According to the Chinese calendar, 2020 is the Year of the Rat. According to COVID-19, it’s the Year of the Freaked Out Chef. There are two ways to go with this.
Many chefs are having a hard time seeing a pathway forward and they’re considering a ‘two-step pivot’ to get out of the culinary game and change their career for good. But they shouldn’t — because in two years were going to look back at these times as a Golden Age for chefs.
It’s time to take a fresh look at things, time to see opportunities in the food arena where they weren’t before, time for a new and lucrative career without starting over. Because 2021 will be the Year of the Independent Chef. (I guarantee it.)
Now more than ever, people around the world want professionally-prepared food (because they can’t or don’t want to do it themselves). They want the convenience. They want the taste. They don’t want to do the dishes. More and more, people are budgeting this service into their lives.
Chefs who understand the value of their skill – and how the culinary world and customer needs are changing – can make this ‘one-step pivot’ and choose from multiple ways to make a great living as an independent chef.. They’re not ‘two-step pivoting’ to start over as something else; they’re making a ‘one-step pivot’ to adapt within their skillset to find a future of freedom and economic independence.
Check out this list (especially the first two) and learn the multiple ways to make a great living as an independent chef.
The Top Two Chef Careers For Culinary Professionals Who Want To Be Independent
Pick one of these two (they are different) — and get out of the restaurant to become an independent chef. This is where to start if you want your future to look different from your present.
#1 Personal Chef Services
A personal chef prepares meals in a client’s home and leaves them to be heated and served. An independent chef who has personal chef clients may work for one family or multiple families. Even with a small number of clients, this type of independent chef can call their own shots, pick their own schedule, and make a solid income.
#2 Private Chef services
The old-school definition of a private chef is someone who lives in a client’s home and cooks exclusively for that family and their guests. The new-school definition has chefs working independently for many private clients, helping them entertain and with weekly meal services. (Nowadays it looks a lot like catering and personal chef work.) Confused? Don’t be. Read about the pros and cons of personal vs private chef work to learn more.
And here’s a bit more on the difference between a personal and private chef.
The reason personal chef and private chef services top this list is because these paths are the most lucrative and logical starting spot for chefs who want to go independent.
Chef Jobs For Culinary Professionals Who Love To Teach, Organize, Or Specialize
#3 Cooking Classes
If a chef loves to teach, cooking classes are a natural avenue for their expertise. People will pay good money to learn from someone with genuine culinary craft. A secondary income flow comes from the marketing chefs get from these classes for their personal and private chefs services. They build two revenue streams at once.
At our Lake Tahoe company (HeyChef!), our clients ask us all the time for a private chef to put on an in-home class or demonstration — an interactive and educational evening that culminates with a fabulous meal prepared for them. The chef will ‘be on stage’ a little bit, and if they enjoy this energy (like many I know) they create a thriving niche for themselves.
Community colleges and local cooking schools also offer some great opportunities. And, with all that’s gone one, online classes have increasingly become a lucrative avenue. Social media channels and the good ol’ house party are other viable options to teach your trade, gain a following, audience, and make money doing what they love and excel at.
#4 Holiday and/or Meal Prep Packages and ‘Provisioning’
Holidays are the busiest time of the year for independent chefs. Hosts want to impress their guests without the work. They want their holiday table to look like a magazine cover. They want to feel like they’re in the fairy tale — and, again, a large portion of our society is willing to pay top dollar for this experience.
The average mom or dad either can’t or doesn’t want to prepare food for a group of sixteen. They want to sip their wine and chit-chat and watch the ballgame. Holiday chefs remove the burden of planning, ordering, sourcing, prepping, and preparing meals. (And they take care of the dishes so Nancy doesn’t hate her mother-in-law for the next eleven months).
Holiday chefs will often work with a traditional family recipe while offering their expertise for little twists and additions to add spice and excitement to the palate. Holiday chefs’ work allow clients to focus on the decor and enjoy their family without the stress. This kind of work is seasonal (the main season is now) and works especially well in destination and vacation locales. And different cultures and populations celebrate holidays at different times throughout the year — and can become a steady and profitable income for the right chef. (Even if you live in the ‘burbs.)
#5 Specialty Diets
They’re everywhere. There’s Keto, The Zone, South Beach, Whole30, Mediterranean, Atkins, and about a dozen others. Then there are our vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians gluten-free, and celiacs of the world. Juicing, cleansing, heart health, low sodium too.
These are cumbersome diets to follow consistently, accurately — and palatably. That’s where professional chefs come in. Whether by choice or as a matter of health, people who tackle one of these diets (by choice or as a matter of health) struggle with all the research and planning required to do it effectively.
