Building Your Network of Influence in the Culinary World

By Paul Sorgule, M.S., AAC

Success rarely happens by accident.  Success may be defined in various terms, but the common thread is that success is determined, to a great extent, by the people with whom you work, play, and communicate.  The key to reaching your individual goals lies in selecting and nurturing those connections that best suit your desire to reach career, financial, or personal benchmarks.

LinkedIn built a business model on facilitating networks of influence. However, the appropriate management of those networks still lies in the hands of the individual.

It is up to you to define life goals and then build and maintain the network that will help you along the way.

Networks are only effective if a few individual characteristics are viewed as essential.  These characteristics include: trust, honesty, respect, commonality, dependability, and others that may be unique to who you are and want to be.

Cooks build their skill sets by identifying, working with, working for, and communicating with those individuals who have something important to offer and are willing to do so.  Chefs gain opportunities certainly through demonstration of exceptional skills as a cook and leader, but also through open doors created by their network of influence.

Cooks are hired in great restaurants through the recommendation of others, and chefs are hired in the same manner.  This process of connection is, by far, the most effective way for a restaurant, hotel, resort, or other food business to build a team.

From the first day that an individual chooses to enter the field of food, he or she should begin the process of building a network of influence.  So, how do you begin? A great starting point is to identify your benchmarks of excellence.

  • Who do you admire – personally and/or professionally?
  • What characteristics do these individuals possess that you want to incorporate in your own personal brand?


Make your list and begin the process of determining how you may develop a line of communication.  Although this may sound formal and even a bit contrived, this is how most people begin friendships.  You may not actually prepare your list of characteristics, but in your mind and your heart, you know that there is something about another individual that just clicks.  A network of influence is no more complicated than this.  However, the challenge is defining the best way to build this connection.

For the cook, the process is not as daunting as it may sound.  The following suggestions are realistic and proven:

Join and Participate:

  • Every serious cook should belong to the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and other organizations, such as Chef’s Collaborative, Slow Food, Women’s Chefs and Restaurateurs, and the Bread Baker’s Guild, depending on your culinary discipline.
  • Become actively involved in a local chapter of the American Culinary Federation, including any fundraising events that they sponsor.
  • When creating your benchmark list, make sure that you define ways that you might formalize a connection with that individual. This should include making a point to dine in his or her restaurant, sending a letter of introduction with a resume, or offering to participate in a stage if there is an opening.
  • Make sure that you have a business card with contact information. If your employer does not offer these, have your own professionally made. (Use Vistaprint; for less than $25, you can end up with a few hundred professional cards).
  • When given the opportunity to meet a chef, business owner, restaurateur, vendor, food consultant, food writer, etc., make sure that you go out of your way to introduce yourself and pass on that business card. Trade cards with them if possible.
  • The next day, prepare a short personal note stating how much you enjoyed meeting the individual, thank them for the opportunity, and include one of those resumes.
  • Without becoming a nuisance, invite these individuals to your LinkedIn or Facebook page. Start your line of communication.
  • Spend a few dollars with companies like or to build a website and/or blog site. Prepare a professional impression on these sites. If you are uncomfortable with writing, ask one of your network contacts for assistance, making sure that all content is representative of how you want to be perceived. YES, this is important for the entry-level cook as well as the established chef.
  • Make sure that all of your social media info and communication is kept professional. Your social media presence is your modern signature; make sure that anyone would be proud to associate with your media image.
  • Finally, select only those individuals who could realistically offer something to build your brand and who might, in some way, benefit themselves from a connection with you. Keep the initial list small and manageable. Too many contacts without any ongoing communication will have very little positive impact on your brand.


Throughout your career, this network of influence will grow in size and importance; contacts will become advocates and ambassadors; and, providing you work equally hard at demonstrating your competence as a cook or chef, doors will begin to open.  Make sure that when you are able, you return the favor to others seeking to define their own brands and work hard to create opportunities through networking.


we are chefs
Paul Sorgule has been a chef and educator for more than four decades holding positions as hotel executive chef, food and beverage director, faculty member, dean of culinary arts and provost at a prominent culinary college. Sorgule is president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant and culinary school consulting and training company he formed in 2012. He blogs about culinary issues and finding that work/life balance at

Demonstrated Proof of Learning

By David Bearl, CCC®, CCE®, AAC®

Like many young people looking for work at an early age, I found the hospitality industry. I was from a large family, and a need for spending money led me to a dishwashing job at a pancake house when I was 12 years old. Little did I know that this would be the start—though modest—of a career as a certified chef.

