What comes to mind when you think of the professional chef? Masaharu Morimoto? Mario Batali? Cat Cora? Michael Symon? Bobby Flay? Any number of celebrity chefs may pop into your mind. What about Chris Cesta, Kevin Gentile, Paul Midgley, Jerry Bolton, Joelle Mollinger or Yann Guigne?
Hmmm—you pause and think—where is this going? Should I read further? Yes, you should read further; listed are some local professional chefs who have an unquenchable passion in their chosen path. They deserve the awe and respect equal to the celebrity chefs we enjoy watching on television.
According to Webster’s dictionary, a chef is “a cook in charge of a kitchen,” or, in a professional setting, the executive chef. To those of us who call ourselves “chef,” the term means much more than a person who makes their living in the kitchen. The chef has passion and drive to succeed not only in their ability to produce quality food and beverage but to manage the business as well. Our community has qualified and talented chefs in corporate dining, convention/hotel, education, college food services as well as restaurants.
Some of the finest chefs in the industry call Syracuse home. A true chef wears many different hats within the realm of business, all while balancing skill, craft and art. We come from all facets of food service. Central New York is fortunate to have such dedicated professionals bringing a competitive spirit to the local food scene, along with a higher level of service and dining. By higher level of service and dining, I am not just speaking about check averages in restaurants; higher level means investing in the business to provide the consumer with the best experience possible.
The “bar” is set differently at a high-dollar restaurant than it is at a diner; that does not mean that one is better than the other. If both restaurants are setting the standards for service and dining high in their niche, they are showing their dedication and passion both in the industry and to the consumer.
The American Culinary Federation is the nationally recognized organization that promotes and accredits chefs throughout the United States. From the national chapter, area organizations form to create local opportunities in the food service and hospitality industry. The Syracuse ACF’s mission “is to make a positive difference for culinarians through education, apprenticeship and certification, while creating a fraternal bond of respect and integrity among culinarians everywhere.”
The purpose is to bring to the attention of the community the benefits of the Syracuse Chapter of the American Culinary Federation. The ACF holds monthly meetings at various member businesses. The meetings highlight a speaker or a demonstration for all to learn from and a general meeting followed by food and networking with our colleagues. These monthly opportunities strengthen the food service industry in central New York.
The Syracuse ACF works closely each year with the local chapter of the American Red Cross on the Great Chefs Dinner. The dual benefit of this event is to raise funds for both organizations while highlighting the tremendous talents of local ACF-member professional chefs. Many ACF chefs also work with other organizations in Central New York such as Father Joseph Champlin’s Guardian Angels, the American Heart Association and the Samaritan Center.
The culmination of our year is the annual awards dinner, held every June in a local venue where we recognize those in our ACF chapter who have made significant contributions to the greater good of the industry. An important recognition is to chefs who have gained certification throughout the year. This meeting is the last of the year before we part company for what is hoped to be a prosperous season for all. Meetings resume in September as the summer season winds down.
Certification is key to our sustainability as a profession. The ACF is the organization that sets the standards and administers testing for certification levels—there are 14. As professional chefs, we are in an industry that is relatively young: Chefs have been recognized as professionals only since the mid-1970s.
We are young when compared to other professions where consumers make choices. When consumers choose where to spend money they look at many aspects—referrals from trusted sources, credentials (doctors, lawyers, accountants), licensing (beauticians, contractors, plumbers, electricians) and dedication to the profession (organizations, clubs).
As with many professions, the path to credentialing is a lifelong journey as the chef works their career along the way to the credential. For some it is the journey to Master Chef Level, for others it is the association with organizations such as the ACF and the populations they serve. Whatever the motivator is, it is important to make that connection for the consumer and the professional chef. When you dine out, look for the ACF logo in the establishment.
Chefs are a predominantly behind-the-scenes bunch of people. Please visit our Web site at www.acfsyracuse.com to see where we work. While at the site, you can see more about what a professional chef is and what we have coming up in the future. It does not come naturally to put ourselves out there for all to see and we would like to thank The New Times for their support through the publication of this article as well as the accompanying photographs.
MaryAnn P. Kiernan is a Food and Beverage Instructor in the School of Hospitality Management in the College of Human Ecology at Syracuse University.