Ships’ Cook Certificate Assessment – advise from a chef who has just done it
Thanks to a chef for providing this info…
The Ships Cook Certificate….
The Ships cook certificate, like it or lump it……… but its here to stay!
Avoid it like a visit to the dentist if you dare but the fact is it’s only a matter of time before the other flag states that are MLC compliant make it compulsory.
I have just completed the ships cook assessment exam in Antibes and having not been overly impressed with my own performance on both of the practical days I thought that I would use my experience to assist other chefs who are just about to embark on the assessment course.
Firstly the exam is professionally run by professional chefs and there is nothing amateurish about the operation at all. I made the mistake of attempting the exam after having four months off and I would recommend that you attempt the exam whilst your timing and skillset is on plus and all-round its not easy.
The assessors are on your side and want you to pass and will do everything possible to assist and guide you in the exam. Having said that the SCC is Darwin’s ‘natural selection’ theory in practice. Those chefs who are not up to the new MLC required Marine cookery standard will fail and have to re-sit the exam.
Any chef who thinks he/she can simply waltz in and do the ‘exam only’ wearing flip-flops and waltz out with the certificate think again. Like most things in life ‘you get out what you put in’.
The practical is essentially a ‘job trial situation where you are in an unfamiliar galley competing with up to 11 other chefs. Secondly the oral and theory elements are based on the Level 2 city and guilds cooking diploma text and other relevant maritime basics i.e. MARPOL.I wish I had known these facts three weeks ago.
The exams are essentially a condensed version of the full two/three week marine cookery course that can be completed in Newcastle, UK.
Remembering that the exam is an assessment the first thing chefs have to realise is that its assumed that you already know the basics that are covered in the practical and theory as contained in the text book.
Any chef going into the exam with the attitude that ‘the boss likes my food and that’s all that matters’ will go down in flames.
Chefs must understand that the SCC is aimed at assessing a cooks ability as per the new 2006 MLC act i.e. as a crew cook are you up to the new code?
The assessors are assessing you on your understanding of the full marine cookery course not your ability to please the owners and charter guests. They are two completely different kettles of fish and the sooner chefs realise this the sooner pre-exam anxieties will be appeased. So a few facts-
*There are over 8000 yacht chefs registered with a leading recruiter. Of the 8000 45% are not qualified.
*The statistics show that the chefs who DO NOT complete the Secrets De Cuisine prep-course for the SCC exam stand a higher chance of failing
*To sit for the Secrets De Cuisine course you must be applying for the SCC as an experienced cook i.e. have land based experience or one months sea time as a chef.
*Any yacht that is MLC compliant and is UK/Euro flagged with 10 or more crew must have a certified ships cook on board at all times as 5th Feb 2015 i.e. winter or yard periods. Other yacht flags that are MLC compliant have, for the moment left it up to the owner to decide that the chef meets all the MLC requirements for the crew.
Previous information in the press misleads chefs into thinking that it was ‘charter’ yachts only. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the worlds flag states adopt the SCC as a standard requirement for private/charter yachts that are MLC compliant.
*The food safety certificate needed to apply for the SCC with the MCA must be the official accredited exam, which has been successfully completed at an approved training centre. Any chef still thinking that an online course is sufficient think again.
The assessors need to eye ball you and make sure that you are physically completing the exam up to code. Its all about due diligence, morals and legal issues associated with HACCP.
*Yes you have to make puff pastry but the goal of the exercise is to access your workflow and time management as well as skillset on this technical preparation.
So my advice to all chefs embarking on the course soon prepare yourself.
My advise to experienced chefs would be to enrol as soon as possible for the full five day course offered by the Secrets De Cuisine. Post 5th Feb numbers are going to swell and you want to avoid doing your exam in a large class.
If you are not experienced my advice would be to do the full marine cookery course in Newcastle, UK.
Be fully aware that chefs have failed this exam and there has not been a 100% group pass rate as yet. As I have mentioned, it’s not easy for a number of reasons.
My immediate advice would be-
- Do a pre-prep Level 2 food safety course online course to educate yourself for the official Secrets De cuisine Level 2 city and guilds Food safety exam that you will sit on the Monday afternoon.
- Do a pre-prep occupational health and safety online course before attempting the Secrets De cuisine pre-prep course and the official SCC theory exam
- Obtain the NVQ Level 2 practical cookery textbook and go back to school. You will need to know about nutrition, food costing, religious dietary considerations, provisioning, galley financial planning, OHS issues and book keeping as per QUICKEN soft where.
- Sit down with your First mate and go through the garbage log and MARPOL and completely learn all the requirements
5) As each student’s practical exam is different as is the theory exam there is no way to prepare for the practical. You are either up to code or you are not. That’s what the SCC is all about! You can obtain the syllabus and this will give you an excellent ‘heads up’ on what you can expect on the day.
The guts of it…….…
Having said all of that you will still want to know what to expect to calm those nerves.
The course now runs for five days.
DAY ONE: On the morning of the first day you will complete the theory for the Food Safety certificate in the upstairs classroom. You then sit a mock exam that leads to the actual exam in the afternoon. You must obtain 70% to pass. You find out immediately the good news or the bad news.
Take my advice and pre-educate yourself on the theory.
DAY TWO: On the second day you will complete the prep course that deals specifically with the bakery element of the exam. You will cover puff pastry, sweet pastry, savoury pastry, breads, creams etc. etc.
