ACF’s Certified Master Chef exam is certainly not for the faint of heart, but that doesn’t stop hopefuls who want to challenge themselves from hopping into the kitchen for a grueling week that pushes them to their culinary limit. Chef Drew Sayes, an instructor at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, recently got through the exam successfully, and we caught up with him to find out what that experience was like and how he was able to withstand the heat.
Q: What made you want to earn the CMC?
Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to challenge myself and push myself as hard as I can. Our motto is “forever the student,” and I always feel like I’ve taken that approach throughout my career with constantly trying to learn more to better myself and always strive for excellence. I knew the CMC exam was going to be a huge challenge for me, and there would be a lot to learn and get ready for. And I knew that after completing the CMC exam that my learning would continue, and almost become accelerated now that I’ve achieved that certification.
Q: How did the exam go and what was that week like for you?
There are a lot of ups and downs, so it’s just kind of an emotional rollercoaster and physically exhausting. I think you’re living on adrenaline for that week—you’re not getting a lot of sleep, and you’re constantly thinking about the exam, like what you’re going to do next and the potential outcomes and the what ifs. It’s just a physically and mentally exhausting week. I had some really good days and some challenging days, but I was fortunate enough to pass each discipline and not have to retake or redo them.
Q: What dishes did you prepare?
For the European Cuisine Day, I prepared Züricher Geschnetzeltes mit Rosti, Chicken Kiev, and Paella de Marisco. For the Buffet Catering Day, I made Lobster and Guinea Hen Terrine; Foie Gras and Guinea Hen Confit Roulade with Poached Pear; Breast of Guinea Hen with Orange and Pistachio; Baby Fennel, Lentil, and Citrus Salad; Lobster Salad and Rye Profiterole with Smoked Trout Roe; Butternut Squash with Pickled Apple and Celery, Crème Fraiche Mousse; Gribiche; and Cumberland.
Q: How did you prepare for the exam?
I really didn’t start pushing my training very hard until the last year or so. When I was thinking about taking it, I watched the exam for a couple days in 2017, just to get a sense of what was going on and what it was like. Then in 2019, when the exam was going on, I stayed and watched the entire thing. I was there each day, every day, all day. I could see and experience what was going on. At that point, I started studying the manual a little bit more closely and working on refining some things for each discipline.
Q: What do you hope to do with your CMC title?
That’s a great question. It’s a tough one. I think what was most appealing to me was that kind of accelerated learning path to continuing to grow in my career. Now that I’m in that select group, there are greater opportunities for me to learn from my peers and do some things with the ACF. I’ve always wanted to be a judge or an evaluator for culinary competitions. I’ve coached competition students for about 17 years now, and it’s something I really love to do because I enjoy the evaluation process and coaching. Something I definitely want to do with that certification is going to judge ACF culinary competitions and potentially becoming an evaluator for certification exams.