Chef Frank Vollkommer in 2005 became one of the few chefs to earn a Certified Master Pastry Chef® (CMPC®) designation. Only 11 chefs in the country have this rare certification, the highest offered by ACF for pastry chefs. At the time he earned the certification, the test —like the Certified Master Chef exam — spanned 10 long days and included academic portions in the morning, followed by practical exams in the afternoon. “We were tested on all competencies, from cakes to individual pastries, classic pastries, plated desserts and more,” he recalls. “If you got 75% or better on your score at the seven-day mark, you were invited to the final buffet, which included chocolate petit fours, a sugar showpiece and a competition-style dessert platter for six to eight people. I made it through the first run, but had to redo the buffet and after practicing and refining my items, went back a year later and passed.”
With so much time, effort, practice and even retesting involved, why even go for it? “I have always wanted to be the best that I could be at my craft,” Chef Vollkommer says. “When I was teaching at the CIA [Culinary Institute of America], I was working alongside other master chefs and after seeing not only the level of skill but also the level of professionalism from these incredibly talented individuals, I identified earning the CMPC as a professional goal.” Another unintended benefit — aside from showcasing Chef Vollkommer’s excellence in the pastry arts — was helping him improve his teaching ability, which he says has enhanced the student experience.
To that end, earning his CMPC would ultimately seal the deal in education for Chef Vollkommer; he has since stayed in culinary education, having first taught at his alma mater, New England Culinary School in Montpelier, Vermont, for which he also helped develop a new culinary program. It was from there that Chef Vollkommer went to the CIA in Hyde Park, New York, where he taught for nine years. During that time, he also competed in the IKA Culinary Olympics in Germany in 2000, as well as “quite a few” other national and international competitions. “Those experiences ended up serving as good practice for the CMPC exam in terms of helping me push my skills and develop the right competition mindset,” he says.
Chef Vollkommer ultimately shifted gears at one point — doing some consulting work for a chocolate manufacturing company and helping open a country club in his hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York. In 2008, he opened and ran his own pastry shop and café along the Hudson River in upstate New York called The Chocolate Mill, which he calls his “dream business.” For six years, Chef Vollkommer had a successful run as an entrepreneur, opening three locations that served up a variety of pastries, chocolates and baked goods, each with an on-site café.
In the end, though, he returned to teaching — selling his business in 2014 and taking a job as a chef-instructor for the baking and pastry degree program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. During that time, he wrote the curriculum for two new degrees: Associate of Science in Baking and Pastry and Bachelor of Science in Baking and Pastry Arts.
Chef Vollkommer has no regrets about the switch back to education. “I needed to do the entrepreneurial thing for myself, and I’m so glad I did it because I learned quite a lot about business, economics and everything that goes into running a business while improving my craft at the same time,” he says.
A plus side of the J&W post was being able to be a student again; during his tenure there, Chef Vollkommer earned a master’s degree in education. The experience was so positive that he now says he “realized education was my career. In the past, when I would meet someone and they would ask me what I did, I would have said that I’m a chef and also an instructor.” Today, however, Chef Vollkommer says his answer is, “I’m an educator, and I happen to be a chef.”
All of these experiences would ultimately culminate in his current job as director of culinary industry development with Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, where he landed in January. The position combines each of Chef Vollkommer’s pursuits: master pastry chef, educator, curriculum developer, business professional and consultant.
“What’s cool about the position is that my role and responsibilities straddle all of the different department initiatives. I have the pleasure of working with academic departments in the development of new curriculum, and I also work with industry partners as part of the consulting arm of the school to help hotels, chains and other foodservice providers develop end-to-end training and educational programs,” says Chef Vollkommer, who draws upon his skills as a CMPC to help these businesses develop certification programs. He also regularly works with the school’s marketing department to develop industry-facing educational content and even fun videos for social media. “I look at it like juggling a few different jobs at once.”
Auguste Escoffier had an advantage during the pandemic because of its all-remote platform, which was in place before the pandemic. “The pandemic provided an opportunity to even further refine virtual instruction,” Chef Vollkommer says. Leveraging modern technology, the school offers live video sessions, as well as one-on-one time with instructors for questions and feedback. Students also review instruction videos online and are assessed on their delivery through extensive photo and video documentation and detailed wrap-ups indicating they have — no pun intended — fully digested the material. Many students also go through a “work and learn” program to get hands-on industry experience while earning their degree.
When not hard at work or posting beautiful pastry arts photos on his Instagram account, Chef Vollkommer enjoys pursuing his other, much faster hobby: motorcycles.