A career as a chef is grueling work, and you may have to earn your keep at first by stirring the pot -- literally.

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Certified Master Chef

­Becoming a certified master chef (CMC) is another thing altogether. You can be a chef-owner of a dozen four-star restaurants without earning the distinction of CMC. You can only become a CMC through The American Culinary Federation (ACF). It's the highest level of achievement for an American chef, and it's not easy to earn the honor -- there are less than 100 [source: Chef2chef.net].

The first thing required to become a CMC is certification as an executive head chef or pastry chef. Then you need to pass the exam, held only once a year. The test is a grueling eight-day experience. Candidates are expected to know and execute just about everything dealing with the classical technique. And it's not just about the cutting board and sauté pan. You also need to have exceptional skills in food preparation and be well-versed in kitchen safety and sanitation.

The cost of the certification is between $4,000 and $6,000, depending on travel and boarding costs, and it's the responsibility of the master chef in waiting to cover it. The exam fee itself is $3,300, and there's a nonrefundable $300 application fee.

If you think you have what it takes, you can find the application at the American Culinary Federation Web site. In addition to the application, you're required to send a letter of intent and two letters of recommendation from other certified master chefs. If desserts are your thing, you can also become certified as a master pastry chef. The cost and time make it difficult to acquire the title, but you'll be in select company if you make it through. Becoming a CMC will give you notoriety, the potential to earn more money and gain investors for your own restaurant. It's a nice feather in your cap, to boot.