How to become a chef – and work for yourself


Dreaming of becoming a chef but also working for yourself? You could become a freelance chef and prepare and cook food in restaurants, client kitchens, or even private yachts.

Going it alone as a chef is challenging though, so it’s a good idea to have some experience in the kitchen before you take the leap into self-employment.

What does a chef do?

A chef not only prepares and cooks food, but also has an eye for food presentation. Chefs can work in pubs, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and even private households.

This article focuses on how to become a chef on a self-employed basis, whether that’s as a freelance chef or a personal chef for individual people and families.

What is a personal chef?

A personal chef can help clients by coming into their homes to cook for them if they have busy schedules or just don’t enjoy cooking. This typically involves:

  • meal planning based on health and dietary requirements
  • shopping for ingredients
  • cooking and preparing meals
  • cleaning up the kitchen

Depending on your contract, you might prepare everything from breakfast through to dinner, or you might just work one or two evenings a week. Your clients could be anyone from busy professionals with disposable incomes to athletes who need meals that’ll complement their training, or even families living on a private yacht.

What is a freelance chef?

Often chefs will be employed full-time by a pub or restaurant for example, but sometimes businesses might need a chef on a short-term or temporary basis. For example, if they need specialist skills, last-minute cover, or are putting on a particular event.

As a freelance chef you’ll be looking after the running of a kitchen, creating menus, and checking the food going out. Depending on the size of the event or type of client, you could be managing kitchen staff too.

Reasons to become a self-employed chef

Be creative – from designing menus, to learning skills, to jumping on new trends, you can be in control of your cooking.

Choose your hours – the working hours of a chef are known for being long and physically demanding, but if you’re self-employed you’ll have more flexibility to choose your hours – and you’ll be paid for every hour you work.

Work with a range of clients – whether it’s stepping into different restaurants and cuisines, supporting families with their cooking, or joining a cruise ship for the summer, you can embrace variety and build new skills.

Chef preparing pasta in modern kitchen

Chef skills you’ll need

Chef skills and qualities you need include:

  • passion for food
  • knife skills
  • food production methods, such as roasting and frying
  • attention to detail
  • communication
  • working well with your hands
  • able to perform under pressure
  • leadership

As a chef you’re legally required to have a Level 2 Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering Certificate. For more information, check guidance on health and safety law for the catering and hospitality industry and food hygiene requirements.

To work as a self-employed chef, you’ll also need to be adaptable to any kitchen and able to cook many different dishes and cuisines.

Chef courses

You don’t need specific training to be a chef, but a formal catering qualification may be a good idea to help you stand out when looking for work.

City & Guilds offers professional chef courses, which cover everything from how to cook and prepare different dishes to developing a creative menu, as well as the health and safety standards you need to follow.

Importantly, you’ll need to stay up to date on allergen information and let your clients know if any of the major allergens are in your dishes.

Once you’ve got a flavour for different cuisines and techniques, you might choose to specialise, for example by looking into pastry chef courses or patisserie.

Market yourself as a chef

There are a few ways to find work as a freelance chef beyond contacting local restaurants and hotels, and replying to job adverts (although this is an important first step).

You could sign up to an agency who’ll find you work and negotiate your pay. This is a good way to build your network and make industry connections, but the downside is the agency will also take a cut of your pay.

The other option is to promote yourself with a good business website and marketing techniques like email, leaflets, and social media. Here’s just a few ideas you could try:

  • share photos, recipes, and tips on Instagram – people will love to see your food creations and it’s a great way to show off your passion and market yourself as a personal chef
  • enter chef competitions – make a name for yourself while developing and testing your skills in one of the many chef competitions in the UK
  • run online cookalong experiences – invite people to join you for a fun virtual event that gets them cooking and following one of your delicious recipes

Chef equipment

You’ll be moving from kitchen to kitchen, and some will be better setup than others. Here’s just a few things that are good to keep with you:

  • chef whites
  • chef knives
  • knife roll or bag
  • vegetable peeler
  • knife sharpener

Stay on top of your taxes

Keeping up to date with your business admin as a self-employed chef is important. You’ll need to register as self-employed with HMRC by 5 October and file your Self Assessment by 31 January every year.

Keep a note of the tax year dates too so you don’t miss important deadlines.

Organise your budget and finances

As a personal chef you’ll be buying ingredients and will need to keep to a strict budget depending on your client’s requirements. We’ve created a free budget template you can download and use for your business.

When it comes to banking, it’s a good idea to keep your personal and business finances separate. This keeps things simple when the time comes to filing your tax return. Check out our guide to the best business bank accounts to help you get set with your finances.

Get chef insurance

Finally, you’ll need to organise business insurance when setting up as a self-employed chef. The main ingredient in private chef insurance is public liability insurance, which covers you if someone is injured or their property is damaged as a result of your business.

For example, you might have a claim made against you if someone falls ill after eating one of your meals, or a supplier might trip over on your premises while delivering ingredients.

It’s likely that you’ll be working in different kitchens and venues, so make sure your policy covers you for that too. And remember, if you start to employ people in your business, it’s a legal requirement to have employers’ liability insurance.

Explore other culinary careers

If you’re still not sure about being a self-employed chef but still want to work in hospitality, you could look at starting a:

With experience, you might even choose to open a restaurant.

Is there anything else you want to know about chef careers and how to get started? Let us know in the comments below.

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Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith is a content and marketing professional with 12 years’ experience across the financial services, higher education, and insurance sectors. She’s also a trained NCTJ Gold Standard journalist. As a Senior Copywriter at Simply Business, Catriona has in-depth knowledge of small business concerns and specialises in tax, marketing, and business operations. Catriona lives in the seaside city of Brighton where she’s also a freelance yoga teacher.

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