Nov. 11, 2022 – In 2014 as Chef Daryl Shular waited to hear if he had passed the 130-hour, eight-day cooking exam to reach the apex of his career as a Certified Master Chef (CMC), he was operating on about five hours of sleep each night for the previous seven nights and had just finished cooking nonstop for 10 hours on the final day. “It’s really like sitting in the doctor’s office,” Chef Shular said to Chaîne during a Nov. 2, 2022 telephone interview. “I just remember my stomach, the worst feeling you can have.” And then the judges held glasses of champagne to welcome Daryl and one other chef, out of 11 who began the exam, to the elite society of less than 75 Master Chefs in the United States.
Chef Shular did not arrive at this pivotal moment in his life accidentally. Daryl traces his interest in and inspiration for a culinary career to his mother who cooked not only for her family but also for her neighbors. Daryl fondly remembers waking up to the aroma of his mom’s oxtails simmering on the stove with her special blend of aromatics and spices, and hearing that his mother’s coconut cake would cap off dinner. “My mom was a really good cook,” he said. She also had a big heart.
Daryl said his mom always made more than the family could eat so she would take food to her church on Sundays and distribute meals to her neighbors. After dinner, she would wrap six or more meals in foil. “I would go up and down the street like a mailman and deliver the food packages. That’s one of my wonderful memories of my mother,” Daryl said.
In 1992, Daryl left his home in central Florida to enroll in the hospitality/culinary arts program at The Art Institute of Atlanta. Commencement keynote speakers are often quickly forgotten but to this day, Daryl credits Chef Darryl Evans, his commencement speaker, with inspiring his path forward. Chef Evans was a member of the 1992 U.S. Culinary Olympic Team. “I was so much in awe. His name was Darryl. My name was Daryl. I said, Wow, you can combine sports and cooking together and make a career out of it. That’s what I wanted to do. From that moment on, everything I did led me to becoming a member of the U.S. Culinary Olympic Team.”
U.S. Culinary Olympics
He joined the American Culinary Federation (ACF) in 1993 to learn about culinary competitions and network with colleagues. It did not take long for Daryl to succeed. In the next few years, he notched 12 Gold Medals and eight “Best in Show” awards in local and national competitions. In 2008, he did what Chef Evans inspired him to do and became a member of the ACF U.S. Culinary Olympic Team. But that was just the beginning.
Against 63 teams at the 2008 IKA Culinary Olympics (Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung), held every four years in Erfurt, Germany, the U.S. team earned an Olympic Gold Medal. Daryl was then named team captain for the ICS International Culinary Regional Team that competed at the 2012 Culinary Olympics.
There was one proud mom in central Florida. “Her words of affirmation inspired me to pursue the path of greatness,” Daryl said. It was also a dream she had years before that motivated Daryl to succeed. Before he was born, his mom had a dream the baby she was carrying was a grown man sitting on a large chair in a large, grand room. Her baby was destined to greatness, she dreamed. “I owed it to her to try and make that dream come true,” he said.
Certified Master Chef Exam
Following his success as an international culinary competitor, in 2014 he decided to apply to take what he describes as “the test of a lifetime,” the CMC examination. It’s not so much a matter of being ready to take the exam but rather, a natural progression in a chef’s career that dictates the best time for individual chefs to seek the gold standard of certifications. Chefs put years of experience on the line and most of them fail to achieve the certification on their first try. Daryl’s understanding of both the physical and mental challenges the exam presented were instrumental to his success.
As he arrived in Pasadena, California in 2014 to take the exam, he realized it was 20 years of hard work that brought him there. “Your heart starts to pound. The emotions start to kick in. For me, I wanted to find my own strategy in how to deal with the anxiety.”
And what a unique strategy he developed! “I printed photos of all of the judges and taped them to the mirror in my bathroom so when I was getting ready for that day’s work, I could look at their faces and have a mental edge.”
That solitary time was enough to solidify the mental edge he wanted during each of the exam’s grueling eight days. He set his alarm for 4 a.m. so he could be out the door by 5 a.m. to have time for breakfast at a local coffee shop. With a 7 a.m. report time, Daryl decided to strategically arrive at 6 a.m. so he had plenty of time to be mentally ready for that day’s five-hour cooking assignment.
The candidates’ days ended in late afternoon after they picked their start time and assignment for the next day. But there was a second shift. After grabbing dinner, Daryl said it was back to his hotel room to research the next day’s assignment and submit his food requisition by mid evening. He had to be spot-on with the requisition. “If you order two quarts of heavy cream and only need one cup, you get dinged,” he explained. After completing that last task and winding down, it was close to 11 p.m. and time to grab a little sleep before starting all over again.
