By Benita Wong, CCC, CCE

Our last culinary apprentice has graduated! On Saturday, December 21, 2019, I (Chef Benita Wong, apprenticeship committee co-chair) received an email from ACF announcing that Edwin Gomez-Quintanilla had graduated from the Cook’s Apprenticeship program and was now a Certified Cook (CC). I think we should all give Edwin a round of applause for creating a long-term goal and seeing it through!

Edwin’s apprentice journey began three years ago. In the fall of 2016, he took a tour of the Hotel-Restaurant (HRI) program at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) in Annandale, VA. He received a tour of the kitchen and learned about the one-year culinary certificate, the two-year associate’s degree in hospitality and the ACF/ NCCA Cook Apprenticeship program. He said these were exactly the programs he wanted to study in order to further himself as a chef. Although we were winding down our program at that point for lack of graduates, he seemed to have a strong plan, so I told him that he would be our very last apprentice and that I would help him finish or he could drop at any point.

In his apprentice orientation essay, he wrote,” I tried to go into (foodservice) management and other jobs and found out that the only time I was truly happy and was able to express myself was when I was cooking and creating dishes.”

One of the most important aspects to a successful apprenticeship is an enthusiastic supervising chef. Edwin worked for Executive Chef Partner Brad Weideman of DC Prime Steaks & Lobsters in Ashburn, VA. Chef Weideman is a graduate of The Art Institute of Atlanta and said that he was happy to give back to the industry by taking on an apprentice. He said he found Edwin to be “a passionate and hard worker.”

Chef Weideman gave back in a big way as he allowed Edwin to schedule three sessions in July to practice for the practical Certified Cook (CC) cooking test. As with most apprentices, Edwin thought the practical menu was easy, but did not realize the degree of preciseness that I pointed out for everything, such as the station set-up, knife cuts, boning the chicken, etc. As Edwin was finishing his last year of classes at NVCC, we found an ACF Practical Exam scheduled not too far away at HCAT – Anne Arundel Community College in Anne Arundel, MD in August 2019.

The CC practical cooking test of two and one-half hours consisted of the following: the fabrication of a whole chicken (with the airline breast saved for the final dish), preparation of chicken stock, classical knife cuts (julienne and batonnet of carrots), mise en place items (chopped parsley and one pound of standard mirepoix), and the plate presentation of the sautéed airline breast with vegetable and starch (he used his batonnet of carrots and made mashed potatoes). Edwin’s test administrator, Chef Michael Santos, praised his overall safety and sanitation, use of time, and clean chicken fabrication (which was practiced many times!). Chef Santos also suggested roasting the chicken bones before starting the stock, using a bench scraper (instead of the knife) to shovel items off the cutting board, and not using parsley as a garnish (even sautéing the parsley with the carrots did not count as a good, flavorful garnish). Edwin received a document at the end of the evaluation stating that he passed the CC test with no score or definitive rubric, although the graduation requirement sheet states that the apprentice must receive a score of 75 or higher to pass. Although neither Chef Weideman or I were able to attend the cooking test, Pepper Gonzalez, who was a line cook at DC Prime at the time volunteered to help with the early morning drive from Ashburn to Ann Arundel, move equipment, and cheer our apprentice on!

With the CC cooking test out of the way, Edwin spent September through November finishing the requirements of his ACF online apprentice portal. This consisted of typing in the one hundred and fifty recipes spread among the ten required stations and logging in his four thousand work hours and having them signed off by his chef. After finishing the mandated hours for each station, Chef Chris Britton, apprenticeship coordinator, was able to open the required quiz that had to be passed with a score of at least seventy percent.

While finishing off the online portal elements, Edwin reviewed his culinary textbooks and passed the online CC written test (the first time!) in December 2019 offered through PSI, a company that provides online testing. Again, immediately after the test, he received a document stating that he passed the test, but was given no score, although the graduation requirement is a score of 70 or higher.

Edwin and I met in December at DC Prime to spend three hours pulling together all the documents that ACF wanted as hard copies. I put the final packet in the mail on December 16 and on December 21, ACF emailed us that he had graduated!

After the Christmas rush, Edwin and I met for a cup of coffee and a review of his last two years. He told me that, with the blessing of Chef Weideman, he would be starting a sous chef position at a new branch of a local restaurant called North Italia in the Tyson’s area in February 2020.

He summed up his thoughts about the program by saying, “ For me, the apprenticeship program was all about the gaining of knowledge, like building a wall. Others might build their wall faster, but my knowledge (each brick as a subject) is stronger.”