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Personal Chef Services:
A Personal Career Choice for Entrepreneurial Chefs
career centerpersonal chef services

May 2002
Many who hear the term "Personal Chef" visualize a robust, classically clad gourmet who whips up pates and petit fours at the snap of a finger. But today's Personal Chefs do not cater to the whims of the ultra-wealthy. They meet the needs of everyday American families and singles who have difficulty finding time to prepare meaningful meals. 21st century Personal Chefs are professional yet practical service providers. They are business owners who provide busy clients with healthy, wholesome meals in a convenient manner and setting.

The goal of a personal chef is to prepare and package customized meals in clients' homes. Typically, a week's worth of evening meals are prepared during the chef's weekly visit. Visits are usually made while clients are at work, so there is no disruption to household or family activities.

A consultation session usually precedes the commencement of service. This meeting provides the client an opportunity to share dietary concerns/requirements and household cultural, religious and taste preferences. With this information, the Personal Chef will create and present meal options (usually hundreds of them!)as well as accept favorite recipes from the client. Together, Chef and client determine the service plan and schedule.

Wendy Perry, Co-Founder of Personal Chefs Network, Inc (PNC) and President of the Eastern Division, reports a recent surge in her organization's membership. PCN is among the largest Personal Chef trade organizations in the country. PCN and other Personal Chef trade groups provide members business training, start up support, industry information and ongoing newsletters. According to Ms. Perry, many professionally trained, experienced chefs, as well as those new to the culinary profession choose this option for a few key reasons.

One is flexibility and environment. Traditionally, professional restaurant chefs climb the culinary ladder rung by rung under grueling pressures including long, inflexible hours spent mostly on their feet often in extreme heat or cold. Traditional chefs typically spend many evenings, weekends and holidays at work. For many, the time invested and stress endured in hospitality positions does not justify the professional or monetary returns.

A Personal Chef, however, is immediately his or her own boss- an entrepreneur who determines how many clients to serve, what to offer in terms of menus and meals and what to charge for these services. As most in-home visits are made while clients are at work, the Chefs' hours more closely reflect "business hours" as opposed to nearly round the clock restaurant hours.

Ms. Perry sites an additional advantage that draws culinary professionals to the Personal Chef field: the opportunity for creative expression and the corresponding lack of redundant tasks and dishes. Creativity in a restaurant setting may be squelched in order to promote productivity and consistency. Personal Chefs can vary the menus, cuisines and dishes they offer. They find their customers appreciate the variety as much as they do.

Other culinary professionals, according to Ms. Perry, are entering the field for a unique business opportunity that is currently in a high growth pattern. According to the major trade organizations, the demand for personal chefs is on the rise. The American Personal Chef Association reports there are already 6,000 Personal Chefs serving 72,000 clients and estimates there will be over 25,000 chefs serving 300,000 clients by the year 2006. Singles and families alike are less satisfied with the inconvenience of dining out and the quality of fast food options. And preparation of regular evening meals beyond classics like "cold cereal avec milk" and "soup du tin can" is simply not possible for 21st century Americans with demanding careers or busy children- or both. There is a real and growing need for wholesome, healthy meals conveniently served at home. Timing is everything for entrepreneurs, and establishing this type of service while demand is growing could prove a savvy business move.

Establishing relationships with customers is yet another appealing reason chefs enter the Personal Chef business. Chefs in traditional roles rarely see a happy customer face to face. Personal Chefs regularly interact with customers and often receive feedback in the form of requests for additional dishes and elimination or variation in the preparation of others. The ability to regularly assist customers with their health/dietary concerns is also satisfying to many culinary professionals, especially those with training in dietetics. In some cases, the personal relationship even extends to household pets. Thomas Bolch of North Carolina is very pleased with his Chef of two years who often leaves flowers for the Bolch family. . . and doggie treats for the family pooch!

Sabrina Harris has been a Personal Chef in Houston for 3 years. She entered the field to tap her culinary creativity and talent as well as to fulfill the dream of owning her own business. Chef Sabrina found repetitive office work with little public contact or interaction confining and stifling. Not that she does not face challenges in her new profession. Office work may be mundane, but it is steady. Sabrina finds unexpected cancellations due to customer relocation and other change of circumstances her greatest hurdle.

For those with professional training and hospitality experience, the Personal Chef Service offers the ability to collect on an investment in formal culinary education as well as a means to pursue a love of food preparation in a "family friendly" environment. Unlike working in traditional hospitality positions that often require working weekends and holidays, the Personal Chef industry permits more flexibility and allows culinary professionals to determine how many hours will be devoted to work. Of course with this increased flexibility comes the reality of time versus money. In order to make a living, a Personal Chef must maintain and serve a substantial customer base.

All entrepreneurs must balance professional freedom, flexibility and creativity with the demands of earning an acceptable income. For those who choose to open a Personal Chef Service, this type of balance is possible. Demand for their services continues to grow, but each chef manages and limits the business they accept. The Personal Chef option appears to be the best "personal" choice for growing numbers of culinary professionals who seek creative work, flexible hours, meaningful customer relationships and a business of their own.

These sites offer information on becoming a Personal Chef:

Written By: Jane Boaz - In addition to her full time career as a Product Development Manager for an online legal research system, Jane is a freelance writer and culinary instructor. She has a law degree and recently earned a Certificate in Culinary Arts from Cincinnati State College.

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