in your experience and make a plan. If you're a great cook and a so-so baker, it's time to pull out the mixer and practice making your pastry crust. Think about meals from start to finish to ensure you have all the bases covered.
Enhance your knowledge of fine wines. Perfect your plating abilities. Broadening your skills will help you become a more well-rounded chef.
There are five prominent flavor profiles: salty/umami, sweet, sour, bitter, and spice. You should learn how to build and balance them to create delectable meals.
Once you master the full range of flavors, you'll become more confident, and your cooking will become more adventurous. Test new recipes on your family and friends — that's a win-win for everyone.
While your clients will have their own kitchens and equipment, most personal chefs are picky about the tools they use and prefer to provide the essentials. It may be an investment up front, but purchasing your own set of high-quality knives will make a big difference in your daily prep work.
Before you commit to working in someone's kitchen, take stock of what they have and what you'll need to cook like a pro. You already may notice that certain dishes just aren't the same without your trusty cast-iron skillet, so hold on to your tried-and-true gadgets.
Here's a list of some must-have supplies:
Becoming a personal chef sounds like a piece of cake, right? After all, you know what it takes to create an irresistible meal. But now you're running a business. And that involves business licenses, taxes, invoicing, scheduling, marketing, and much more.
Add all of that to the shopping, schlepping, cooking, and loads of dishes, and you now have a full plate.
Here's how to make it work:
Set yourself up with a business name and apply for a business license. if necessary. Be sure to research operating permits and food handler certification, along with other food industry requirements, which may vary from state to state. Finally, hire an accountant or learn how to do your own taxes.
If you're fortunate enough, you'll have a client or two lined up before launching your business. You may continue to grow through referrals, networking, and word of mouth. In any case, you should have a tasteful website that highlights your services and specialties. That way, you can attract new clients who are searching online.
Cooking costs may seem as straightforward as ingredients and time, but make sure you've priced your services accurately by factoring in all your business expenses.
Discuss scheduling and pricing upfront with your clients, and try your best to not fall into the slippery slope of taking on too much. It's important to be flexible, but you also should know when and where you need to draw the line.
A sliced finger. An accidental grease fire. A shrimp dish with tainted shrimp. One calamity in the kitchen and suddenly your dream job has turned into a nightmare. If you're working in a client's kitchen or a rented space, the risk factors increase. The risks also go up as you cook for more and more people.
You can't prevent an unexpected event from happening. But with private chef insurance, you can protect yourself, your business, and your equipment with a plan that covers a range of risks and hazards.
The most common business insurance choice for personal chefs is general liability insurance. It provides coverage against costs associated with certain third-party accidents, property damage, and bodily injury (up to your policy limits).
Without it, you may be responsible for your dinner guest's trip to the ER or the damage to your client's kitchen ceiling. Costs like those can be substantial. It's estimated that the average claim for property damage for a small business is $30,000.
When you have a comprehensive general liability insurance policy, you're covered for risks such as these:
It's possible for a contaminated food scenario to go beyond a visit to the emergency room. It could go as far as a lawsuit that may shut down your business or damage your reputation. Without general liability insurance, you would be responsible for the legal fees.
The good news is your general liability coverage would most likely cover the costs of litigation, up to the limits of your policy.
And we can find GL coverage for private chefs from leading insurers as low as $25.50/mo.* It usually takes just 10 minutes for you to get covered — about the time it takes to make a vinaigrette.
Working as a private chef is a unique experience because you provide something essential to daily life. Your product is your food. And your service is the care and attention given to it.
Good chefs listen to their clients and understand their needs. That's why it's vital to not only love what you do and do it well, but to know how to keep your clients happy.
Like any relationship, don't let your food become too routine. While your client may love your overnight oats, it's nice to nudge them out of their comfort zone with a morning frittata. They're paying for your versatile culinary skills, so make sure that's what they get.
As a personal chef, you're the star of the show. But when you need support to get the job done, it's OK to call in some backup. Don't be afraid to hire a server or a sous chef for large family gatherings and parties. It shows that you care enough to make sure everything will look effortless — even when it isn't.
One way to continue to impress is to surprise them with something special once in a while. A complimentary cocktail after a long week. A decadent dessert to celebrate something unexpected. The relationship between life and food is something you share with your clients, and this is one way to acknowledge that.
You're culinary-trained, focused, passionate, business-savvy, and you're not afraid to put in the hours it takes to become a personal chef. Well done! You're on your way to becoming a small business owner.
With any business, some things will be out of your control. And that's OK — especially if you're covered with the right insurance. It will protect you, your food, and your equipment. When you're covered, you're also minimizing the risk of people who hire you and the people you feed.
With a small business plan like this, it looks like you have a recipe for success.
*Monthly payment calculations (i) do not include initial premium down payment and (ii) may vary by state, insurance provider, and nature of your business. Averages based on July-September 2023 data of 10% of our total policies sold.
I've always loved to write and have been lucky enough to make a career out of it. After many years in the corporate advertising world, I'm now a freelance writer—running my own show and contributing to Simply Business. Fun fact: I have three desks in my house, but I still do my best thinking walking in the woods.
Susan writes on a number of topics such as workplace safety, customer sales, and workers' compensation insurance.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
*Harborway Insurance policies are underwritten by Spinnaker Insurance Company and reinsured by Munich Re, an A+ (Superior) rated insurance carrier by AM Best. Harborway Insurance is a brand name of Harborway Insurance Agency, LLC, a licensed insurance producer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. California license #6004217.