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Keeping the Faith: How to be a Successful Personal Chef

Keeping the Faith: How to be a Successful Personal Chef

Janaki Jitchotvisut | Chef's Blade

Last week, we talked about the two most important things you need to have in order to be a successful personal chef. This week, I’d like to talk to you about one more thing that is absolutely essential if you’re going to succeed.

It’s going to sound incredibly simple, and it’s also going to sound like something that will make you wonder why you’re reading a column about it. Despite this reaction, I hope you’ll read to the end anyway because I don’t think this point can be made enough. The point in question? Above all, you need to believe in yourself.

See? Doesn’t that sound overly simplistic and duh-inducing? Nevertheless, it’s absolutely essential. As a personal chef, you’re in charge of everything. Which is awesome, but also scary. Of course, if you choose, you can pull other people into your orbit to help you with certain specialized tasks, such as doing your accounting for you, or maybe helping you out once or twice at a large dinner party, or something similar. But in general, the buck will always stop with you, because you’ll be the one who started it going around the room in the first place!

The key is, you can’t let it scare you off. A little bit of fear, properly applied, can be motivational; if you aren’t driven to succeed, no matter what field you’re in, you’ll stagnate. But what do you do when you’re dealing with a difficult client? General knowledge tells you that “the customer is always right,” but you know well enough to know that they’re not. Not really, at least.

Of course, you always want to be polite. That’s the first thing. You always want to make sure that you deal with your clients in the most polite and appropriate manner possible, even when they’re being difficult. But you also have to give yourself permission not to beat yourself up over the occasional situation that you can’t salvage. What’s true of personal relationships is also true of business ones: you aren’t always going to see eye to eye with everyone, and you need to realize that. You also need to not take it personally if someone decides that your particular business is not for them.

Of course, cooking is an intensely personal thing with which to occupy yourself, and you wouldn’t be attempting this as a profession, I don’t think, if you didn’t care passionately for it. By extension, of course, you’ll be very anxious to receive what you hope will be positive feedback from those for whom you’re cooking. That’s only natural. But if that feedback isn’t always positive, you need to be prepared to not take it personally. Instead, learn what you can (if anything) from it, and move on. If you can salvage the situation, by all means, try to do so. But if you can’t, and you and your client part ways, don’t take it as the end of the world. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure at cooking, nor that this is the wrong profession for you.

“You can’t please all the people all the time” may be a cliché, but it’s also rather true. And it’s only if you don’t realize how true this is that you might want to consider a different profession for yourself.