How to Become a Freelance Chef
Your skills in the kitchen can earn you freedom and autonomy over your schedule as a freelance chef. Escape the mundane rigidness of being a full-time chef by exploring the world of freelance cooking.
Instead of being tied down to a restaurant and dinner rushes, freelance chefs can travel, determine their hours, and even set their rates.
While freelancing as a chef comes with its own set of challenges, the work also offers many exciting opportunities.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know as you think about taking the plunge into the freelance side of chef work.
What Do Freelance Chefs Do?
Freelance chefs don’t just work in restaurants. Once you set out on your own in the culinary world, there are all kinds of job opportunities open to you.
Freedom is one of the biggest perks of becoming a freelance chef: you get to choose the path that best suits you.
And you’re never tied down to filling one role — you can wear a variety of hats in the culinary industry.
Types of Freelance Chef Jobs
Here are a few of the main jobs that freelance chefs can pursue:
As a personal chef, you cook meals for individuals and their guests. You may cook in your clients’ homes or even in your kitchen (in which case you might serve the food directly or package it to be reheated and eaten later).
A personal chef will need to be aware of their clients’ dietary restrictions or preferences. Personal chefs often shop for ingredients themselves, so you will need to know how to budget for meals.
If your client will be reheating or cooking the meals themselves, you must be able to give clear instructions on how to do this properly.
A caterer is hired to cook food for social or corporate events (weddings, graduations, business luncheons, etc.), which often means cooking for and serving a large group.
Catering typically involves a lot of setting up for events and cleaning up afterward. Large quantities of food often must be prepared before events take place.
While personal chefs cook individualized meals, caterers cook in bulk. They must be able to create menus to serve larger groups. They must have enough ingredients to fill each plate.
Teaching Cooking Classes
Some freelance chefs like to teach others to cook. Cooking classes can be a fun and easy way to supplement a freelance chef’s income. With high enough demand you may even be able to pursue teaching private lessons full time.
Recipe Development and Testing
Some jobs open to freelance chefs don’t involve cooking for people at all.
Recipe development and testing may be the path for you if you love to experiment in the kitchen.
A consultant chef helps other chefs or restaurant owners succeed. In this role, you might help with menu planning, budgeting, training, and much more.
You sweep in, point out where things can be improved, offer solutions, help them get on their feet, and flutter out like the Mary Poppins of kitchens.
Skills Needed as a Freelance Chef
Wondering if this career is a good fit for you? It may help to look over this list of skills below.
If you have these skills or at least are willing to learn, you’re an ideal candidate for a career as a freelance chef:
Menu planning is integral to success as a freelance chef. Whether you are a personal chef or a caterer, you must be able to create a menu to please your clients.
You must create meals to fit within your client’s taste preferences, dietary restrictions, and budget.
Although grocery shopping is something done by every household, it takes skill to do it well.
As a personal chef, you need to be able to walk into a grocery store and walk out with quality ingredients for all your meals without going over budget.
Packing and Transporting Equipment and Meals
Since many freelance chefs are mobile, it helps to know how to pack meals and equipment without causing a mess or spoiling the food.
Frozen Meal Recipes
Most chefs can create fantastic meals from fresh ingredients, but can they all make a meal that tastes great after being frozen and warmed back up?
As a freelance chef, you will need to learn how to pack and prepare meals to be frozen, reheated, and still taste great.
All freelance chefs need to learn food safety measures and take them seriously.
One very important aspect of food safety is cleanliness. This includes cleanliness of the body, workspace, and ingredients.
Professional Attitude and Attire
A freelance chef is a business owner and should conduct themselves as a professional. Treating your clients with respect and looking presentable at all times goes a long way.
Read this article to learn the basics of executive chef attire.
The Essential Freelance Chef Kit
A professional chef needs a few key items to succeed in the food service industry.
A freelance chef needs much more.
Build your toolbox by collecting the items below.
Your niche as a freelance chef will determine the amount and type of equipment you will need.
A personal chef needs much less equipment than a caterer.
At the very least, here’s what you’ll need as a personal chef:
- A good set of knives with a protective bag
- High-quality cooking utensils
- Cutting board
- Pots and pans
- Mixing bowls
- Miscellaneous kitchen tools (can opener, etc.)
You’ll also want to have a set of containers to transport meals and a cart to hold them in. The last thing you want is to drop food all over the floor.
For a more extensive list and printable PDF, visit this website.
If you don’t have a website, you are missing out on a lot of potential business.
As a freelance chef, a good website will include the following:
- Brief description of your background/credentials
- Years of experience
- Picture(s) of you cooking up a storm (with plenty of food pics)
- A form that allows clients to book you and even a payment portal.
Sometimes, a client may ask for your resume, or you might want to post it on your website.
Rocket Resume has a great example of what a good freelance resume looks like. Compare it to your resume to get an idea of whether yours needs any improvements.
Any business owner or freelancer needs to be extremely organized for their greatest chance of success. Technology helps to take some of the burdens off your shoulders.
As a freelance chef, a good software suite can save you time and energy keeping up with various parts of your business.
Coconut is a fantastic app for freelancers to stay abreast of their taxes and bookkeeping.
Chefpreneur is developing an all-in-one software program to help chefs manage their businesses.
There’s even software that helps with menu planning in Modernmeal. They have some ideas that Food & Wine Magazine just won’t share!