Doing it right is complicated and detailed. And, just like their personal trainers and masseuses, people happily pay for this lifestyle choice; it makes their life a heck of a lot easier when they can just open the fridge and grab food a professional has already prepared for them.
Especially diet chefs’ customers range from patients recovering from surgery to those who change their diet to regain or prolong their health, to those concerned about the environment. A devoted specialty diet chef helps them to stick to their resolution or their doctor’s orders. It’s an expanding one-step pivot, especially for chefs who have experienced success with their own dieting, or who have become specialists in a certain realm.
Chefs who ‘get in’ in this field are often readily referred to others within their clients’ network, many becoming renown within the niche-diet community because of their expertise — and the trust this earns.
What Independent Jobs Use A Chef’s Skill But Don’t Require As Much Time On Their Feet In The Kitchen?
#6 Meal Planning Services
People are busy. People are bored by their own cooking routine. People are lazy. And for most of them (us) it’s a hassle to plan nutritious and delicious meals that are different day-in-day-out. Solution? You, chef. Independent chefs who are natural planners, menu writers, sourcers, orderers, and portioners serve their clients by providing professional meal planning services.
Sometimes this involves doing the actual cooking (see #1 above) and sometimes not. It’s a fluid game here. And when it’s done well, this one-step pivot is a repeat-client, steady-stream income for independent chefs. Additionally, this work can be done during the day — freeing up chefs’ nights and weekends for actual ‘life.’ I’ve seen meal-planning chefs (with only a few clients) make a consistent and lucrative living. It’s a great option for a good chef.
#7 New Kitchen Set-Up, Auditing, and Design Consulting
It’s no fun to cook in a poorly organized or inadequately equipped kitchen. A systematic and observant chef can specialize in consulting for residential kitchens, to stock and set up, audit, identify ways to improve layout and pieces of missing kitchen equipment (smallwares, appliances) — and open up a drawer for a client to identify useless gadgets that are better served to remain at QVC. Chefs are uniquely suited to help people make their kitchens flow, be functional, more enjoyable to use; the ideal person someone will hire to streamline kitchens for efficient cooking and entertaining.
If you are a chef with a passion and flair for kitchen design and efficiency, this may be your ‘one- pivot’ move. Whether your expertise is used for someone’s remodel or a new build; for consulting with homeowners, architects, builders, and remodels; it’s a lucrative way to make a mark with your culinary talent. (And don’t forget the niche of designing kitchens for special circumstances like people with disabilities.)
Bonus: Chefs who help design a client’s kitchen often end up cooking for them, and get referred to other clients every time the kitchen gets a compliment.
#8 Shopping Services
Chefs who can step into the shoes of their clients know that for the average home cook, shopping is one of the most time-consuming and inefficient activities there is. (Shopping isn’t a breeze for everyone, often turning into a windstorm of frustration or even F-bombs.) Busy and well-to-do clients prefer to outsource this task — and getting paid to shop ain’t that bad.
If you love to personally serve families but don’t want to spend all of your time in a kitchen, explore a route in shopping services. It’s also a great add-on service, something you can do when you’re not cooking. Some clients don’t have the time or ability to go out (because they have a disability, a fear of viruses, or because they’re nursing triplets). This is a valuable service to many potential clients. Chefs can use their experience and expertise to make the best selections and substitutions — and save their clients time and money. Frequently, this is an add-on to number 5 above. Stack up a few clients to make use of your time and suddenly, chef, you’re making really good money.
#9 Food Party Planner
A food party planner is an organized chef who loves parties and loves taking the lead. Potluck weddings and freezer/meal parties are a big hit nowadays. This potential ‘one step’ is like being an event planner, but for food. Again, it only takes a couple of clients to get going. You’ll be surprised at what people pay for this service. And a lot of chefs have a lot of fun doing it.
Don’t laugh at this one. Brides these days are looking for affordable and unique ways to hold weddings — of all shapes and sizes. And these potluck weddings will get a bad rap unless the bride finds and uses the right chef to coordinate it; and when she finds a food party planning chef, her potluck wedding can become the affordable masterpiece she’s dreamed of.
At HeyChef!, we’ve been hired to plan menus, outline both the quantities of food and beverage, and divide the meal into specific portions and recipes. Our work here is handed out with the wedding registry where the bride and groom ask their guests to provide a gift of a serving dish and course (from the list of selected options) for their wedding meal. The result is an extravagant, well-themed meal that has no waste, is chef-quality, and personalized to the event — keeping the bride smiling.
She can create a wedding for literally hundreds of guests without ‘paying for the cooking’ (or doing any herself).’ In this instance, the bride and groom say, “If you’ll cook this recipe and bring it in a dish from our registry, that would be a wonderful gift.” It combines the registry and the food for the wedding into a fabulous present for the couple — as well as a delicious meal for the guests to enjoy, savor, and remember.
