There is nothing that says success more than having a personal chef. If you are a busy career man or woman, at times preparing or planning for your daily meals can be a significant inconvenience. If you’ve hired a private chef, good for you and congratulations. Maybe the stress of having someone else take care of your much needed sustenance has been eliminated, but at times, there is another added stress of hiring a chef. In order to assist you, the employer and your chef, I want to stress some guidelines for the both of you, making your relationship a harmonious and equally rewarding one.
In the past few years, we have seen a glamorization of chef work. If any of you are familiar with, or have even cracked the cover and read a few pages of Anthony Bourdain’s, “Kitchen Confidential”, I do not need to emphasize how chef’s work quite possibly could be one of the most least glamorous jobs in the world. Landing a position as a personal chef might be for most, a dream come true. But, believe me, I’ve been there, the stress of dealing with an over-, unreasonably-demanding client/boss who has hired you on, to work in their home, might make work behind the line of a busy restaurant even as the lead chef, more appealing.
As the employer, you have rights to be demanding, however, everyone’s expectations, yours and your chef’s should be reasonable. The following are some issues that should be addressed before any contract or agreement is reached.
1. As the employer, are you expecting to have this chef exclusively only for your needs?
Meaning, you want them available on your call. You want to be their only client. If so, then a reasonable pay system needs to be considered. For exclusivity, a set salary should be paid. You can not expect a chef to be at your every whim on an hourly-pay basis.
A hypothetical situation: In two weeks, you have a five-day workweek. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday you will be at home for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These days you expect your chef to prepare all three meals. On Wednesday you will have a late breakfast out at the country club and play 18 holes afterwards, with expectations to have a late lunch. You would like your chef to prepare dinner that evening.
However, after the 18 holes and the late lunch, you decide to have a few cocktails with your golfing buddies. That takes you into the dinner hour and you decide to just stay out. Meanwhile, your chef has done the shopping, which takes about 40 minutes to an hour and a half, including the travel. He/she is waiting at your doorstep to be let in for dinner preparations. Even if you called them at this point or mid-shopping, can you see how inconvenient, should I say inconsiderate this is to someone who prepares your food?
This is why you pay them a decent salary. Because an hourly chef is prepared and expecting pay for about 30 minutes to an hour of shopping, and another 1 to 2 hours of cooking and cleaning up. But you, the client, don’t show. This is a waste of time for a chef who, only making hourly pay, could have had the opportunity for another client or helping a fellow chef out.
Maybe there are occasional weeks you are out of town on business. You cannot expect a chef you want available on your call to be paid hourly if your job keeps you away. You have your business, and your chef is has a business as well. You, and only you. If they are on hourly pay and you are occasionally out of town, a chef cannot easily find a replacement client during that time to make up for lost pay for such a short amount of time.
Be considerate of your chef’s time as they are of yours.
Even on a salary, the chef needs to have a schedule. As a chef, while you may be taking care of the needs of someone else, taking care of your own personal life might always feel as if things are getting behind or neglected. Yes, some of these things are in the hands of the chef and their time management, but some personal time, even for your exclusive chef should be considered. How many days a week will you need them? Some weeks may vary, but you, the client, need to inform them of your schedule at least two weeks in advance. Maybe you just need them 4 days one week, or you need to split the chef’s ‘weekend’ one week. Perhaps you need them 5 days one week, but on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. If you tell them ahead of time, they can usually fit in things they need to do in their own lives without involved yours.
Maybe you have a full-time chef, meaning 7 days per week. First of all, in the case of this contract, it should be on a time-specific agreement. Six months. One year. Within that agreement/contract: Will they be living on premise? Will they be traveling with you on business trips? In that case, then travel expenses (paid by the employee) and money for a little free time on this trip should be discussed? If they do not live on premise, then compensation for mileage on their car should be written in. Each state has a minimum for this. As they will probably be doing the grocery shopping, will they have access to or have with them at all times a credit card to pay for the cost of food and supplies?
Back to the previous point of personal time… Even if you are paying a decent and much appreciated salary for the 7-day/week chef, they will need some personal free time. One, for their sanity, and yours, but also to take care of their personal life. Again, all with-in reasonable boundaries to please both parties.
Maybe you have an hourly paid chef, part- or full-time. Maybe you have made most of your wealth by watching your money carefully and being a little on the tight side. Fine. But do not be so stingy in trying to save your money by doing the grocery shopping for your chef. One, your chef will automatically think, what a stingy jerk (I’m using nice words), but they will think that you don’t trust them. He/she knows what they are cooking. Where as you might just get what is on the list, they might remember something not on the list, maybe garlic, or perhaps they have a little bit of inspiration and think of a finishing ingredient to make the meal better. You don’t think that way.
If you think the chef is just going to be strolling through the isles just to rack up time, because you don’t trust them, you’ve probably hired the wrong one. Two, yes shopping can be quite enjoyable for the chef, but as an hourly employee they are only thinking about getting the items on the list, getting through the crowds and out of the store to get to your kitchen to do the cooking. They bring your food to the table, say, “Enjoy”, and go.
