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Industry sources predict that by 2005 there will be nearly 25,000 personal chefs working in the U.S., serving about 300,000 clients.
What You'll Do:
Prepare and deliver meals for busy families, dual-income childless couples, time-starved singles and the elderly. Possibly work with small business and corporate clients, cooking for private functions.
Unless you plan to get a food service operator's license, purchase commercial equipment and have your home kitchen inspected regularly by the Board of Health, it's best to cook up meals in clients' homes then package, label and freeze them (complete with reheating directions) on-site. You may also be called upon to do some catering and party planning from time to time.
Your goal is to line up steady, long-term clients that you will cook for on a regular basis.
Skills You'll Need:
A passion and knack for cooking, some knowledge of nutrition for those on special diets, good organizational and time management skills, and physical and mental perseverance (there's a lot of lifting and standing involved here!)
You'll begin by interviewing clients to assess their likes and dislikes, allergies or special dietary needs. It's then up to you to create a menu, slot in recipes and prepare the agreed-upon number of meals.
Equipment You'll Need:
- Pots, pans and appliances are usually supplied by the client; you may want to fill in with your own knives and other small pieces of cooking equipment
- Containers for portioning out and freezing individual dinners
- Recipes appropriate for clientele; cookbooks, magazines and online sources to inspire creativity
- Business cards, brochures or fliers, letterhead and other marketing materials
- Car for grocery shopping and transporting meals or ingredients
- Word processor for menus, reheating directions, a standard contract, invoices and marketing materials
Anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 (excluding computer) to stock kitchen with necessary equipment, lay out money for groceries, and create a brochure and business cards, as well as about $500 to $1,000 a year for liability insurance -- a necessity for this profession.
How Much Can You Make?
A woman who runs a personal chef service in Nebraska charges $210 for a standard package of 10 meals for two people and $60 for each additional family member. Chefs living in higher-income areas can charge at least 25 percent more for the same package; those working with corporate clients can increase their fees accordingly.
How to Break In:
- Test out recipes on family members and friends, and come up with at least 10 "doable" dinners -- meals that can be prepared in less than an hour and packaged and reheated without much fuss that aren't overly expensive or exotic and that are appropriate for weeknight dining
- Gather testimonials from satisfied tasters and use them in word-of-mouth advertising and printed marketing materials
- Enroll in a seminar or online training program if you think you will need more direction from those in the field (see resources that follow)
- Market your services in corporate offices, singles complexes, retirement communities and to working parents via schools and community centers
- Plan a "dinner sampling" promotion so potential clients can try your cooking for free, or offer up a week's worth of dinners for a raffle prize or auction item at a community fundraiser
- Join a networking organization specific to personal chefs (see below).
- Stay tuned in to current food and nutrition trends
Easy Elegance: Resource created by a woman who works as a personal chef to inform and train others who want to enter the field
Personalchef.com: Site for the American Personal Chef Association providing seminars, networking help and geographic directories matching clients and chefs
The Personal Chefs Network: Offers educational programs, a manual of marketing tactics, online chats and recipes to get your personal chef service off the ground
USRCA.com: Site for the United States Personal Chef Association provides training tools and a support structure for those in this business or thinking of pursuing this career
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