Certified Master Chefs

Written by Ingrid Chen
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The Certified Master Chef (CMC) program was pioneered in 1981 by Ferdinand Metz, who was at that time the president of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and chairman of the national Master Chef Committee. The purpose of the certification was to establish the highest standard of culinary achievement. Much of the material covered in the grueling 10-day test period is garnered from the techniques mastered by the great Georges Escoffier, a restaurateur and educator who popularized modern French cooking and kitchen methods.

How Is Certified Master Chef Testing Conducted?

The CMC testing, conducted in both written and oral exams and judged by multiple cooking professionals, covers everything from knife skills and sanitation to baking/patisserie and banquet preparation. The exams and lectures last between 12 and 16 hours a day for 10 days straight, and it's not uncommon for chefs to quit before the end of testing. Out of approximately one dozen chefs who try for the CMC every six months, only two or three manage to complete and pass the testing. Oftentimes those who make CMC do so only after their second or third tries.

As of 2005, there are only 70 Certified Master Chefs, and about half of those are instructors at the CIA. Attendees and instructors at the CIA hold some advantage over non-CIA attendees because of several reasons. First, the CIA in Hyde Park, New York and the CIA in Greystone, California are the only two places in the world that have been approved as testing sites for the CMC. Second, much of the test material is Escoffier-based, and is very similar to the curriculum taught at both CIAs.

Chefs from all over the country, however, have passed the test over the years. Some chefs choose to attempt passing the CMC testing in order to increase personal marketability, and to open up job opportunities that may not have been previously available. However, many chefs who try for CMC do so as a personal goal. Most of these chefs are already successful, with one or multiple thriving culinary businesses, or tenured positions at esteemed culinary academies. For whatever reason one may choose to gain CMC certification, it is a challenging journey that, pass or fail, is rewarding in the end.


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