Hiring a Chef for any culinary service, whether it is for a dinner party or a Customised Meal Service (Traditional Personal Chef Service) or for your company barbecue can be daunting, unless you know what questions to ask and what to look for. Use this guide to assist you with the interview process.
Do you have a contract?
A contract ensures that both you and the Chef are 'on the same page.' It should clearly set out the terms of the service (e.g. the hourly rate, rate per person etc.), the terms of payment, cancellation procedures and any penalties that may be levied and so on. Read the contract carefully before signing it or giving the Chef a deposit for their services. If you have any questions, do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for clarification.
What culinary training have you had?
Although it is good to know that your Chef has had formal culinary training (ask to see their certificates), many well-renowned Chefs have never stepped foot in a Chef School. These Chefs may have joined the Culinary Industry after leaving school or as a career change, and have trained under Professional Chefs, learning hands-on everything that Chef School would have taught them, and more!
Do you have valid Liability Insurance?
Liability Insurance protects you in the event that something should go wrong. It's frightening just how many Chefs do not understand or appreciate the importance of having adequate Liability Insurance coverage, thinking that they are seasoned Chefs who do not make mistakes. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day, their arrogance could put your health and safety at risk. If your Chef does not have liability insurance, point them in the direction of organisations such as The Chef Alliance, who can assist them.
Have you ever been sued for negligence or defalcation?
Ensuring that the Chef you hire has liability insurance is not sufficient protection for you and your guests. It is also important to ask the Chef whether he or she has ever been sued for negligence or defalcation. Insurance will not prevent a situation where a Chef that has been sued repeatedly for negligence will cause severe illness or even death to your guests. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Do you have a valid Food Safety & Sanitation certification, or similar credentials?
This training should be a pre-requisite for working in the Culinary Industry. Unfortunately, in many areas it is not a requirement for cooks and chefs to have any training on the proper food handling techniques and procedures to ensure that the food that reaches you is not contaminated. It is your right to ask for proof that your Chef has valid certification to protect your health and safety, as many areas require that Chefs get re-certified every few years.
Do you belong to any Chef organisations?
There are many Chef organisations around the world. Find out which ones your Chef belongs to and do some research to see what entrance criteria they have. Do they accept anyone or do they have strict requirements? Do they offer Professional Development courses to keep their members abreast of new trends and techniques?
Did you belong to any other Chef organisations in the past, and why are you no longer a member?
In the majority of cases, Chefs may decide not to renew membership for reasons, such as relocation, the benefits of membership no longer met their needs, financial resources etc. In rare occasions, however, a Chef may have their renewal application denied for reasons such as non-payment of fees or unprofessional behaviour.
Chefs are expected to abide by Codes of Ethics and rules and regulations of membership. They are expected to conduct themselves professionally at all times, to treat the client with the utmost respect, and to provide their services to the best of their ability. Find out if complaints were lodged against the Chef - most membership organisations take complaints seriously, and will investigate them thoroughly. In the event that they find that the Chef has conducted themselves inappropriately, action will be taken.
What happens if you cannot provide the service?
Chefs are human too, and sickness or accidents can occur unexpectedly to anyone. Ask the Chef if they have other, trusted Chefs that they can call on at the last minute to provide the service on their behalf, if required. If not, what type of compensation will they provide to you for cancelling?
I have an allergy/ a dietary restriction/ a health concern that affects what I can eat. Do you have experience with cooking for these situations?
Many Chefs have had direct training in cooking for special diets, from nut allergies to diabetes, celiacs disease to lactose intolerance, low fat or low sodium cooking to vegan meals and Kosher cooking. Even Chefs without formal training in this area can accommodate special dietary needs and allergies.
What equipment will you bring and what will I need to provide?
This will depend on the type of service being provided by the Chef. In many cases, the Chef will provide their own utensils to cook with - knives, pots, pans etc. In other cases, such as a Private Chef position, where the Chef is cooking for one client each day, the equipment is usually provided by the client. Caterers who prepare the food off-site and deliver it to your venue may bring warmers or platters to present the food to diners.
Who is responsible for the ingredients?
Again, this depends on the service being provided. Many Chefs use a 'service plus ingredient' method of billing; others include the cost of ingredients. It is best to be clear about this during your interview of the Chef. Caterers will, of course, price their service based on the final product being delivered to you.
Can I speak to some of your past clients or get references?
Every Chef should be happy to put you in touch with past clients or employers.
What payment types are accepted?
It can be tempting to pay a lower price for giving the Chef cash in order to avoid taxes, but if a Chef is willing to cheat the government on paying taxes, can you really trust them with giving you the top quality of food and service that you deserve? What does this say about the Chef's professionalism?
A professional Chef will provide you with their business number, sales tax number etc and issue you with a proper invoice for their services.
If the Chef accepts PayPal, credit card payments or other similar payment types, they should charge the same rate as if you paid by cheque. Do not accept the rationale that they have to pay fees to accept these other forms of payment - that is their cost of business and you should not be penalised for this.
Where will the food be prepared?
If the food is not being prepared in your home or business, then it should be prepared in an inspected, commercial kitchen. This is to protect your health, as commercial facilities are generally inspected on a regular basis by the local Health Department.
Some Chefs have been known to prepare food in their own home and then bring it to the client's home. Be wary of a Chef doing this - their kitchen has not been inspected for health and safety violations and so no one can vouch for the cleanliness of the facility.
How will food be transported?
This is another area of concern if a Chef or Caterer is transporting prepared/cooked food to you. To protect your health, food should be transported in refrigerated boxes or trucks to ensure that the food is not contaminated and that it isn't a breeding ground for bacteria which could lead to food poisoning.
Do you have a criminal record and will you provide a criminal record clearance?
This is a very important question, given that the Chef you are interviewing will come into your home and possibly interact with your children and/or guests. It may be a good idea to ask the Chef to provide you with an up-to-date criminal record clearance check.
Do you provide a Performance Guarantee?
Ever wondered what would happen if your Chef fell ill or could not make it to your event. Invariably when dealing with a Chef that is running a one-person operation, you take the risk that if the Chef is unable to attend at your home, it could ruin your event. Therefore, you should ask the Chef what would happen he or she was unable to provide your srvice for any reason whatsoever.
Does the Chef have a website, static IP address, and business phone number?
One good indicator of the professionalism of a Chef is to ask whether they a professional website, a static IP address and business phone. Unfortunately, countless Chefs continue to work 'under the radar'. Many have invested very little or no money on websites, operate using a
hotmail/gmail/yahoo email account, and use their cell phone. You have to ask yourself, how easily will the Chef be able to disappear if something goes wrong at your event.