CSFTW Chef-Instructor Edward Gutierrez’s efforts towards becoming a Certified Executive Chef®.

Article and photos by James Creange.

After 700 hours of studying, 165 hours of cooking tests and 20 months of training, Chef Edward Gutierrez of The Culinary School of Fort Worth is a Certified Executive Chef®.

The American Culinary Federation defines a CEC as a “skilled, professional chef who manages the kitchen and has demonstrated the knowledge necessary to ensure a safe and pleasurable dining experience by preparing food that is delicious, nutritious and safe to eat.” The only certification higher is a Certified Master Chef®.

As of 2018, there are only 2,460 chefs in the United States that have their CEC certificate. That’s less than one percent of all chefs in the entire country.

Preparation and Practice

Chef Gutierrez credits his accomplishment of passing the test to the hundreds of hours of preparation that he put into the exam. The training took nearly two years, and there was no guarantee that he would pass.

“There were definitely times that I wanted to quit,” Gutierrez said. “I was afraid of doing all of this work and then not passing the exam.”

Chef Gutierrez rolling out his breadsticks.

Before he even began thinking about the menu that he would use for the exam, Chef Gutierrez had to take courses in business, food costing and kitchen management. He said that this whole process took him nearly a year.

After completing these courses, he scheduled a time to take his CEC exam in May of 2019. Once he was given the guidelines for the exam, he was still not ready to just go into the kitchen and cook.

“Before I even started practicing for the exam, there was more time spent organizing and getting prepared for that cooking session than there actually was cooking,” Gutierrez said. “I would typically spend around six hours brainstorming before each run to make sure that I had thought about every logistical thing that could and would happen.”

Once he was prepared mentally, he ran each practice test just like the real exam would be.

30 minutes to set up. 3 hours to cook. 15 minutes to plate. 30 minutes to clear the entire station.

None of this included the three to four hours that he would spend doing dishes after each run. Chef Gutierrez estimates that he ran 165 hours of cooking tests all while continuing to be a full-time instructor and kitchen manager at The Culinary School of Fort Worth.

Gutierrez credits Chef Patrick Mitchell, Ben E. Keith, and Chef Tim Prefontaine, Fort Worth Club, for their help throughout the preparation process.

Chefs Tim Prefontaine and Patrick Mitchell watching Chef Gutierrez during a test run.

“I was too busy trying to showcase myself as a chef, and it was making me miserable in my practice runs,” Gutierrez said. “Chefs Tim and Patrick helped me understand the guidelines of what the ACF judges would be looking for because I was overcomplicating everything in my mind.”

Test Day

After 20 months of training, it was finally test day for Chef Gutierrez. He, his girlfriend Mayra and eight students from The Culinary School of Fort Worth met at the school at 5 a.m. to load the U-Haul with all of his equipment and head to Waco for the test.

Chef Gutierrez was nervous heading into the test and then had a moment of panic when the setup was different than he’d expected it to be. Gutierrez had been practicing with two tables and three speed racks, but when he walked into the exam there was only one of each.

The other immediate obstacle that he faced was the temperature of the room. The return air was broken, so it got hot very quickly. The heat coupled with the nerves of being around the judges had Chef Gutierrez immediately sweating.

“There was actually a couple of times where I was really nervous and would try to crack a joke with them, but they were very professional and would just look at me and walk away,” Gutierrez said. “More than once I went into the walk-in cooler just to take some deep breaths of cold air and calm down.”

He said that the nerves also forced him to be more forgetful than usual. He would check his prep sheet two or three times before he would remember what he had actually intended to do.

Despite all of this, Chef Gutierrez was perfect with his timeline. He felt incredibly prepared and ready to go with whatever was thrown at him.

“My preparation was so intense that I might have even over prepped,” Gutierrez said. “However, if I had to do it again, I would have prepped even more. I had everything in a Lexan labeled and measured out, so I was all ready to go.”

Chef Gutierrez’s first dish.

The first plate he completed was the seafood dish. Chef Gutierrez made a pan seared red fish that sat on top of butter poached lobster, sautéed spinach and Alba mushrooms, and a Meyer lemon beurre blanc. He placed sliced chives on top to add to the presentation.

Chef Gutierrez’s second dish.

The next dish on the menu was his salad. His Bibb and Frissee lettuce was dipped in a white balsamic vinaigrette and topped with roasted beets, pancetta and Asiago cheese. This was all placed in his grissini breadsticks on top of a pear and beet purée.

Chef Gutierrez’s third dish.

Finally Chef Gutierrez made a chicken breast roulade with thyme farce, braised dark meat chicken and a chicken reduction sauce. On the side, Gutierrez made roasted cherry tomatoes, oblique carrots, sautéed broccoli and potato gratin.

Once he had cooked and plated his food, it was time for him to face the judges.

Judging

Chef Gutierrez described the judging process as simply “intense.” He had the option of a private judging session, but, like the other five contestants, he chose to be judged publicly.

They critiqued everything that he did which was hard at times.

“I had a lot of pride in the dishes that I created, so it was tough to handle some of that criticism,” Gutierrez said. “Instead of trying to argue or talk back, I just said ‘yes, chef’ and moved on.”

He took a lot of pride in the fact that there was never a comment made about any of his sanitation or his work. The only criticisms that he faced had to do with the flavors of his food and the thoughts behind each dish.

Gutierrez said that his critique was shorter and involved less than the other five participants that were there. This gave him a sense of confidence before the final decision was made.

Chef Gutierrez chopping broccoli.

“But then I remembered that they don’t have to pass someone each test run, and I got a little nervous again,” Gutierrez said.

In the end, all of that hard work and all of those hours of practice paid off. Chef Gutierrez was one of the two participants to get their CEC certificate that day.

What Happens Now

Chef Gutierrez will continue his job as a full-time instructor at The Culinary School of Fort Worth.

On a personal level, becoming a CEC has brought a newfound sense of pride and confidence to Chef Gutierrez. But he knows that there are now greater expectations for him moving forward.

“I know that I will now be held to higher standards in the classroom,” Chef Gutierrez said. “I don’t want to disappoint anybody.”