I learned the front of the house and prep skills and finally earned a spot on the cooking line. It wasn’t a fancy restaurant, but it was extremely busy. As I went through high school and college, I worked in a number of restaurants, but, like many, thought it was just until I found that other career. After graduate school, I worked for a few years away from the kitchen, but then I returned to catering and, eventually, became director of food service for a large conference center.

My boss encouraged me to become a certified chef, and that started my ACF journey. I joined ACF St. Augustine Chapter in 1984 and embraced the path to certification, never dreaming that it would lead to a successful career. I got my first culinary teaching job, and then, after taking a position in Baltimore, helped to create a culinary school in Falls Church, Virginia. These career opportunities came along because of my ACF certifications as a chef and a culinary educator.

After a few years as dean of the school in Falls Church, I returned to teaching in St. Augustine, where I became director of the Southeast Institute of Culinary Arts. As director of education, I collaborated with the Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense to provide culinary education for cooks on submarines, surface ships and shore facilities that would lead to ACF certification. This work has taken me to countries and places I could not have imagined.

My curriculum development experience helped me to work with several school districts to start high school culinary programs. Other agencies asked for help, and together we developed culinary training programs for the homeless, the prison system and recovering drug addicts. This work also brought me into partnership with the University of Florida and work in agriculture. After six years of value-added product development for the university’s projects and grants, I became a member of the faculty.

In addition to my faculty position, I continue to build programs and conduct seminars for the military. I also administer two culinary programs for Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare, at a prison in Daytona Beach (Reality House) and Project WARM (Women Assisting Recovering Mothers). We strongly encourage ACF certification for our clients in these programs and provide them with mandatory educational requirements. At Reality House, 17 inmates have achieved initial certification, and to my knowledge, this is the only program helping inmates become certified while incarcerated. On leaving prison, these certified culinarians (CC®) have been placed in jobs.

I am also statewide coordinator for culinary education for the Florida Farm to School Program, which helps change what children in school systems are served for school meals. I also teach food preservation classes and seminars for 4-H and develop curriculum to provide agricultural education for a number of groups.

What does my future hold? Every day is a gift, and I am always looking for the next opportunity to cook, teach and lead others to certification. My culinary career would not have happened without ACF certification and the doors it has opened, and I strive to share this path with others.

My career also would not have been possible without the mentoring and help of many ACF chefs. Walter Achatz, CEC®, Michael Carter, CCC®, CCE®, Dan Lundberg, CCC®, CCE®, Lou Oaks, Michael Ty, CEC®, AAC®, Kathy Wiseman, CEC®, John Wright, CEC®, CEPC®, CCE®, AAC®, and others have challenged me, pushed me and encouraged me throughout my career. Without my ACF mentors, I would not have gotten this far.

From a dishwasher at age 12 to a chef still having fun, this is what ACF certification has done for me.

bearl, davidcrop above fctc logo

David Bearl is an associate, Regional and Local Food Systems Education, and chef, Family Nutrition Program, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. He is a member of ACF St. Augustine Chapter.

Are you workforce ready?

As shown by David Bearl’s story, it takes a combination of self-determination and inquisitiveness to achieve success in the culinary industry. Trained culinarians are becoming an even more valuable commodity in today’s workplace as employers attempt to keep pace with the ever-evolving marketplace and meet society’s needs. What career path are you on? Where are you headed? Who can help you achieve your goals and aspirations? Who can redirect you, should it be required? Where do you want to work?

Employers are looking for the David Bearls of the world who understand the importance of certification and know how to lead and mentor. Here’s what you can do to get started on your certification journey:

  • Evaluate your education, experience and skills, and determine what level of certification best capitalizes on your educational background and work experience.
  • Proactively target and create career pathways. Engage and shadow leaders who are performing job functions in the environment you hope to be in one day. Ask questions about career opportunities and explore them with an open mind.
  • Share your knowledge and expertise. Be a role model. Discuss best practices and lessons learned.
  • Help support staff, colleagues, coworkers and students explore career opportunities available to them, and encourage them to explore career pathways they never dreamed possible.


