The road to becoming a Personal Certified Executive Chef

by Jocelyn Tolbert

Chef Leah Schuler, PCEC

Chef Leah Schuler, PCEC, is one of only a handful of chefs who has received the Personal Certified Executive Chef certification. We recently talked with Chef Schuler about her journey to certification, which she completed in summer 2017.

How did you begin your career?
My Culinary career began as the owner/operator of my own small catering business.  I finally got to a point where I was wanting more for my career and didn’t want to be defined as just a caterer. I was always interested in Health and Nutrition for my entire adult life, so also wanted to expand on that aspect. I wondered what successful working Chefs were doing.  I then closed my business and enrolled in the Culinary Institute at USC.

What made you decide to get your certification?
[At USC] I met a couple of Certified Executive Chef Instructors that were in different aspects of the Industry. I was also working for a Catering Company day and night to make ends meet while attending school. I received my Culinary of Arts Certification, but felt as if that was not nearly enough for me. I was capable of achieving more than that. It was brought to my attention that there was a certification through ACF that was for someone with my type of experience. I immediately got my application in to ACF and began the process of studying for my exam. Simultaneously, I started working for a large foodservice distributor as a produce specialist.

What was the process like? What was your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge in getting my certification was working long hours, being required to travel and yet keeping my focus on my goal. Within a few months I completed both my written exam and practical. Along the way I have attended conferences that have helped me to network and build a support system. I am now in the healthcare industry as a chef and am studying for my Certified Dietary Manager exam.

What has ACF Certification done for you since attained your PCEC last summer?
Being ACF certified opens doors with companies that understand what the certification means: dedication, determination, drive and focus. Many doors have opened for me, but I’m not finished. I look forward to the many opportunities out there for me because of my affiliation with ACF.

Meet the Student Chefs of the Year: Utahna Warren

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by Jocelyn Tolbert

At Cook. Craft. Create. in July, one student from each of the four regions will compete to become ACF’s Student Chef of the Year. Western Region Student Chef of the Year Utahna Warren is a student at Utah Valley University’s Culinary Art Institute and expects to graduate in 2019. She’s no stranger to competition, winning regional first place with her Pro Start team in 2014 and taking second at the state level. She also won a silver medal at a FCCLA Culinary Arts Competition.

What was the regional championship like for you? How did it feel to win?
It felt truly humbling to win. Mostly I was grateful for everyone who had helped me on the way. It’s bittersweet to compete because in the process of preparing and practicing, I always fall in love with my dish. And after competing, it’s unlikely I’ll make the entire dish again just because of how much went into it.

How are you preparing for the Convention competitions?
I am currently preparing for a Category K competition [Practical and Contemporary Hot Food Cooking] to maintain my skills and to keep me on my toes so that when I find out what my protein is I’ll be ready to roll.

Had you ever done any cooking competitions before this experience?
I had been on the ProStart team and we went to state. I had also done a student pastry competition as well as the SK Category competition.

Has anything unexpected ever happened to you during a competition? What did you do to get through it? How did it turn out in the end?
Ha! At the regional competition, the stoves we used were way hotter than what I had practiced with and one of the handles of my pressure cooker had turned to ashes when I took it off the stove. Luckily my braise didn’t burn. I just quickly wiped the ashes off of the counter. The sauce I made from my braising liquid was still delicious.

IMG_0631What impact do you think this award will have on your life? Has it already had an impact?
I think it will open many doors for me. It has already impacted me … many of the students at the Culinary Arts Institute look up to me and ask me for advice.

What’s been the best advice you’ve gotten as a culinary student?
Don’t get caught up in the sweat, blood and tears from the work you put in. Do it because you love doing it.

What advice would you give to other aspiring chefs?
Always look for ways to give back. I have a hard time enjoying cooking when I’m the only one that benefits from it. I made my Regional dish for my family once and it really made all the work worth it.

What’s an average day for you like?
I wouldn’t say I have an average day because my schedule varies a lot with school but in my week I go to various culinary classes, I work at our Culinary Arts Institutes Cafe that we students run and I find time to practice and experiment with a dish I’m working on.

Warren, UtahnaWhat’s the first thing you do when you get to work or school? Tell us a little about that.
Mise en Place. Really though. I try to get there early to have everything set up. And that’s not only physically. Mise en Place includes what’s going on in your mind. I try to think about what I have to do throughout the day so that I can be prepared and use my time the best I can.

What’s the last thing you do before you go home in the evening? 
Clean and clean and clean. I love coming back to a clean kitchen everyday.

What was the worst thing that happened to you this week?
Getting cut by tin foil — which I’m not complaining about.

