5 Things I learned from Being a Personal Chef

November 08, 2014

White Apron, Personal Chef

I was 18: I hadn’t been to cooking school yet.  But I spent all my free time in the kitchen and I LOVED cooking.

At the time, I had what I believed was a revolutionary idea: To start an in-home cooking service for families in Montreal.

I called it “rent-a-chef” and I placed business cards in grocery stores and ads in newsgroups.

I got two clients at $100 a cook date, where I made the old comforts food I used to love, lasagnas, chicken and dumplings, etc.

I loved cooking and feeding people and made the decision to pursue cooking as a career.

I knew two things: I didn’t want to work in restaurants, and I wanted to work for myself.

But I was young and inexperienced and knew I needed extra training.  At 20, I enrolled in cooking school.

Fast forward 10 years, a move to New York City and San Francisco, and three iterations of my personal chef business.

I have learned so much: About cooking, about people, and about business.  I have seen the dark side of wealth.  Dozens of kids have grown up eating MY food, not their mom’s.  Their memories of foods they loved as they grow up are going to be a result of my craft.

Over the years, I have helped people lose weight, become healthier, and live stress free of the worry of dinner when you have 4 kids and a full time job.  And these are the 5 most important lessons I have drawn from it.

1.   The best food comes from the heart

Leave the molecular gastronomy to chefs who enjoy science as food.  Food cooked at home should be made from the heart, not the head.  Screw the foams, the sous-vide machines, the caviar and the foie gras in lieu of a perfectly roasted chicken, fluffy, light chive mashed potatoes and the freshest farmer’s market veggies.

Food doesn’t have to be complicated to be good.  It has to be made mindfully, from the heart, with good quality ingredients.  That’s what are buying when they enlist your service.

2.  Your clients are a reflection of you

As I’ve grown and developed a strong sense of my own value, I have attracted the most wonderful clients.  It hasn’t always been this way – at the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing and took on every client that wanted my services.

Over time, I have learned that my branding, professionalism, and the way I present myself matters.  A lot.  And carrying this out into the world allows me to continually attract the clients who share my values.  That said, I have learned how follow my gut and say no to certain inquiries and clients.  I am willing to say no.  Money never comes first no matter how desperate I am.

3. Every human has its own unique set of taste and you need to respect this

Pasta with ketchup?  Yep.  This happened.  To an adult who lived in a 38 million dollar home.  Everyone has weird comfort foods that spurs from something they had in childhood.

Chefs have a tendency to want to push people’s palates and boundaries: but they often forget to RESPECT people’s palates and limitations.  You gotta give the client what they want, not what YOU want.  It becomes a dance of both, to some extent.  But respecting your clients where they are is crucial.

4. Boundaries are necessary

This is a lesson I am having to learn over and over.  Have a way that you work with clients and STICK TO IT.  I know this is easier said than done.  I believe in good customer service.  In accommodating all of my clients in whichever way I can.  But there has to be a line.  When a client continually asked for WAY more food than he needed and I had to throw 70% of my efforts and energy in the garbage and watch him waste THOUSANDS of dollars of food, I had to draw the line.  It was one of the hardest jobs I have ever had and by far the most draining.  But it paid well.  So I felt stuck.  Leaving was the BEST thing I have ever done.

5.  Relationships are everything

I love my clients.  My clients love me.  I have deep and personal relationships with most of them.  They are amazing people.  I am so happy to have them in my life.  It has been a process of nurturing these relationships over the years.  As a result referrals happen. And better work is born when you have a connection to your work and to your client.  Food runs deep and these people are connecting with you through your food, and this is both a privilege and an honor.

While throughout the years there has been a steep learning curve, overall, being a personal chef has been the best experience of my life.  It’s not always easy and it can be a roller coaster – like in ANY business.  But it’s worth riding.

I firmly believe in creating your own freedom – and that food is the heart of everything.

And while I have taken a break from cooking for clients because I want to expand my reach, it is a service that is close to my heart.

I want to teach what I know about healthy cooking, meal planning and business so that no one has to suffer through the steep learning curve – or get sick like I did because they weren’t putting the right foods in their bodies.

Food is everything.  And I am on a mission to help make the world a healthier place, one bite at a time.

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