Restaurant chef vs. private chef: Alumna shares her journey through both industries
Lauren Cook’s restaurant resume runs deep. The Arlington native and former college volleyball player has cooked in some of Fort Worth’s most popular kitchens, from Nonna Tata, Stir Crazy Baked Goods, and Winslow’s Wine Café to beloved but now gone hot spots like Magnolia Cheese Company and Bolsa in Dallas.
But when the opportunity to become a personal chef with a local meal prep company was presented to Cook in 2015, her culinary career path took a sharp detour.
“I realized becoming a personal chef offered better hours and better pay,” says Cook, who graduated from the Culinary School of Fort Worth in 2011. “There was a big adjustment from working in restaurants to personal cheffing, because I suddenly had to focus on healthy, family-friendly meals rather than high-end dishes.”
Fortunately, healthy eating had always been in Cook’s wheelhouse. In college she cooked nutritious meals for her volleyball teammates, who encouraged her to consider culinary school after graduation. When she decided to enroll in the Culinary School of Fort Worth after receiving a health promotion degree from Abilene Christian University, one of her goals was to open an athletics facility with meal prep available and a dietitian on staff.
Cook was ahead of her time.
In 2021, the meal prep industry was estimated at 6.9 billion U.S. dollars, and it is set to keep growing. By 2024, the segment could generate sales for more than ten billion dollars.
The personal chef industry has also grown significantly, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic when many folks chose to eat at home more often in a controlled environment. The trend has continued as the pandemic has played out. The global Private Chef Service market size is projected to reach multi million by 2028.
“I definitely see personal chefs being in high demand now and they will only get more popular in a few years,” Cook says. “People love having restaurant level food at the comfort and convenience of their home, whether for weeknight meals or dinner parties. Personal chefs are also very helpful when people have food sensitivities or are following very specific diets.”
From a career standpoint, becoming a personal chef can provide flexibility benefits, as well. Now with two young boys ages 5 and 2, Cook works solely for one family and has been able to dictate her own hours. She’s off early enough to pick up her kids from school and daycare and has ample time for afternoon activities and to make dinner at home. She’s also off on the weekends, a huge luxury in the culinary world.
Cook says the Culinary School of Fort Worth gave her the foundation for becoming broad in her culinary offerings.
“Culinary school taught me the basics to cooking a wide range of cuisines and diets,” she says. “It was definitely worth it. I would encourage culinary students to also work in a restaurant to get hands-on, real-world experience alongside the classes.”
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