As they are hourly employees, they are time/money management freaks. We’re multi-taskers in life, just as we are in the kitchen. As we finish up the finishing touches, and we’re plating or putting your food in the storage containers, we’re already thinking about the next steps that need to be taken in order to get to the next client.
Aside from agreeing on pay, these might be some of the most important details to talk about with your chef.
As a salary chef.
There are a couple avenues to discuss.
Bonuses. Write in a set bonus based on the amount of people to be expected at these events. Set a bonus base for 5-10 people. 11-20 people. 20-35. You get it. Most people that have a private chef, like to show them and their skills off to friends. For these occasions, menus are planned, and there is always more work involved. Consider different bonuses for a party of only hors d’oeuvres (small bites take more work than a sit down meal). Discuss another bonus for 3-5 course events. For parties typically more than eight to ten people, usually your personal chef would like to bring in extra help, depending on the work load; other chefs, servers, cleaning staff, etc. The bonus should never include the cost of extra help. The budget for certain parties, along with menu planning, the extra help, food ingredients, equipment needed, plates, serving ware, silver ware, glass ware, chairs, tables, etc., should all be discussed and paid for separately by the client, aka, the chef’s employer.
Maybe discuss a per head rate for these occasions?
The paid for by-the-hour chef.
If your chef is paid hourly, for private parties, special menus and holidays, the employer should be expected to pay, not hourly during this time, but per head. In this case as well, this pay is only for the chef, not the help and extra expenses.
Are these events during main holidays? Then the employer might expect to pay more for having the chef work during their holiday as well. Yes, many of us realize before we even venture out as a chef, we will inevitably be working holidays, but even restaurants, those who give a rat’s a** about their employees, will give a holiday bonus and/or a tip.
That brings one more thing to mind. It is not expected, however, if you really do love your chef, even sometimes not, as the employer, put out a tip jar, during certain parties or events, and encourage your guests to tip the staff who are working extra hard to make their event a memorable one. They’ll certainly appreciate it, and a good personal chef will split the tips among everyone helping out.
5. Dietary needs, food allergies, food aversions…
These are a couple reasons many hire a personal chef in the first place. If you are one who falls in along the line of having dietary needs, then choose your chef carefully. If you are only looking to slightly change your lifestyle and eat healthier, then many chefs can easily adjust–plan meals with more nutritious ingredients, use less salt, utilize more unsaturated fats than saturated…–but if you have a medical condition, you might need a specialist. There are plenty of chefs to be found with additional experience or education in nutrition. Most will be able to plan menus for a diabetic and those with celiac issues.
If you wish to hire a chef to prepare meals for a more specific diet, such as the Atkins, or others, then provide your chef who is willing to help you, with some reading material and information on the specifics of the diet, so they can give you the best service possible.
I can not stress this more! If you, or any family members have food allergies, inform your chef! A professional chef, needs to know of these allergies, so they can make the necessary precautions. If you have a child with nut allergies or another potential deadly allergy, then you might want to consider purchasing separate equipment for your chef only for use in your home. It would not be the property of the chef, but it takes out the risk of any cross-contamination from the use of knives, cutting boards, etc, that chefs sometimes travel with from home to home. If yourself or a family member have experience with these issues, you know how important this is. Even go as far as making sure the chef changes out cooking clothes when arriving at your home should be considered. Your chef will and should be more than understanding and happy to comply.
While food aversions may not be as serious as the previous point, you did hire a chef and of course, within reason, you should be able to eat anything you would like, or not. Have your chef take note of certain ingredients or meals you do not care for, so as you will not be disappointed at any time.
*A little related, but side note: If you like to be in the kitchen to watch, fine, but please do not tell the chef how to cook, or not to use certain ingredients. Most people do not know what ingredients go in the foods they happen to love. You hired a professional, so respect them as such, and let them do what they do best.
We all have cravings for some of our favorite snacks, drinks or even childhood foods our mother or grandmother used to make. Ask your chef to keep your favorite snacks or beverages stocked in the pantry. Maybe your on a health kick and you want a pitcher of lemon or cucumber water fresh in the fridge on hand. Let your chef know. Maybe you’re jonesin’ for some of the family recipe classic cookies. Give the recipe to your chef to make them. If you want to keep the recipe a secret, they will respect that. Maybe you’ve flipped through some cookbooks, magazines, or online and you see a cool meal you’d like to try. Pass it on. They are paid and there to please you.
Chefs are natural people pleasers. They have been perceived more than once on television as having healthy egos, tempers, high-expectations, and some times down-right dirty a**-holes. In some cases, all or some of it is true and not just for television drama. However, a personal chef will hold themselves to a degree of professionalism and dignity in your home, even if they really just want to tell you to ‘flip off’ (again choice words), for an unreasonable request, but will bite their tongue. Deep down, all we want to do is serve you, make you the best meal, and share our passion with anyone who will appreciate it. Be good to your chef, and they will be good to you, two-folds over or more.