Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA, ACE, is a business owner and the current president of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) local chapter, Windy City Professional Culinarians in Chicago. The ACF is a professional organization for North American culinarians dedicated to education, networking and industry news.
Reed started his business, Customized Culinary Solutions (CCS), five years ago in response to a gap he saw in the marketplace when companies needed the skill set of professional chefs but could not afford them full time. CCS works with off premise caterers, hospitality management and corporate dining and helps companies set up IT catering and recipe software. Chef Reed also works with large companies as a front man for client demonstrations.
As if running a business and chairing the local ACF doesn’t keep him busy enough, Chef Reed is also in training to be part of a prestigious international competition he passionately says is, “the contest that everyone wants to be in.”
The Culinary Olympics
The International Culinary Exhibition – aka Culinary Olympics – is sanctioned by the World Association of Culinary Societies (WACS), of which the ACF is a part of. (The national ACF president is also on the WACS board of directors.) WACS is the global authority for the culinary profession. Created by a Germanic chef’s organization in the 1950’s, more than 1,500 chefs representing 54 countries participated in the global competition which took place in Erfurt, Germany last October.
“The U.S. does okay,” says Reed. “Last year, the ACF Culinary Teams (national, military, regional and youth) finished in the top 10 with two gold and five silver medals.” Chef Reed’s regional team won a silver medal in “cold-food display”, missing the gold by just one point.
Reed says the ACF didn’t originally think they could fund the competition “as an organization” because there was no “ROI” on it. “In 2009, we decided to do it and see what happens – but we had to fund it ourselves. The team went out and fundraised to do it. Prior to that, the regional team paid their way – it was a huge commitment. Today we have a little money in the bank and more people are interested in helping us now.”
How do the other teams do it?
“The teams on the podium,” says Reed, “are well funded and recognized by their nations – they look at this differently than we do. Some of these guys, that’s all they do full time, compete on a team. Sweden swept every category at the last competition. Their resources, efficiency and what they put out…they had a team behind the team; they are full time. If you tell someone about this, people here say, ‘What? Are you going to cook for the athletes?’ This is why we need to get the word out!”
The ACF is about to publish a video documentary to help promote awareness for the Culinary Olympics. “Iron Chef and all those shows – they make it good television,” attests Chef Reed, “our documentary will highlight what we go through. You can get a glimpse of it on a YouTube trailer called, The Unknown Olympians, right now.”
Currently preparing for the second round of “cold display” tryouts for the 2016 team, Reed says going through the process is a tremendous sacrifice because the U.S. team does this all outside of their jobs and businesses. “It’s a choice I make, but I’m lucky I have my own business and work out of my home – it helps.”
Chef Reed says the teams that are very successful are really grounded in terms of real food; its foundation and its core. “It has to be solid cooking, things have to make sense. Professionally, people see what we do as unrealistic. In the cold category, [for example], we prepare all this food, put it on a table and the judges don’t taste it – they have to see flavor. They look at it, they weigh stuff, they may even cut into it – they may not speak English either.”
More than 30 countries competed in the “hot food” category over 4 nights last fall. Each team had 6 ½ hours to prepare a three course meal for 110 diners in a setting which fully encompassed, “restaurant service”, according to Reed. “There are 6-8 teams that go off each day. Diners have to get reservations if they want to be at the competition tables inside the convention center. There are hired waiters working the floor who put the [order] tickets in… that whole process, including how you manage the servers, is evaluated.”
When Reed last competed in the hot category (in 2009) he had to make 10 plates of fish and meat. His team had only 3 ½ hours to do it which included butchering the meat, working from scratch with fresh vegetables and so on. Chef Reed says the food has to look like it’s hot and that it’s something someone would want to eat. “The judges look at the food and decide if it makes sense. When you forget about these things, it can bite you in the butt sometimes – you may not do things at that certain level. I had one dish, which went through 11 or 12 evolutions before it got to the table.”
Being on the ACF U.S. Culinary Olympic team is like being on an “all star” team according to Reed. “Very few people can compete at this level – you’re setting a precedent, and you’re repping the U.S.”
Can young chefs participate?
People on the team are usually veterans. When you practice, you have an apprentice. Apprentices are “invited” and can earn their way to Germany. [The Culinary Olympics are always held in Germany.] “We had five apprentices come with us last time – the competition helps them professionally and personally.”
Chef Reed says his goal as President of the local ACF is to bring new interest into the competition because it changes how people go about their work and helps them grow. “For me, I appreciate being able to say, ‘I’m on Team USA, and we won a medal!’ Ultimately, I can grow with this in my business.”
Buedel Fine Meats is a proud supply supporter for Chef Reed. If you’d like to lend a hand with the Olympic efforts, contact Chef Reed by phone at: 847-287-3604. Check these links for more information about the Culinary Olympics and the ACF Windy City Professional Culinarians.