Become a Private Chef: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a private chef. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in the culinary field.

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Should I Become a Private Chef?

Private chefs, sometimes called private cooks, create meals for individuals or families in private residences. These chefs plan menus, shop for ingredients and prepare fresh meals to suit their clients' requests and nutritional requirements. Private chefs generally work full-time, and though they must only meet the needs of one client, they may be required to be on-call and work some nights and weekends.

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Career Requirements

Education Level A high school diploma or equivalent is required; some chefs may opt to enroll in certificate or degree programs
Degree Field Culinary arts
Certification Optional certification in a variety of areas is available
Experience 1-5 years of experience may be necessary for private chefs
Key Skills Creativity and manual dexterity; strong time-management and business skills; ability to use common kitchen tools, such as knives, graters, and food thermometers; ability to work long hours, including weekends and holidays
Salary (2014) $22,940 per year (Median salary for private chefs and cooks)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), O*Net OnLine

Step 1: Complete Formal Training in the Culinary Arts

Future cooks can choose from informal, on-the-job training in culinary arts or formal training acquired through diploma, certificate and degree programs available through community colleges, culinary schools and some 4-year colleges. Although very few training programs are tailored specifically to private chefs, some schools offer personal chef training programs and culinary arts programs with related courses. Formal training programs usually combine hands-on training with coursework in subjects such as sanitation, baking, nutrition, food science and global cuisine. These programs can range from as little as one semester to four years to complete.

Personal chefs are very similar to private chefs, and so is their training. Private chefs cook in the residence of one person or family, while personal chefs make meals for several individuals or families and deliver the meals to their clients. Personal chefs make food to be stored until ready to eat and private chefs prepare food to be consumed immediately.

Success Tips:

  • Take business or accounting courses. Some programs may offer the opportunity for chefs to complete coursework focused on the business aspects of the culinary world. Sharpening business and marketing skills may be helpful for private chefs as they establish themselves and their careers.
  • Pursue opportunities to gain real-world experience. Many culinary arts programs offer the chance to complete an internship or externship to students. Gaining practical experience in the kitchen under the supervision of experienced chefs is great way to hone skills and gain confidence with the wide range of tasks that private chefs complete on the job.

Step 2: Gain On-The-Job Experience

Aspiring chefs may get their start cooking at restaurants before becoming private chefs. Many chefs begin working as entry-level cooks in the hospitality or food service industries and then work their way up, eventually gaining the experience to become private chefs. A culinary apprenticeship is another option, allowing students to gain experience while learning from expert chef mentors.

Step 3: Seek Chef Certification

Although becoming certified is not a mandatory career step for private chefs, chefs may find earning a certification gives them a competitive edge in the job market. The American Culinary Federation awards certification to personal chefs at two levels: the Personal Certified Chef (PCC) and the Personal Certified Executive Chef (PCEC). According to the ACF, the PCC certification requires knowledge in food preparation, menu planning, marketing and financial management as well as three years of cooking experience and one year of private chef experience. The PCEC certification requires advanced food preparation knowledge and at least three years of experience as a personal chef (www.acfchefs.org).

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