Food Prep Party
A chef who specializes in food parties usually works for a group of friends who want proactive help with the burden of cooking for their families — so they can have a glass of wine and some laughs, and experience a break from their routine. Adding variety and sharing the load is what this chef helps with here: Participants receive recipes, tips, etc., from the chef in advance, and each of them cooks one in a large batch to exchange at the gathering.
It’s sort of like a canning party, and the cooking can be done on-site or ahead of time by the participants to free up the evening for socializing and good times. The role of the chef is to coordinate the event, the menus and quantities, and provide cooking advice and tips so each of the prepared meals is delicious and the exchange goes off flawlessly. If the event involves actually cooking in one person’s home, the chef might also offer to supply some specialty equipment (pasta making??), disposable casserole pans, and to showcase new menus or recipes.
Chef Jobs For Culinary Pros Who Love Business And Managing
#10 Making & Selling Specialty Food Products
The advent of ‘Cottage Laws’ in recent years allows hobby cooks and professional chefs to prepare products in their own home kitchens for sale to the public — including retail sale at local farmers’ markets as well as placing products in boutique stores or selling direct to clients or local restaurants. If a chef has a product their friends and family can’t get enough of (think Paul Newman and the salad dressing that created a food empire) this is a viable path to start expanding your culinary product line. And your future empire. (Don’t forget that olive oil built ancient Athens; we may not have been given democracy if it hadn’t been for EVOO!) Spices, sauces, candies, nuts are all good options — big things are built on top of smaller ones.
Cottage laws usually cover certain categories of products (e.g. canning, or dry shelf-stable items). Check with your local authorities to see if the product you plan to prepare (ferment??) complies with cottage laws or requires you to use a commercial facility.
And if it doesn’t, you’re not done for; you just need to find a commercial facility for your preparation. Many chefs start their small business in this fashion by using or renting restaurant space during its off-hours and wind up selling these goods directly back to that restaurant and neighboring ones. Other chefs use their local collaborative or shared-use kitchen as an alternative. Finally, ‘cloud kitchens’ are also becoming popular and will likely be an affordable option for entrepreneurial chefs (look for more information on this in my blog soon – it’s B.I.G.)
#11 Catering & Restaurant Ownership
If marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs, then being a personal or private chef is a gateway to a successful career in catering or restaurants. If catering is your penultimate goal, being a personal or private chef, first, is the smartest way to do it without a giant outlay of cash.
Smart chefs start small. Then they build their reputation, refine their menus, establish a loyal cult following, and create demand for their services before investing in a commercial kitchen and starting the formal process of becoming a large-scale catering operation or leasing/buying a restaurant space.
Again, starting as a personal private chef is the gateway. Spending money before you are profitable or have a flood of clients is extremely expensive and risky. But when you perfect your independent chef and business ownership skills beforehand, you’ll be better prepared to handle the hiring and managing of a staff and facility. Whether you envision a tiny cafe or a catering company with a special mission, establish your foundation as an independent, profitable, in-demand chef with a large and consistent client base before expanding your business (and expenses) as a caterer or restaurateur. I see this formula work all the time.
2021’s The Time For Your One-step Pivot, Chef
The world of chefs is getting bigger, not smaller. Expand your perspective to realize this shift. Things are not worse, simply different, and those who can adapt are finding that purpose and lucrativity within the culinary world that they’ve always dreamed about.
With the closing of so many restaurants in 2020 the opportunity for chefs to do a one-step pivot and finally go independent is H.U.G.E. Use what you know and start your own career revolution; I encourage chefs to even select a couple of these paths and create a combination of products for their clients. See what sticks, what hits, and then start swinging away.
Starting down any one of these avenues can lead to cookbook deals, podcasting reach, speaking engagements, food truck ownership, food blogging, media appearances and TV channels, nutritional/fitness/health coaching, restaurant ownership — and more. (It’s an evolving world, and once they get going, many chefs are surprised where the momentum leads.)
Just remember to define your ideal client and your culinary focus first, to really ‘see it’ before it happens so it can happen, to have a goal you can aim for — and to only tackle the strategic tasks that lead to your specific and unique ‘bigger vision.’ This is your year, chef. Pivot wisely. Pivot powerfully. Pivot into a new future. Now.
P.S. My goal is to provide valuable information to and uplift chefs – no matter which direction their talent takes them. If the pathways above don’t light your fire, before you consider making a two-step pivot and leaving the industry I recommend you check out the world’s best selling book, What Color is Your Parachute? It’s a practical manual for job hunters and career changers. It’s a game-changer.