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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Last night, I attended a panel called "How to Become a Personal Chef" sponsored by Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR). Presenters included a women who runs an agency placing private chefs, 2 culinary-school placement officers, and 2 personal chefs. In 2 hours, they barely scratched the surface. But here's some of the stuff I found interesting:

What are the differences between a personal chef and a private chef?
There are many. A personal chef is an entrepreneur, often a sole-proprietor business, who contracts with multiple clients to cook for them on a regular basis. S/he may cook at each client's home, at a commercial kitchen, or a combination of the two. Must provide own insurance coverage for liability (as well as own benefits, of course).
A private chef is the employee of one family or person, and cooks ONLY for them. Could be live-in or -out; is on-call according to the arrangement made with the employer. As an employee, is covered by the employer's insurance regarding liability, etc., and might receive benefits including health insurance, retirement plan, and so on.

Do you need culinary training to become a personal chef?
Not really -- just as you don't need it to cook in a restaurant or other facility. One PC on the panel had been to I.C.E. (Kump's); the other was self-educated.

What skills do you need, besides being able to cook?
People skills: you have to negotiate menus, fees, limits of what you will and will not be responsible for.
Business skills: as a PC, YOU are the business. You have to deal with pricing, insurance, taxes, contracts or service agreements, billing, banking. Also, you have to be able to market yourself, whether with ads or by word-of-mouth references.
Time-management skills: since you have many clients, you have to be able to get the work done for each in the time you allot. VERY IMPORTANT. And you need time to handle the business details, to keep up with food trends, etc.

What is a typical day like?
Both PCs work differently. One will shop, bring the groceries, cook, pack and store the prepared food, and clean up, for 2 or 3 different clients each day, four days a week. On her "off" time, when she's not handling business details, she's reading and researching. The other may only work for one client a day, also shopping, cooking, packing and storing, and cleaning, but might then do dinner parties in the evening and on weekends. Both said that sometimes they only use the equipment at the client's home, sometimes they bring their own (always their knives, sometimes pots and pans).

How do you charge? What do you charge?
One charges a daily rate for about a 7-hour day (5 - 6 hours on site, the rest doing the shopping), plus food costs, plus other fees for disposable packaging materials, travel (if necessary), etc. The other charges by the hour, with a 3-hour minimum, including the cost of groceries.

That's about what I can recall.

Here are a few websites to check out:
US Personal Chefs Association
American Personal Chef Association and Institute
Personal Chefs Network, Inc.
Canadian PC Association
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Jumping back in with what the 2 PCs on the panel said:

When they first agree to take on a client, they both have a serious session with the client to learn what the client likes, dislikes, is allergic to, and as many other food preference quirks as can be thought of at the time. Then each week they present a menu plan for the client's consideration, based on those preferences and, I suppose, what is fresh and available. This is done a week ahead, actually. Client can ask for changes, but once the menu is agreed upon, the only changes will be in substitutions in the absence of some expected item.

Since all clients have different preferences, I doubt the PCs make the same for all. Although if something wonderful just came into season, and the client likes it, I'm sure they both will try to include it (such as the first fresh asparagus in spring).

The general consensus was that it's better to charge a standard fee for your time, with cost of ingredients separate. That way your actual INCOME not going to fluctuate with rising and falling prices, or more or less expensive tastes.

Jodi, what you're talking about with a "set menu" sounds more like the way a caterer or restaurant operates. The point the 2 PCs made was that theirs is a PERSONAL SERVICE, tailored to the specific tastes of the clients. Sure, they set the menu for each week, but it's the client's wishes, not what they want to sell, that is its foundation.

Hope this helps.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Probably so that they can sell you more stuff. Remember, they too are businesses.

I'm sure there are some plusses to joining the orgns -- they do offer training in running your own business. But Jodi, someone like you who knows all that (and more! ;) might not get much for your money. And why a person who knows enough to be able to cook for others would need their recipes is beyond me. Oh, sure, someone with little or no cooking experience might. But they probably shouldn't be hiring themselves out as a cook, for pete's sake! One more thing about the orgs: maybe they function as matchmakers, bringing together clients and chefs? But once you have the first 1 or 2 clients, like a good caterer you build your business on word-of-mouth.

Jodi, you really do seem to have it together. You've got it: the client pays for the groceries, containers, extras like pantry supplies -- and possibly also your travel (gas & mileage, at some standard rate). AND the client pays you a regular fee. The fee could be hourly, daily, whatever, and covers menu development and approval time as well.

Both the PCs on the panel estimate the grocery costs before they shop (AHA! that's where the costing come in!) and either get the cash upfront or get a blank check or card, as Shroom said. I suppose they build in a factor for higher prices in the estimate if they get cash. Then of course the client must get the receipt (and change, if any).

How often they cook depends on the arrangement they make with the client. The PC whose clients prefer "fresh" (i.e., non-frozen) food goes to them twice a week, for about 1/2 a day each visit. The other one goes weekly or bi-weekly or monthly, depending on the clients' wishes. That's one of the "negotiables" I originally mentioned. Both said they would never, EVER take a client who wanted them to come every day.

My guess is it could be some of each. Maybe they give you a category and you suggest a specific item? Probably not until you are very, very sure of their preferences. Anyway, that's one more negotiable.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Well, yeah. Who wouldn't be confused by that? The old "time plus materials" just seems so much easier to me. And I am a big booster of KISS (keep it simple, stupid). If it works for her, fine. But I can't see doing it that way.

That menu from "Entree Nous" looks more like a catering menu. I mean, most of that stuff sounds way too fancy for a simple weeknight at-home dinner. Not that all of it is inappropriate. Just that a lot of people want something only a few levels above a bowl of cereal. Clients have the money to eat that kind of food out; they don't have the time to shop, cook, and clean up, even simple (to us) stuff like stew or lasagna.
 
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