Three Dining Services chefs on Washington State University’s Pullman campus recently earned certifications from the American Culinary Federation (ACF).

Will Wohlfeil, Northside Café’s executive chef, earned the Executive Chef certification; Bobby Hodge, a cook at Southside Cafe, earned the Chef de Cuisine certification; and Tom Edinger, the Central Production Unit executive chef, earned the Sous Chef certification.

ACF is the premiere certifying body for chefs in the United States. According to Adam Koerner, the associate director of culinary operations at Dining Services, achieving ACF certification speaks to a chef’s growing experience and skill level.

“Certification shows that you’ve mastered the skills for that specific level in the culinary world,” Koerner said. “It’s a great resume builder and showcases a chef’s dedication to their craft.”

Delivering quality food to students and inspiring careers

While certification is a career-advancing opportunity for chefs, Hodge said it also serves as inspiration and affirmation to many WSU students who interact with chefs through work or hospitality classes. “It shows that they can further their education and move up,” he said.

The benefits also extend to any student who eats with Dining Services and Catering.

Koerner explained that these professional development opportunities keep a chef’s mind engaged. Students, in turn, see this reflected in the quality, variety, and creativity of the food that’s served to them.

Edinger agreed with this sentiment. “Certification says that chefs on campus take their job seriously and that they’re not content sitting stagnant,” he said. “We’re always trying to improve on the status quo.”

Preparing for and receiving ACF certification

The road to ACF certification can be lengthy. Edinger, for example, first completed a two-year WSU-ACFEF Apprenticeship Certification Program through the Carson College of Business’ School of Hospitality Business Management.

To earn certification, all three chefs completed a written exam and a practical exam purposefully set in an unfamiliar kitchen. During the practical exam, the chefs prepared food and were evaluated on their adherence to sanitation and safety protocols, their kitchen skills, and the final presentation of their food, which includes its flavor, how it’s plated, and other criteria.

Wohlfeil said he produced a three-course meal in a three-hour period during his practical exam. Specific tasks included preparing a live lobster and a whole fish, as well as various sauces, vegetables, and a salad with a hand-emulsified vinaigrette.

The chefs agreed that preparation for the practical exam is essential. “I practiced parts several times and practiced the whole thing three times,” Wohlfeil said.

After the practical exam ends, chefs meet with evaluators and receive tailored feedback on their work. According to Koerner, who also recently qualified to be an ACF certification evaluator, this feedback helps chefs learn about their strengths and weaknesses and gather ideas to take back to the kitchen.

“You can get valuable advice from individuals who’ve worked in the field for many years,” Koerner said. “Pass or fail, it’s a great learning opportunity.”