Culinary Federation Cooks Up a Master Chef Pipeline

Restaurant kitchens across the country face an impending shortage of chefs. The American Culinary Federation is working on getting new talent into the pipeline and helping restaurants hire those up-and-comers.

If new reports of a shortage of up-and-coming chefs are true, “Restaurant Impossible” could take on a whole new meaning in kitchens across the country.

According to a Washington Post report, the shrinking supply of skilled cooks is causing heartburn for restaurateurs in major culinary destinations like Chicago, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. The reasons for the shortage range from the profession’s long hours and low pay and the high cost of living in those cities to an unwillingness among lower-tier chefs to “rise through the ranks.”

A lot of people want to come out and be the next Gordon Ramsey of the world, but that’s just not how this business works.

Chef Tom Macrina, president of the American Culinary Federation (ACF), said the situation isn’t as dire as those reports make it out to be, but he acknowledged that he industry needs to address a number of issues.

“We do have serious problems with money and what we pay our employees,” he said. “But that’s something that has to be dealt with, not so much with the government, but with the restaurants and hotels directly. They need to figure out what they can do to pay their employees better if they want to continue to recruit new cooks.”

ACF is helping to fill the recruiting pipeline and ensure quality education and professional development for chefs in two ways:

Apprenticeship. Macrina called ACF’s apprenticeship program one of its “crown jewels.” In the three-year program, “students are paired up mostly with community colleges, and the students actually go to work full-time in a kitchen where they learn and study from a chef,” he said. “They go to school about one day a week, and the rest of the time is spent working in the kitchen where they’ll get about 6,000 hours of hands-on experience before they graduate.”

Restaurants and hotels can sign up to assist with the apprenticeship program by inviting students into their kitchens. The arrangement has benefits for the potential employer as well as the student, Macrina explained.

“You’re coming across students that haven’t run into bad habits yet, and you can take those students in and mold them and help them early on in their careers, and then in turn they’re helping you in your kitchen,” he said. “I’ve probably graduated 70 apprentices over the years, and a majority of them are chefs in their own right today.”

Accreditation and certification. ACF is certified by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to evaluate and accredit culinary schools throughout the United States, and the group has a certification program for individual chefs.

“We’re certifying cooks, pastry cooks, chefs, sous chefs, and master chefs. So, if a restaurant is hiring someone and they see their certifications, they know that that person has reached a certain level in their culinary career,” said Macrina. “They know everything from their basic sauces, they know how to sauté, how to roast, they know their sanitation, nutrition, etc.”

The biggest problem restaurants face, he said, is working with a new generation of  students who’ve seen a slew of high-drama cooking shows and celebrity chefs on television.

“A lot of people want to come out and be the next Gordon Ramsay of the world, but that’s just not how this business works. It’s like any trade—you need experience more than anything,” Macrina said. “There are a lot of cooks out there that understand that they need to work Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, and they’re all for it and they work hard for it. You can’t discount them.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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