I’ve been a personal chef since 2005, and I love it. It’s a second career for me, like it is for a lot of us – borne out of a deep desire to pursue a passion and earn a living by it, and in my case helped along towards it by the staggering boredom of my corporate life. The higher I went, the less work I actually did, the more paper I shuffled talking about work other people were doing or might do in the future, the more money I made, hooray! Except, yuck. Blah blah blah triple yuck, I couldn’t stand it, so I fled and here I am, happily elbows deep in cooking most days of the week. Actually since ChefKid came along I work 2 or 3 days most weeks, and that feels just about right. (I used to do 5 days a week, sometimes two clients a day, and it was physically really demanding, but fun and lucrative. The best part about this or any self-propelled gig is that you can do as much, or as little, as you want.)
Anyway. As usual I’ve digressed from my point, which is: I also love talking about being a personal chef, and sharing info with aspiring or newbie chefs. I talk to a lot of students coming out of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, where I went to school, who’ve expressed a desire to enter this facet of the business. I give them my perspective on what it takes to start a personal chef business. (Very little, really, besides a desire to do it and a fairly unshakeable belief that you can cook food other people want to eat. Or another way of saying it: nothin’ but knives.)
But of course there are those pesky details if you want set yourself up as a PC. Every state has their own rules & regs for starting a business, and some have regulations specific to running a PC business, so definitely check with your state. (Google “small business” or “starting a business” and the name of your state for general business startup stuff; then search your state’s Board of Health web site for “Food Regulations” or “Personal Chef”.)
In Massachusetts, here are the resources that I think are most helpful to someone considering starting a PC business:
- Mass.gov ‘s “Getting Started” section for small businesses – step-by-step instructions on starting a business, choosing a business entity type, licenses and permits, etc. Good stuff here. (FWIW, most of us start out as sole proprietors, though there are plenty of good reasons to incorporate as well. I formed an LLC last year, after 5 years as a sole prop, to add some additional protection.)
- Massachusetts Food Code – extensive (seriously!) details on the rules and requirements surrounding commercial food preparation, delivery, catering etc – none of which mention personal chef businesses, so you have to read between the lines to interpret the main important fact: you can’t cook at home and deliver; you either cook at your client’s home or out of a commercial kitchen.
- Fact Sheet on Residential Kitchens in Food Service – the one place I’ve found in Mass state regs that mention cooking at home for money. This doc tells you what can (jams, jellies, cakes, cookies and other non-potentially hazardous foods) and can’t (anything else) be prepared for sale out of your home kitchen.
These sites will give you most basic state requirements for forming your business. Next up: what to do next? A new blog post coming soon will outline some options.
Chefchick Says: bookmark or print any online info you find that’s relevant to starting or running your business. After you get started you only need to reference this stuff every once in a while – renewing licenses, filing annual reports for an LLC, etc – but info is easy to lose in the maze of pages on gov’t web sites. Do yourself a favor and use something like Delicious for portable, permanent, sharable bookmarks; and it’s not a bad idea to create a hard-copy folder of printouts to stick somewhere at home. Hedge your bets. (Thanks to my fellow chef Patti for turning me on to Delicious!)