The Private Chef Life Seems So Glam on the Surface, but Here's What Really Happens When You Hire One

What you might see on TikTok is just the tip of the iceberg, according to the people who do it for a living.

A chef stands in a home kitchen cooking with fresh herbs

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There are two moments of suspended belief when I am offered a private chef gig. First is when I’ve signed the NDA and learn who the client is. Second, when I’m onsite, tucked into folds of circumstances to which few ever bear witness. The sites have ranged from relatively ordinary but well-appointed houses to palatial mansions. Most often, they’re rarely-occupied crash pad penthouses existing improbably in lower Manhattan. They have been backstage, behind sports arenas, or in rehearsal studios occupied by athletes and performers many of my friends are fans of. In each situation, I’m surrounded by the faces you and I often see on television. 

Reality sets in quick. Cooking for a celebrity or billionaire becomes like cooking for anyone else, but with much more pressure and layers of communication between me, my chef husband (who is my partner in this side hustle), our agent, a small army of personal assistants, house managers, and sometimes even bodyguards. There is a unique loneliness to being the only person shouldering every aspect to crafting a meal, but a whiff of the same exhilaration as finishing a busy service in a packed restaurant.

Kiki Aranita

There is a unique loneliness to being the only person shouldering every aspect to crafting a meal.

— Kiki Aranita

For me, it’s a lucrative thing that I only do sometimes. For others, like LA-based Rebecca King who owns the culinary concierge service Kooking LLC, it's more than a gig. She finds chefs across the globe for both salaried positions and one-off dinners, feeding a client roster of ultra-high net worth individuals, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and athletes in their multiple homes, yachts, and private jets. King started off as a private chef herself, but became an agent when she introduced chef friends to gigs she wasn't available to take on. With her experience cooking, she’s able to advocate for the chefs she works with and set appropriate boundaries between chef and client. 

So what happens when the signal goes up that a private chef’s services are needed?

It’s like a matchmaking service. “Most of my clients are by word of mouth and hear about me from other clients, chefs, or friends. Not one client asks for the same thing," says King. "I have a client questionnaire that I go through with each client personally. We discuss their diet, what type of personality they're looking for in a chef, what type of snacks they want on hand in their pantry. The questionnaire is quite thorough, and we do the same for chefs,” says King.

Rebecca King

You’re cooking in someone's home, and they should always feel comfortable enough to be themselves.

— Rebecca King

What about secrecy?

“Lots of clients ask for NDAs or background checks before we even share their name. It can be quite boundaryless. You’re cooking in someone's home, and they should always feel comfortable enough to be themselves,” says King.

Sometimes a private chef needs to arrive within three hours — and have dinner ready

“I’ve had clients call me at 4 p.m. on a Saturday looking for a 7 p.m. private dinner at home with 10 guests, and I've been able to fulfill their task — and quite well, I might add," King says. "If the client is requesting a longer-term placement, then there's a bit more research and interviewing involved. One to two weeks is enough time to interview and present candidates for full-time positions. From there we will do tastings and the client decides who is the best fit for them."

King combs her roster of chefs for clients looking for one-off dinners, a full-time celebrity chef, three months in Greece, or even those who are looking for a rotation of chefs to cook in their home and call her one to three times a week and to use her as a concierge.

How much money are we talking about here?

“Chefs typically go off day rates for events and salaries for full-time positions. Day rates really depend on the chef's experience, what type of food they’re making, and sometimes their celebrity," explains King. "I’ve placed chefs from $400 a day to close to $1,000,000 a day. I’d say an average range is from $500-$1200 per day, depending on the client's needs and the chef's background. Salaries range from $120,000 to $350,000, of course depending on location, client needs, and chef’s resume.” 

Private Chef-Tok condenses 24 hours of work into minutes

King loves watching Private Chef-Tok — all the rage right now — but knows the reality is much different. “I think watching one to three minute clips is impossible to show what it actually is to be a private chef. It's merely a glimpse into the day to day.” The actual labor is tedious, she says. “Menu planning, shopping, sourcing, budgeting, prepping, cooking, plating, or meal prep, takes hours and days. Even if you're cooking for one client.”

Celebrities often can’t count 

“One time a client said they were having a dinner party for ten people, and forty guests showed up," recalls King. "But I had two rock star chefs on the job that made it work and had fun doing it,” says King. This was literally me (your friendly author here) and my husband. Everything truly turned out fine.

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