Become a Personal Chef: Education and Career Roadmap
Learn how to become a personal chef. Research the job duties and the education requirements, and find out how to start a career in this culinary arts profession.
Should I Become a Personal Chef?
Personal chefs cook meals and plan menus for private clients, either in a client's home or in a professional kitchen. They may service multiple clients with services typically provided once a week. These chefs prepare multiple meals according to the customer's specifications and dietary needs and then store the meals with instructions so the client can heat the food when ready. Other duties might extend to ordering groceries and washing dishes. Personal chefs are not the same as private household chefs, who typically work for one client and may live on site.
Personal chefs can run their own business or be an employee of a professional company. This line of work requires standing for long periods and the use of safety precautions around sharp utensils and hot appliances. A typical work schedule might also include weekends and holidays.
A high school diploma or GED is typically required to be a personal chef and associate's and bachelor's degree, certificate, diploma and apprenticeship programs in culinary arts, are available. Voluntary professional certification is available. Aspiring personal chefs should have 1-5 years experience in a related job.
Key skills needed to work in this profession include developed senses of smell and taste, manual dexterity, creativity, understanding of nutrition, and expertise in preparing a variety of foods. Business and marketing abilities and knowledge of business software are also needed.
According to 2015 data, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, private household cooks and personal chefs earned a median salary of $26,300.
Step 1: Learn the Cooking Trade
Chefs can learn cooking skills through work experience or formal training programs. Many aspiring chefs begin their careers as line cooks or even dishwashers, working in a kitchen for several years under the guidance of an experienced chef.
Culinary arts programs are offered at community colleges, culinary institutes, technical schools and universities. These programs typically lead to an associate's degree, but some programs award bachelor's degrees. Culinary arts studies emphasize hands-on experience and training in professional kitchens. In addition to studying nutrition and cooking, students generally learn how to maintain a sanitary cooking environment, plan menus, cater events, buy supplies and manage a business. Some schools offer personal chef certificate or diploma programs.
An apprenticeship program is another training option. Apprentices earn pay while learning cooking skills through both hands-on kitchen experience and classroom studies. These programs generally take two or three years to complete and are offered by culinary schools, professional associations and trade unions. Shorter programs that teach basic cooking skills are also available.
Step 2: Gain Work Experience
Cooks typically need one to five years of experience working in professional kitchens, restaurants or other areas of the food service industry before being employed as chefs. Culinary arts programs generally require students to gain work experience in a restaurant, catering firm, bakery or other professional kitchen through internships, work placement programs or other opportunities. Once enough experience is gained, personal chefs can become self-employed or work for companies that provide personal chef services.
Aspiring personal chefs can:
Join a professional association. Cooking trade associations include the American Personal and Private Chef Association (APPCA) and the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Some trade organizations offer training programs, marketing tools and business advice to personal chefs who already operate or want to start their own business. Trade associations may offer professional networking opportunities that can benefit both new and established personal chefs.
Step 3: Earn Certification
Certification is not a requirement for personal chefs, but it may result in promotions and higher salaries. The ACF awards the Personal Certified Chef (PCC) and the Personal Certified Executive Chef (PCEC) designations. To be eligible for the PCC designation, a chef must have three years of cooking experience and one year of experience working as a personal chef.
To qualify for the PCEC designation, an individual must have three years of experience working as a personal chef. Requirements for both designations include a high school diploma or GED, continuing education hours and three 30-hour courses in cooking safety and sanitation, nutrition and business management. Applicants must also pass written and practical tests. Certified personal chefs must meet continuing education requirements to maintain their certification.
Personal chefs need at least one year of experience in the field and typically need at least a high school degree and culinary training, either through an apprenticeship or a college or culinary institute program.