Master Chef

The highest achievement an American chef can earn

Most people use the term "master chef" in a casual manner, usually to apply to anyone that’s good at cooking. This isn’t an accurate use of the term. Most people don’t realize that a master chef is an actual professional classification, along the lines of a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). To become a master chef, you must achieve the highest level of certification possible in American culinary arts. Those who receive this classification are given the title Certified Master Chef (CMC). Fewer than 100 people in the country hold this certification. Extensive training and recognizable excellence in several culinary arts programs are required before an individual can achieve this status.

The only organization capable of awarding the CMC certification is the American Culinary Federation. The master chef program was established back in 1981, as a means of encouraging chefs to strive for excellence and to improve the image of American chefs around the world. In order to pass the certification program, you have to endure a rigorous eight day long practical exam that tests your culinary knowledge and abilities. Topics covered by the test include use of ingredients, skills and techniques, presentation, timing of service and safety and sanitation.

Once you have completed all courses and classes in the Certified Master Chef program, there’s one final test that you must pass before you receive your certification. This test costs approximately $3,000 to take and, once you sign up, you must attend one of the next two scheduled tests. There are two approved testing sites. One is the campus of the The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and the other is the Institute’s California campus in Napa Valley.

Most people begin their path towards becoming a Certified Master Chef by getting a degree in culinary arts. Many choose to start with a two year Associate’s degree program, but some opt for a four year Bachelor’s degree instead.


In order to apply to take the master chef certification program, it’s important that you possess several key skills, traits and other criteria. These include:

  • A solid foundation of experience in the culinary arts, including advanced practical culinary skills.
  • A strong creative drive and a true passion for working with food in an artistic manner.
  • A willingness to work long hours under an extreme amount of pressure.
  • The ability to secure the proper funding to pay for all aspects of the course, which is valued at approximately $6,000 (including travel).


Those who have achieved master chef status have a big advantage when searching for a job. Many of the most prestigious restaurants, hotels and catering services are only interested in hiring certified chefs and are willing to pay top dollar for a true master chef. Annual salaries for master chefs typically fall within the range of $40,000 to $75,000.

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