What was the best thing that happened to you this week?
Figuring out my components for my Category K competition.

At Cook. Craft. Create. in New Orleans July 15-19, four students will compete to become ACF’s Student Chef of the Year. The national convention will feature additional educational and engagement opportunities that will build off the ChefConnect series and will provide a revitalizing experience for members, foodservice professionals, students and competitors. All the while igniting innovation that attendees can bring back to their classroom, employees or kitchen! We hope to see you there!

Meet the Student Chefs of the Year: Julio Chavez

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by Jocelyn Tolbert

At Cook. Craft. Create. in July, one student from each of the four regions will compete to become ACF’s Student Chef of the Year.

ACF Northeast Region Student Chef of the Year Julio Chavez attends the State University of New York at Delhi and expects to graduate with his Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Arts in fall of this year. When Julio was five, his family immigrated to the United States from Mexico and settled in New York state. He’s a recipient of the International Food Service Executives Association Lowe Family Worthy Goal Scholarship, and when he’s not in class, Julio works as a production chef at Wegman’s in Rochester, New York.

What was the regional championship like for you? How did it feel to win?

I saw the regional championship as a one in a lifetime experience. When the judges were announcing the winners I felt confident of myself due to the critics that were given. After was announced the 2018 Northeast Region Student Chef of the Year I walked up to receive my medal and it felt so unreal. I low key got emotional for a second due to the excitement and enjoy but everything that I had worked for had lead up to that point.

How are you preparing for the Convention competitions?

The way I prepared for convention competitions was through a lot of hard work and dedication. I decided to come back from winter break early to start practice runs. I gave myself a good month to practice once or twice a day. Practices weren’t easy as each run I tweaked a thing or two on my dish. At times I would get frustrated because I didn’t make proper timing but I pushed myself and achieved what I wanted.

Had you ever done any cooking competitions before this experience?

I have done three previous competitions prior to regionals. Those competitions include: International Food Service Executives Association:14th Annual Veteran's Support Network Military Culinary Competition: First Place in the Student Category, American Culinary Federation Student Hot Food Competition: Silver Medal, American Culinary Federation Student Cold Food Competition: Bronze Medal.

Has anything unexpected ever happened to you during a competition? What did you do to get through it? How did it turn out in the end?

On my way to Maryland for my first cold food competition my cold food platter melted while in the van. My classmates and I were covered in aspic and we had to stop on the side of the highway and throw out my platter. Unfortunately I couldn’t compete but my other classmates did. After that I waited till next semester and did another cold food competition. Even though it melted I didn’t give up and I took it as a learning experience.

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What impact do you think this award will have on your life? Has it already had an impact?

This award has opened up many doors for me. I say this because I have already received many job offers from different employers. Many students look up to me as a leader and ask for advice when needed. In addition it’s a great achievement to put on my resume when I apply for future jobs because it shows how dedicated I am to my career.

What’s been the best advice you’ve gotten as a culinary student?

The best advice I gotten as a culinary student is to get out of my comfort zone and do something new. Also I was told to take failure as a learning experience and to never let that define me.

What advice would you give to other aspiring chefs?

Some advice that I would like to give other culinary students would be to be more involved. I say that because while in school going to classes and labs doesn’t cut it. If you want to learn more knowledge join clubs and help out with events. In other words get yourself out there because if no one does who will. I say that from experience because my first semester of freshman year I did the bare minimum and I wanted to change that. So after that I decided to change my life around. Some of the things I did were: Join the SUNY Delhi Hot Food Team 2017-2018, become a Brother of Latino America Unida, Lambda Alpha Upsilon Fraternity, Incorporated, become a member of the American Culinary Federation Chefs and Cooks of the Catskill Mountain, join a local community service group called the Delaware County Community Action Program, became a member of the International Food Service Executives Association Club: Delhi Branch and join the Escoffier Club.

Tell us about your experience immigrating to the United States.

I was born in Dantzibojay, Hidalgo, Mexico. I was able to come to this country through my father who processed paperwork for our whole family through Immigration Services. Coming to the United States was big challenge for me, since I didn’t speak any English. I came to this country at the age of five and everything was foreign to me but I was determined to learn and be successful.

We decided to start our new lives in Sodus, New York. We came to New York without any belongings and barely any money. When my parents enrolled me in school I was that one kid that stood out because I didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language and wore second-hand clothes. Fortunately, with the help of the school, I was able to learn proper English within a matter of three years.

My parents always pushed me to do better then them and make them proud. They struggled through so much to get my family of six siblings to live the American dream. Three of my oldest brothers decided not to go to school but to work. My two sisters were able to graduate from high school and later on received their Bachelors Degrees in Psychology, Criminal Justice and Gerontology from the State University of New York at Oneonta.

