Chemmie Squier | Acting Fashion & Beauty Editor | Sunday, 13 March 2016

How I Became A... Private Chef

How I Became A... Private Chef

The Debrief: What's it really like to work as a young, female private chef?

Annabel Wray, 25, is a private chef. ‘I cook for people in their homes, at events but primarily I cook on film sets for actors – generally the people I cook for are kind of high end. It's bespoke catering.'

I used to worked in The City

‘I studied business and management at the University of Exeter and graduated in 2011. Then I kind of went with the status quo and I got a job in the City, doing asset management for a Japanese company. 

'I did it for about two and a half years but I felt very unfilled and bored and didn’t like staring at the same four walls and I’d always wanted to go to Leiths School of Food and Wine, in West London – there were other options but Leith’s was where I really wanted to go to – so I handed in my notice.' 

I didn’t have a plan

‘I kept going on to the website and calling Leiths to find out how many places they had left, because they only take about 96 students a year. I kept checking and the number kept going down and down and down. 

'One day, I took the morning off work and I didn’t tell anyone that I was going for my interview and an open day to see what it’s like. I went with the idea that I would either hate it and think actually you know what, this is not what I want to do, or I would get there and absolutely love it. I spoke to the teachers there and realised it was exactly what I wanted to do. I actually cried!'

It was the best year of my life

‘You learn everything from the very very basics right through to Michelin style dining and everything in between: you learn to cook huge quantities, you learn how to craft, you learn how to present, health and safety. We do our wine exam, because a lot of food and wine matching is really in vogue. I loved it and I made some amazing friends. 

'It’s as intense as you want it to be. When we first got there one of the teachers said, “my biggest advice is to act like a sponge and absorb as much information as you can. What you get out, is what you put in.” You’re encouraged to do work experience as the year goes on or food economy; I did food styling, food and media.’

There’s a big initial outlay

'It’s £22,000 for a year which is three terms. One of the benefits of working in the City was that I had saved enough money to go. I also got a professional career development loan: some schools are accredited by the government and then banks like Barclays offer you anything up to £10,000 to change career or to develop current skills. And I took out one of those loans. I think I’ve got five years to pay it back. 

'You do make the money back quickly though. It’s hard to say how much other people earn but being a freelancer, I work on a day by day contract and my day rate varies. I’m making more than I did in the City though.' 

You don’t necessarily have to go to cookery school

'If you can afford to go to a cookery school, it was the best year of my life, but if you can’t don’t worry either, there is more than one way in. The University of Westminster have a culinary school there. If you are under certain age they’re free because they’re state funded, but once you’re 21 it becomes quite hard.

'You can start at any age and any skill level and work your way up, especially in the restaurant world. Less so in the private chef world, because you’re on your own and you don’t always have someone to learn from but there’s nothing to say that if you are a good home cook that you can’t throw stuff in the deep end and learn on the job. But I wouldn’t heavily recommend it. A lot of work comes through agencies and agencies usually want you to have a professional qualification.'

I really like the flexibility

‘There’s lots of reasons I chose to become a private chef, but mostly I liked the fact that there was quite a lot of freedom and flexibility involved. You also have the ability to travel, you’re not restricted to a certain cuisine, so there’s a lot more variety. I also like the idea of meeting loads of people en route.

I can cook all over the world too and I’ve done quite a bit internationally. I’ve actually just been offered a job in Nantucket Island in America, but it’s mostly Europe.’

Double check that it's really what you want to do

'I would say, go and do some kind of work experience in the food world, just to double check that you don’t just like cooking at home and that you do want to do it all day. Because there are times which are harder and you have to peel and chop a hundred onions and prep 50 squids and they're not the best times, but if you really do love it and you believe you can do it all day, every day then give it your best shot.'

No one told me I'd basically be a part-time cleaner

‘Obviously hygiene is such a key thing in a kitchen and that’s the bit that I don’t like. I have to spend a lot of time cleaning ovens, cleaning everything, like cooking hoods, pots and pans. Also not having my nails painted! Never having a manicure, ever.’

I have job satisfaction that I didn’t have before

'At the moment I have to get up at around 5am to be in work and on the film set by 6-6.30am, that’s what I do on the film set. I get up at 5 but even at 5, it doesn’t bother me that I have to get up that early and get to work, because I love what I do. There are loads of good parts but I love the fact that its creative, that its tangible and you get a real sense of satisfaction at the end of the day, which is what I didn’t feel in the City.'

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