There are only 66 American chefs certified by the American Culinary Federation (ACF), and now Miami-Dade finally has one with the appointment of chef Derin Moore at Turnberry Isle in Aventura.
In the wide world of culinary talent and style, why are there so few chefs who can really say they are masters?
The test requires that prospects have graduated from the CIA -- no, not the spy agency in Langley, Virginia, but the Culinary Institute of America, where the ACF master chef certification is held. Moore received his certification in 2003.
Becoming a master chef was just a logical progression in Moore's career. He has always wanted to be the best, previously winning a gold medal during the culinary Olympics. "I came up in that hard environment where excuses aren't accepted," Moore says. "Either you do the job, or you don't do the job."
The CMC test is a rigorous, eight-day practical exam in which candidates are tested for their perseverance and proficiency of every pillar of the culinary industry, including nutrition, buffet catering, European cuisine, and freestyle cooking. The purpose of the test is to demonstrate versatility.
Before becoming eligible to take the test, a candidate must first be a certified executive chef and then have written blessings from two master chefs, in addition to having the necessary real-life experience. Candidates must pay for the exam, travel, boarding, and test materials, which can range in the thousands of dollars.
"The cost of the test is in personal sacrifice and preparation," Moore says. "The thing is not for everybody, and if you're not well-rounded, you're not going to do well."
Even years of experience and numerous qualifications don't necessarily guarantee entry into this elite group. Statistics are against the aspiring master chef. Out of a class of 12 who take the test, less than half pass. On top of that, the test isn't held every year. The ACF went four years without administering the test before having one in October 2010.
For more than a week, candidates wake at 6 a.m. to begin their day and test late into the evening, sometimes with an hour break. Thousands of dollars and elite status are at stake. Failing one portion of the exam means complete failure. Exclusivity equals high attrition, Moore says.
The master chef certification isn't simply a novelty among chefs. "A lot of people hold these television chefs on a pedestal, which is destroying our reputation, in my opinion," says Moore, who also happens to share CIA alumnus status with Anthony Bourdain (and Short Order's Lee Klein). "It's entertainment, it's kind of for the mainstream, it's different than what we do."
Moore has downsized venues a bit since transitioning from the Ritz-Carlton in Naples to Turnberry Isle, which is a more exclusive resort.
A secluded 300-acre country club resort east of Aventura Mall, Turnberry gives Moore opportunity to connect with guests.
"Turnberry Isle is smaller and more hands-on," he says. "They're two different animals, really. Smaller is more appealing to me."
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Turnberry's food and dining operation, Moore also sits on
the 12-man advisory panel of master chefs who oversee ACF's master chef
certification. "I've never had a moment when I wanted to do something else," he says.