Last month marked my 10th year at ICE — sometimes I wonder where all the time has gone! Having been Director of Career Services here for so long, I am in the unique position of seeing our students — very green, often tentative at first — progress into successful, confident professionals, with incredible depths of experience. So it’s particularly gratifying when they come back to visit and share it with our next wave of future chefs!
Wednesday evening, we hosted a very informative Career Development Seminar on Cooking for Private Clients. Participating in the panel discussion were two ICE alumni that I remember well from my early years at the school: Peter Shelsky (Culinary ’02), Chef/Owner of Pete’s Eats and Celebrate! Food and Jennifer Vellano (Culinary ’01), Co-Chef/Owner of Maison Privé. While in school, Peter worked as a prep cook at Wallsé restaurant and Jennifer held the distinction of being our first extern over at Blue Hill in NYC. (Out of curiosity, I did a quick tally, and we’ve had 49 externs at Blue Hill NYC and 32 externs at Blue Hill at Stone Barns since the opening of those restaurants. Oh, the careers those restaurants have launched!)
After putting in time in top NYC restaurants including Eleven Madison Park and Café Sabarsky (in Peter’s case) and Per Se (in Jennifer’s), the two grads decided to venture into the realm of cooking for private clients, albeit in very different ways. As they so wonderfully presented, there are diverse paths even within this niche of the industry.
Private chef work involves being employed by a single family. The position may be live-in or -out, and often involves travel with the family to vacation homes. These chefs often make 6 figures, though a very high-end restaurant pedigree (along with previous private residence experience) is often required. Other options include personal cheffing for a number of clients. You might cook for one family just one day a week, leaving food for a few days or you might cook for them more regularly. Some personal chefs do all their prep and cooking in the client’s kitchen, while others have more of a drop-off business model and rent an inspected, commercial kitchen for food prep. Still other chefs build their businesses on dinner party catering, focusing on small events of no more than 40 or so guests looking for multi-course, fine-dining style menus. There are even those chefs (Peter included) who have an educational component to their businesses, teaching hands-on cooking classes to individuals and guests in private homes.
While both grads mentioned that ICE’s own alumni job listings gave them initial clients, they also stressed the importance of word-of-mouth in driving the growth of their companies. A party that’s well executed is the best promotion you can do for your business, so as Jennifer cautioned “be prepared to back it up” in terms of your abilities to handle the level of cuisine and number of guests.
As the seminar broke up and students approached the ICE panelists, Jennifer and Peter passed out business cards to students and recent grads looking for potential freelance opportunities with them. And so the cycle continues…perhaps some of those in the crowd will return in a few years to share all their advice. We’ll look forward to having them back!