While certifications are not required in the culinary industry and do not determine the success of a club chef, certifications can help chefs measure their own progress and prove to others that they have reached a certain expertise and skill level. Certifications are able to help chefs know where they stack up in the industry and allow potential employers to make a similar assessment. Having a specialty or advanced certification can also help chefs qualify for higher-level job opportunities and advancement in their career.
From earning an entry-level certification of Certified Culinarian to the highest level of Master Chef, and every level in between, any certification will require a combination of education and experience. Chef certifications are offered by many different institutions, though they are not all equally suited to each culinary specialty. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) and The World Association of Chefs’ Societies (known as Worldchefs) are two organizations with certifications that are highly regarded and considered a mark of culinary excellence. Both organizations offer various levels of certifications, along with giving chefs the chance to earn the highest title of Master Chef.
Many certifications require candidates to complete a certain number of continuing education hours and specific courses, such as Nutrition, Food Safety & Sanitation, Beverage Management, and Supervisory Management. Lower level certifications, aside from earning a culinary degree, will not require any physical cooking. Most will only be written exams needing many hours of studying to prepare for. However, when credentials become more advanced, there are many more requirements in order to apply and earn higher titles.
The ACF’s Certified Master Chef (CMC) exam, for example, is one of the most difficult exams in the U.S., with very few even attempting it each year. The exam is 120 hours over the course of eight days and divided into two sections with eight categories. A candidate must successfully pass Section 1 with a score of 75% in order to progress and take Section 2. The scores from Section 1 will be carried over into Section 2, and the candidate must maintain a 75% in order to test in the Final Exam. An exam of this magnitude requires years of preparation, both mentally and physically. Chefs will practice dishes dozens of times in preparation for the exam in hopes of perfecting each to be eventually critiqued by judges. The CMC certification is designed to identify those chefs and inform the public of individuals who have demonstrated mastery of culinary competence and expertise through education, experience, knowledge and skills consistent with the master chef level.
Certifications highlight a chef’s skill level, but they also prove that they are a motivated culinarian and show an importance in personal growth. Earning credentials from well-respected industry organizations help to keep chefs motivated and engaged in their work and prove a chef has established high levels of competence and expertise in the culinary field.