Don’t Fear the Certification Evaluator

by Bradley Labarre, CEC


A culinary school degree and years enrolled in the school of hard knocks makes a résumé look attractive. Certification, however, is the feather in the cap for a chef’s marketability. If you are thinking of getting certified but feel a little intimidated by the process, here is a quick look at the practical exam day that might help alleviate some of those concerns.

Firstly, mindset is one of the most important parts of this journey. Most candidates are afraid of performing in front of their peers — not to mention being watched by chefs with clipboards that are scribbling notes while they are butchering their chicken, for example. These are valid concerns, but with practice beforehand, these nervous concerns will subside.

“Just because [the evaluators] write something down doesn’t mean it’s negative.” – Tim Bucci, CMC, CCE

On a typical day, the approved evaluators meet at a culinary school kitchen. They meet about an hour before the candidates arrive to discuss their strategies. During the discussion, the chefs review the necessary paperwork needed for the day.


Culinary professionals at different stages of their careers can be evaluated at the same time. For example, you may be testing alongside a chef who is working on the Certified Chef de Cuisine® (CCC) evaluation, while one is to be evaluated for a Certified Executive Chef® (CEC) and another is attempting to earn his or her Certified Executive Pastry Chef® (CEPC), all on one day.

When the candidates arrive, the evaluators are already looking at how organized and level-headed the candidates are, how they store their ingredients and how clean and professional they are dressed. In most cases, these types of details set a precedent for how the candidates will do throughout the remainder of their evaluation.

The candidate turns in a menu packet before the evaluation takes place. This packet should include a detailed menu and a breakdown of what the candidates will create. Details include knife cuts, necessary cooking techniques and other pertinent information. The packet should also include a menu that is presented as it would be to a guest. The chef candidates have three hours to set up and create their dishes exactly how they are written on their menus.

When going through the process, evaluators will expect the candidates to “Cook at the level of their certification.”  For many certification levels, there is a fifteen-minute time allotment, called the “plate-up window,” during which plating and serving takes place.

The evaluators are looking for use of ingredients based on the standard list expected by the certification level they are pursuing. They watch for points including, but not limited to:

  • How is the food waste handled? Is it kept for future uses or compost?
  • Are the ingredients integrity being held into account?
  • Are the finished plates ascetically pleasing with proper portion sizes, seasoning and cooking techniques?

Score sheets, which are available on the ACF website, allow the evaluators to score the candidates on a specific scale. The sheets also provide a place where clear and objective feedback and critiques can be recorded and shared during the review process.

Those who have made it to the certification process are already a cut above everyone else. If a candidate has read the criteria, created a menu that includes all required components, practiced multiple times and arrived to the test site carrying themselves professionally, the evaluators can see it. And they do take it into consideration.

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