By Amelia Levin
The ACF Metro Mobile Chefs and Cooks Association was founded in 1986 by ACF Chef Levi Ezell, with support from the late ACF Chef Herman Packer and Chef Henry Douglas, CEC, AAC , both culinary arts instructors at Bishop State Community College. Today, ACF Chef Samuel Spencer, a Bishop State graduate himself and protégé of the aforementioned chefs, carries on the chapter’s legacy as president since 2017.
Currently, the chapter has 42 members, 28 of whom are students, many at Bishop State.
“I work closely with the students when it comes to ACF certification and job training,” says Chef Spencer, who is the foodservice director for the nonprofit Guided Discoveries, which runs summer camps. “Over the years, the membership has grown, but at one point, the chapter started to fizzle out. We were able to bring it back in the last couple of years, and the students played a major role in helping get the chapter back up and running. From the beginning until now, we [as a chapter] have always been focused on education and giving back and networking.”
Upon graduating from the ACFEF accredited Bishop State, students earn their Certified Culinarian certification “and they also get the gift of industry experience and knowledge working with other professionals and educators in our chapter,” Chef Spencer says. “The students in our chapter really hold on to
their membership because they clearly see the benefit of networking and being around other chefs who can help them grow and mentor them to get to the next level.” Most recently, a Bishop State graduate earned a full scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America. Others have gone on to work at preeminent local restaurants and major foodservice operators like Aramark. “We also have several alumni and past students working at the college.”
Members of the Mobile chapter are regular volunteers in their community. Many volunteer at least once or twice a month at local food banks, chiefly Feeding the Gulf Coast. During the height of the pandemic, chapter members boxed and handed out hundreds of meals at the University of South Alabama’s stadium for those in need.
Chapter members and volunteers also regularly work with Mobile County Public Schools to host career fairs and educational seminars for high school students, as well as introduce healthy foods to elementary and middle school students through the ACFEF Chef & Child Initiative. Nine of the 11 high schools in the area offer culinary arts classes through Bishop State. In those classes, Chef Spencer says, students gain hospitality management, college readiness and soft skills. For National Nutrition Month and ACF’s Childhood Nutrition Day in October, chapter members conducted demos with the theme of “fruit from around the world.” Read about Chef Spencer’s work on this initiative.
The chapter also worked with Feeding the Gulf Coast to help with a fundraiser event that brought local restaurants and chefs together to cook dinner for 500 guests. The organization’s 22nd annual Chef’s Challenge is slated for April and most certainly will feature many ACF Metro Mobile chapter members.
Chef Spencer, who was born and raised in Mobile, has also directly benefited from his ACF membership and participation in the Metro Mobile chapter. He was 19 and already had five years of industry experience — having worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken and then at Springhill Medical Center in Mobile — when he was first introduced to the ACF, along with Bishop State.
“My sous chef at the time was a graduate of Bishop State, where I decided to go to culinary school and met Herman Pecker and Henry Douglas,” says Chef Spencer, who graduated first in his class in 2012 and went on to serve as executive chef at The Admiral, a Wyndham Hotel in Mobile, in 2014. “It was about a six-month to a year transition from meeting them and entering the program. Working around other ACF chefs and past graduates gave me that push to go to college and learn the professional terminology. The best decision I made was to take the time to go to culinary school, even if I had been cooking for years. From there it’s been all uphill, and being involved with ACF and the chapter has had a tremendous impact on my career. Having been groomed by my mentors, my goal is to keep everyone afloat and the chapter together and continuing to grow stronger.”
Janiqua Hunter, a culinary student at Bishop State and an ACF Metro Mobile chapter member, points to the networking and mentorship as two main reasons why she remains so involved in the organization. “I decided to join the ACF because I was inspired by the professionalism, knowledge and success of the professionals in my chapter,” she says. “The ACF has afforded me the opportunity to further expand my knowledge in the culinary industry, travel to different locations to connect with several culinary professionals and increase my culinary skills to further advance my career. I am honored to be a part of an organization with professional chefs that love their profession and contribute to the success of upcoming chefs.”