How one formerly defunct ACF chapter came back with fresh perspective

by Jocelyn Tolbert

The Cape and Islands Chefs Association was, for many years, one of the strongest ACF chapters in New England. But a little more than a decade ago, the group dissolved.

Several factors contributed to the chapter’s formal closing. “It was a little before my time — before I moved to the Cape. But from my understanding, it was just a lack of interest,” says Chef Michael Pillarella, CEC, executive chef of the Wianno Club in Osterville, Massachusetts. “The local chapter wasn’t providing any positive traction in regards to education, certification, and just building camaraderie. There were a lot of strong people involved, but there was no draw to bring them to the meetings.”

Today, though, ACF Cape Cod is back. Chef Pillarella and Chef Michael “Mickey” Beriau, CEC, (a former member of the original chapter) re-formed the group about a year ago and, as the new President and Vice President, are out to make ACF Cape Cod stronger than ever.

The lessons these chefs learned can apply to fledgling chapters as well as those which have been around for decades, so whether you’re thinking of starting your own new chapter or trying to invigorate an existing one, read on.

ACF Joe, Dan Mike
Dan Ferrare, CEC, CCA, Treasurer, Michael Pillarella, CEC, President, and Joe Ellia, secretary, ACF Cape Cod and The Islands Association

Why did you decide to do this?
Basically, there was a void — an empty space for our chefs here. There’s a chapter in Boston and one in Providence, Rhode Island, each about an hour and a half away. But they didn’t meet the needs of the Cape Cod chefs. Our seasonality is different, our talent and labor pool is different. We didn’t have much in common with those other chapters.

So you were basically starting a brand new chapter. What was the process like? 
The ACF process is pretty well organized in how to bring a chapter to life. The most important thing was to have a meeting. We wanted to make sure there was enough of a draw. We had about 50 to 70 attendees to our initial meeting, and it was enough for me and Mickey to decide to go forward.

What challenges did you encounter?
One of the biggest challenges for us was opening a 501(c). It just wasn’t as easy as starting a club and inviting some people.

How did you get the word out?
We did a very grassroots campaign. We invited people initially, and just kept on our marketing angle, which was “bring a friend,” “bring a fellow professional.” That kept it building for us. We had very good success with recruiting and driving finances. Our last meeting, over 130 people were in attendance.

Pig Demo
Educational events, like this whole hog butchering demo, were a big part of the chapter’s recruitment strategy

Did you have any of the old members coming back?
We’ve had 12 to 15 individuals who were in the previous chapter who are very excited about its reemergence, and are willing to assist in any way possible.

Had you ever done this before?
This is my first chapter. I’ve been a member of the Boston and Rhode Island associations for a while, but this is my first crack at it. It’s a bit more work than I first imagined it would be.

Cape Cod Beer Cheese Guild
One of the chapter’s biggest and most popular events was held at Cape Cod Beer with an educational component from the Massachusetts Cheese Guild.

What’s the time commitment like?
It’s a lot of free time. I’d say you realistically have to put in five to seven hours a week in-season to make sure all your duties are covered.

You mentioned the “season” a couple times. Can you explain that a little more?
What we do is, our meetings are held from late September to early May, and then we take a hiatus for the summertime, which is when everybody here is crazy busy. Then we go back to our normal lives. That’s worked out for us very well. [In this region,] we’re all in the same boat, so come May it’s time to focus on work. And come September we can return to focusing on our chapter.

That sounds like a big endorsement for “Knowing your audience.”
It is! One of the points we’ve made is that we’re here to serve the chef and we need to understand that. What’s good for all the chefs is good for the chapter.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking of starting a new chapter of the ACF?
I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with fantastic chefs and individuals, and let their talents shine. That’s how I operate this chapter. I took on a fantastic VP, secretary and treasurer, and the rest just falls into place.