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Become a Personal Chef: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a personal chef. Research the job duties and the education requirements, and find out how to start a career in this culinary arts profession.

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Do I Want to Be a Personal Chef?

Personal chefs cook meals and plan menus for private clients either in a client's home or in a professional kitchen. You could service multiple clients, and you'll typically visit a client once per week. You may prepare multiple meals, according to the customer's specifications and dietary needs, and then store the meals with instructions so the client can heat the food later. Your duties might extend to ordering groceries and washing dishes. Keep in mind that a personal chef is not the same as a private household chef. A private household chef generally cooks for just one customer and he or she may live on the premises.

As a personal chef, you may work for a cooking company or run your own chef business. Doing the work of a personal chef may require you to be on your feet for long hours. You might also need to work weekends and holidays. Because you'll be working with sharp utensils and hot stoves and ovens, you'll need to be cautious to avoid cuts and burns.

Job Requirements

Personal chefs generally need at least a high school diploma or GED. Work experience or formal training programs are options for learning the necessary skills. The table below describes the core requirements for personal chefs:

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma or GED typically required; associate's and bachelor's degree, certificate, diploma and apprenticeship programs available*
Degree Fields Culinary arts*
Licensure and/or Certification Certification is not required, but may result in promotions and higher pay*
Experience 1-5 years in a related job*
Key Skills Business and marketing abilities,** developed senses of smell and taste,* manual agility,* flair for innovation*
Computer Skills Knowledge of business software**
Technical Skills Expertise in preparing a variety of foods; knowledge of nutrition**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Personal and Private Chef Association (August 2012).

Step 1: Learn the Cooking Trade

Chefs can learn cooking skills through work experience or formal training programs. Many aspiring chefs begin their careers as line cooks or sometimes even dishwashers, working in a kitchen for several years under the guidance of an experienced chef.

Some chefs learn cooking skills through culinary arts programs offered at community colleges, culinary institutes, technical schools or universities. Culinary arts programs typically lead to an associate's degree, but some schools award a bachelor's degree. Culinary arts studies emphasize hands-on experience and training in kitchens. In addition to studying nutrition and cooking, students generally learn how to maintain a sanitary cooking environment, plan menus, cater events, buy supplies and manage a business. Some schools offer personal chef certificate or diploma programs.

An apprenticeship program is another option for becoming a personal chef. Apprentices earn pay while learning cooking skills through both hands-on kitchen experience and classroom studies. Apprenticeship programs generally take two or three years to complete and are offered by culinary schools, professional associations and trade unions. Shorter programs that teach basic cooking skills are available.

Step 2: Get Work Experience

Prospective chefs usually acquire 1-5 years of experience working in professional kitchens, restaurants or other areas of the food service industry before they're employed as chefs. Culinary arts programs usually require students to get work experience in a restaurant, catering firm, bakery or other professional kitchen via internships, work placement programs or other options. Some personal chefs choose to be self-employed in their own business. Others work for cooking companies that provide personal chef services to various clients.

Success Tip:

Join a professional association. Cooking trade associations include the American Personal and Private Chef Association (APPCA) and the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Some trade organizations offer training programs, marketing tools and business advice for personal chefs who already operate or want to start their own business. Trade associations may supply professional networking opportunities that benefit both new and seasoned personal chefs.

Step 3: Earn Certification

Certification is not a requirement for personal chefs, but it may result in promotions and higher salaries. The ACF awards the Personal Certified Chef (PCC) and the Personal Certified Executive Chef (PCEC) designations. To be eligible for the PCC designation, a chef must have three years of cooking experience and one year of experience working as a personal chef.

To qualify for the PCEC designation, an individual must have three years of experience working as a personal chef. Requirements for both designations include a high school diploma or GED, continuing education hours and three 30-hour courses in cooking safety and sanitation, nutrition and business management. Applicants must pass written and practical tests to earn certification. Certified personal chefs must meet continuing education requirements to keep their certification.

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Other Schools:

  • School locations:
    • Idaho (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Boise State University include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework, Diploma
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
      • Culinary Arts and Culinary Services
        • Chef Training
  • School locations:
    • Montana (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at The University of Montana include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
      • Culinary Arts and Culinary Services
        • Catering and Restaurant Management
        • Chef Training
  • School locations:
    • Kentucky (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Sullivan University include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
      • Culinary Arts and Culinary Services
        • Baking and Pastry Arts
        • Catering and Restaurant Management
        • Chef Training
  • School locations:
    • Illinois (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Kendall College include:
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
      • Culinary Arts and Culinary Services
        • Chef Training
  • School locations:
    • Pennsylvania (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Indiana University of Pennsylvania include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
      • Culinary Arts and Culinary Services
        • Chef Training
  • School locations:
    • Michigan (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Northern Michigan University include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
      • Cosmetology and Related Services
      • Culinary Arts and Culinary Services
        • Chef Training
  • School locations:
    • Alaska (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Alaska include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
      • Culinary Arts and Culinary Services
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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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