To learn more about ACF Certification or membership, send us your question below:

Young Cooks Need to Pay Their Dues in the Kitchen

By Paul Sorgule, M.S., AAC

One of the downsides to a formal culinary education is that young culinarians tend to lack the patience to pace their rise to the top. What time has taught me, as well as many other chefs, is that there really is no shortcut to excellence. The degree will prove invaluable as graduates take one step at a time towards that first sous chef position, but it is patience that sets the course for success when the time is right.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” – Aristotle

Patience is a critical skill that comes from an understanding of where an individual wants to be and the process that will lead to that end. Work methodically towards your goal, and know when you are ready and when you are not. Those young cooks who thrust prematurely into a position of responsibility will fail more often than not.

The following words of advice may help tomorrow’s chefs understand the need to pay their dues first.

A chef is only successful when he or she is surrounded by a team of supporters. Respect is not a right; it must be earned through consistent actions. A cook should never assume that respect comes with the title. It comes when the chef demonstrates that this respect is a reflection of his or her daily actions. Trust is even more difficult to earn, and it only comes over time when a chef’s actions demonstrate that he or she walks the talk. Trust is a two-sided action. Time allows you to learn how important it is to trust your fellow workers. When this happens, the planets are aligned.

“Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.” – Warren Bennis

Great restaurants run in the same manner as a unified sports team with a single focus on winning. Leadership among this group is oftentimes shared by individuals who own this common goal, not simply because a person in authority deems it so. You must demonstrate the ability to serve as a member of the team before recognition of your role as a chef is evident.

Cooks who are promoted to the position of chef before they are ready will often approach the job as an opportunity to place their signature on the operation. If there is one surefire way to alienate a team, it is to change without winning over their hearts and minds. This takes time, respect, and trust.

There are many things in life that can only be taught through experience. Always remember that challenges and crises are opportunities for seasoned leaders to demonstrate successful action. Your team needs to have confidence in your ability to problem-solve and make well-thought-out decisions. The only way that this skill can be developed is through experiencing challenges and learning what to do and what not to do. When a cook melts down on the line, the chef will need to have a solution. If the power goes out on a Friday night with a full dining room, all eyes will be on the chef to carry the torch. When food cost is way out of line, management will expect the chef to identify the source of the problem and correct it. All of these situations lean heavily on experience.

Until a cook is faced with challenges without answers, he or she may see their path to the top as a right and a natural transition. Inexperience can be dangerous until the cook admits what he or she doesn’t know and sets a course to find the answers and grow into a position of responsibility.

Regardless of age, and despite the level of formal education, the most successful chefs are those who understand that it will take time to earn the title, respect, and trust that come with the role.

“To be great at anything, you can’t avoid a fundamental law:  you have to pay your dues.” – Joe Pane

Paul Sorgule has been a chef and educator for more than four decades holding positions as hotel executive chef, food and beverage director, faculty member, dean of culinary arts and provost at a prominent culinary college. Sorgule is president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant and culinary school consulting and training company he formed in 2012. He blogs about culinary issues and finding that work/life balance at

Third Time’s A Charm

By Derrick Connor, CCC®

My culinary mentors and yours will tell you how important it is to practice for certification. They are right. After three attempts, I was successful and met all my requirements for Certified Chef de Cuisine® (CCC®). It was not an easy road to travel as there are many challenges along the way.

In 2009, I was a recent culinary school graduate, landed my first head-chef position and made my first attempt at the CCC® practical exam. My menu was 60 ounces consommé julienne, 1 quart velouté, 1 quart espagnole; two first-course portions blue crab-stuffed flounder roulade with lemon/dill beurre blanc; and two main-course tomato stew chicken leg and thigh, roasted asparagus and Israeli couscous.

Needless to say, I was unsuccessful. I listened carefully to the critique to prepare for my next attempt. I also gained my first culinary mentor, and we began to email. I asked many questions, drafted a new menu and, after practices, sent photos.

