Tips for hiring your own chef

Dinner table set and ready for a party. | Priya Hutner

You live in and work in Tahoe and are too busy to cook and are planning a special occasion and want to throw a party. Or, the snow is falling and you want to get out on the hill, but there is no food in the house and the last thing on your mind is food shopping and cooking. This is where a private chef, personal chef or caterer can come to your rescue.

“I would encourage you to get creative with the vendor and see how you can achieve a great event at your price point.”     –Tommy Adkins

What is the difference between a personal chef and a caterer? Private chefs commonly work for one individual or one family preparing all their meals. A personal chef prepares food for multiple clients sometimes delivering meals or preparing food in the clients’ home or vacation rental. Both adhere to their clients’ dietary needs. A caterer generally prepares food for large groups on special events.

Kabobs and salad ready for a party. | Priya Hutner

The range of services chefs and caterers offer varies as do the prices. There are many factors that affect pricing and the cost of services. How fancy of a menu are you looking to serve? How many courses would you like? Do you want to serve organic food or develop a menu with special dietary preferences? How labor intensive is the meal or how difficult are the ingredients to procure and how expensive are they? All these influence the final cost.

The location of an event is also a consideration — an event in the middle of the woods with no power, on a mountain or on the shores of Lake Tahoe are unique and require special equipment to support the event.

Mediterranean fish dinner plated by caterer. | Priya Hutner

Chefs’ rates differ. Some charge hourly and add the cost of goods on top of the rate. Rates can range from $40 to $95 per hour, depending on the time of year. Expect higher rates during the holiday season. If your party is large, generally a per-head rate is applied. This could be anywhere from $25 per head on the low end for a simple menu to $150-plus per head for a high-end meal that includes appetizers, soup or salad, entrees, side dishes and dessert.

It is important to realize that it isn’t just about the cost of the ingredients; time and labor are huge factors. Planning menus, shopping, travel, prepping, cooking and cleaning are all part of the cost of a job. The chef or caterer may need assistants depending on the number of people at the party and whether it’s a sit-down dinner or buffet. Hiring additional assistant cooks, servers and bartenders are all part of a chef’s ability to create a successful event.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with whipped cream and berries plated for clients. | Priya Hutner

Tommy Adkins of EATS Cooking Company hosts special events in the Tahoe area. EATS stands for Ethical and Tastefully Simple. I met him at a benefit event for the Send It Foundation where he was preparing paella for people living with cancer.

“Negotiating a caterer’s price is much like negotiating any other good or service,” he says. “It is first beneficial to remember that you have different options to adjust the extent of the service and the price of the event. For example, if a caterer proposes a price that is out of your budget, I would encourage you to get creative with the vendor and see how you can achieve a great event at your price point by reducing some unnecessary features or services. Secondly, it can be helpful for the client to begin the process by providing a desired budget. With this budget revealed, it is then easy for a caterer to show a client exactly what can be offered for the price point without the back and forth banter of contract negotiations.”

Contracts and deposits with contingencies are imperative. Sticker shock is no fun and if you are not accustomed to hosting a party, the costs can creep up quickly. Chefs and caterers are in business to serve the client.

For the client, the benefits of hiring a chef or caterer is he or she won’t need to worry. Personal chefs and caterers alleviate the stress of planning the meal, shopping for the menu, cooking and serving — leaving the client free to enjoy the party and the guests.