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The career for the decade is independent chef. These chefs work for themselves, call their own shots and perform personal and private chef duties for clients. In my three-part mini-series we covered lots of details about the similarities and differences between personal and private chefs but what I didn’t tell you is that not much of that matters. What matters is getting to do what you love and getting paid what you’re worth. This bonus section covers exactly how to do that.
What is an independent chef?
The number one trend for chefs is going independent. This means working as hard for their own vision and profits as they once worked for someone else’s. These chefs are wise. They understand stepping out from behind the stove directly into restaurant ownership has always been a reckless proposition, especially now. But they still want to run their own business and have creative control. They are smart. They possess technology and social skills to give them reach to a broad and receptive audience. They are creative, entrepreneurial, and want to share their talents. Their vision of independence can’t be squeezed into the old definitions of personal and private chef.
Why is now the best time to step into the career of independent chef?
Before COVID-19: The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported 40% of the U.S. workforce is made up of small-business owners, gig-workers and independent contractors. This is a result of at least two factors. Large corporations want to trim or eliminate their largest expense, employee wages, by reducing their workforce. They do this by outsourcing and hiring independent contractors and gig workers. The individual worker wants freedom. Gig workers can control their schedules, pick their clients, and determine their own work environment.
Now COVID-19: Unemployment hit an all-time high. Restaurants who survived round one of coronavirus were hobbled and still reeling. The impacts remain to be seen but one thing’s for certain: the tail of a crisis is long. (For comparison, after the 2008 Great Recession unemployment continued to rise until October 2009. It did not recover to pre-recession levels for another eight years.) What we know for sure the lives and jobs of chefs have been shaken. Instead of waiting for a return to a new normal, the best thing to bet on now is your own talents and abilities.
Is there really enough work out there to go out on my own as an independent chef?
Yes. Restaurants aren’t at capacity, customers are wary of exposure to large groups and the future is uncertain. This unique window in history is blazing a trail for chefs to step out on their own and get their own clients. People have always needed to eat and have always valued professionally cooked food. Now more than ever customers want safe choices they can enjoy in the convenience of their homes. Consider these scenarios:
- A family of five usually eats out 3-4 times a week. Would they rather go out and expose themselves to large numbers of people? Bring home foil-wrapped take-out food that degrades on the ride home? Or have ONE chef come to THEIR home to prepare meals?
- A special celebration is just around the corner. The guest of honor wants to share a meal with 20 of their closest friends and family. Some restaurants cannot accommodate groups of this size. So, would they rather limit the guest list and go out to a restaurant? Or have all their guests enjoy a special celebration in the safety and convenience of their own home?
No brainers, right? These examples demonstrate a blend of private and personal chef work.
Why is being an independent chef the best first step to going out on my own?
There are six reasons. In my years of market research I’ve found nearly 90% of chefs have a dream of owning their own business. This is where the real magic is. Being an independent chef has huge advantages over other types of business ownership. Here are seven reasons it’s the best pathway for entrepreneurial chefs:
- Super low start-up costs. You don’t have to invest large sums of money to step out on your own and many job boards post chef gigs.
- Being an independent chef has the potential for the single highest level of profitability of any working chef model. Brick and mortar businesses operate on razor-thin profit margins and have high failure rates.
- You call your own shots and pick your own schedule. You choose your clients and they choose you – you’re not indentured, enslaved, or chained to a kitchen stove.
- This career path offers the greatest creative flexibility. You can cook any cuisine or style of food you like instead of working a single station in a restaurant.
- Being an independent chef doesn’t require a commercial kitchen, with few exceptions. Independent chefs typically work in residential kitchens, which are generally exempt from health department inspections.
- Working as an independent chef gives you the chance to earn your chops, hone your skills, and grow professionally while building your own business. Even if your ultimate goal is to own a restaurant, beginning as an independent chef leads you on this path.
The number one trend for culinary professionals is a career as an independent chef.
If you’re unemployed and competing with other chefs for work that underpays for your talent, it’s time to go independent.
If you’re in a dead-end job, working to build someone else’s dream instead of your own, and you’re tired of it, you have to go independent.
If your ultimate goal is to create your own culinary empire with a chain of restaurants and a product line, now is the time to become independent.
Think of a chef you look up to and want to be like. There was a moment in their life when they made a choice, went independent, and started calling their own shots.Now think of what you want your future to look like. The trends of corporate outsourcing, a surge in gig-working, and the blooming of COVID-19 is a trifecta of conditions perfectly timed for you to become independent, chef!