Why do you want to become an ACF Certified Master Chef?
I originally met Chef Rudy Speckamp, CMC, during my first competition a long time ago. I really had no idea what CMC truly was. I looked into it and was very intrigued. I’ve had the fortune to meet many CMCs over the course of my career and each and every one exemplified professionalism to me. The amount of knowledge they possessed was amazing and they all were willing to talk and share with me. It was incredibly impressive. They were everything I imagined I wanted my career to be. It’s been a goal of mine for a very long time.
I want to become a CMC to try and meet that high standard, to uphold the culture they helped create, to truly show what a chef is and what a chef is capable of. CMC is a very personal journey. I was raised to believe that anything worth doing is worth doing right. I always want to be the best I can possibly be at anything I do. This is a prime example of that. As a chef, why would you not want to be the best you can be? I also firmly believe in paying back what was done for me. This life has given me opportunities I never imagined. That is absolutely because of these incredible chefs and it is my responsibility to do the same for others.
What are the reasons you chose to pursue ACF certification in your career?
I attended my first ACF convention without really knowing much about it. As I was surrounded by all the chefs, I was totally impressed by the professionalism and realized that this career was not just cooking on the line. ACF really showed me the path to a true profession, not a job.
Obtaining certification was a way for me to validate that skill and knowledge and to show the world that I was a professional executive chef. Without a doubt, it has helped my career. I have had multiple employers tell me that without it, they wouldn’t have given me an interview. So from a career advancement point of view, getting certified was one of the best things I could have done.
When is it the right time in a chef’s career to take the ACF Certified Master Chef exam?
I think that is personal. Each of us has our own learning curve. It really has to do with your path. This exam is more of a validation of a career. It’s not something you can really practice for in a year. It really tests such a breadth of knowledge that is gained by experience. Working with the right people, in the right kind of kitchens where you are exposed to doing things the right way makes all the difference. I think it really tests your wisdom of our craft, which is gained through experience. It took a certain number of years for me, others might be ready faster or slower. Its all about where you are, how hard you work and if you are willing to actually take the journey.
Where do you see yourself professionally in 10 years?
I really love working in country clubs. It allows me to be the kind of chef I want to be. Being the executive chef of the Army Navy Country Club has been a great experience. I am very proud of what we have done and what we have planned for the future. Will I be here in 10 years? I can’t really say, but it would have to be a really great opportunity for me to leave this kitchen. I have no immediate plans in changing right now.
I am a firm believer in the idea that success equals opportunity meets preparation. We’ll have to see what opportunities present themselves. I do see myself getting into teaching more in the future. I had the pleasure to be an adjunct instructor for a while and really loved it, so I can see that being a part of my future.
How do you prepare both mentally and physically for the exam?
It is definitely a long-range plan. This exam is about your career as a chef. Having said that, there is a huge amount of work to get ready mentally, physically, etc. Personally, this was a major reason I worked hard at getting myself healthy. I have lost over 150 pounds in the process, went from no exercise to finishing a bunch of triathlons, including six half Ironman races and a full Ironman race. You have to take care of yourself physically.
Over the course of the exam, you will get tired and that will cause you to make choices you might not if you were healthier. Being in the right mental and physical shape is important to that process. No doubt, we all practiced specific skills, but I think you also have to do this all the time. If you are not cooking, and cooking at a high level each and everyday, such as butchering, sauces, plating, knife skills, etc., you will have a very hard time. It has to become second nature. You can’t just turn it off and on, you either are doing it right or you are not. Over the course of the exam, you can’t fake it. The truth will always come out and that is how it should be.
Most importantly, you have to love the work. People talk to me all the time about wanting to come and cook with me. I get a ton of first calls, but no one ever does it. I really think it’s because they don’t want it. We all want the success, that’s the fun part. You hear all about passion, hashtag this and pictures online of fun stuff, but that doesn’t do it. We all have passion for the result and we all love the idea of getting that title. We can see it, CMC. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean anything. You have to love the work to get there. You have to love the journey as much as the success.
Everyone has passion for success, but very few have passion for the work. Successful people have passion for the work. They have dedication to the journey. That is what gets you out of bed when you could sleep late, it’s what gets you into the kitchen on your day off when you have other things to do. Loving the journey and the work that it takes, that is what makes the success possible. Just loving the title, just having passion for the result is meaningless. I believe it’s always been this way in any endeavor and always will be. It’s the hard work, the time, the hours and hours of work that make it worthwhile. If it was easy, if everyone could do it, it wouldn’t be worth so much.
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Tim Recher, CEC®, is executive chef at Army Navy Country Club in Alexandria, Virginia, where his culinary brigade was recognized as a Platinum Club of America in 2014 and received the ACF Achievement of Excellence Award in 2016. Recher joined the team of some of the country’s best chefs in preparing the inaugural dinner for former President Barack Obama and is the recipient of President’s Medallions and Cutting Edge Awards from the American Culinary Federation. Recher participates in many community outreach programs to train and mentor young culinary students developing the next generation of American chefs.