ACF Chef Drew Sayes, CMC, talks about life after the Certified Master Chef exam


By Kenya McCullum

ACF Chef Drew Sayes, CMC, an instructor at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, was able to withstand the heat of ACF’s Certified Master Chef exam in 2022 to earn this distinguished culinary honor. Since then, Chef Sayes has been leveraging the certification Drew Sayesto reach his goals. We caught up with him to find out what he’s been doing since passing the grueling CMC exam.

Q: What have you been doing since earning your CMC?

A: I’m working towards becoming a certification evaluator, as well as a certified competition judge. I also teach, so I’m doing that and I’ve been coaching some students through competitions as well for the last eight months or so.

Q: What do you help students with when you’re coaching them for competitions?

A: I give them a lot of leeway. I like them to come up with ideas and then I try to guide them accordingly and get them to refine their dishes, and refine their ideas and techniques to work smaller. That way, we’re only preparing dishes for two people over that period of time and I get them to really focus on the fundamentals of techniques, flavor, and avoiding waste.

During the first competition we went to in March, three of my four students competed and they received seven golds among them. Then I did another competition where they competed in two different categories and ended up getting six golds and two silvers. They’ve had some pretty good success with it, but I remind them too that not every time you go compete, you’re going to get gold medals. But their hard work has really paid off and they’ve done a really nice job.

Q: What are some of the most common mis en place mistakes you’ve seen chefs make?

A: I think the biggest mistake that chefs can make is just not thinking things through. I think a lot of people take the approach of, “Well, I’m just going to wing it and see how it goes.” And I think that ends up kind of biting people in the long run. If you take some time to plan your day, your week, your month, or your year, a little planning goes a long way—between execution of service, having the right ingredients you need, having the correct staffing levels, all that stuff. I think a lot of us kind of take those little details for granted and don’t plan accordingly.

And I’ve been guilty of that too, where I think, “Oh, I’m just going to wing it,” and then those issues pop up and I have to pivot and work through it a little bit more than I’d like to. It makes things harder than they really need to be. Just a little bit of planning goes a long way, whether it’s in sourcing your product, scheduling your staff, or even just planning out the floor for your day.

Q: How effective can you be when planning really far in advance?

A: Depending on your operation, you have a pretty good look at the volume of business if you’re in a hotel or club—you know the standard events you have and the repeat business you have. Hotels typically book six, nine, or 12 months out, so you can kind of plan on when there are going to be busier days. These are things I can start working on in terms of building my menus and things like that, so it’s pretty easy to take a look that far out. You’re not going to get every last detail, but you can certainly take a lot off your plate if you look pretty far ahead.

Q: What are the most important things about mis en place that you’ve learned throughout your career?

A: I think if you don’t plan properly, you’re not going to be ready. If you don’t dot all of your I’s and cross all of your T’s to make sure you look at every single detail, your execution is going to be a lot more difficult than it needs to be. A little proper planning and foresight goes a really long way.