Going to college is a privilege because some don’t have the same opportunities when it comes to education, proper legal status, funds, or guidance. I say this because both my parents worked during their childhood and adolescence, making them unable to have access to a proper education. At such a early age they both had to take care of cattle, make food and farm, and school was put at the bottom when it came to priorities. Through their hardships I was able to then make goals for myself. Some of those goals included learning English, coming to college to get an education, becoming a chef and owning a restaurant.

Today I look back at how far I have come and thank my parents for there support and am grateful for everything they have taught me. I’m making them proud through my actions and accomplishments because they, as children, never had the opportunity to do so.

 

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What’s an average day for you like?

An average day for me would be waking up for class and eating breakfast. After that I would go to all my classes, usually from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Then I go the library for a couple hours to study and do homework. After that, I might go to two of my club meetings and then to my fraternity meeting. Then I go home, cook dinner and watch “Ugly Delicious” on Netflix.

What was the worst thing that happened to you this week?

The worst thing that happened to me this week would be getting a ticket while coming back home for my spring break.

What was the best thing that happened to you this week?

The best thing that happened to me this week was finding out that I’m getting inducted into Chi Alpha Epsilon National Honor Society. And being able to turn in four scholarships and an application to be nominated as Hospitality Student of the Year.

At Cook. Craft. Create. in New Orleans July 15-19, four students will compete to become ACF’s Student Chef of the Year. The national convention will feature additional educational and engagement opportunities that will build off the ChefConnect series and will provide a revitalizing experience for members, foodservice professionals, students and competitors. All the while igniting innovation that attendees can bring back to their classroom, employees or kitchen! We hope to see you there!

Interview: Lawrence T. McFadden, CMC

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Chef Arnaud Berthelier, CMC (left), and Chef Lawrence T. McFadden, CMC

Chef Lawrence T. McFadden, CMC, is General Manager/COO of the 146-year-old Union Club of Cleveland. In February 2018, Chef Arnaud Berthelier, the club’s Executive Chef, successfully completed the CMC exam as well, making the Union Club of Cleveland the only club in the world with two Certified Master Chefs on staff. We recently talked with Chef McFadden about his chef’s achievement and what it means for their kitchen.

Recently, your chef, Arnaud Berthelier, earned the ACF Certified Master Chef designation. What was the motivating factor for you to encourage him to pursue this certification?

Arnaud is a unique chef in the fact that he is completely self-motivated. In fact, just get out of the way. He arrived with us already enrolled in the examination, so my role was support, understanding and slight mentorship of what those eight days might look like. Russel Scott and others had worked with him the previous years getting him ready in a sense of requirements. Chef is a tremendous cook so none of us can take credit for his talents, but we can all be proud to support his successes.

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Do you have any other chefs or cooks who are certified that work for you? What differentiates a certified cook versus a non-certified cook, in your opinion?

Yes, we have two other CECs in the kitchen. The difference is the visionary view these individuals have with their careers. They understand that education will continue to create opportunities during the span of their work lives. Much like a person who has a bachelor’s and then enrolls in an MBA program, they are lifetime learners.

What value does ACF Certification bring to your business? How can it improve your bottom line?

As stated above, the individuals who continue to advance their careers are individuals who will continue to learn in other aspects such as financial literacy, leadership tactics and of course technical knowledge. These certifications should attract prospective employees, enhance the establishment’s brand and generally add value to the professional view of our profession.

Why would you encourage cooks and chefs to earn certification?

Encourage or expect? When you create a brigade of certification the peer pressure of belonging is heightened as everyone wants to become part of the same tribe of certification. So, professionally and personally, the kitchen manages itself regarding continued education and advancement. Harvard Business Journal says you will re-learn your job four times in your career, so certification is no different. Those who don’t get education are left behind.

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How did you help and enable Chef Arnaud to take the CMC? What can an operation do to encourage ACF Certification?

I simply got out of his way, allowing him to do what was needed to be successful. Allowing him to take the examination on his terms, not my interpretation, void of politics, past practices or traditions. It helps when you are working with one of the best chefs you have ever seen was a major plus. An operation’s responsibility is to be goal-setters, challenge those who need a slight push or explanation of the important for continued education. It’s not the certification but the journey, exploration and research that gives back to the individual and organization.

Did you notice a change in your employees when you became a CMC? Did you notice a change in the staff when Chef Arnaud became a CMC?

Of course, pride and joy, bragging rights and the ability to inspire themselves to the next level. The CMC is just the start of the journey, and as stated above, 17 years later I am a far better professional than in 2001’s examination. For Chef’s staff, many don’t understand what he has accomplished yet as he has only been with us for five months. He was already a great cook, and the fact that he was a great cook and stepped into the arena of potential failure is probably the most impressive part.

