Executive Chef Ilana Cahill with Assistant Executive Chef Wilson Castillo (SUNY Geneseo photo/Keith Walters '11)
Ilana Cahill, an executive chef with Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) at SUNY Geneseo, has recently earned her certification as an executive chef by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). This is the second highest certification offered by ACF.
To earn the title of Certified Executive Chef (CEC), an individual must have served as an executive chef for a minimum of five years, have a bachelor’s degree, complete 150 hours of continued education in food service, culinary arts, and food service management, as well as completing a written and a practical exam. The entire process took Cahill several years to complete, which she managed to do in addition to her duties as executive chef with CAS.
“For me, it’s the appropriate and natural progression of my career,” Cahill says. Determined to earn this certification, while being a mom and working at CAS, Cahill spent extra time on campus before and after her shift to study for the written exam.
The crucial piece of the certification was the practical exam. Cahill was required to create a 3-course meal in three hours and 15 minutes, a feat that she had accomplished in various American Culinary Federation competitions, but with two other chefs at her side. To prepare to go it alone, managing director of restaurants and cafés at CAS, Jonna Anne, worked with Cahill on several practice runs.
The practical exam took place at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, NY. Cahill executed and plated her three-course menu in front of three master chefs. Her menu included a fish course, a salad course that featured salad placed in a cylindrical “basket” of spiraled potatoes — a skill that took weeks to perfect —and a stuffed chicken galantine entree.
Cooking techniques, equipment, and recipe ideas ran through Cahill’s head weeks before the exam. “I felt really good about my menu because I got to practice,” Cahill said. The menu was executed and plated within the allotted time. After critique and feedback from each of the master chefs, Cahill was awarded the CEC certification on the spot.
“Being a Certified Executive Chef is more than just a cooking test. It is years of dedication to your craft, extra hours both behind the stove and in front of the textbooks” says Anne. “It’s also about theory, food science, management practical’s and gumption.”