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Culinary Arts Careers

Jobs in the Restaurant Industry


Culinary Arts Careers
Copyright Danilo Alfaro

Personal chef and writer Danilo Alfaro is About.com's Guide to Culinary Arts.

One of the great things about careers in the foodservice industry is that as long as people need to eat, the services of professional chefs and cooks will always be in demand.

Not only that, but steady population growth means that every day there are more and more people out there who need to be fed. If you're someone who knows how to feed them, you're pretty much guaranteed a job.

Indeed, the restaurant industry is expected to add 2 million jobs over the next decade, according to a recent forecast by the National Restaurant Association. And that doesn't include non restaurant jobs, like cooking for hotels, schools, hospitals, airlines - even prisons. Nor does it include the services of private chefs and personal chefs like me.

What is a Personal Chef?

What's a personal chef? With a few notable exceptions (which we'll get to in a bit), a personal chef is someone who comes into a client's home, usually during the day while the client is away, and prepares a week or two weeks' worth of dinners, packages the meals into single-serving containers and then stores them in the refrigerator or freezer for the client to reheat later.

It's a simple, straightforward service, but it also happens to be the fastest-growing segment of the foodservice industry. According to the U.S. Personal Chef Association, the number of personal chefs is expected to double in the next 6 to 8 years.

Much of that growth seems to be driven by the fact that people are busier than ever, with many dual-income families finding that their hectic schedules leave them little time to prepare wholesome, healthy meals. Eating at restaurants every night isn't feasible, and attempting to subsist on a diet of fast food is clearly not a good idea, either.

Add to that the growing numbers of people on restricted diets because of food allergies or other health issues, and the many others who choose to limit their consumption of meat or dairy for personal reasons, and it's no surprise that the personal chef industry is growing like mad. Someone who can come into your home and prepare delicious, nutritious meals according to your family's specific needs and preferences is providing an incredibly valuable service - one that makes a real difference in their lives.

For me, being a personal chef has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I've had the opportunity to meet and cook for a lot of interesting people - including some famous ones - right in their own homes. Nice homes, most of them. With nice kitchens.

On the flip side, it is also without a doubt the toughest, most challenging, most physically demanding and stressful job I've ever had.

It's kind of ironic, then, that I'm pretty good at it. But since I am, and also because I place a very high value on not being pushed to the limits of human physical endurance on a regular basis, I charge a lot of money to do it.

Seriously. A lot. Even here in L.A., most people couldn't afford me. Heck, even I couldn't afford me and I am me.

Not surprisingly, charging more than most people can afford has the effect of driving away most of my potential business. But that's okay. Strange as it may sound, that's exactly what it's intended to do. Even though most people can't afford me, that still leaves still plenty of people who can. Meanwhile, ensuring that my jobs are few and far between allows me enough time to recover physically from each one before I have to start gearing up for the next one.

I should pause here and explain something. Given the job description above, you're probably scratching your head a bit, wondering what in the world I'm talking about. What's so demanding? You roll in, make a few casseroles, wrap them up, load the dishwasher and you're done - two, maybe three hours, tops. What's the big deal?

The thing is, there's more than one kind of personal chef, and I'm the other kind. We may share the same job title, but the beyond that, what we do is worlds apart.

Gourmet Dinner Parties

My specialty is cooking for private dinner parties, with the number of guests ranging between 8 and 12 people. Often the occasion is someone's birthday or anniversary, and the traditional holiday season can get pretty busy as well.

But there's also a significant amount of business entertaining going on in private homes. Many of my clients are businesspeople looking to do something nice for their clients. They find the quieter, more relaxed atmosphere (not to mention, the privacy) of their own homes preferable to noisy, crowded restaurants where the wait staff start giving them the evil eye as soon as they've finished their desserts. At home, they get to linger as long as they want, enjoy as much wine as they want, listen to whatever music they want, and so on.

They also get to eat whatever they want, which is where I come in. I'll usually work with a client for a couple of weeks leading up to their event, going over menu options, talking about who the guests are and what sort of mood they're going for. We'll typically do 4 or 5 courses - an appetizer, salad, possibly a soup course, followed by a main course, and then dessert.

In many cases, the client may be a wine collector, and will have certain wines in mind for the meal. For these dinners I'll try to match the menu with the wines the client wants to serve. Other times, clients may ask for wine pairing suggestions for each course, or simply a recommendation for a nice white and a nice red.

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