This is an observational class and you are not required to cook. If you are lucky Cedric will school you on how to make macaroons…and that’s for free!
DAY THREE: On the third day in the morning you will be educated on the theory contained in the exam. Again take my advice and educate yourself with the practical text, marpol, occupational health and safety issues.
The theory exam is part of the ships cook certificate and it’s where most chefs who ‘walk in’ and do the exam only are failing. Sure you can cook great charter food but for the MCA to certify you as a ships cook they need to know that you understand the new MLC 2006 requirements as a certified ships cook.
In the afternoon you will sit the theory exam. It can last up to three hours. You will not find out if you have passed or not on the day. The exam is made up of multi choice, written and mathematical costing questions. Some of the questions will test your knowledge as far back as your original STCW training courses.
Also worth noting is that during the prep-course and actual exams the class numbers may alter. Some chefs are doing the prep-course only and some chefs turn up to do the exams only and the smart ones are the ones who complete the full five-day course. My tip is to study the above textbook.
DAY FOUR: SAVORY EXAM On the fourth day you muster in the classroom at approx. 9am and this is when reality kicks in and the gloves are off!
Make sure you bring your own knifes, wear a chef’s uniform and have read the syllabus as to the criteria used to score on the exam. It’s not all about cooking and food and OHS safety are important elements in the scoring criteria!
You choose a menu folder and from that point on you are on your own.
The savoury menu is completely random and could be based on Asian or French cuisine as an example. From memory there are about eight items. You may have to prepare a classic egg dish or a potato, sauce and vegetable dish boning and grilling the sea bass for example. You prepare a work flow plan and then obtain your raw ingredients and then go down to the kitchen and begin the exam at approx. 9-30am.Again to succeed my advise is to obtain the syllabus and educate yourself on what you can expect on the exam. This is when it gets hard. If you were in your own galley surrounded by all of your gadgets you would have the home ground advantage. But you are not and you must quickly deal with this fact. There are several items that need to prepared for marking. Some preparations are the base for another preparation i.e. stock to consume`. During the exam or after you have a 10 question oral exam where you must answer any of a number of questions i.e. what are the 5 principles of HACCP? My advise on the exam is to take your time and not rush. Use all of the time allotted and don’t feel any pressure to be the first finished. It’s not a race and its clearly explained in the syllabus the basis used for assessment. Pre choose where you are going work taking into consideration the classic workflow tri-angle. You need to score 70% to pass and realistically I would say between 70-80% is a mean pass mark. To really score highly on the exam you need to raise the bar and take the food to the next level i.e. most chefs are managing to present a simple grilled fillet of sea bass. If you were to present it as a stuffed paupiette that would take it to the next level but easier said then done considering the ‘job trial’ pressure and timings on the day. You are not told if you passed or failed but common sense will prevail as to how you progressed…
DAY FIVE: BAKERY On the fifth day you complete the assessment and the bakery exam is where some chefs are having trouble according to the stats.
Again you must remember the preparations are based on the textbook and the syllabus clearly states what could be expected i.e. read the syllabus and practice on your yacht. You may be able to produce amazing molecular gastronomy or ‘fruit based’ desserts as per the principals requirements but it will not help you on the practical exam. Generally speaking the menus are based on classic French/British bakery preparations and technics.
Again you muster in the classroom and are given a menu folder at random.
My advice is to get cracking as soon as possible, hint: yeast products take time to rise! During the exam you again receive 10 oral questions at random by the examiner. These questions are not necessarily bakery orientated.
The bakery exam contains eight items that must be completed by approx. 1-2 pm successfully. This does not mean one preparation only per item i.e. a baked Alaska requires several preparations and timings to achieve the end result.
Be forewarned the bakery exam needs to be taken seriously and the devil is in the preparation and practice that you put in before the exam.
I would practice all of the syllabus items on your yacht to be prepared.
Furthermore you cannot underestimate the ‘job trial’ pressure that is felt from walking into an unfamiliar kitchen.
After the exam the assessors compile the scores and you are called up to the classroom to be given the good news or bad news.
Simply put all you need is 70% to pass. The MCA just see the certificate in your application and not your overall score.
I would say that everybody who has completed the assessment agrees that in their own galley they would cook the exam to a much higher standard but the reality is that you must pass the exams on site and be witnessed by the asserors to be up to the minimum 70% overall standard as per the syllabus.
If you fail a component i.e. savoury you do have the opportunity to come back and re-sit the practical component at a far reduced fee.
As previously mentioned the asserors are there to help and educate you.
The want you to pass.
After passing your exam and assuming you are applying as an experienced chef you can collect your certificate from Bluewater that afternoon.
In application I submitted certified copies of the following-
- Bluewater assessment in marine cookery certificate,
- A photocopy of my relevant seaman’s discharge book page showing at least 1 months sea time
- A Captains reference showing 12 months sea-time (just to be safe)
- Level 2 City and Guilds Food safety certificate
- Completed application form
- Two passport photos that had been verified by my Eng. 1 doctor
- My current Eng. 1
- Stcw inc security awareness training certificates
- Photocopy of my passport.
Eventually I will receive a professional ‘ticket’ that looks very much like a British passport.
In conclusion chefs must accept that the SCC will become mandatory worldwide as a means to professionalise the industry. Captains and crew agents are already asking for it. Take the exam seriously and prepare thoroughly by studying and practicing the items mentioned on the syllabus. Take your time during the practicals and don’t feel the pressure to be first remembering the morals learned in the hare and tortoise story.