Becoming a Personal Chef: How One Woman Cooked Her Way to Success
One of the most memorable quotes from the documentary On Becoming Warren Buffet comes from the billionaire and philanthropist himself. When asked about the best way to choose a career, he said that one shouldn’t worry about making money. Instead, one should focus on what they would do if money wasn’t an issue.
This lead-with-your-passion advice also applies to those of us in search of the ideal side hustle. Side hustles – or entrepreneurial pursuits outside of a nine-to-five – have the most potential to lead to personal and financial fulfillment when chosen wisely.
Barbara Naadjie, a personal chef and the founder of Barbara’s Food Creations, would agree. She loves people, is a social butterfly, and has a reputation for knowing her way around the kitchen. Though it seems obvious in hindsight, it took a friend to introduce her to the possibility of making a living by becoming a personal chef.
Naadjie was already cooking meals for busy friends and family members with special dietary and culinary needs – why not make money off it?
“I would cook for friends for free occasionally, but one day, a friend suggested that I cook for her family on a weekly basis and get paid for it,” says Naadjie. “After cooking for them for three weeks, I was hooked.”
She adds that, “As a single mother, becoming a personal chef – even on a part-time basis – allowed me to create my own schedule so I could spend more time with my two children and cut down on the cost of childcare.”
But being a personal chef goes beyond making meals. Depending on client preferences, personal chef services may include grocery shopping, on-site meal prep, and kitchen clean-up. For clients without in-service needs, personal chefs have to package and label all meals with heating and freezer storage instructions.
The industry is growing, and personal chefs earn, on average, $35 to $50 per hour, with little overhead. So curating a unique meal-planning and preparation experience remains worthwhile. To streamline her menu and pricing model, Naadjie has limited her menu to five dishes, since each takes around an hour and a half to prepare. Clients must also book a minimum of three hours of her services before she agrees to work for them.
“I’m making peoples’ lives easier and making money for my family and me,” Naadjie says. “It’s a win-win situation.”
With 9,000 personal chefs serving 72,000 clients in the U.S. alone, it’s a great time to become a private chef. And there are two great advantages – easy entry and small (if any) start-up costs.
The basic toolbox for a personal chef include a blender, food processor, stove, oven, and cooking utensils. And all of these are part of a home kitchen, anyway. Building a client base can be simple and low-cost. You may even be able to just ask for referrals from happy customers; or use social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to showcase menus or create tutorials. Adding a profile to sites like Thumbtack and PlateDate can also help to reach larger number of potential clients.
Leveraging mobile technology for payment can make transactions run smoothly. In addition to cash, personal chefs should look to PayPal and Square to give clients flexibility in their payments. And don’t forget about insurance. General liability insurance for a personal chef can run anywhere from $300 to $1,000 a year and covers property damage and bodily injury.
Naadjie, a native Ghanaian who also prepares authentic Ghanaian and West African dishes, encourages aspiring personal chefs to consider non-food aspects of the business. “You’ll need insurance to protect you and your business in case someone gets ill.”
Personal chefs should also calculate the hidden costs like transportation and find quality ingredients at affordable prices each season.
Naadjie’s business has grown quickly. “I started small with one or two clients but now I’ve moved on to catering weddings throughout the tri-state area… I also go in as a vendor at highly visible national and local branding experiences like Restaurant Week and Africa Week.”
So, are you a foodie with a passion for cooking and customer service? Who isn’t afraid of a minor cut or burn? Consider becoming a personal chef. As overworked Americans crave more and more convenience and customization, becoming a personal chef may be a great way to capitalize on their needs while expressing your creativity.