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`How to Start a home-based Personal Chef Business' by caterer / writer, Denise Vivaldo is her second book on a culinary self-employment career, her first being a book on running a home-based catering business. One irony I must point out quickly is that the `home-based' part of the title is just a tad misleading, as the laws of many municipalities prohibit one from cooking food for sale in one's own home without some pretty elaborate licenses and special permits. Some other municipalities require that if you are cooking for a family, this be done in THEIR own kitchen, not yours. Of course, I learn all this from reading Ms. Vivaldo's book, which is one of the things that make it so valuable.
I am very happy to see that the lion's share of the book is dedicated to the details of the Personal Chef (PC) business and not the culinary aspects (recipes and cooking skills) of the job. And, while the author does give us 29 pages of menus and recipes, they are primarily case studies in how to do one of the classic 5 X 4 meals a personal chef commonly does. This 5 X 4 schema is one of my biggest surprises in reading this book. I always imagined a personal chef worked exclusively for one or maybe two families and cooked each meal on the day it was to be eaten. In fact, the most common scenario is to prepare five meals of four servings each, one for that day and four for the fridge or freezer. This way, one PC can realistically have up to seven clients, if they are willing to work seven days a week or double up by doing two families' 5 X 4 setup a day.
The conditions imposed by having to cook in the client family's own kitchen adds a major subject; how do you maintain a traveling kitchen and how must you maintain stocks in each clients home, if at all.
I've occasionally toyed with the idea of taking on the part-time job of PC; however, I believe Ms. Vivaldo has talked me out of this notion. Her book begins with an excellent questionnaire on those things that qualify or disqualify one from being a good PC, and what is the sense of getting into something like this if you will not both enjoy it and do a good job. After all my readings of culinary memoirs, one aspect of PC qualifications is no surprise. To succeed, you really need to be able to work quickly and efficiently, almost, but maybe not quite as rigorously as you need to do in a commercial kitchen (after all, there are some benefits of flexibility in being your own boss and working alone.) It is not NECESSARY that you graduate from a culinary school or work in a professional kitchen to obtain this skill, but both are far better than trying to obtain these skills by yourself. The author did both, and I suspect her success as both a PC and as a caterer testify to this fact.
This book also reveals that there are a lot of relatively unpleasant things one must do in order to succeed, not to mention staying legal in your business. The two least tasteful are probably writing a business plan and accurate pricing of your services. Fortunately, Ms. Vivaldo gives ample advice on how to do these things, including sample forms from successful PC businesses. She also provides contacts to many of these successful PCs if you want to mine some advice from them yourself. I don't recall seeing her suggesting that one route to success is in apprenticing to a successful PC; however, she does give lots of contacts in the business, so that is bound to come up as an option.
As I said, the hard culinary advice is minimal, but what there is I found well directed at a lot of special dietary needs, such as vegetarian, diabetic, infant, elderly, and dietetic needs. The book also contains worthy references to where to find help on these matters. It also contains some excellent culinary Internet sites for recipes and nutritional information. I was surprised that it did not include a reference to [...], which has a recipe library which probably rivals any of the other suggestions. I'm also surprised that there is no central bibliography, which could at the very least list such excellent references as the CIA textbook, `The Culinary Professional', Madeleine Kamman's `The New Making of a Chef', and Deborah Madison's `Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone', three excellent basic cooking textbooks.
This is the third `how to succeed in a personal business' book I've reviewed, and it is easily the best.