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 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.
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