So You Want To Be a Personal Chef…

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I love cooking vegan and couldn’t imagine anything else I would rather do for a job. Becoming a vegan personal chef five years ago was a passion project for me– an outgrowth of my own personal journey.

Advice

The key for me in the beginning was to become practiced and comfortable with cooking vegan for myself and my family in order to feel confident sharing it as a business. It is also fun to do a a couple of practice cook dates for willing family or friends. I did one for my mom, who is not vegan, but she appreciated the food just the same, and truly enjoyed it.

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Client Food                                 Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

 

There are a couple of great books out there on operating a personal chef business. You can find them on Amazon.com. I use my local library for most of my recipe research, keeping a revolving collection of vegan cookbooks on loan from which I have drawn much of my inspiration.

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Client Kitchen (job site)               Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

 

I think it is very important to have a web presence, a website, facebook page, blog, etc. I started the blog mostly for fun–a place to bring my overflow of energy and creativity. A personal chef is a luxury for most people, so, in my mind, I need to be as find-able as possible when a prospective client is looking for me, rather than focusing on persuasive and expensive advertising.  This is just my opinion.

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My Chef Kit and Me

 

My Story

I came to the personal chef business in a roundabout way. After working in the local restaurant, hotel, country club business for fifteen years, I decided to attend culinary school in the evenings at Lincoln Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach (formerly Florida Culinary Institute).

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First Quarter, Chef Instructor Birney and Me

As a single mom with two kids, I found it difficult securing a job after graduation that paid enough to meet my family’s bills.

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Our Little Family

 

My predominant experience was in dining room work and the transition to the commercial hot-line kitchen wasn’t easy in a male-dominated profession at the time (1995).

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Final Project Buffet Event, Chef Boetcher and Me

 

I ended up working as a pastry chef for $9.00 an hour for the gourmet restaurant operated by the school.  But even with supplemental income from waiting tables on weekends, I couldn’t seem to make ends meet.

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Pastry Chef (me) and Line Cook George Patton

 

I opted for a job as a dining room manager and did that  for a few years, but as time went on and my kids became adolescents they required more supervision at home and restaurant hours are long and late, especially for management.

With a heavy heart, I left the food business for a steady nine to five job working in local government and that’s where I stayed for thirteen years before finally making the move to what I really enjoy doing.

By this time, my kids had safely completed the passage from teens to young adults and I was married to a wonderfully supportive partner. We went vegan in 2011 and for me, there was really no other choice if I wanted to practice what I love–than to do my own thing, as there were very few vegan restaurants locally. Finding clients at first was challenging, but after two years I was up and running steadily—and quit my full-time job soon after.

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Darbster Restaurant, Me and Steve

 

If becoming a vegan personal chef is something you are considering, I suggest  you seek out vegan/vegetarian organizations in your area and vegan eateries to get a feel for the demographic. What is the local culture like? Is there a vegan community in your area? Can they afford a personal chef? You may want to take a job working in a vegan establishment for awhile, to gain practice with producing food for others in a commercial context and also to get recipe ideas.

Although I have a background in culinary arts, there are many successful self-taught personal chefs in the field. I think passionate interest and engagement however, is key in landing regular clients and providing a positive experience for clients.

I’ll be talking more about the specific technical aspects in upcoming posts, but it’s really very simple and inexpensive to get started. Just make sure you check with your local governing agency to find out what is required in terms of licensing or taxation. This is usually very minimal, but keeps the city’s interests at bay.

I believe there is no “right” path to becoming a chef. Each of us has our own area of interest and ambitions. I would say the best advice is to follow your own intuition, because in the culinary world the options are endless!

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Melanie daPonte, Vegan Personal Chef          Photo credit:  Melanie daPonte

Success is not always linear. Like life, it can be a winding path with plenty of detours! But if you are passionate about your interests, follow them and they can only lead you to where you are meant to be!

 

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