About the Michigan Chefs de Cuisine
There are many American Culinary Federation chapters across the state of Michigan. However, in the heart of southeastern Michigan, there is a very special chapter. The Michigan Chefs de Cuisine Association was founded in 1970 by Master Chef Milos Cihelka, CMC, AAC, HGT, whose vision it was to create one of the most prestigious professional associations in the nation. The chapter consists of about 450 members.
The Birth of The M.C.C.A.
By Chef Milos Cihelka
Sometime in the early spring of 1970, while I was at the Detroit Athletic Club I received a phone call from Chef Jan Verdokschot of St Louis. He asked me if I would be willing to start a new chapter of the American Culinary Federation in the Detroit area. I was dumbfounded by the request and inquired of him how he found me. He said that they inquired around, asking local chefs and were told that if anyone could, I would be the one who could get it done. It proved to be a double-edged compliment. Sometime later, I found out why nobody wanted to touch that subject.
At that time, there was another chefs organization in town, the Chefs 200 Club. This club held meetings in the local union hall, their club secretary was the union secretary, and they were under total control of the union. The chefs who attended their meetings came straight from work, still in their kitchen uniforms, with the appearance of dirty pot washers. After a short meeting, they were served cold cuts and beer, played cards and drank more beer. That was the sole reason to be a member, drink beer and play cards. I used to belong to the Vatel Club in New York, where the chef members attended meetings in suits and ties. Some of the Chef 200 Club members said behind my back “who the hell does he think he is?” when I appeared in a suit. Well, I thought I was a chef. Not sure what they thought of themselves. Each year they awarded the “Chef of the Year” prize by a popularity vote. When I suggested we could hold a cooking competition, they reacted angrily. “What a revolting idea!” they thought!
I also found out, that when some chefs had previously tried to form another club, someone leaked the information about it to the union. The union chief busted into their first meeting and bodily threw everyone out. All the chefs that I had contacted were aware of this situation, and were afraid to get on the wrong side of the union. My only recourse was to take the bull by the horns. Roger Foster, the union chief, was a lanky southern man, who used to settle any disputes in the union hall by punching out the offenders. I made an appointment to see him and told him what I intended to do. I explained, that the ACF had chapters in other major cities, where the union presence was strong, and they had no problems with that. Roger appeared flustered, but at the end invited me for a drink and agreed to my proposal. That settled it.
There was a young Italian chef, named Giovanni Di Correnti, who worked at the Trader Vic’s restaurant in the Statler Hotel at that time. He was new in town and very willing to help me. Together, we organized dinner meetings with notable area chefs and we slowly started to emerge. As they say, the rest is history!
The Goals of the M.C.C.A.
First: to further culinary education. The M.C.C.A. sponsors the ACF Apprenticeship program at Oakland Community College. The program twice earned the honor of National Apprenticeship Program of the year in 1982 and 1985. The program has exceeded the standard for graduates going on to earn their credentials as certified working chef and certified executive chef. In addition, many of the members are instructors at the outstanding culinary programs of Schoolcraft College, Macomb, Monroe, and Henry Ford Community Colleges to name a few. The association also supports numerous vocational schools.
Second: to further professional growth. The association provides educational speakers at meetings to help keep members aware of culinary trends. The association sponsors culinary salons so students as well as seasoned professionals can stretch their culinary creativity to the maximum in competition. The salons offer the opportunity to demonstrate skill, as well as learn techniques. The M.C.C.A. has sponsored teams competing in the Culinary Olympics in Germany. These competitions take place every four years. Michigan teams rank among the best in the world. The association funds scholarships for students and professionals.
Third: to provide networking opportunities. Through monthly meetings, working as celebrity chefs, hosting a golf outing, and hosting the annual Christmas party for members and their families, members have an opportunity to get to know each other better, making for a stronger family of culinarians.
Fourth: to support charitable organizations. The association has worked with the Cranbrook Academy to raise funds for the academy and culinary scholarship. It has worked with the Auxiliary of Children’s Hospital to raise money for neonatal intensive care equipment. Chefs have participated in the Grand Marnier Ski Race to raise money for C.O.T.S. (Coalition of Temporary Shelter). Members host events to support the ACF’s Chef and Child program, and the B.A.R.A.T. House, a Detroit shelter for Battered and Abused Women and Children. Recently, members hosted a fund raiser for a fellow culinarian who became disabled and was without health insurance.
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