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A personal chef is a chef who is hired by different clients and prepares meals in the clients' home kitchens, based on their needs and preferences. The personal chef will create a customized meal plan, shop for all groceries, prepare the meal, and clean up the kitchen. The chef typically leaves prepared meals packaged in containers for the client to store in the refrigerator or freezer to enjoy later. Some personal chefs also focus on preparing dinner parties and other special events, which means they are responsible for shopping, preparing the meal, serving the guests and cleaning up afterward. The menu is preplanned and discussed with the client, then prepared in their home. According to health-department guidelines, all food must either be prepared in the home of the client or in a kitchen that has passed an official health inspection.
Note that a personal chef is distinct from a private chef, which refers to a chef who is employed exclusively by one client, and in some cases lives in the client's home.
When hiring a personal chef to provide either a packaged meal service or to cook for a dinner party, a menu and a budget are submitted for the client's approval. Typically, the chef is given approval, a deposit, or (if familiar with the guest/frequent client) an expense account for the menu. The client pays for this in addition to the cost of the chef's services and gratuity.
Some personal chefs also provide meal planning and budget planning for homeowners and second homeowners who are busy with their own lives, but insist on nutritious and tasty meals for their families. Catering companies also offer a personal chef within their catering services as this service is usually provided during the week and catering on the weekends, as well able to cater for larger events and supply private staffing. Many personal chefs also offer personalized cooking instruction in the privacy of the client's home, either one-on-one or in groups.
In terms of experience, personal chefs tend to be chefs who have worked in restaurants, hotels, catering or all three, though many culinary students become personal chefs directly out of school. It is not uncommon for some personal chefs—particularly those who cook for dinner parties and special occasions—to be employed in a restaurant or catering job full-time and work as a personal chef in their spare time for extra income. Potential clients can either research personal chefs in their area via online membership registries or they may choose the services of a personal chef staffing agency.
Various training programs are also offered by the United States Personal Chef Association and the American Personal & Private Chef Association. The United States Personal Chef Association is currently the largest association for personal chefs in North America.