By Jack Hayes
ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 2) - At the
Federation's 75th annual conference here in mid-July,
females, blacks and Hispanics were among the ACF leaders who
celebrated a pledge by president Edward Leonard to build and
embrace a culture of diversity awareness within the nation's
largest professional chefs organization.
About 1,200 attendees, out of the ACF's 20,444 members, also
praised a decision to launch the first Nutritional Hot Food
Challenge — a competition meant to inspire the search for
healthful recipes that also scores high on flavor.
Atlanta-based culinary-arts instructor Daryl Shular of the
Art Institute of Atlanta won the inaugural event at the
"The foundation for change that we put in place a few years
ago has brought our focus back to the importance of cooking
and the education of cookery," Leonard said. "But the time
has also come to instill a diversity culture within the ACF
organization and membership."
Leonard, who has been CEO since 2001 and now is in his final
year in that post, told how he had felt disappointment upon
opening the ACF's monthly publication, National Culinary
Review, last February and finding no mention of Black
History Month. He said he had contacted ACF's diversity
leadership to apologize and promise his commitment.
"It wasn't that we were doing things wrong, necessarily, but
we weren't doing things right either," added Leonard, whose
term of leadership during the past three years has been
labeled "radical, bold and ready with change."
A key focus in Leonard's
diversity vision is for the ACF, which already has official
partnerships with the
Research Chefs Association and the American Personal
Chef Association, to forge similar strong alliances with the
Chefs & Restaurateurs and the
Black Culinarian Alliance groups.
"The ACF has tried many approaches to diversification,
with no success until now," said ACF member Dennie Streeter,
chef instructor at Culinard, the Culinary Institute of
Virginia College in Birmingham, Ala. But the ACF is "ready
to meet [minorities] now — for whatever reason — and I'm
thankful for that."
Streeter commended Leonard's "realness, heart and
willingness to try something different. He knows we're part
of the diversity solution, not the problem."
Candi Izaguirre, president of the ACF National Latino
Chapter, said ACF is "the first organization in the
foodservice industry reaching out to help Latinos in a
positive, productive way."
Izaguirre added: "They're helping me provide Latinos with
the necessary tools to improve and grow professionally.
There's never been any history of this happening." She
contended that Hispanic cultural and language issues had not
been addressed in any substantial way until the ACF came
"Change is what keeps us alive," Izaguirre said. "If you
have the same menu for 25 years, you're going to lose
customers. The point is you have to change."
Veteran chef Patti Curfman, president of the Chefs de
Cuisine Society of Oregon, said that if it weren't for her
love of and commitment to cooking, she probably would have
called an early halt to her foodservice career, which by now
has spanned more than three decades.
"I was the only woman in the kitchen at the Benson hotel
in Portland, and I remember the men there either liked you
or hated you," she said. "But I just didn't want anything to
get in my way."
Curfman said she's been wearing a houndstooth skirt in
the kitchen for 31 years as her trademark. She said: "It's
been only two years since uniform makers came out with chefs
jackets for women. Be that as it may, a lot of people are
happy now with what the ACF is doing."
"We've been a society of separatism for too long," said
Fritz Sonnenschmidt, veteran chef and former chef-instructor
for 34 years at
Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
"Cooking is a global profession, and we must give equal
recognition to women, to cultures and to all the branches of
chefs. In that way we will finally become one."
The National Pastry Chef of the Year competition is seen
as another step toward professional integration for the ACF.
Last year, with Leonard's support, the ACF inaugurated a
series of pastry and baking skills sessions at its national
conference; committed to naming a two-person pastry team to
represent the United States at the international
culinary-arts competition in Germany this fall; and
appointed a national pastry chapter liaison.
"We discriminated against pastry chefs in the past," said
ACF chef advisory board director Joe Amendola. "But today
we're recognizing them as equal and valuable to our
In capturing the ACF's first National Pastry Chef of the
Year title, Tom Vaccaro, who has been executive pastry chef
Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.,
since 1995, is credited with bringing national prestige not
only to himself but also to his peers across the country.
Competing with Vaccaro for the title were Tariq Hanna,
executive pastry chef,
MotorCity Casino, Detroit; John Hui, executive pastry
Caesars Palace, Las Vegas; and Stefan Reimer, executive
World's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, Lake Buena Vista,
While in the past ACF was criticized occasionally as an
old-boys network, the group now is seen widely as acting
commendably toward its minority members.
For example, in 1990, ACF's membership honored long-time
member Willie Lewis as the organization's Chef of the Year.
Lewis, who retired two years ago from
Claridge Casino in Atlantic City, reputedly had been the
only black executive chef in the casino industry.
"I joined the ACF 38 years ago, but it took me a long
time to earn that notoriety," said Lewis. "The highlight was
eight years ago, when I did a dinner for the American
Academy of Chefs. After the service, five master chefs came
forward and led a standing ovation. But I've also had the
'N' word used against me," he recounted. "That wasn't by
another chef; it came from a customer when I was working in
California years ago."
The ACF, recognizing the skills of its up-and-coming
members, assigned a field of judges to select a champion
from among four regional winners in the Student Culinarian
of the Year Cookoff, a challenging hot-food competition.
Art Institute of Seattle student Mary Rose Lokar won the
title. Her competitors were Kristin Nonnell, a student
working toward a bachelor's degree in hospitality
administration at Florida State University; Joshua Horne, a
recent dean's list graduate of the CIA; and Matthew Matko, a
student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
According to ACF spokesman Brent Frei, the organization's
official dietician, Kyle Shadix, evaluated approximately 20
recipe entries for the Good Nutrition Cookoff. Indicating
the level of demand by chefs for nutritional training,
Shadix also presented an all-day "Nutrition Refresher"
during the conference that was tailored to fill eight hours
of ACF certification renewal credit.
"This is the best meal I've produced in 10 years of
competing," said nutrition challenge winner Shular, who took
home a $2,500 prize for his victory. "It will certainly
influence my teaching approach. I think that anyone can
escape the old, classical cooking mold." Competing with
Shular in the Good Nutrition Cookoff were first runner-up
David St. John-Grubb, Akron-Canton, Ohio, Cooks and Chefs
Association; second runner-up Travis Catanzaro, Cold Stream
Country Club, Cincinnati; and third runner-up Frank
Constantino, Art Institute of New York City.