Any other comments?

CMC is a lifestyle, not a cooking test. Those who have passed and continue into the career ladder are well educated, healthy, driven, have re-invented themselves several times and aren’t afraid to learn what they don’t know.

Meet the Student Chefs of the Year: Tien Dung Tran

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by Jocelyn Tolbert

At Cook. Craft. Create. in July, one student from each of the four regions will compete to become ACF’s Student Chef of the Year. Southeast Region Student Chef of the Year Tien Tran graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in December 2017, earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Arts Management — and a 3.8 GPA. He was promoted to Sous Chef at Serpas True Food in Atlanta after working there for just seven months, and once cooked at the James Beard House’s Thanksgiving dinner. We talked to Tran about his Regionals win and how he’s preparing for the Convention competitions.

What was the regional championship like for you? How did it feel to win?
It was an amazing feeling that nothing can be compared with. To be honest, I did not expect to be the winner as I made many mistakes but when my name was called, I was stunned for a second until I realized that I will be going to New Orleans In July.

How are you preparing for the Convention competitions?
Most of the time I would spend practicing at school along with my coach and my advisors. I also did research on recipes and did many trial-and- errors on them to pick out the best element for my plate. I also practiced on the core, classical cooking skills along with modern technical skills.

Had you ever done any cooking competitions before this experience?
Prior to this competition I have done a few local and school competitions, but the Student Chef of the Year competition from the ACF was my first competition on a larger scale. And dare I say it was the most exciting one.

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Has anything unexpected ever happened to you during a competition? What did you do to get through it? How did it turn out in the end?
One thing that happened during the competition was the oven was way off, though the host said that it was calibrated. I took the temperature in the beginning and it was fine. [In] the last 15 minutes, the oven dropped by 50 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to what it was set at. It led to my tuile not being correctly done. There was not else to do beside cutting the soft part of the tuile out and use only the crunchier part, but it did not hold.

What impact do you think this award will have on your life? Has it already had an impact?
I was lucky to get have an interview with a chef who was the runner-up for Chef of the Year in 2013 and was on the student team as well. He told me that by doing competition, he has advanced much faster in his career as opposed to those who did not. I, too, feel the same. It was an amazing learning experience, even when I was practicing for the competition. Those experiences are not available just everywhere. Getting feedback from the judges and watching other people perform — it was a blast to look at all these passionate people pulling their all to be the best.

It has also impacted my career as I was offered many opportunities to work with many of the top culinarian people in the industry. Many people have reached out to me and offered to work with and mentor me along the way.

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What’s been the best advice you’ve gotten as a culinary student?
The head of culinary department at my school told me this before I did my competition: “Have fun!” It got to me and relaxed me before the competition. I forgot that the whole point of me started cooking was to have fun and enjoy the experience. [It helped] me calm down a lot.

What advice would you give to other aspiring chefs?
I would just say the same: “Have fun.” It is such a simple thing to say but many people forget that part. I remember the saying, “If you do what you love, you will not have to work a single say in your life.” The kitchen is hard and hot. It is better to just have fun and enjoy it while it lasts.

What’s an average day for you like?
Besides going to school, I would go to work. After finishing, I would like to relax by watching TV and playing a game. Sometimes I will test out a new recipe or just look at a new way to upgrade an old, classic, traditional plate. I also often go to supermarkets, Asian markets and farmer markets, [because ] I want to stay up-to-date with pricing and find out what is in season.

20180206_184901What’s the first thing you do when you get to work or school? Tell us a little about that.
The first thing I do when I get to work or school is say hi to everyone that I know. I think it is a warm, polite gesture, just to show that I acknowledge them.

What’s the last thing you do before you go home in the evening? 
The last thing I do before going home is to double-check everything, make sure all equipment is off, the floor is clean and the set-up is ready for the next day. It is [part of] my job duties, so I am responsible for doing that, but it is a good habit to develop over time.

What was the worst thing that happened to you this week?
Nothing bad has happened. There was bad moment, but it led to a better situation.

What was the best thing that happened to you this week?
I got many job offers from many different top chefs right now in Georgia that would love to work with me. So, I got that going for me which is nice.

At Cook. Craft. Create. in New Orleans July 15-19, four students will compete to become ACF’s Student Chef of the Year. The national convention will feature additional educational and engagement opportunities that will build off the ChefConnect series and will provide a revitalizing experience for members, foodservice professionals, students and competitors. All the while igniting innovation that attendees can bring back to their classroom, employees or kitchen! We hope to see you there!