One of the things I love to see on a chef’s resume is a list of current culinary competitions. Why?

There are so many benefits to encouraging and supporting your culinary team to compete locally, regionally and nationally, and if you think about it, no other department at the club has this opportunity. Why are competitions so important to your culinary staff, the rest of your team, your members and your club? Read on…

Some benefits of participating in culinary competitions include:

  • Keeping on top of culinary trends
  • Promoting creativity
  • Enhancing cooking skills
  • Practicing flexibility and thinking on your feet
  • Exciting and motivating the whole team, even if only one person on the team is competing
  • Learning good sportsmanship
  • Building teamwork skills
  • Building confidence
  • Learning humility
  • Networking with other chefs
  • Practicing and honing self-discipline
  • Promoting exposure for the club (Great for recruiting)

What competitions are available? Locally, many ACF chapters promote competitions; some at every meeting. Also, vendors and charity events hold  competitions and some CMAA chapters have held team competition events between clubs (each cooking team comprised of a chef, GM and controller, for example). Some clubs have member events in which sous chefs and cooks compete and members vote on the winning chef or the winning dish.

Perhaps the ultimate in culinary competition is competing internationally as part of ACF Culinary Team USA – a team of seven chefs who practice and compete together for four years and represent the U.S. on a global stage. Team USA showcases American chefs. cuisine and products to the world.

Team USA team members include Gerald Ford, CMC (team captain and executive chef at The Ford Plantation), Paul Kampff, CEC, (executive chef at St. Louis Country Club), Kelsee Newman, CEPC (instructor at Midwest Culinary Institute), Geoffrey Lanez, CEC (executive chef at The Patterson Club), Vanessa Marquis, CEC (executive chef at Silo Event Center), Jesus Olmedo, (assistant banquet chef at The Country Club). and Timothy Recher, CEC (director of operations at Quail West Golf & Country Club).

In addition, Reimund Pitz, CEC (chef/owner of Le Coq au Vin in Orlando) is the team manager and Kevin Storm CEC is the assistant team manager (executive chef at Bellerive Country Club).

Recently at a dinner at Le Coq au Vin that Team USA created and prepared, I talked with some of the team members about the benefits of culinary  competitions.

Tim Recher: “I originally entered a competition because it looked like fun. I would definitely consider myself a competitive person and I really enjoy the
challenge of it, but when I finished that first competition, I realized how much I had learned. I was easily a much better cook from the experience. The process of developing my dish, planning it, practicing it and focusing on doing things exactly right forced me to get better in a way that would never have happened ar work. This doesn’t even take into account the critique! It was like graduate school for cooks. The attention to details, focus on every single action and what you could have done better; it was and continues to be an unparalleled education.”

Jesus Olmedo: “Being involved in culinary competitions has truly made an impact on my professional and personal life for the better. There are so many
great benefits from competition but, when all is said and done, it has done three major things for me. It has trained me to become more detailed-oriented, it
has taught me the importance of networking and carrying yourself as a professional at all times, and it has shown me what is possible if you dedicate the time and energy to your craft.”

Both team members also shared their thoughts on the im­ pact that competing has on their clubs.

Olmedo: “If I am working towards and developing an hor’s d’oeuvre or a specific dish for the Culinary Olympic Team, I will try to include it as much as possible on wine dinner and private party menus. I think it is a great opportunity to show your membership food that is innovative and creative. This creates excitement at the table when you tell them it is some­ thing special that you are preparing for a culinary competi­ tion of any degree.”

Recher: “Not only am I getting better, but the teamwork as­ pect has direct benefits to my club, kitchen and membership. No chef works alone, and you cannot be successful unless you are able to get the best out of yourself and the people next to you. There is no better way for a chef to improve those skills than in a kitchen, in a team environment. All these hard-earned skills come back to my club. I hope that, at the very least, I am setting an example of professionalism, drive, and discipline that translates into all parts of life. The people around me can see directly what I learn and how the growth has pushed me and that constantly improves our operations.”

I also asked both Recher and Olmedo about the benefits of competing with Team USA.

Recher: “It would be hard to quantify all the benefits I have already received, and we haven’t even gone to the big one yet! Focusing on training for the try outs, managing time to get solid practice time and still be a husband, father, and execu­ tive chef to my club were all part of the intangible growth that happened just getting to the team. The ability to take what you did, listen to the critique and then get better; the humility of that and how you have to be humble in learning makes me better at all aspects of life. The focus on what we are doing; the constant critique of and with each other, and the learning from every chef, advisor, and coach are absolutely amazing. I can think of no other place to gain this kind of knowledge. And all those lessons come straight back to my club and to our staff”

Olmedo: “There is a certain sense of responsibility that comes with the Team USA member title. We have a duty to represent our country at the highest level in the culinary arena. As a part of the team we must be leaders within the industry and set an example for those to follow. As we grow, we must also mentor and share that knowledge with our staff and colleagues. It has shown me the level of refinement and commitment required to compete amongst the best of the best in the world.”

About the author….

Lisa Carroll, as a search and consulting executive, specializes in executive chef, general manager, CFO, and HOA/POA manager searches with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE. Lisa can be reached at or 561-596-1123.