private chef

Americans are working longer hours and becoming increasingly health-conscious. Those two trends are moving the idea of hiring a personal chef from the manor into the mainstream.

According to Candy Wallace, founder and executive director of the American Personal and Private Chef Association, there are roughly 9,000 personal chefs cooking for 72,000 customers across the country.

She predicts that number will rise to 20,000 in the next five years. Wallace partly attributes the rise to an aging population with dietary needs related to blood pressure, heart disease or insulin resistance.

How does employing a private chef work? Private chefs specialize in a variety of culinary styles and most can fulfill many dietary needs. They typically come to your residence and prepare lunch and dinner, with a few also offering to cook breakfast. Time must be allotted to shop, cook and clean up – and chefs need to eat, too.

June Pagan, a Los Angeles personal chef who specializes in clients with specific dietary needs, estimates that she spends an average of eight hours a day working for her clients. Pagan, who has cooked for many celebrities, said well-rounded private chefs must wear many hats, including being able to cater large events when needed.

Where to find the best private chefs? Word-of-mouth is optimal, Pagan said.

Or go to an agency, such as Beverly Hills-based Private Chefs Inc., which has offices in New York, London and Hong Kong.

PCI caters to an exclusive clientele, boasting of being able to find the perfect chef “for your home, yacht or private jet.” PCI’s owner and founder Christian Paier is quick to point out that culinary talent alone doesn’t necessarily make for a great private chef. 

“A lot of restaurant chefs don’t know how to work in a private home,” Paier said. “You can prepare the greatest meal in the world, but if your client wants a hot dog, you give them a hot dog,” he said.

Here’s some advice from Pagan and Paier:

  • Expect to pay $75,000 to $150,000 a year.

“Some folks want a Michelin Star-caliber chef, some people are more meat and potatoes,” Paier said. Private Chefs Inc. adds a 10 to 15 percent commission on every placement it makes.

  • Personality counts. Private chefs must be able to leave their egos at your front door. Five-star chefs accustomed to running a major restaurant may find themselves taking orders from the domestic staff or even answering to the culinary whims of their clients’ children.
  • Do a test meal. Most major agencies like PCI ask their chefs to cook for their prospective clients as well as undergo a rigorous interviewing process before they are hired.
  • Beware recent culinary school grads. They may offer longer hours and cheaper prices, but Paier only hires chefs with a minimum of six years of experience in a restaurant or eight years as a private chef. “You gotta have the basics down to work privately,” he said.
  • Don’t expect a chef to be anything but a chef.

“Clients shouldn’t ask their chefs to perform housekeeping chores or deep cleaning of the kitchen,” Paier said.

Make sure you’re comfortable with a chef spending long hours in the intimacy of your personal living or traveling space. You don’t want to have to walk on eggshells around them.

If you don’t want a stranger in your kitchen, consider a drop-off option, where a chef prepares two to three days’ worth of meals and leaves them with you.