In 2010, I decided to move to Florida, and I became chef for a yacht company. Eager to get back to my culinary objective to be certified, I practiced hard, emailed pictures to my mentor and made adjustments.

I took the exam in September 2012. There were eight candidates testing out of one baking kitchen with a single double-door refrigerator. My station blocked access to the refrigerator, and my cooking station was on the other side of the room around long prep tables that served as other candidates’ stations. My menu was 60 ounces consommé julienne, 1 quart velouté, 1 quart espagnole; two first-course portions Maine lobster-stuffed flounder roulade with lemon/dill beurre blanc; and two main-course pan-roasted chicken leg and thigh, sauteed asparagus and toasted Israeli couscous.

During my critique, I had mixed feelings, thinking I did enough to pass, but that was not the case. The items that needed work from my first attempt were good, but others that were fine the first time fell short. Again, I took the criticism and found many certified chefs willing to help me on my journey.

I felt that my fundamental cooking skills needed to be revisited, so I left my chef position to work as a tournant and chef de partie at a fine-dining restaurant under a strong chef with a growing reputation. To work on my skills and stay humble was the best decision I had made in my culinary career thus far. My skills became stronger during each service and gave me a better appreciation for all certified chefs.

Two years later, I wanted to accomplish my goal to become certified. I contacted two culinary educators, both of whom shared their advice with me, and also one who was willing to let me practice in the back of his classroom so that he could observe, taste and advise. We repeated this process once a week until the exam.

This time around, I had a plan. Seek culinary mentorship and ask questions, have my mentors evaluate each practice, create a timeline so that evaluators could easily follow my organizational progress, adjust, refine and practice—a lot. My menu was 60 ounces consommé brunoise, 1 quart velouté, 1 quart espagnole; two first-course portions poached flounder, steamed mussels, sauteed cremini mushrooms, tomato/dill cream sauce; and two main-course pan-roasted airline chicken breast and thigh, steamed broccoli and toasted Israeli couscous with pan sauce.

Each exam is three hours long, and by the end of this one, I had attempted nine hours’ worth of practical examinations. The hardest part is afterward, waiting to know if you passed or failed. It gets quiet in the kitchen. You talk to other candidates to feel out how they thought they did. Then, one by one, we go in for our critiques. I felt good about all my exams, but this was by far the best one yet.

When I am finally called on, I sit in a room in front of the evaluators who ask me why I want to become certified. I tell them that this was a goal I had been working toward for five years, but that along the way, I had come to realize that this was an opportunity all chefs should take to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. At this point, the lead evaluator congratulated me on passing the exam. Like the previous exams, it was a great networking opportunity for building friendships with other certified chefs.

As of Sept. 18, 2014, after three attempts at the CCC® designation, I successfully passed all my requirements and became a Certified Chef de Cuisine®. This is my advice. Do not get intimidated by the evaluators watching you. They are evaluating your skills. Most importantly, do not be discouraged if you are unsuccessful. Trust me, you gain something valuable.

So, when you are ready, get a mentor, ask questions, build your menu, practice, have a certified chef evaluate you, adjust and refine your menu, develop a timeline—and keep practicing.

Derrick Head ShotDerrick Connor, CCC®, sous chef, Adena Grill and Wine Bar, Hallandale Beach, Florida, is currently planning for his CEC® exam and hopes to compete in ACF individual competitions in the near future. He is a member of Fort Lauderdale ACF, Inc.

If at first you don’t succeed . . .

Derrick Connor’s story illustrates that the road to certification requires humility, perseverance and commitment. Certification symbolizes the achievement of a professional goal, and if it is a goal you aspire to, it’s important to stay the course. Take pride in your pursuit. Be in command of your craft and your future.

Trained culinarians are becoming increasingly valuable in today’s workplace, and employers realize the bottom-line benefits of hiring ACF-certified culinarians. ACF can help you achieve your certification goals and dreams. Are you ready, and do you understand what it takes to become certified? Consider these ingredients for success:

  • INVEST You are your best asset. Increase your earning potential and secure opportunities for advancement. Evaluate your education, experience and skills and determine what level of certification best capitalizes on your educational background and work experience.
  • EMBRACE perseverance, inquisitiveness, humility, ambition, confidence, hard work and competitiveness.
  • PREPARE Identify a mentor. Ask questions. Practice. Seek out constructive criticism. Define and refine your menu. Tap into your creativity. Innovate.