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Setting Up Your Business
Beyond buying software and prepping your knife set, you must meet certain legal, financial, and professional requirements.
Let’s discuss what is involved in the business side of starting your freelance chef business.
Establish an LLC
In most states, individuals who freelance must register and set up their businesses. Many people choose to set up a sole proprietorship, but it may be wiser to choose an LLC.
This business structure eliminates some of the risk involved in running your own business, as your personal assets are safe from lawsuits. In a sole proprietorship, your business assets and personal assets are the same.
Get All Necessary Licenses
In some industries, you can simply quit your job and start working as a freelancer as soon as you feel like it.
That’s not the case in the food industry. You make food that other people put into their bodies, so you may need some certifications or licenses to prove you’re a professional.
In most states, for instance, you’ll need a residential kitchen permit to sell food you’ve cooked in your home.
If you want to cook in someone else’s home (as well as your own), you need a food handlers’ permit to show you’re trained in food safety and cleanliness.
Do You Need to Go to Culinary School to Be a Freelance Chef?
No, though some clients are specifically searching for culinary school graduates and may be willing to pay extra for chefs with a degree. In many cases, years of chef work in a restaurant kitchen are more valuable than formal education.
Certifications can help, too.
For instance, if you want to start a personal chef service, a certificate from the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA) or the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA) will show potential clients that you’re a true professional.
Start Tracking Financials
After you’ve set yourself up legally, you should develop a system for tracking your income and expenses.
The first thing to do is open a separate business account for your business. This makes it much easier to do your taxes as a sole proprietor at the end of the year.
Then, you may want to subscribe to QuickBooks or another accounting service to help you track everything.
How Much Should You Charge as a Freelance Chef?
While we’re on the topic of finances, we should discuss pricing.
One of the best things about being a freelancer is the ability to set your prices. You can choose to charge a daily, weekly, or hourly rate.
So, what should that rate be?
Well, there is no magical number; it all depends on the services you offer, the expenses you need to cover, and the amount of profit you want to make.
You should also consider the going rate in the area and the amount of competition you face. You can get an idea of how much other chefs in your niche/city are making through a quick search.
It can also be tricky to calculate plate costs. This blog post is very helpful with that.
Another wise course of action is to purchase protective insurance.
These include general liability, professional liability, and business auto insurance for your chef-mobile.
Don’t forget health insurance, either. Now that you’re an independent contractor, it’s up to you to find insurance that covers you in case of illness or injury.
How to Find Freelance Chef Jobs
Freelancers need to market themselves. Here are a few ways you can do that:
Spread the Word to Family and Friends
Start by preparing some meals for family and friends. Share those photos on social media along with your website link, and let people know that you’re available for hire.
Tell your family and friends to spread the word, too. You never know who in your extended network might be having a dinner party and looking for a chef.
Build Your Brand
To set yourself apart, you need to define your brand in marketing materials and your daily life.
Think of a signature style such as Emeril’s “BAM!” or Julia’s “A party without a cake is just a meeting.”
Read more about how to develop a signature brand here.
Search Job Boards for Freelance Gigs
Online job boards and marketplaces are some of the best places to freelance work.
Some job boards list jobs of all types, such as Indeed.com. This site allows you to complete a profile page, upload your resume, and connect with others in your industry.
Upwork.com is a freelance job site that allows you to bid on jobs you are interested in. This might be a good site to find consulting or recipe-creating jobs.
Then there are job boards specializing in culinary or chef-related positions or gigs:
Check out all of these sources and see what you find!
Market Yourself in Daily Life
Wear your chef jacket while shopping for clients. You’ll be surprised by the number of people who will approach you.
Add a magnet sign to your car. Offer free catering to a charity for free advertising. Teach a class at a local grocery store/health food store.
Find opportunities whenever possible to put your name out there.
You should also hand out business cards to the people you meet. You may not hear from them right away, but if they’re ever in need of your services, you’re likely to get a phone call!
Tips and Tricks for Success
With any career, there will be challenges and competition. So, you must find a way to give yourself an edge.
Here are a few hacks that will help you do just that:
Participate in Contests
There’s no better way to prove your culinary skills than to win a cooking competition. Compete in local cooking competitions, or aim your sights higher, like the Iron Chef competition.
Find a Niche
To stand out amongst the competition, try making a name for yourself as a specialist chef. You can offer keto, vegetarian, weight loss, or muscle-building food.
Focus on what you are best at and passionate about.
Start a YouTube Channel
Food-related videos are wildly popular on YouTube, and you can get your name out there by posting videos of yourself cooking. Share your favorite recipes and show everyone your skills.
A successful YouTube channel could lead to significant work for you down the line.
Use a Food Questionnaire
With each new client, you will need to know their preferences. This is where a thorough food questionnaire comes in.
The more questions you ask, the better you will be able to deliver the food they want, which will make them happy customers.
This is a good example of a good food questionnaire. Be sure to update your client’s food preferences regularly by asking them to fill out a new questionnaire.
Whether you live in Denver or Daytona, New York, or New Mexico, you can make a living as a freelance chef.
Demand is high. People are getting busier and they don’t want fast food — they want a healthy home-cooked meal, which you can provide.
Although it may take courage to start, it will be worth the time and effort you put into it.
Becoming the head chef of your own freelance business won’t only give you more freedom, but it will give you so much more adventure in the culinary arts!