My Life as a Newbie Personal Chef
About six months ago, I decided to get a second job in L.A. because 40 hours just didn’t seem like enough in this field. I always had the goal of becoming a personal chef at some point, so I figured why not try for it. I stumbled upon this awesome newer company called Naks and applied right away. The company’s concept makes perfect sense, I wish I was the one who thought of it. Basically how it works is anyone in the area can go onto the website and request a chef for whatever they need, whether it be a party, meal prep, or even just a small family meal. Requests can be made weeks ahead or even hours before. Then the company assigns a chef accordingly, and then that chef goes through the process of planning with the customer on the phone, food shopping, and then cooking at their residence or vacation spot. Cool, right? So, after a lengthy process of interviews and various training, I finally began my journey at the end of January cooking for people all throughout Los Angeles.
My experience with cooking is mostly limited to restaurant work and some catering, so diving right into cooking for people by myself in their homes was intimidating to say the least. My very first booking involved meal prepping for someone who fell asleep while I was working, so I found myself having to awkwardly wake them up to checkout (which I later found out wasn’t necessary). Needless to say, they weren’t very happy with me. From there, I accepted bookings that I was fairly comfortable with, which usually involved Italian cuisine and smaller groups of people. As with anything, over time I got more and more comfortable with the job and began to establish a solid routine with each booking.
I am about 25 bookings in now, and I already have so many memories that I know I will appreciate for a long time. I feel it’s only fair to be honest about my pitfalls, so I’ll start with that. One of the first questions we ask customers on the phone is if there are any food allergies present among any of the guests. That is obviously very important to avoid our worst nightmare as chefs. Before you start to panic, don’t worry.. I didn’t kill anyone. I was making risotto during one of my first few bookings and one of the guests came up to me and said “I certainly hope those mushrooms aren’t about to go into that risotto, If I eat one I’ll go straight to the hospital.” My heart sank. I pulled the host aside and asked them about it, and they said they had no idea. It goes without saying that I now triple-check with people on food allergies to avoid that almost disaster again.
As far as other mishaps go, I’ll just sum some up real quick: fallen apart fish, forgotten ingredients, getting lost in parking garage, deflated cake, failed kitchen equipment, clogged sinks, empty grocery stores due to pandemic, kitchen so hot the pasta dough melted to machine,...that’s the gist of it. The funny thing is, most of those things the clients had no idea about. The fish was turned into a nice salad, forgotten ingredients were substituted by things I found around the kitchen, deflated cake became individual molten chocolate cakes, the pasta was hand cut, and so on. The amount of anxiety that jolts through me during most of the bookings is equivalent to working Saturday night rushes in a restaurant, on steroids. Anything could go wrong, I have to be ready for that. But, the moment I get to see people enjoy my food and be a part of their special occasions, that’s what makes all of the anxiety worth it. Plus, all of that stress sends dopamine shooting through me, so I am on cloud 9 by the time I get to the plating portion.
Now for the good parts. I have gotten to be involved in marriage proposals, pregnancy announcements, and plenty of birthdays. I have made dishes that I’ve never attempted before and been asked for recipes. I get to travel all around L.A. and go to cities that I have never seen before. I have befriended many clients and have even gone to get tacos with some after making them a four-course dinner. While not every booking is going to go perfect, this is a job that I am beyond happy to have gotten. Because of the pandemic, we were closed for nearly 3 months, but it’s back now and I am loving cooking (safely) for people again! Any of you fans of the Office? Andy Bernard once said a killer quote: “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them”... I feel my time here in SoCal will definitely be part of the good old days, and I try my best to keep that in mind as I live this crazy, unpredictable life.