The governing agency that has had the reputation and responsibility of certifying chefs of the highest caliber since 1929 is the American Culinary Federation (ACF). This credential is not handed out freely, and requires a considerable amount of education and work experience just to apply. The ACF requires a freshly educated chef to move up through the chain of command in order to obtain the Certified Executive Chef title. However, once this certification is obtained, opportunities for advancement and pay grades increase significantly.


Typically, a Certified Executive Chef, or CEC, has a formal culinary education. However, in some situations, life experience may compensate for the lack of formal education. For instance, those who have worked as an apprentice to a formally trained and/or certified chef may make the grade.

Work Experience

The ACF requires a minimum of 10 years of supervisory kitchen experience for CEC qualification. The qualifications are broken down into 10 years acting as the head of kitchen operations, supervisory experience overseeing a minimum of three employees involved with preparatory food service, and at least three years as an ACF-certified Chef de Cuisine, Executive Sous Chef, Pastry Chef or chef in charge.

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High School Equivalency

The candidate for ACF certification must also hold a high school diploma or G.E.D. in order to apply. Additionally, the ACF requests a minimum of 150 continuing culinary education hours beyond work experience or the graduation from a formal culinary school. These courses are generally in areas of management and supervision.

Written Examination

The ACF also requires a written examination for the CEC credential. The test is an examination of basic kitchen management, food handling and supervisory skills. There are 100 multiple choice questions given with an hour and a half to complete them. A passing score is considered to be 300 or above to satisfy these requirements. Candidates are allowed three attempts on the written exam in a calendar year, and the fee is $75.

Practical Exam

There is also a practical examination of skill efficiency. Chefs attempting the CEC credential should have a thorough understanding of proper food handling, cooking techniques and knife skills. In order to pass the practical examination, a minimum grade of 75 percent is considered acceptable. This certification is valid for one year.

About the Author

Robin Wood-Moen began writing in 2000. She is an academic researcher in health psychology, psychoneuroimmunology, religion/spirituality, bereavement, death/dying, meaning-making processes and CAM therapies. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in forensic-social sciences from University of North Dakota, a Master of Science in psychology and is working on her Ph.D. in health psychology, both from Walden University.