How to Know When It’s Time to Replace Your Private Chef

If you’re familiar with HeyChef! then you know its owners, Chef Grog and Holly Verbeck have spent their careers specializing in private chef work. What you might not know is Holly trains chefs across the country to work as private chefs, and, as a Certified Household & Estate Manager, she’s an expert at helping homeowners secure talent and build better teams. Since many of the clients who hire us when they vacation in their Truckee-Tahoe homes also have primary residences with full-time domestic staff, we often get asked: When does it make sense to replace my private chef?

Replacing Your Chef Can Be Hard

The people who work in your home become an extension of your family, and it’s natural for problems to arise. Over time your relationship with your chef will change; this is true with a housekeeper, the yard maintenance crew and babysitters, too. Gradually, little personality quirks ooze out and communication can become strained—just like with family.

Knowing when to take action is tricky because our relationship with the people who work in our homes is so personal – letting go of staff often feels like a break up that causes disruption to your household and daily routines. The trick is to differentiate between mere idiosyncrasies and style differences (those things which can be managed with clear communication and expectations) and when you’re chef just isn’t a good match.

Replacing Your Chef Isn’t Always Necessary

Sadly, many households could avoid dismissing good staff by understanding the principles of household and estate management. But, when your housecleaner or dog walker or private chef crosses some lines, it could be time to make a change.

Here’s 5 ways to know for sure.

1. When the Chef Just Isn’t Listening

A chef will always want to try new things. They’re creative people,  so they try new recipes. But they also need to be able to listen.

A good chef will make suggestions about culinary avenues that will increase your quality of life, to augment your nutrition and increase your health. But if you want a chicken enchilada and they’re making tofu stir-fry, there’s a communication breakdown.

Your chef can only ‘follow directions’ if clear, specific directions about their role and responsibilities have been given. Create flavor profiles and a service management plan (SMP) to keep from getting into a rutt and to make it easy for your chef to serve you well.  

2. When They Get Involved in Your Personal Business or Tell You Too Much About Theirs

Life happens every day, for every person. But a casual “how are you?” During morning coffee as the chef prepares for the day shouldn’t become a 55-minute tell-all session. For either of you.

Remember, your chef was hired to cook. They are not your therapist, and you are not required to shoulder the news and details of their daily life either. You should be the recipient of their culinary goodness and they should receive your good compensation. When that line gets blurred, it spells trouble.

Respect is good, personal conversation is nice, but so are boundaries. When things start getting too personal, too friendly, too talkative, too anything—shift the relationship back to its professional origins. A professional job description that outlines roles, responsibilities and expectations helps keep things straight.

3. When the Private Chef is Not Reliable

Arriving late. Not good. Calling in ‘sick’ the morning after the Super Bowl. Not good. Showing up with a toddler in tow. Not good.

You’re hiring someone to make your life easier. You’re hiring for consistency and dependability. Professionalism and integrity. If a Private Chef is acting like they’re still in high school, let them go back to work in a restaurant. Private Chefs are career people and professional ones act like it. Know how to communicate your expectations and consequences when they are not met (yep, like a human resource manager). Outline the job, the pay, the hours, and the timeframe in which reviews and pay increases will be given and you’re more likely to have a focused chef doing their job as outlined.

4. When They’ve Stolen from You

If things go missing, the situation must be dealt with immediately, directly and with tact. Yah, don’t jump to ‘blame the help’ when your daughter’s going through her klepto phase, but don’t not trust your instincts either.

In my 25+ years working with Independent Chefs, I’ve only seen this situation go down once. (It was a misunderstanding between a good client and a good chef that didn’t have to end poorly except for the way it was handled.) The truth is every orchard has a bad apple. If things go awry look to everyone in your house and note times and dates of when things went missing. Review the inventory report you conducted with the chef at their time of hire. Invite a friend or neighbor over as a third-party witness and talk to the person you believe responsible for the theft. Ask direct questions and leave room for someone to explain. No one wants to be accused. Expect clear, direct answers. And listen with your gut.

5. When a Private Chef’s Integrity is in Question

I always liked integrity defined as “what a person does when no one else is watching.”

Integrity is at the core of 95% of the work an Independent Chef will do for you. They do their work in the kitchen when you’re in the living room watching the ballgame or when you’re not even home. That’s why I believe a chef should be measured not simply by how they act in your home but by how they live their life.

When you’re checking references of a potential new hire, it is completely fair game to take a gander at their social media channels to check out their lifestyle and to make sure they’re not retweeting inappropriate things like how Jeffrey Epstein got ‘a bum rap.’ You can tell some of what you need to know about a chef in the kitchen – the rest you can gather from how they live when they’re off the clock.

It’s your home. It’s your family. ‘Nuff said. 

Private Chefs Are Usually a Great Fit. But . . .

You bring a chef into your life and home to make your life easier. Healthier. Better. And 99% of private chefs will.

Know that a chef’s labor is a ‘service’, not ‘servitude’. This means you need to know when to lead and where to draw lines

The flexible are blessed because they’re never bent out of shape, but the tree with strong roots survives storms.

If you’ve hired the wrong person, make a change sooner than later. There are other talented,  eager and kind professionals ready to take their place. Your home should be a place of mutual respect.  I’ve spent 25 years working with, training, vetting, hiring and placing chefs. I also married one. They are great humans with practical, indispensable skill sets and the personalities to make your life great.

For help recruiting, selecting, vetting and training a personal chef or household/estate manager please reach out to Holly at HeyChef! for private consultation. Creating a service management profile (SMP) is the single most important tool for hiring and retaining the best household staff and chef!

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