Chef earns prime certification

It seems like Atherton is in good hands.

Scott Tope, the executive chef in the Atherton Dining Hall, has earned his ProChef II certification from the Culinary Institute of America.

For this six-month program, Aramark has 25 slots open annually.  It takes a vice president within Aramark to recommend chefs, and then the chef must apply to the institute. The institute then accepts or declines the application.

“It’s based on experience and skill levels,” Tope said.

Food Service Director Stacey Puck said the ProChef Certification is “a comprehensive professional development and culinary skills verification program which measures core culinary, managerial and financial acumen, including a chef’s skill in taste, proper cooking methods, authenticity, plating, use of all ingredients and hygiene.”

The six-month process involves a lot of testing, according to Tope.  He was required to do online research and testing 10 weeks out, and two weeks before he went to the University of Minnesota to practice and get up to speed on everything. Tope then went to Hyde Park, N.Y., for a week.

A typical week for the chefs consisted of four 14- to 18-hour days of testing and studying.  Criteria lists were sent out three weeks before, so the chefs knew what to be ready for.

They were required to send the grocery lists in, but not everything on the list was purchased. This forces them to improvise, which improves their cooking styles.

Each day consisted of five hours of cooking, half an hour to an hour and a half of judges critiquing the prepared dishes, two hours of written testing and more critique and two hours of preparation for the next day.

“Each night we would head back to the hotel and spend four more hours studying,” Tope said. “Then, at 4 a.m. the next day, study groups began and by 6 a.m., we were back in the kitchen.”

During the testing process, chefs were tested on proficiency, management, finance, human resources, healthy cuisine and cooking, Mediterranean cuisine, baking and pastry, cold food, kitchen equipment and skills.

“It’s pretty much like a mini Master Chef exam,” Tope said.

Tope said this is probably his biggest accomplishment so far because it is only two levels under a Master Chef.

“The next level is ProChef III, and I’ll probably begin that in a year, to a year and a half,” he said.

This accomplishment means a lot for Tope’s career, he said, because he now has an institution showing a benchmark of where he is professionally.

“[This accomplishment] gives Butler the ability to say with pride that we have an accomplished, certified chef,” Tope said.

The quality of food is set to improve.

“We are very proud of how hard Scott has worked to achieve the certification of ProChef II,” Puck said. “He will be able to share the knowledge and skills he mastered through the certification within our dining program, both the residential components and catering.”

As for changes and future ideas for Atherton food, there looks to be a good amount of change coming to Butler.

On Friday, Tope started working with suppliers to find food trends and the interesting things that people will want to see and eat.

More healthy options will become available.  Already set up around the dining hall are the new hydration stations, the new deli, more sustainable produce and healthier soups.

Tope plans on using different methods of cooking, such as braising, smoking and making sure less saturated fats are used. He also said they will be working on a lot more Mediterranean foods.

“I would expect that he will bring a renewed passion for food and dining back to Butler,” Puck said.

Tope’s door is always open.

“I love e-mails and getting more ideas and suggestions,” Tope said. “We look at trends, but sometimes we miss the trends,” Tope said. “[If you have] trends, ideas, we’d love to hear them.”