Hari Pulapaka, executive chef and co-owner of Cress restaurant in DeLand, has been selected as a candidate for the American Culinary Federation's certified master chef title.
Pulapaka and nine other candidates from across the country will participate in an eight-day exam that will test their skills in a variety of areas, including healthy cooking, buffet catering, classical cuisine, freestyle cooking, global cuisine, baking and pastry, continental and Northern European cuisines. It will conclude with a mystery basket of ingredients from which the candidates must prepare a five-course meal.
"I'm excited, I'm anxious but I'm not scared," Pulapaka said Monday. "It's been a long time coming." He said that he sent his first letter of intent to pursue the certification over two years ago.
The candidates will be judged by a panel of current CMCs on Kitchen skills, plate presentation and taste. There are currently only 65 chefs with the CMC designation. All candidates must have passed the certified executive chef or certified culinary educator level to be eligible to compete for the CMC. Pulapaka received his CEC in 2012. That process also included written and practical exams, though not as rigorous as the CMC test.
Although the ACF is based in St. Augustine, the exam will take place at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Mich. The exam runs from Saturday, Sept. 30 through Oct. 7. It is not a competition among the contestants, Pulapaka said, but any candidates that don't receive a score of between 75 and 100 points each day will be eliminated.
Besides Pulapaka, two other Florida chefs will compete: Gerald Ford, executive sous chef, The Everglades Club, Palm Beach; and Seth Shipley, The Gasparilla Inn & Club, Boca Grande. Of the other candidates, only one is a woman.
Of course, anyone can call himself or herself a chef. You might even get away with calling yourself a master chef. It's when you start claiming a title from a certifying agency like the ACF. (There are other culinary organizations that also offer certification).
It's similar to the term doctor. If you want to, you can start calling yourself Dr. So-and-so. But you'd better be able to back your claim up with a diploma if after your name you add the initials MD or even PhD.
And Pulapaka knows something about that, too. He's Dr. Pulapaka, PhD, to his students at his day job teaching math at Stetson University.