Personal Chef Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Learn about a personal chef's job duties and salary, as well as educational and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a personal chef career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Personal Chef

Personal chefs cook meals for an individual or a family, while often planning the meals, shopping for ingredients, ordering supplies and cleaning up afterward. Before you start working toward becoming a personal chef, learn about the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision about this career.

Pros of a Career as a Personal Chef
Opportunity to be self-employed - small financial investment, no inventory and you use client's kitchen (approximately $2,000 needed to start a personal chef business)***
You don't have to deal with working in a crowded kitchen or overseeing various projects (like administrative work or training new employees) as you might if you worked in a restaurant*
May find work with a celebrity*****
You may be able to determine your own schedule**

Cons of a Career as a Personal Chef
Mean annual wage in 2014 ($27,500) was lower than the national average salary ($47,000)*
May have to learn new special diets and adjust cooking habits with each new family (i.e., gluten-free, diabetic or vegetarian diets)**
Being a chef is physically demanding (i.e., lifting up to 20 lbs., standing for long periods and bending the body)****
Need liability insurance****

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **How to Start a Home-Based Personal Chef Business (book), ***Entrepreneur Magazine, ****Flathead Valley Community College, *****University of Tennessee - Knoxville.

Job Description

A personal chef cooks meals for an individual or a family. In this role, you plan the meals and either shops for the ingredients or order supplies and groceries for delivery. You are also responsible for cleaning, washing dishes and making sure everything is in its proper place. A personal chef is typically self-employed and may work for one or more clients. A personal chef is different from a private chef, who is contracted by only one client.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), personal chefs (or 'private household cooks') made a median annual salary of about $27,500 as of 2014; however, salary ranges vary according to which source you use. For instance, PayScale.com found most private chefs, also known as personal chefs, made between $26,000 and $120,000, as of September 2015. The median salary was $68,563. O*NET predicted average projected job growth (-2% to 2%) for personal chefs in the 2012-2022 decade.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

If you want to become a personal chef, you should to consider earning a certificate or undergraduate degree in culinary arts - although this is not necessary within the industry. You may also enroll in an apprenticeship program run by trade unions, industry associations or culinary institutes. Since most personal chefs are self-employed, taking courses or earning a degree in business, sales or marketing can help you with the business side of your profession. A personal chef needs skills in decision-making, financial management, marketing, safe food handling, customer relations and menu planning. You also learn planning, organization and how to modify recipes.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many of the jobs posted for personal chefs are individual families looking for a chef to come to the family's home to cook meals. A person may also require a personal chef to cook for a party or special event. The posted job excerpts listed below were open as of May 2012.

  • A search firm in Michigan advertised for a personal chef to cook, clean up and shop for special events, dinner parties and everyday meals. Applicants need a culinary degree and experience with private residence dinner parties.
  • A family in Maryland sought a personal chef with five years of experience to cook dinner. The personal chef must look after shopping and clean up.
  • A family in Pennsylvania advertised for a personal chef to cook for a couple of hours each day. Candidates must be skilled in ethnic cooking, such as Indian cuisine.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get Certified

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers the personal certified chef credential. To qualify, you must have worked three years as a chef and one year full-time as a personal chef. Education requirements include having an associate's degree in culinary arts, proof of completion of an ACFEF apprenticeship, a high school diploma and 50 continuing education hours (CEH), 50 CEH and GED certificate or 150 CEH. You must also complete three 30-hour courses in business management, sanitation and food safety and nutrition. You must pass written and practical exams.

If you have more experience, you can certify as a personal certified executive chef. Requirements include a culinary arts associate's degree, 50 CEH and an ACFEF apprenticeship, 150 CEH and a high school diploma/GED certificate or 250 CEH. You must have three years of experience working full-time as a personal chef involved with every area of management and food preparation. You must document that you have taken the same three 30-hour courses needed for the certified personal chef credential. The test consists of written and practical exams.

Find Your Niche

A client may have particular requirements, such as needing a gluten-free diet. You may want to concentrate on cooking vegetarian, diabetic, low-carb, sushi or dairy-free meals. You could also capitalize on current fads or trends. Alternatively, you may decide to cook a certain type of cuisine, such as Italian or Indian. You can create a signature dish that is associated with you and your business. You can also start a small side business, such as cooking treats for dogs, to attract clients.

Other Careers to Consider

Want to expand your cooking business to focus on larger crowds and special events? To be a caterer, you have to be a skilled chef. Although there's no minimum mandatory amount of education, you may decide to take courses or earn a certificate or degree in business or hospitality to help you develop your business. PayScale.com reported that most self-employed food caterers made an annual salary of between $25,000 and $100,000 as of May 2012.

Do you prefer a management position with a potential for a higher median salary than personal chefs receive? As a food service manager, you may work for an assisted-living facility and cook nutritious, delicious meals that will help the establishment appeal to clientele. You may also work for a franchise or chain restaurant with an associate's degree or certificate in food service management. Food service managers made a median salary of about $48,000 as of 2011, according to the BLS. The BLS also reported that food service manager positions might experience a decline of three percent from 2010-2020.

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