We’re thrilled to welcome our first guest writer of the year, Chef Michael Allemeier CMC.
Despite the perceived romance of the restaurant industry, it is not easy being a Chef. If you crave chaos, then perhaps this position is suited for you. The stress is high. We deal with an inventory that has ever-rising costs, and yet is very perishable. It is not the glamorous industry portrayed by the Food Network.
As a Culinary Instructor at SAIT, I teach in the Professional Cooking and the Apprentice Cook Programs. I came to SAIT with 25 years of industry experience. That translates to 25 years of working an average of 80 hours per week.
Unlike other trades, cooking is very much a craft. Cooking is not just about technical skills. They are important, but all trained Chefs share the same relative technical base. It is the personal creativity of the Chef that takes a dish to the next level. This artistic component – drawing up unique flavours, presentations, and experiences – brings me back to the kitchen day after day.
I have always loved this profession. You must if you want to be a successful Chef. A lot of my own growth and passion for this craft comes from the fact that I always keep pushing myself. I’ve never been complacent.
In 2011, the Canadian Culinary Federation launched the Certified Master Chef or CMC program. In the spring of 2013, I became a CMC candidate. My road to becoming a CMC took four years. Candidates have a total of five years to complete all the components – including 11 exams. Currently, the pass rate is only 5 percent.
Of the 11 exams, six are academic programs. Each of these programs is eight weeks in length, with an average commitment of 20-25 hours per week. The academic courses are:
- Pastry and Baking: the theory behind the craft of baking and pastry
- Garde Manger: the elements of the cold kitchen
- Nutritional Cuisine: the science of nutrition (including dietary restrictions), body metabolism and chemistry
- Entrepreneurship and Hospitality Marketing: the business and marketing principles specific to a successful business
- Facility Design and Management: the theory of kitchen and equipment design, including designing a HACCP certified kitchen
- Product Knowledge, Purchasing and Cost Controls: professional purchasing standards, accounting practices, inventory, and auditing controls
These courses involve complex projects, cited researched papers, and weekly assignments and videos. In addition, a CMC must also complete the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 Wine and Spirits designation.
All candidates must then pass four rigorous and extremely technical kitchen exams. As these exams are held in Toronto, it required cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen under the scrutiny of a demanding group of Master Examiners. The kitchen exams are:
- Pastry and Baking Exam: a two-day exam testing proficiency in bread making; fabricating molded and hand-crafted chocolates; skills in gateau and cakes; and creating three different plated desserts for 12 guests.
- Garde Manger Exam: a two-day exam to create a formal buffet platter for 12 guests with terrines, pates, and forcemeats, complete with appropriate garnishes and sauces. In my case, mandatory ingredients were foie gras, venison, quail, pheasant, morel mushrooms, white asparagus, spinach, and dried apricots.
- Black box gastronomic meal: a six-course menu with wine pairings. This exam expects the candidate to cook a creative, elegant, and formal menu displaying skills and techniques in the moment with a supplied “black box” of mandatory ingredients.
- Nutritional exam: while this is the shortest kitchen exam, it is equally as hard. I had to create a three-course lunch suitable for vegans, lacto-ova vegetarians, and diabetics that was then thoroughly analyzed for nutritional accuracy.
These exams are physically and mentally demanding. They are meant for the individual to display and successfully demonstrate a career of experience and to show workmanship at the highest level. The process is as much a test of skills as a test of the individual.
This June, I became the third Canadian Chef to earn the CMC designation. I join Chef Judson Simpson, who runs the kitchens at the House of Parliament in Ottawa, and Chef Tobias McDonald. The road to becoming a CMC has been a very humbling experience. I have a profound respect for the physical effort, business acumen, and artistry that is required to not only become a CMC, but to be in a trade that demands all these things from a Chef.
As a CMC, I am now part of an elite group that becomes the custodian of this craft. I will work to find others who possess the qualities that make up a Master Chef. I love my craft, and I want to continue to be actively engaged in it.
Chef Michael Allemeier CMC has traveled the world and Canada learning his craft. Prior to joining SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) as a Culinary Instructor, Chef Allemeier ran some of Canada’s most recognized kitchens, including Bishops Restaurant in Vancouver and Teatro Restaurant in Calgary. During his career, he’s earned numerous accolades, including being honoured with leading one of the “Top Five Winery Restaurants in the World” while at Mission Hill Family Estate. Most recently, Chef Allemeier earned his Master Chef certification, becoming only the third in Canada to receive the prestigious designation.