Our guide to choosing the ideal chef for your lifestyle
Whether you’re looking for a personal chef to prepare meals that you can cook on your own, or you need a live-in or live-aboard chef, we’ve got a menu of questions and considerations designed to make the hiring process a delicious experience.
Personal vs. Private: tomay-to, tomah-to? Not even a little bit.
While people often interchange the terms personal and private chef, they refer to completely different types of professionals. Apart from sourcing and prepping food, the similarities end there.
Personal chefs typically have a roster of clients to serve, are priced based on standards that include experience and certifications, the number of meals prepared, and other factors including whether they use your kitchen or a commercial one, or the ability to prepare food by strict religious or health requirements.
A personal chef prepares meals in advance, packages and stores them so you can cook them whenever you choose, and cleans the kitchen. According to the American Personal and Private Chef Association (APPCA), depending on where you live, the cost for the service may range from $200 to $500/day.
Conversely, a private chef is all yours — when it comes to making food, that is. A private chef may be hired on a live-in or live-out basis, depending on your specific needs and social calendar.
If you prefer live-in help, be prepared to offer room and board and, if necessary, transportation. Private chef staff positions are often salaried; according to Indeed.com, annual pay can range from around $75,000 up to $150,000 with full benefits depending on the regions and clientele they serve.
Kitchen Basics: Choosing your personal chef
There are only so many hours in a day. More and more Americans are choosing to hire personal chefs as a way to get back some of the hours consumed by traffic, work, child care, and the million other tasks that leave little time for nightly home cooking.
As an industry, the popularity of personal cheffing is boiling over. It’s a mixed blessing: For every chef with a demonstrable track record of the skills you need, there are plenty of others who promise their customers the moon and simply can’t deliver — even if they make it from cheese.
Before swooning over a chef’s tastes and talents in the kitchen, the APPCA recommends asking these essential queries:
- Does your candidate have a municipal business license? Most cities and towns insist upon licensing for food businesses, including food safety certifications, catering, kitchen cleanliness inspections (if operating a business from home or a commercial site), and other issues such as zoning and parking.
- Do their credentials include Certified Food Safety Handling (CF-SH) or other accredited state food safety certifications? While these certifications apply to chefs in retail settings, they are critical to the prevention of foodborne illnesses in every kitchen.
- Are they carrying general liability insurance, and if so, how much? The minimum coverage should be in the $2 million range.
- Where are the testimonials and references? Even if a trusted friend or colleague says their PC is a gem, it’s best to cast a wider net of opinions just to be sure.
Once those baseline needs are covered, it’s time to ask the fun stuff. These are the questions that matter most to you, which are all matters of compatibility. They may include:
- What kind of experience do you have cooking for _________ (families, people with disabilities, people with food allergies and sensitivities, households with pets, etc.)
- How flexible is your schedule? How do you handle disruptions?
- How much personal collaboration do you expect in meal planning?
- Where do you source your meats, vegetables, fruits, and dairy?
- Do you provide full cooking and post-meal storage instructions?
I’m Your Private Chef: I’ll do what you want me to do
Private chefs are the ultimate kitchen luxury, and the evaluation and selection process reflects that hallowed status. Your best bet is to explore agencies that cater specifically to matching clients with chefs. Choosing the right organization with a robust slate of professionals to serve your interests is key.
For our money, your best resource is Private Chefs, Inc. Having fed celebrities and non-celebs from every walk of life, both in the US and internationally, PCI is the preeminent source for highly skilled, credentialed, and superior quality professionals.
Founder and president Christian Paier made his bones at the five-star Vienna Hilton, and eventually arrived in the US as a chef at Palm Beach’s The Breakers. Upon moving to Los Angeles, Paier and his creations were so in demand that he made the jump to servicing private clients.
PCI’s client roster reads like the guest list for the globe’s most elite feast, featuring the A+ list from every corner: Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Tina Turner, the King of Jordan, Michael Jordan … you get the picture.
Chef salaries start at $300 a day, not including the cost of food. The agency places both in-home and out-of-home chefs, all of whom are able to cook for guests on airplanes and aboard ships. A pro with 10 to 20 years of service in star-rated restaurants, top corporate positions, or in households will cost you between $90 to $180K annually. (Impeccable references are provided.) The cost for cooking on your yacht is, quite sensibly, based on its size: Over 200 feet goes for $120K and up.
Here are some of the basic questions PCI asks potential clients looking for long- and short-term private chefs:
- What is your style and frequency of entertaining?
- How many days a week do you want a chef, and for how many members of your household?
- What meals would you like to have prepared? (Some? All?)
- Will the chef be cooking for staff?
- Do you expect the chef to accompany you on trips?
Personality is a key consideration. Speaking to New Zealand’s Restaurant and Cafe, Paier said that private chefs “need to have a certain level of sophistication because they interact with lots of high-profile guests and friends of their employer. … They also have to be a team player and be as friendly to the maids and gardener as they are to the house manager, not every chef can adjust to that dynamic because they are used to bossing people around.”
PCI’s rigorous screening makes certain that a chef who lights fires under staff can do it with the right temperament — after all, if the thought of hours in the kitchen makes you scream, the last thing you need is a chef who does.
Written by: Anne-Frances Hutchinson