To learn more about ACF Certification or membership send us your question below:

The Workplace: Creating Balance in a Chef’s Life

By Paul Sorgule, M.S., AAC

Working 80 hours a week in a restaurant and viewing this as a badge of honor is misleading and not sustainable. I know many old-school chefs, such as me, will scoff at this statement with such a response as, “those who can’t invest the time will never make it in this business.”  What many seem to lose sight of is the distinction between “living life and making a living.”   Passion and commitment are cornerstones for effectiveness in any profession. However, passion sometimes is used as a disguise for an unhealthy lifestyle that physically, emotionally and mentally drains an individual.  I have been there and many of my friends would likely smile and point to my own unhealthy commitment to a career in food. So be it.  With age comes wisdom, and I hope that this is true for me as well as many of my contemporaries.

What I am discovering, thanks to one of my most important benchmark chefs, Eric Ripert, chef/co-owner, Le Bernardin, New York, is that no one benefits from a one-sided life that fails to consider what balance means. Ripert has accomplished what most chefs aspire to and has reached this pinnacle with a balance that my old-school friends would find hard to understand.

As I mature, I have found the following pointers to make sense for any and all chefs who are willing to stop and assess their level of efficiency and happiness:

  1. You can be 100% committed to your career and still have a life away from the kitchen. Forty hours per week is not feasible in the kitchen. But neither is 60 hours or more.  Plan and organize your schedule to give you flexibility to step away.
  2. True happiness requires the same level of commitment to balance as to the career. Successful chefs, long-term, make time for reading, daily exercise, travel, family and being outside.  These are must do commitments for a chef.
  3. A career without a family to come home to and enjoy can be very empty.
    A chef’s significant other, children, siblings, parents and friends define the type of person that he or she is.  Don’t ignore them. Make the time to include yourself in their lives.  Don’t fall into the trap of exclusion–it never leads to good things.
  4. Without some level of balance, the career you are passionate about will eventually begin to taste too much like a job. Be honest: are there more days that you dread going into work than ones that make you feel energized and whole?  If you are there or on your way to that point then it is time to assess how you approach life.
  5. Create routines outside of the kitchen just like the ones that drive your daily activity on the job. Chefs fully understand the importance of mise en place and the consistent organization of every part of their workday.  Use that same formula to build in time for exercise, reading, travel, family, and being outside. An Outlook calendar works for personal time as well.
  6. Leave room for some spontaneity in your life. As important as this organized time is, it will also be critical to leave caution to the wind at some time and do something unexpected (a getaway weekend, leaving the reins of the restaurant to the sous chef and taking your family out to a movie or play, going for a hike on a brilliant sunny day, etc.).
  7. Train, delegate, and trust your employees and they will give you the freedom to have a life outside of the kitchen. More often than not, the key to making balance happen lies in a chef’s commitment to training and empowering others to take on additional responsibility. A chef will never get away without trusting others to take on his responsibilities and this will never happen without investment in training.
  8. Strive to be great at all aspects of your life, not just those involving your career passion. Be a great spouse, father, son, brother, sister and friend.  Be there when it is important. Be there in mind, heart and soul.  Turn off the kitchen for that period of time and be truly present.
  9. Define your career. Don’t let it define you. Chefs who are fulfilled are ones who are true to themselves and their food philosophy.  They know that this belief structure is important.  Make sure that it includes other aspects of life.  Without the ability to realize this balance, a chef will struggle to be consistent, efficient and successful beyond the range.


“To me, it’s very important to have time at the restaurant, but also time with family and time for myself.”–Eric Ripert

Paul Sorgule has been a chef and educator for more than four decades holding positions as hotel executive chef, food and beverage director, faculty member, dean of culinary arts and provost at a prominent culinary college. Sorgule is president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant and culinary school consulting and training company he formed in 2012. He blogs about culinary issues and finding that work/life balance at