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How to become a personal chef

The personal-chef industry is 17 years old and growing fast. And you don't necessarily have to have professional culinary experience to join it, just a love of cooking.

"It's amazing how many people are pursuing this as a second career because they're passionate about cooking, and they've already established themselves in one career and want a creative outlet," says Candy Wallace. She is the owner and executive director of the American Personal Chef Association in San Diego, whose accreditation is recognized by the American Culinary Federation.

Barbara Evans is an Ohio Department of Transportation employee turned certified personal chef with the United States Personal Chef Association.

"I think one of the aspects of the job that appealed to me so much is listening to people's stories about food," Evans says. But one of the challenges is cooking for clients who don't like to cook and have, say, only one working stove burner. A chef may be the first person to use some of the appliances in this kitchen.

"One of the interesting things about the industry -- and it growing so fast -- is it's become a wonderful alternative to institutional cooking," Wallace says. Chefs who work in restaurants and hotels often have demanding schedules with long hours on nights, weekends, and holidays. And the personal chef salary is comparable.

Lara Kierstead, owner of A Chef in Your Kitchen Inc. in Salt Lake City, used a USPCA starter kit to launch her personal chef business. After working at four- and five-star resorts for several years as a kitchen supervisor, she's back to her first love -- cooking.

"It's very new to Salt Lake City. The name of my business really gets my foot in the door," Kierstead says.

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Personal chefs typically start out with established recipes from an association and develop their own only after they have been in the field for three to four years.

David MacKay, executive director and founder of the USPCA in Albuquerque, N.M., says that the organization trained 15 chefs in 1992, but now they're training 100 a month. The group has a database of 700 recipes, three training facilities, course-approved classes being taught at three culinary schools and a self-study course.

Prices for the USPCA classes range from $393 to $3,995. The APCA offers access to 250 recipes with a two-day, hands-on training seminar for $950, and two self-study courses: a written version for $650 and a videotaped version for $795. Both associations include a one-year membership and access to a network of association members.

"I love the fact that I'm cooking again," Kierstead says. "What's been different is learning to run a business. I really enjoy learning, plus having a flexible schedule. I get to be very creative."

Amy C. Fleitas contributed to this story.

--Updated:July 25, 2002

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Personal chefs can be a real treat
Entrepreneurial gut-check time
Small business basics
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