Often, the more time someone has been a restaurant or hotel chef, the longer they take to adapt to being a private chef. Being a private chef is so very different from being a restaurant chef. Success as a restaurant chef is no indicator of ability to be a successful private chef.
We find that it can be quicker to train a chef de partie than a head chef. Chef de parties are still engaged in the training part of their career and are used to absorbing new information and ideas.
Simply how to address a client is a skill not known to most restaurant/hotel chefs. This is the most basic of all skills required by a private chef. The ability to be friendly but NOT FRIENDS with the client is a very socially complex skill. Learning to work in someone’s house and be utterly discreet is again a skill unknown to restaurant chefs. This needs to be taught.
Building the trust in the client/private chef relationship takes time and care. It involves being oneself and ‘open’ plus running a very clean, organised kitchen. An important part of building trust is being absolutely precise with all the agreed timings and the accounts.
I see so many private chefs post images on social media which are spectacularly inappropriate. Images of clients or clients houses and cars, which to me completely violate our privileged role as a member of an individual’s household staff. We train all our staff to be ultra-discreet and, obviously, every member of our team signs an NDA. Primarily we are ultra-discreet to protect ourselves. From experience I can tell you that being chased by paparazzi is not fun. As members of an individual’s private staff we need to not talk. If we talk we can endanger the client and ourselves.
The chefs who are posting inappropriate photos on the public platforms of social media, I wonder what they are saying privately to their friends. I suspect they are discussing private information that the client really wouldn’t like discussed. As we all know, once information is in the public domain there is no control over where it ends up. For everyone in the company it’s easy to understand where private information belongs. Private information belongs in the client’s house and we, as members of the staff, do not have the right to take it out of the client’s house.
As we say in the HNW world: those that know don’t talk, those that talk don’t know.
A successful private chef is a person of discretion, who is highly flexible, a great communicator and organiser, imaginative and adapts to all changes of plan with ease. A private chef spends far more time listening to instructions than issuing instructions.
Then a private chef needs to learn how to ‘share’ the kitchen with the client… all this needs to be taught. A private chef needs to be able to work with dogs, children and clients under their feet in the kitchen. And of course plans will change, so menus and timings have to be adjusted at the last moment. This must be done gracefully and without any fluster or annoyance from the chef.
The kitchen equipment will be very different from restaurant kitchens, that needs to be adjusted to. Plus it’s like working in an open kitchen but not just an open kitchen… the dry store, fridges and freezers are all ‘open’. By which I mean all these areas are open to be seen by the client. This means everything needs to be clean and organised at all times. This way of working needs to be taught.
In short, our company starts with a flexible, relaxed, socially intelligent individual and trains them. Occasionally my company trains a non-chef. As the saying goes ‘you can’t train personality’ and that’s what the client wants, the right personality cooking in their house. My company can train cooking, easily. As long as the individual likes food and is a confident home cook our company can quickly train them to cook to the standard required.
For our clients, nutrition is very important. Our chefs are all trained to work with nutritionists. Nutritionists issue their instructions in terms of macros. All our chefs understand that 50g of protein is not 50g of beef or 50g of fish. A piece of meat or fish (or any other protein source) isn’t 100% protein! Plus the use of fat is only sparing. We aren’t covering everything in oil and butter. We are being very clever, making the ingredients ‘speak for themselves’ and using, butter, cream, chocolate and oil only when they are really needed and will have a huge impact in the dish.
I know some people who call themselves private chefs who work outside the U.K. and don’t know five words in the local language. That’s a very quick way to a) not show flexibility b) not show respect to the country where you are working and c) not get good service in the butcher’s, bakery, greengrocer etc. Everyone can learn the basics of the local language as long as they don’t ‘think it’s cool’ to just shout at the locals in English. Shouting in English is a spectacularly outdated colonial view of working in non-anglophone countries.
The people who don’t learn the basics of the local language are also the people who wander round a supermarket with a disorganised piece of paper in their hand. This is their shopping list.
Training people to organise, write lists, shop and keep accurate accounts is vital for the role of private chef. I see so many people in supermarkets in the south of France, Italy or ski resorts who are clearly private chefs but have no idea how to shop, it really is scary. And yes, it’s great if you can order provisions to be delivered by restaurant suppliers, however because a private chef is working ‘day by day’ it is often not possible to agree menus several days in advance. Often menus and numbers for that evening are only agreed in the morning. Hence the need to provision on the day.
Plus laying the table and serving at table if the household is small and informal OR working with butlers if the household is large and formal, these skills need to be taught.
There are the issues of dealing with security in the house and the etiquette of very high-profile guests. How to handle nannies, chauffeurs, entourage, the CP detail, all this needs to be taught.
This is why we train all our chefs.