It’s a relatively new phenomenon in America, but a trend that is growing and thriving:  the personal chef business. Previously a luxury reserved only for the wealthy, it’s now a perk available to people at all economic levels. In fact, in some major cities like Chicago, it’s becoming akin to hiring the kid next door to mow your lawn. But how do you go about selecting the right person for that special anniversary dinner or bridal brunch?

This blog will take a look at the steps involved to make sure you get the most BAM! for your buck. But first, a little about who’s hiring personal chefs, and what services these culinary professionals can provide.

Who Hires a Personal Chef?

People who hire a personal chef usually don’t have the time nor the ability to cook for themselves, but have the resources to have someone do it for them. They might want to do it because of job or family obligations, or simply that they’d rather free up their time so they can spend it doing things they enjoy more. Eating in restaurants or ordering takeout night after night gets old fast, and they are looking for a change of pace.

It should be pointed out that some people may hire a chef once in their lifetimes to cook for a special event and then never again, while others might engage a personal chef to cook for them multiple times a week for a year or more! With an increasing number of folks living longer and retiring earlier, seniors are a prime market for this service. The companionship of their new chef friend is an added plus, especially if they live alone and/or unable to get out of the home due to health restrictions.

Finally, there are increasing numbers of individuals who want to improve their health or need assistance with implementing special diets like Keto or vegan. In addition, many people have special health considerations like food allergies or high blood pressure, and want help in making sure they adhere to their doctor’s guidelines for treating these conditions. Whatever their motivations, hiring a personal chef can be a godsend. Are you sold yet? Let’s get to work.

Step One: Be Prepared.

Before you start calling or emailing everyone that comes up under a Google search, it’s imperative that you spend some time reflecting on exactly what you want from your culinary experience.  Ask yourself some key questions:

  • What’s my budget?
  • How many people will be served?
  • Are there any special dietary restrictions?
  • What level of experience am I seeking?
  • How many courses do I want?
  • Do I have a preference for the type of cuisine? (i.e., Italian, Japanese, French)

These are the things that the professionals will want to know up front in order to put together a proposal that meets your needs. In fact, one sign that your chef knows what he or she is doing is if they provide you with a questionnaire up front that covers these items. A chef prepared is a chef preferred.

Step Two: Protect Yourself and Your Guests.

First and foremost, get a service agreement in writing in advance of your event.  It may seem unnecessary, but having it in print will head off any potential problems since most that would arise are usually the result of miscommunication between you, the client, and your chef. The typical things a contract should cover are:

  • A definition of exactly what services are provided (for example, does it include clean up? shopping?);
  • The cancellation policy including amount of notice required;
  • An outline of all costs included, including food cost vs. labor cost, and when payment is expected;
  • Whether the chef and any employees are bonded and insured;
  • Whether the chef and any employees hold safe food handling licenses as required by law.

Step Three: Sit Back and Enjoy the Fruits of Their Labor!

The contract signed, the menu ready to go and the shopping is done. It’s Showtime! Whether you are having an intimate dinner for two with Chateaubriand or a week’s worth of comfort food prepared in advance, now’s the time to relax and enjoy this service. The hours you’ve saved by employing a personal chef can be spent by shopping for special little touches like candles, flowers, new napkins, glassware, place cards, and more.

Finally, it’s important to communicate up front with your chef how much interaction you expect from him/her. For example, a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner may call for them to stay in the background as much as possible, but a Girls’ Night Out with cocktails and apps would likely demand more time and attention. Bear in mind that many chefs have fascinating backgrounds, stories, and knowledge to spare, and can be quite entertaining. Food IS theatre after all, and they are the artists!

Whatever you decide in the long run, rest assured that if you follow these basic steps you will make a memory you’ll cherish long after the dishes are dried and put away.

Kristen Lewis Renner is a Chicago-based freelance writer and personal chef. Her new business, The Bryn Mawr Bistro, specializes in Cajun /Creole cuisine and cooking with love.