When the covid-19 lockdown began, some people really locked down. “There are high-net-worth individuals having their housekeepers and chefs quarantine with them,” says Brad Metzger, whose eponymous restaurant-recruitment agency has been placing culinary talent in Michelin-star kitchens for nearly two decades, as well as sourcing private chefs for high-powered clientele. In Beverly Hills, he says, a blockbuster-movie producer quarantined with members of his staff. “They haven’t left this whole time. He’s paying them dramatically more, and they’re living in the mansion.”
With many qualified chefs out of work this year, the home-chef market has grown significantly. (Over the course of the pandemic, Metzger says, he’s placed more than double the number of private chefs compared to 12 months ago.) If you’re thinking of bringing the restaurant experience home with you, here are a few things you need to know.
“The biggest determinant of cost is the caliber of the chef. It can matter more than the job description,” Metzger says. “If you go with a young cook who has never been a private chef, that person is going to be much less expensive than someone who worked for Wolfgang Puck for seven years and Lady Gaga for a year and a half.” Full-time, the greener cook may cost you $70,000 to $80,000 per year, while the Michelin-star chef can command $130,000 and up.
The type of food you want can also help determine the caliber of chef you require. Crave mac and cheese all the time? You probably don’t need a Michelin pedigree. But if you’re looking for restaurant-level cooking and lavish dinner-party menus on the regular, be prepared to shell out for that elevated skill set. In either instance, arrange a tasting to check out their chops— and feel out their personality.
Running a high-end commercial kitchen is a much different proposition than cooking for a family. That means it’s about not just liking the cook’s food but liking the cook. “You really want to match the disposition of the chef to your lifestyle,” Metzger says. “Take them out to lunch, or have them come over to hang out with the kids to make sure it’s a fit.”
(One often overlooked detail to consider: Placement agencies will handle reference checks and vet a chef ’s qualifications, but background checks, NDAs, Covid tests and drug screenings should be arranged on your end, since government regulations may preclude a placement agency from sharing those results with you.)
Want someone less than full-time? Options abound. If you need only part-time help, consider splitting the service with friends. Jill Donenfeld, cofounder of personal-chef service the Culinistas, says she has worked with a “Covid pod of families” looking to share a full-time chef, “and that chef exclusively goes to those homes.” The Culinistas also provides a more off-the-shelf option: Select from its variety of internally developed menus, and one of the company’s 150 chefs (across LA, Aspen, New York City, the Hamptons and more) will do the grocery shopping, prep dinner and have it ready when you get home, as many days per week as you want.
Or, given the state of the industry, your favorite restaurant just might re-create its menu at your house for a one-off event. Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske, of Michelin-starred Contra, in New York, have recently started serving at residences around the city, while hit omakase spot Sushi Noz will bring a 10-seat sushi-counter experience to your place in the Hamptons. But—and this is key, no matter the level of service, from a full-time private chef on down—don’t forget to negotiate who does the dishes.