Sunday, August 10, 2014

ACE apprenticeship; journey to behind the scenes of certification...

     As with anything we have passion for, we have to keep moving forward, honing our craft to stay sharp and relevant. As a Certified Executive Chef, it is my career obligation to stay focused and get better at what I do. Doing the same thing and becoming complacent is not only bad for me personally, but bad for the industry as a whole. As chefs, we are given a gift. It's the gift of a skill that not a lot of people have. Creating something from nothing is not only an art, but a craft. Just having this ability opens up so many doors to great things. For example, the countless numbers of charity one could offer with the skills we have could change the world. Teaching someone how to cook for themselves could save a lot of lives. Cooking and being a chef could be the recipe for a lot of great things if we just went out and made a difference. 

    Some of the ways I try to stay fresh and relevant is to stay up on my certifications, compete with fellow chefs, go into other kitchens and offer a hand, attend my local ACF chapter meetings, cater to the masses and stay educated. Part of this important educational process is becoming an Approved Certification Evaluator or ACE. The American Culinary Federation put this into place to extend chefs professional experience to fellow chefs in the industry we love so much. It doesn't cost anything except our time and you can gain so much from it. 

     To become an ACE, one must apprentice under other ACE chefs four times. I've been working on this for over 3 years now and, in about a month, I will have finally met the criteria for this awesome accreditation. I did my first apprenticeship down in Charlotte, North Carolina at the beautiful Johnson and Whales campus. The other three were completed at the Cambridge location of Le Cordon Blue.  I watched chefs get tested for their CEC, CCC and CEPC certifications. It was such a learning event for me. To watch passionate chefs show off their skills to get those three little letters after their names was such a blast. 

     Certification separates the lifers in this business to the fly-by-night cooks, or hacks as I like to call them. Those who are serious about their professions and those who are just waiting for the next best thing. Of course, you can tell the ones that actually practiced for their test (which is always suggested) to the ones who thought that the certification process was just cooking. You have to come prepared, with a written menu, following a strict criteria, practice good sanitation and a level of professionalism. Professionalism is more than just shaking hands and saying, "Yes Chef" to everyone, its about respecting the uniform, your knives and others around you. Its about respecting the ingredients and respecting the ACFs expectations of you. Sadly, there are those that don't do their homework and it shows. 

     So, for those of you that are thinking of becoming a chef, remember that its not, necessarily, about getting on TV or opening a restaurant, its about living to cook and cooking to live. It's about mentoring and paying it forward for the rest of your career. It's about charity and not forgetting where you came from. Most importantly, its never letting yourself get complacent or bored. A bored, unhappy or complacent chef is bad for others and even worse for the industry we spent our life perfecting.  

Check out a few photos below of the certification process.  

Early bird gets the worm, right? We arrived at 6:00 am to get things started.  

This chef is working his fish course for the CCC exam. 

Knot rolls for the CEPC exam.

Lobster course for CEC.

Nice appetizer using lobster for CEC.

This chef had great cooking technique, was well organized and flavors were amazing. Another CEC made it out into the world.

CEPC dessert (notice the home made ice cream!)

My guest chef appearence at Merrimack College, Andover, Massachuesetts

     A few months ago, I was asked to do a guest chef presentation as part of the interview process for my "big promotion" with the food service company I work for. At the time it was a "big secret" as no one was aware that I was about to be joining their team. I entered this huge kitchen and an even larger dining hall, being greeted  by a few happy faces and professional managers This place reminded me of the food court at one of the many airports I've been through. Compared to other places I've worked, this place was simply cavern-es! This promised to be a great time and an awesome chapter in my budding career. Below is the blog I wrote from my phone the day of my guest appearance.       

     As I type this (first blog written on my mobile phone!) I've recently accepted the executive chef positive at a prestigious college in Andover, Massachusetts. This new position opens up a lot of doors for me in my career as well as many welcome challenges! Just think, a few years ago I was scrubbing pots and pans for 3 bucks an hour under the table at 13 years old! Now I'm about to embark on a game changing celebration of 30 years in this wonderful industry. 

     The menu was created for the "International Station" where Mexico was the featured country. I was asked to come up with an item that was inexpensive and delicious. Challenge accepted. Mexican food is full of flavors, colors and great textures. It's a simple cuisine that still holds its challenges when it comes to eye-appeal and offering a little something for everyone. The item I chose was a simple Tostada which is basically a fried corn tortilla spread with a little re-fried beans, meat and condiments.  A delicious spice-rubbed char-grilled flank steak was sliced thinly on a bias against the grain to ensure a tender cut. Lots of condiments were offered to the diners to add a colorful and interactive experience. Corn salsa, pico de guillo, chipotle salsa, guajillo spread and salsa verde were offered. Topped with some Crema and a couple lime wedges on the side and an amazing meal was ready! Of course, you can use your imagination and change any of these items up, that's whats so great about Mexican cuisine. Just use what you have laying around and it can become a mind-blowing experience. 

     Stay tuned for some more fun and exciting things when I get settled in. My team and I will be blowing minds and taking names. I just hope that we can keep up!