I’m a Private Chef. Here’s what you should know.
Welcome to our CAREER SPOTLIGHT series, shedding light on the hugely varied routes you can take into so many wonderful corners of our industry. We’ve spoken to food stylists, ready-meal recipe developers, TV food producers and many more, all proving that your food career doesn’t need to revolve around late nights or working restaurant services. But if those careers are shrouded in mystery, how can you ever work towards them? This week’s spotlight shines on a private chef, who has asked to remain anonymous due to their client base. They’re taking a really honest dive into the ups and downs of private cheffing – and what you should consider if you’re thinking about going down the same route.
The first step to getting the career of your dreams is knowing what’s out there. We’re here to help you do just that.
How did you get into your current role?
I’ve worked in kitchens for over 15 years and slowly started joining up with different private chef agencies here and there to pick up extra work on my days off, to earn a little money and to get some more experience. Eventually I found myself getting better and better roles, and really enjoying it. So now I private chef full time.
What’s been the hardest thing about your career journey so far, and how did you get through it?
I knew that I wanted to get away from restaurant kitchens – I’ve done a lot of jobs that I’ve found mundane, and worked in a lot of kitchens that I really didn’t enjoy, but I had to work at it for money, or because I didn’t see another way. I am glad I did that though – there’s always something to learn, even in the most mundane tasks. This mindset has kept me curious and open to growth, helping me refine my skills and get me to the stage I am now, where my CV is strong enough to get me some really great clients. You also learn more that way – you can grow with a team rather than leaving the minute it gets tough. That’s a huge downside of being a private chef – a lot of the time you’re on jobs alone, without a team, and without anyone teaching you. I really miss the friendships that you build in kitchens, and also the learning that happens on the job. So I believe that it’s not a route you should take full-time until you’ve put the hours in really learning your craft – or unless you’re willing to spend a lot of your free time doing stages.
What’s the most unexpected thing about your role?
What surprised me the most is the admin side of being a private chef. Dealing with the never-ending chase for payments is a pain, and sometimes I’m left hanging for weeks for the expenses I’ve fronted. Clients can be super picky, and they can change their minds a lot – you have to meticulously keep track of all those changes, and if you drop the ball it’s all on you. You’ve got to be really disciplined and organised, the minute you’re not on top of what you need to do it can all collapse. So, you’ve got to be a bit of an organisational wizard. Communication is key, and being flexible enough to cater to lots of different people’s needs without getting flustered. I’ve had to master the art of juggling tasks, from last-minute deliveries and tweaking menus to finding extra staff when needed and making sure those invoices get paid on time. The paperwork and client management bit was totally unexpected, but it’s a crucial part of the job – both for yourself and for your client.
What’s the best thing about it?
The best part of the gig is the freedom and flexibility. You can take a really long-term job if you want, or you can set it up so that every day or week is different, with different places to cook, different people to cook for, and wildly different menus. I could be catering a corporate event one day, putting together a party in a private house another day, then flying off to a Greek island to cook for a family for two weeks the day after that. It varies hugely depending on what I’ve agreed on. At the moment it’s a stint for a private equity firm where I cook bespoke lunches for around 50 people – I really enjoy this as they like my food and I get to introduce them to different dishes and order really good produce. Sometimes I’ll finish there in the afternoon and move onto a dinner for another client which means arriving somewhere new to prep and serve guests. And then occasionally I’ll have a repeat private client who wants a dinner party catered for, some simple meal prep or a big occasion like a wedding or celebration. The great thing is that it’s totally up to you – you can take on as much or as little work as you like, for whatever timescale you like.
It can be a weird life – one memorable gig took me to a disused wing of a castle for a job I had to stay over for. I was so excited – it was so impressive. But as night fell, I realised I had some unexpected roommates – all I could hear was what sounded like hundreds of mice running through the walls all around me. Plus, being a private chef sometimes means you’re right in the middle of a client’s personal life and you have to remain really professional – this is something that happens a lot if you’re in their house. They might talk to you about something slightly personal… I’ve also witnessed full blown arguments and had to pretend it’s not happening.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to get into your profession?
For anyone wanting to get into private cheffing, my advice is that you will meet a lot of personalities and it’s important to not take things personally. You’re here to do a job and that’s it. Sometimes you will be dealing with the head housekeeper and no interaction with the guest, sometimes it’s directly with the guest or their partner and you have to be open to decisions changing at the last minute. I would also say that if you’re working in kitchens and want to get into the private side of cheffing, make sure you’ve got your finances in check – sometimes money takes a while to come in so you need a buffer and can’t always rely on getting paid on time unfortunately. Build up your experience and transition slowly if you find it’s something you really enjoy, if not you can do it on the side and say yes to the things that are appealing and no to the ones that aren’t. In the early days you feel as though any job you turn down might be the big opportunity, so you can find yourself taking on way too much. It takes a while to find your balance, but once you do it can be a really fantastic career.