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. View article »

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  • 0:03 Should I Become a…
  • 1:13 Step 1: Complete…
  • 2:14 Step 2: Gain Experience
  • 2:48 Step 3: Obtain Certification

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Video Transcript

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 or household, they may be required to be on-call and work some nights and weekends.

Along with formal culinary training, this career requires an artistic and technical skill set. Private chefs need creativity, manual dexterity, strong time-management and business skills, physical stamina for working in a kitchen, and the ability to use common kitchen tools, such as knives, graters, and food thermometers.

Compared to chefs of larger, professional kitchens, private chefs generally have fewer responsibilities and less stress. They also tend to make less. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, private cooks earned an average annual salary of $37,680 in May 2015.

Career Requirements at a Glance

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 (2015)* $37,680 per year (average salary for private cooks)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine

Now, let's discover the steps that you might take toward becoming a private chef:

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Step 1: Complete Formal Training

The first step the private chefs take is formal training. Some chefs may succeed in the career with only informal, on-the-job training or self instruction, but this is rare. Most chefs complete culinary arts diploma, certificate, or degree programs, which available through community colleges, culinary schools, and some 4-year colleges. The culinary arts curriculum usually combines hands-on training with coursework in subjects such as sanitation, baking, nutrition, food science, and global cuisine.

Success Tip:

  • Take business or accounting courses. After all, it's important to be prepared for the business aspects of the culinary world.
  • You may also benefit from completing internships or externships, which are often offered to culinary arts students. These opportunities provide practical experience in the kitchen under the supervision of experienced chefs. They also allow you to hone your skills and gain confidence with the wide range of tasks that private chefs complete on the job.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Once trained, the next step is to gain experience in the culinary arts. Generally, these professionals need 1-5 years of experience before qualifying for employment in a private kitchen. Aspiring chefs may get started 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: Obtain Certification

With experience under your belt, you may consider the next logical step for private chefs: becoming certified. While certification is not mandatory, private chefs may find earning certification gives a competitive edge in the job market. The American Culinary Federation awards certification to personal chefs at two levels:

  • The Personal Certified Chef credential requires three years of culinary experience and one year of private chef experience, as well as knowledge in food preparation, menu planning, marketing, and financial management.

  • The Personal Certified Executive Chef credential requires at least three years of experience as a personal chef as well as advanced food preparation knowledge.

There are additional requirements for all certification candidates, including: completion of approved courses in food safety and sanitation, nutrition, and business management, as well as passage of written and practical exams.

To become a private chef, you generally need formal culinary training and 1-5 years of culinary experience. Certification can also be beneficial for advancement in the field.

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