Similar to a marathon, the exam was truly a test of stamina and fitness but also not far off from reality. “I put in almost 100 hours last week,” he said.
The final day, with only five of the original 11 chefs still standing, included two back-to-back, five-hour cooking segments, first a global segment and then a free-style mystery basket in which the chefs had to prepare 10 portions of a five-course meal for the judges. Daryl performed the entire exam without any recipes, just notes.
It’s that level of experience, expertise and energy that CMC initials represent.
At the conclusion of his mystery basket segment, Daryl joined the other four chefs in a waiting room. One by one, the candidates were called into a room to learn their fate. Three of them came out after 20 to 30 minutes to say they did not pass. As Daryl and another chef sat there experiencing a roller coaster of emotions, both of them were called into the room. One judge said, “Grab your #@%& and let’s go. You guys just passed. We’ve got a party for you.” They walked across the street to be greeted by all of the judges holding glasses of champagne.
“You just fall to your knees. It’s such a swing of emotions that even now I feel it. You saw grown men on the floor crying,” Daryl said.
Daryl’s mom passed away in 2016 so she lived to see her son become the first African American chef become a CMC. Her legacy lives on in Daryl’s ongoing focus on culinary education.
The Shular Institute
He knew he always wanted to be a businessman so in 2014 shortly after achieving his CMC certification, he began writing a business plan for a new kind of culinary school. Actively working in and carefully studying culinary education, Daryl concluded culinary schools were not keeping up with the times.
As students enter traditional culinary schools, they are instructed in the basics and find themselves spending a lot of time peeling onions and making chicken stock, all of which ends up in the trash. And worst of all, it does little to prepare them for the real world.
“Students spend all of this money in culinary school learning how to peel onions in a pot but when they get hired, they freeze up when they get on the line and hear that ticket machine start to roll off the hook,” he said.
To set a new standard for culinary education, in 2020, Daryl and Sean Rush, his business partner and Vice President of Operations, founded The Shular Institute in Tucker, Georgia near Atlanta. By aligning with corporate partners, their students gain real world experience from day one. The Institute also covers the basics by offering students a comprehensive curriculum that includes instruction in high level cooking techniques, the science of those techniques, technological innovations, best business practices and last but not least, the role of a chef as a global citizen. By 2024, they anticipate an enrollment of 200 to 300 students.
On their website in bold letters, they say, “We Start Where Culinary School Ends.”
The curriculum has three different tracks to meet the needs of all students interested in pursuing a hospitality/culinary arts career. Their Culinary Introduction track has been developed for students with little to no experience in culinary arts. Students must apply for the program and go through a vetting process. The Advance 1 track has a focus on International cuisine with a management focus. The final option is an Entrepreneurial track. Their student to teacher ratio is never more than 12 to 1. With their corporate partners, The Shular Institute is able to offer students low tuition costs, work-study options, and merit-based grants to make education affordable and even tuition free.
In summer 2022, Daryl and Sean launched a program in Milwaukee for at-risk students in the criminal justice system to help them rebrand themselves by channeling their street skills to a new career. “If you’re a hustler on the streets, hustle in the kitchen. If you’re marketing on the streets, market within the industry,” Daryl said. “We’re just trying to save lives and do it in a way they can get jobs or be on a track to be a future entrepreneur. And make their families proud as well.”
With workforce challenges facing the industry everywhere, Daryl believes technological innovations that are already here will expand. Robots will most likely be delivering food to tables in the not so distant future and even performing basic tasks in the kitchen. But there will never be a robot to replace leaders committed to nurturing youth and supporting the industry.
“Seeing my students graduate with the mind of helping others, to me, that is truly the ultimate reward because if you have the mindset of helping others, you’ve tapped into the heart of hospitality,” Daryl said.
Little did Daryl know as he was delivering meals to neighbors years ago that his mother had given him such a strong heart that he would one day reach the pinnacle of his profession and deliver excellence to a global neighborhood.
- The Shular Institute (Tucker, Georgia)
- FARMED Kitchen + Bar (Bar and restaurant operated as part of the educational experience at The Shular Institute)
- BWANA (Nonprofit that provides culinary scholarships to students enrolled in The Shular Institute)
- The Art Institute of Atlanta
- ACF U.S. Culinary Competitions