Before becoming a personal chef, I would peruse the internet for hours, trying to find the answers to what I thought were common questions about the personal chef profession. Extremely limited information came up when searching for the answer to my question, "what questions should I be asking new meal prep clients?"
I couldn't find a single article written by a personal chef. There were plenty of non-authorities sharing their idea of questions you should ask a personal chef when hiring as well as numerous culinary associations trying to get me to attend their schools and expensive groups, but alas no advice from someone in the profession.
Interestingly, the articles about "what to ask your personal chef" appeared to be written by someone clearly never having hired or interviewed a personal chef. The questions were highly redundant.
As a seasoned personal chef, I can share with you that when someone calls to set up a consultation about hiring you as their personal chef, all they're thinking about is, "how can you help me?" They're not interested in the questions listed in the online articles such as, “where did you go to school?” “What’s your background?” “Do you have a business license?” “Do you have insurance?”
As a personal chef, what questions should I be asking potential clients when offering meal prep services?
After extreme frustration not finding the answers to my personal chef business questions, I knew I had to put together an outlet for aspiring personal chefs to have a knowledge library.
Sometimes we need help getting unstuck in our business. If I already went through trial and error, why should you have to do the same? I can share what I've learned!
Clients are thinking "what can you do for me" and not "do you have a business license, how about insurance, member of culinary associations?"
Nobody has ever asked if I have insurance or a business license. Of course, I have those things, but nobody has ever asked. They just want to know if you are able to help them with their problem.
Potential clients are thinking about what they’re going to be having for dinner and not concerned with where I went to school or how I learned to cook.
Despite popular belief, culinary school is not necessary to become a personal chef and nobody has ever asked me during a consultation "where did you go to culinary school?"
I have a brief biography listed on my website and assume they’ve read it before my arrival, but most of the time, I’m not sure. Usually if they’re going to ask personal questions, it’s not until later, after I've already been cooking for a few visits. Their first area of concern is always, “how can you help me?”
What's the point of a personal chef consultation?
The whole reason for the consultation is for me to get to know their eating style, allergies, get to know any members of the family, and also view their kitchen.
I want to see what kind of cookware they have and if they have things like a grater, measuring cups, immersion blender, etc. You’d be surprised how many kitchens are lacking basics. I need to learn in advance what to bring to our first cook session appointment.
Their reason for the consultation is that they want to share how they like to eat and of course, I want that information as well.
Learn WHY it is they need a personal chef in their life
The first open-ended question is, “what are you looking for?” This provides an opportunity for them to explain the challenges they’re having in life and why they need help. Usually they’re busy working or have something going on in their life where they just can’t seem to find the time to cook healthy meals for themselves and their family.
Ask WHO you will be cooking for
From there, I ask about the family members including ages of the kids. The difference between a 5-year-old diet and a 14-year-old diet is huge. It’s also good to know if the children are boys or girls. A 14-year-old girl eats different than a 14-year-old boy. Get an idea of who is in the family and possibly the quantities they’re likely to consume.
Feeding kids is something I had to learn about from scratch. I do not personally have children, so did not know the challenges or feeding picky young girls or growing teenage boys. The challenges of cooking for kids is a whole article in itself!
This is the single most important question to ask
The most important question to ask is if there are any allergies. If there are allergies, you need to know how severe. For example, if there's a nut allergy, is it that they can’t have any nuts at all or is it that no nuts can ever touch the cutting board? This will factor into the equipment that you will be allowed to bring to cook sessions.
What would the family like to see on the menu?
From there, I like to ask what are the popular dishes in the house? I want to know what they’re already cooking.
If they enjoy going out for dinner, where do they go and what menu items do they often choose? The answers will provide guidance on the style of food to offer in upcoming menus. If they like going out for Italian or Chinese food, maybe you could replicate some of their favorite dishes in a healthier way as weeknight dinners.
I like to call this the "no way I'm eating that" food list
Next, ask if there are any dislikes in the family and offer a list of common dislikes. Before I began offering a common dislikes list, families would often reply, “oh no, everybody likes everything," then it would even take longer to get into the groove of figuring out a menu of family favorites as I slowly learned the family had many dislikes.
Another question I like to ask is if there are any particular dishes they’d love to see on the menu. They will almost always have an idea of what likes like to eat, which helps tremendously in planning the first menu.
How important is meat in their diet?
I’ll often ask, “would it be okay if I offer vegetarian one or two nights a week?" The answer to this question will give you an idea of the importance of meat as a main component of their meal. As well, find out which meats the family is not going to eat. For example, suggest processed meats like chicken sausage or ham, or if they prefer only grass-fed beef.
Finally, explain the process of how your meal prep business works
After having a good picture of future menus for this family, finally it's time to explain how the meal prep business works.
My process is simply explained as, “I’m going to send over a menu of about a dozen choices the week prior to your cook session. You’ll choose three complete meals and can customize as you choose, making substitutions or omissions as desired. From there, I’ll reply back with a grocery list and you’ll check off the items you have on hand so I'll know the rest need to be picked up from the grocery store. I’ll show up with groceries, cook a few meals, package them for the refrigerator, and leave behind a menu of reheating instructions. The meal will be prepared as four servings since there are four people in your family.”
Any questions about the meal prep service and how it works?
After questions, I take a tour of their kitchen, creating a mental inventory of what they have on hand and figuring out what is lacking. With a six-burner stove, I'd love to have four or more items cooking at a time so want to be sure there are enough pans to cover this.
Part of checking out the kitchen is also learning about their recycling system, filtered water system, where to take out the trash, which door to enter the home for cook session and how to access the kitchen when they're not home.
It's wonderful to see perspectives on how others run their personal chef business. If you'd like to share your personal chef journey, I'd be honored to have you as the next guest post.