The main mission of this newly formed chapter is to certify as many local chefs as possible
By Amelia Levin
Formed just last year by a group of veteran chefs looking to certify up-and-coming professionals, the ACF Jamaica Chapter’s mission is to raise the standards of culinary excellence in the country and keep jobs local.
“We didn’t want to just have a culinary club, so to speak — we [also] wanted to make sure that our students and chefs here are certified,” says Daniel Schweizer, CEC, CCA, WCEC, executive chef, Goddard Catering Montego Bay, and vice president of the chapter.
Chef Schweizer — a German- and French-speaking chef from Biel, Switzerland, and a Jamaican transplant since the late ‘80s — formed the chapter in August 2019 with three other ACF members: Chef Randie Anderson, CEC, CCA, WCEC, MSC executive chef and director of culinary services at Montego Bay Convention Centre (president); Chef Ravi Anne, CEC, CCA, WCEC, culinary consultant and director, Hospitality 365 (secretary); and Chef Stephen Sowa, CEC, executive chef, Hilton Rose Hall, Jamaica (treasurer).
“Our main mission is ETC: Educate, train and certify,” Chef Schweizer adds. “We have a culinary federation here in Jamaica, but the standards set forth by the ACF are higher.”
The issue with the hospitality workforce in Jamaica, Chef Schweizer says, is the influx each year of visitors ho secure permits to work in Jamaica, which leaves local cooks and chefs with fewer opportunities to work. “We want to be able to present our group of certified culinarians first,” he says.
The biggest challenge for the chapter so far, Chef Schweizer says, is getting existing ACF members to re-certify year after year: “We work closely with the tourism department here, which generously pays for the first year of dues, but it can be difficult for younger chefs — who might be between jobs or are having difficulty earning enough money to stay in Jamaica — to maintain their certifications.” Case in point: One U.S. dollar is equivalent to 142 Jamaican dollars, so the cost of living is high.
“Our chapter has about 100 certified members this year, but much of that group is new; we have about 20 to 30 people who religiously recertify,” Chef Schweizer says.
Chef Schweizer says he regularly sends out correspondence to encourage members to stay in the ACF and remind them that maintaining their certifications will help them when searching for jobs — not just on the island, but around the world, because ACF certification automatically grants one certification through the World Association of Chefs’ Societies.
One thing that has helped boost ACF membership for the chapter is the recent sanctioning of local evaluators, making it easier to facilitate certifications for members. “In the past, we had to call an evaluator in the U.S. to fly in regularly to do the certifications, but now, we don’t have to wait anymore; we have people who can do that here,” Chef Schweizer says. This has proven especially useful during COVID-19, when travel has been restricted for so many.
As a result of the change, the chapter was able to certify nearly 80 people in just three months. The process took about three weeks at three different locations. By breaking it up into different locations, the chapter was also able to draw more members from across the country as well as allow for the necessary social distancing during the pandemic.
COVID-19 has caused the tourism and hotel industry in Jamaica to slow; Chef Schweizer says he’s been encouraging his chapter members to fill their extra time by taking courses (and earning CEHs) through the ACF’s Online Learning Center.
“I have taken probably 30 courses myself, and I’m 57, but I have enjoyed continuing to learn new things, even if I know a subject,” says Chef Schweizer, who remains employed by Goddard Catering, although his company has pivoted to focus less on its airline catering business and more on expanding its industrial catering business, working with prisons and factories. He says he’s also been active in the ACF’s new Chef’s Table forum and has encouraged his chapter members to do the same to network virtually.
The push for more certification has also helped elevate the professionalism and skills of chefs in Jamaica. “In Europe, where there are many culinary apprenticeships, you can be assured that those students who come in your kitchen have basic knowledge of the fundamentals,” he says. “We have long been searching for qualified people, and certification helps this. That’s the whole reason we came together to form this chapter.”
In the coming year, Chef Schweizer says he remains committed to pushing for new certification and recertification, but he also hopes to introduce more demos for members — online for now, and possibly in person when it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, he continues to connect with current and prospective members virtually through email and the ACF Jamaica Chapter page on Facebook, like so many other ACF chapters during this time.