By Catherine Coburn
Thursday, March 11, 1999
If you''ve ever noticed the initials "CEC" attached to a name and failed to fill in the blanks, here''s the scoop: "CEC" stands for Certified Executive Chef, a title that carries some clout. While you might figure that a certified executive chef is someone who can finesse eight perfectly symmetrical sides on his or her tourned new potato and scoop a pretty mean melon ball, you''d be right. But there''s a lot more to it than that.
The American Culinary Federation is a national organization of professional chefs and, given the vitality of the hospitality industry on the Peninsula, it follows that the Monterey Bay Chapter is an active one. The group''s focus is on promoting education in areas like supervisory development, nutrition and sanitation.
As David Tyler, certified executive chef--and food and beverage director for Casa Caf in Monterey--explained, the ACF offers classes in each of these disciplines, and upon satisfying each requirement, certification is awarded. "Each class is 30 hours, followed by written, and verbal tests, and includes hands-on handling of products," says Tyler. "Out of about the last five years, we''ve offered the courses to three groups of 20 chefs, and out of the 50 or so who completed the courses, maybe about 30 became certified."
There are several levels at which certification may be awarded, going from the title, ''certified culinarian,'' up through ''certified cook,'' chef de cuisine, executive chef, and all the way to the venerable ''certified master chef.'' "There are a lot of restaurants that might describe their chef as a ''master chef,''" Tyler points out, "but becoming a ''certified master chef'' is something completely different, and there are only about 40 in the whole country." Candidates for the title convene every few years at sites like the hallowed halls of the Culinary Institute of America to endure several days of rigorous testing of both nerves and skill, where an un-set aspic or pin bone in the salmon can spell disaster.
Obviously, not everyone will make it to that level. But, according to Sardine Factory owner Bert Cutino, CEC (and AAC--Cutino is chairman of the American Academy of Chefs, the ACF honor society), the real thrust is education. "The educated chef is the future," he maintains. "Not only as it relates to the individual''s culinary skills, but further, as it is incorporated into practices that relate to food safety and sanitation. Although we''ve had certification for quite a while, from a national standpoint it hasn''t been given enough importance. But all of that is changing."
Particularly if you take into account the legislation that exists in some states (and will include California), that requires one member of every food and beverage outlet to show certification in sanitation as it relates to food handling. Marriott Hotels is a step ahead; it''s already being put into practice as a requirement of their upper management staffers.
As Cutino points out, the changing nature of the strains of bacteria and types of food-borne illness makes it even more necessary to have a staff that is well-trained to understand the concept of maintaining kitchen operations that are clean and safe. It''s groups like ACF that continue to make eating out a pleasurable prospect. cw