Has this happened to you? You get home from work so late that there’s no time to cook dinner, and if you don’t do some shopping soon everyone in the family will be forced to live on oatmeal for the next week.
Here’s the good news: A personal chef can solve all your problems—or at least improve your chaotic life by 500 percent.
Maybe you need two or three family meals a week with enough for leftovers; maybe you’d like some home-baked snacks added; maybe each week should be topped off with a gorgeous chocolate dessert. Whatever your needs, there’s a chef out there to help get your life under control.
So what do you need to know before hiring your own chef?
We talked to three professional personal chefs who are highly rated on Thumbtack to find out. David Leigh owns Lakeshore Private Chef & Catering in Chicago, Stephanie Podell runs Let’s Eat Home Personal Chef Service also in Chicago, and Marc Salonsky is the culinary brains behind Marc Salonsky Personal Chef Services in Torrance, California, just outside Los Angeles. They vetted our list of questions and added a few tips of their own.
How does this work? Will you be cooking in my kitchen or delivering prepared meals?
That’s up to you! Some clients ask the chef to bring the necessary ingredients and prepare them on site (i.e., your kitchen). Others prefer having ready-to-eat meals (and cooking instructions) delivered to the door. In either case, you won’t have to do your own shopping–that’s part of the chef’s job.
Transporting food is fraught with complications, especially in areas where parking is limited. Try to find a chef based within a reasonable distance of your home.
Where did you get your experience?
The chef’s answer should give insight into his/her personality as well as his/her training. An enthusiastic self-taught cook can be as skilled as a culinary institute graduate. What you want is a chef who’s approachable, open to new food experiences, and flexible enough to handle variable requests.
It goes without saying that all applicants should be able to provide current references. Ideally, a potential chef should give you three professional and three personal references—and it’s worth your time to talk to these sources.
Where do you stand on using local ingredients?
All three chefs we talked to were happy to work with clients on this issue. Locally produced foods tend to be delicious but pricey, and sourcing them can take time. Maybe your priority is a chef with active ties to local food purveyors. Or, if you’ve got an active family, you may be prefer a budget-conscious employee who can track down supermarket ingredients in a hurry.
You might want to pay for a couple of sample meals or a tasting before you make a final hiring decision. Or consider hiring a chef just for a week or two. There’s no contract involved (unless you want one).
What’s your policy on kitchen visitors?
Some chefs prefer to work in monastic silence, while others are fine with people who barge into the kitchen and announce, “Everything smells great!” If your family is in and out of the kitchen all afternoon, either choose a chef who doesn’t mind background distractions or remind the kids not to get underfoot when the chef is there.
Can you customize your food for special diets?
Special-ingredient cooking should be part of any personal chef’s routine. Some chefs can even provide nutritional coaching along with the food.
Do you have liability insurance and ServSafe certification?
Ideally, a chef who’s going to work in your own home will have liability insurance, and ServSafe certification.
A chef who’s ServSafe certified has been trained in what it sounds like: safe food handling. The ServSafe Food Handler Program, which is administered by the National Restaurant Association, is more rigorous than many local programs. Though it’s not mandated in every state, it applies nationwide.
Can I afford you?
Of course that’s something you’ll need to figure out yourself. But a part-time chef can be surprisingly affordable once you’ve factored in the cost of restaurant meals, the value of your time, and all that food you bought and then never cooked with. When you hire a chef, you’re buying a lot more than just the food.
Will you keep little treats hidden in the freezer just for me?
Not really part of the job description, but it would be nice…