Chef Michael (Mick) J. Beriau of Davisville Road, East Falmouth, spent a large part of his culinary career helping young chefs coming up in the field.
Now retired, he is continuing to support culinary professionals by partnering with Michael Pillarella, certified executive chef at the Wianno Club in Osterville, to reintroduce a chapter of the American Culinary Federation that would serve the South Shore and Cape Cod and the islands.
A chapter here before fizzled out some years ago. The two chefs, however, see a need for the support an ACF chapter could provide to the region, where the field is challenged with a seasonal economy.
Both have been active members of the federation and have won some of its highest honors. The ACF recognized Mr. Pillarella, who lives in Marstons Mills, as the Northeast Chef of the Year. Mr. Beriau received the Herman G. Rusch Chef’s Achievement Award for the Northeast Region, the organization’s lifetime achievement award.
“In order to win this award, it is not enough to be a talented chef. You have to be a mentor and educator and have done it for many years,” Mr. Pillarella said. “That is where Mick shines.”
During a career spanning 35 years, Mr. Beriau has seen how the culinary landscape has changed. He started his career in 1967, working in a family restaurant, Bill’s Place in North Eastham, run by his aunt and grandfather. He worked his way up through the ranks and managed the restaurant during the summer when he was 18.
“It was a Cape Cod restaurant—clams in a basket,” Mr. Beriau said. “High end was roast turkey or pot roast.”
The cooking standards, however, were always high with his family.
“I came from a French family,” he said. “If you were going to make a pot roast, make it the best it can be.”
After his family sold the restaurant, colleagues suggested that Mr. Beriau work in a hotel kitchen. A Sheraton was opening up in Worcester, so Mr. Beriau headed north. There was a lot to learn from the hotels then that were run in the old European style, he said.
“Those days hotels had their own butcher, pastry chef, cold food chef,” Mr. Beriau said. “The discipline in hotels made you astute. You didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.”
The executive chef at the Sheraton recognized Mr. Beriau’s commitment and encouraged him to go on to culinary school.
Mr. Beriau saved up money by working at a resort during the summer where his brother was a chef and where his room and board were paid for. After three summers, Mr. Beriau had earned enough to pay for his education at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
“It’s like taking 10 years of experience at different hotels and condensing it down to two years,” Mr. Beriau said about his time at the institute.
After he finished his classes in the afternoon, he sat in on the night classes, too.
“I was getting double the education for the money,” Mr. Beriau said.
He started competing as a chef after he finished school and began working in fine dining private clubs.
“I started to hear from people, ‘This is so good,’ ” he said. “Well, I thought, ‘How good is it? How do I compare to chefs in Boston?’ ”
Competition was stiff; he realized at his first contest, the Grand Pastry buffet in Boston in 1977. He described the experience as humbling.
Mr. Beriau continued to compete, expanding to cold foods and other categories. His dream was to attend the Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany, and win the gold, which he eventually did in 1988.
A gold medal win was a requirement to become an American Culinary Federation judge and so he began traveling nationally, judging events, and serving as a mentor to younger chefs.
“I did my thing,” Mr. Beriau said. “It was my turn to give back.”
The ACF offered a way to get out of the restaurant to network and learn from other chefs, fostering professionalism and education.
“It’s all about life beyond the line,” Mr. Beriau said.
Through the years Mr. Beriau was not solely in the kitchen. He worked as a corporate chef at Dole & Bailey Inc., where he worked with food scientists to analyze and develop new and cost-effective cuts of beef, talking with cattlemen in the West about how chefs on the East Coast felt about the newer cuts, such as the flat iron steak and petite tender. This job allowed him more flexibility when his two sons were young.
Mr. Beriau has seen the field become more competitive. Chefs now cannot specialize in one dish or style anymore, he said. They have to be good at everything and, to do this, they need to diversify and get out to see what is happening from the New York restaurants to the streets of Beijing. Mr. Beriau said that there are also at least 25 more culinary schools in the country compared to when he attended the culinary institute.
He believes life in the kitchen has also become more cordial.
“The day of the screaming chef is over,” he said. “We are a lot more educated than we used to be. Human kindness is more prevalent.”
The ACF-certification system brings professionalism in the field, he said. The ACF established that executive chefs be recognized as professionals rather than service staff in 1976.
During the rise of celebrity chefs, Mr. Beriau said he could have tried to get a publicist, but he was busy with other interests.
During the last stage of his career he was the executive chef at the White Cliffs Country Club in Plymouth. A young chef he mentored through a gold medal win at the Culinary Olympics, Heather A. Miller, took over his position there when he retired.
“Watching her flourish is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life—to see her do well and do better than myself. That’s big to me.”
Mr. Beriau and Mr. Pillarella held their first chapter ACF meeting in Falmouth. About 60 people attended. They are planning their next meeting for after the summer in September.
“We’re open and receptive to anyone in the culinary profession,” Mr. Pillarella said. “It’s not simply for chefs.”
To attend the next meeting, people may contact Mr. Pillarella at firstname.lastname@example.org.