In your personal dining experience, you may think you know a master chef or two, but you probably don’t. “Master Chef” is a term that is tossed around rather casually, but the fact is that a Certified Master Chef (CMC) is an actual classification conferred upon those who endure a rigorous eight day long practical exam that tests your culinary knowledge and abilities. Established by the American Culinary Federation in 1981, the CMC program has fewer than 70 classified CMCs, and Delaware North Companies employs one of them – Chef Roland Henin – to oversee the culinary operations of this international company. Not long ago, The Ahwahnee’s Executive Chef, Percy Whatley, was approached by Chef Roland to embark on this certification course. In his blog entry on website Toqueland, Percy said, “A few years ago, Kevin Doherty, chef of Boston’s TD Garden, which like the Ahwahnee is a Delaware North Companies property, and I were nominated by Chef Roland Henin, our corporate chef and mentor, and a Certified Master Chef (CMC) himself, to be the ‘chosen ones’ and be supported in the venture of training and developing with the goal of passing the Certified Master Chef exam. The CMC exam takes place over eight days and 130 hours, and includes challenges in disciplines ranging from Classical Cuisine to Buffet Catering to Freestyle to Global Cuisine to Bakery and Pastry. Only 66 people have attained the level of CMC: one is Roland himself, who famously mentored Thomas Keller.”
With several years of study already under his belt, Chef Percy still must complete one final test in order to be certified at one of two campuses of the The Culinary Institute of America, either in New York or Napa Valley in 2014. In the meantime, you may be the beneficiary of Chef Percy’s ever-growing culinary knowledge during his Master Chef studies, as he oversees and prepares meals for the Signature Food & Wine Events in Yosemite that take place at The Ahwahnee every year: Vintners’ Holidays, Bracebridge Dinner and Chefs’ Holidays. During the fall, Vintners’ Holidays presents wine and the food it pairs with in a celebration that focuses on California winemaking. For the winter holidays, The Ahwahnee Dining Room is transformed into Bracebridge Hall of Merry Old England with a seven course feast and characters filled with song and good cheer. During the depths of winter, you can warm yourself at Chefs’ Holidays where the American culinary scene is showcased at cooking demonstrations and a gala dinner by visiting chefs. Packages including lodging, presentations and gala dinners are available for all three Signature Food & Wine Events.
Though you can plan to attend an event in Yosemite that features Chef Percy’s culinary creations, you may also be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time for an unexpected treat. This summer the Rotary Club of Yosemite shared a ‘practice’ California Luncheon prepared by Chef Percy that featured two choices: Summer Breeze menu featuring salmon and lobster vol-au-vent with watercress as well as local free-range roasted chicken and peach tart with huckleberry compote, or Plantation Supper menu featuring oxtail soup and roasted pork loin with chorizo and maple tequila glaze. The Master Chef certification test has no written component – it is simply a measure of the mastery of cooking skills and knowledge. For the Rotary Club luncheon, Chef Percy perused the stores of The Ahwahnee’s kitchen and created the menus that impressed club members with their spontaneity and inventiveness. We wish Chef Percy the best of luck with his CMC test in 2014, but we have a feeling he will pass with flying colors.