Chef Milos Cihelka Interview

He was the first Certified Executive Chef in Michigan.

He's had 50 years of cooking experience in first class hotels, restaurants, and private clubs in Europe, Canada, and the United States.

He's appeared as a guest on numerous television programs and taught cooking classes for over 20 years in various stores, schools, and accredited culinary colleges.

He is Chef Milos Cihelka.

Q: Chef Cihelka, what first attracted you to a life of cooking?
A: Although I somehow managed to always be among the top ten percent of the class, I found school terribly boring and used to get into trouble for disruptive behavior. I could not see myself shining the seat of my pants going into higher education. Since I was a child, I liked to help my mother in the kitchen. My uncle had a plant which made pastry shop machinery. My father asked him to find me a job in a pastry shop with the idea that I could have my own business some day.

Q: Did you ever work at anything outside of cooking?
A: I have never worked outside of my profession. Never needed to or had interest in other work.

Q: Why did you serve dual apprenticeships, one for pastry baking and one for cooking? Were you unsure of what field you wanted to major in?
A: After I completed my pastry apprenticeship and received my diploma, someone advised me that I would be so-called better rounded, educated, if I also learned cooking. Many of the great chefs have done exactly that. It could be compared to a dentist going a step further — oral surgeon. And so, I entered into a second apprenticeship, cooking, which having a diploma in a related trade, I was allowed to complete in two years and at the ripe age of 19, I had Journeymen's diplomas in two trades. As I worked an average 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, I had plenty of spare time to learn foreign languages. So, I was fluent in English and German and understood some French.

Q: Explain the title, Certified Executive Chef. What does that mean?
A: The American Culinary Federation, a chefs' organization with 60,000 members, recognized by the Federal government as an authority, has a Certification Ladder, starting with a Registered Apprentice, Certified Cook, Certified Sous Chef, Certified Working Chef, Certified Executive Chef or a Culinary Educator and finally a Certified Master Chef. The progression is documented and tests are administered along the way. Beginning with a chef's position, the chef had to supervise a sizable staff in an approved establishment, not a McDonald's, had to train apprentices, win prizes in Approved Culinary Competitions, and complete mandatory college courses. A Certified Executive Chef has progressed through the certification ladder, has been in charge of a sizable crew for several years and passed more exams.

Q: What does it take to be a good cook? Since you taught cooking, can someone be good at it, even if they have no real interest or feeling for it?
A: To be a good cook, it helps if your mother was a good cook and you were exposed to good food early on. To have the ability to taste subtle nuances is also very important. I compare the sense of taste to the ability to hear music. Someone may have excellent hearing and yet sing or whistle completely off-key. Or, seeing, you may have 20/20 vision, but, can you paint or sculpt? Cooking to me is an art form, just as many other art forms and to be good at it, you have to have a natural talent, love to do it, and while learning it, actually be willing to suffer for it, just like other artists suffer. A person does not become a good cook by working bankers' hours and at a leisurely pace. In great professional kitchens the pace is incredibly fast, hours are long. In the summer, the temperature may reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooks get burned, cut, screamed at, chewed out, and continue without stopping. Just as in a circus, the show must go on! The customer is not interested in our problems, he wants his food now, and it better be right or he will not return! Anyone can be taught rudimentary, basic cooking, following a simple recipe, sort of like paint by number. But, once a problem arises, that person has no idea what happened, why it happened, when it happened, how to correct it and how to avoid it in the future. Someone who does not like to cook never will cook well.

Q: How long would you like to continue cooking?
A: I have no plans to continue cooking on a daily basis as a chef. I have done it for 50 years and that is enough!

© Gary James All Rights Reserved