Joseph Leonardi, CEC®

Why do you want to become an ACF Certified Master Chef®?

This has always been a lifelong goal of mine.  However, this is more personal then professional.  I want to push my boundaries, put myself out there and accomplish something that so many people say cannot be done. It is the unknown that fears so many, but I want to show everyone that it can be done with hard work and determination. I have trained all my life for this exam and it will be the toughest nine baskets I have ever cooked.

Being a young culinarian, I remember listening to a lecture from Steve Jilleba, CMC, CCE, AAC, and being inspired about ethnic foods. Coming out of his lecture, I realized that one day I could be considered a master chef. Joining ACF Culinary Team USA and being an active member of the team for more than 10 years put me on the path to working on my goal. The passion that I have for our industry and the joy I get everyday makes it rewarding.

To be able to be considered a master of our craft would be fulfilling. Even though it would be an end to a chapter in my life, it would also be the start of a new chapter.

What are the reasons you chose to pursue ACF certification in your career?

I personally chose a certification route to use as a validation in my own career. I looked at it as a stepping stone and as I grew professionally I felt that becoming certified would be helpful in my career. Employers look to certified chefs for leadership, expertise and dedication to the industry, and I felt that by believing in those standards it would be important to become certified.

Young cooks also see you striving for goals and working hard toward something good.  You become a better chef and mentor to these young culinarians as they get inspired by your doings.

When is the right time in a chef’s career to take the ACF Certified Master Chef Exam?

Everyone is different and only that person will know when it is time. However, this isn’t an exam you get ready for in a year, this isn’t something you wake up and say, Today I am going to start to work toward a CMC certification. This is something that takes many years of studying, practicing the fundamentals of the craft and mastering the culinary skills it takes to be considered a master. You will know when the time is right

Where do you see yourself professionally in 10 years?

Defiantly still involved with country clubs; I enjoy being involved with the “craziness” in the back of the house. However, mentoring, growing and working with culinary teams, whether it is for a culinary competition or for a kitchen, but I truly enjoy working with young culinarians and teaching them. This is something I believe in. Mentoring the students of tomorrow are crucial to this industry.

I also have a special place for ACF Culinary Team USA and I believe it has made me who I am today. To be an ambassador to them would be fulfilling. Most importantly, I would like to start a foundation, “Chefs for Cancer,” to help raise scholarship money for students who have a passion for the culinary industry but face a difficult challenge in life, the loss of a parent or sibling to cancer or the worst case, they are battling that fight we all fear. For me to make a difference in a young person’s life and be able to provide them with something in order to fulfill a dream of theirs is what I would like to be doing.

How do you prepare both mentally and physically for the exam?

You need to believe in yourself and your ability to cook. Trusting your skill level is very important and you must go into the exam believing that you are already a master chef. Most importantly, something is going to go wrong, and mentally you need to move forward and let it be.

My plan is to focus on today, not tomorrow and not yesterday. We can’t change what already happened, but we can prepare for what is going to happen today. Don’t worry about tomorrow until the time is right. It is also very important that you are physically fit for the exam. As many know, the long hours of cooking under pressure and then studying for hours afterwards—you need to be ready. Building up your stamina by doing cardio workouts and dieting is all important when thinking of entering this arena.

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Joseph Leonardi, CEC®, is director of culinary operations at The Country Club in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. In 2009, he earned the title of U.S.A.’s Chef of the Year™ at Cook. Craft. Create. ACF National Convention & Show. Previously, Leonardi managed ACF Culinary Team USA 2016. In 2012, he served as captain of ACF Culinary National Team USA, earning a silver medal in the hot-food kitchen and a silver medal in the cold-food presentation at the 23rd Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung International Culinary Exhibition, commonly known as the “culinary Olympics,” in Erfurt, Germany.