So you’ve always had a passion for food that you want to share with others, and the laser focus and determination required to deliver a meal under a tight timeline for particular clients. If you can pair that with the ability to lead people and an unflinching commitment even under the most stressful of circumstances, chances are you would make for an incredible chef. No longer relegated to the back of a sweaty kitchen, today’s chefs are celebrities themselves, the subject of a near constant barrage of reality cooking competitions, award-winning documentaries and autograph sessions attended by rabid fans. But there are many directions you can take such a career. Some choose to find a busy restaurant to man, while others prefer to ply their trade for wealthy individuals or families as a private chef. That role has a lot going for it, but there are some reasons to think carefully before going down that path as well. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of being a private chef.
On the plus side, you’ll perform your duties with far less pressure than is regularly found in a busy kitchen. You’ll usually have to execute meals for a handful of people, with the random private party thrown in. Compare that to a regular night in a commercial kitchen, which will see you cooking for hundreds of people at a time, and you can understand why many chefs choose to go this route. Since the scale is so much smaller you’ll be able to fully focus on quality, spending your time insuring every dish that leaves the kitchen is spectacular. If nothing less than perfection is what you strive for, this could be quite enticing.
At the same time, the pressures of that sort of delivery could become taxing. You’ll have one, or maybe a handful of people to please, and they’ll be eating your meals every single night. This is a far cry from a restaurant, where you can easily recover from a couple of misfires. There will always be new customers to wow, and even a seriously off night probably won’t mean your job. As a private chef you’ll likely be cooking for a demanding and discerning clientele. They’ll know your food inside and out, and will be paying quite a lot of money to have you cooking for them. If you have an off night, that might well be your last as a private chef. That’s a different kind of pressure that could be a lot to deal with.
Some people will absolutely thrive in that environment. And one of the best perks is that it gives you the opportunity to switch up your menu on a nightly basis. In most restaurants the menu is fixed, and aside from a couple of substitutions here or there you’ll basically be cooking the same dishes over and over, night after night. The repetition could get boring, leaving you uninspired and wondering why you got into this business in the first place. A chef wants to be creative, and working in the private sector will allow you to flex all of your muscles on a daily basis.
On the flip side of that coin is the problem with where the creativity may be coming from. At a restaurant, the owner hires you as a chef specifically because he’s looking for your expertise in the kitchen. You’ll often have carte blanche to create your own menu, with the only caveat being that it fits the brand of the restaurant. As a private chef you may have a very specific list of requirements to follow, and those requirements can and will change at the whims of someone who may know little to nothing about food. That means dealing with dietary restrictions and allergies, cooking to the specifications of what your boss saw in a magazine, or even wearing flirty aprons if someone in the family likes how they look. You won’t be allowed to make the call, and if you have very particular ideas about food there will probably be some serious clashes in your future.