Prior to taking the helm of the ACF, Brock Brown served two terms as vice president of the Southeastern region. Membership engagement, student mentorship, and giving women and minorities a voice are key goals for her presidency—she’s also determined to provide more opportunities and resources for pastry chefs.
FSR caught up with Brock Brown to discuss her plans for the ACF and why representation at the leadership level is so important.
How did you get started as a chef?
I was a home economics major back in high school so I always did like to cook. I just didn’t know about being a chef. It just wasn’t a word that was in my vocabulary. After high school, I moved from the Chicago suburbs to my sister’s place in Texas. I got a job waiting tables and got more into it. One day the chef didn’t show up so we waitresses would be in the back trying to do this or that or scramble an egg on industrial equipment that I had never been around before.
Then I read in the paper about a young man who graduated from the ACF apprentice program with an associate degree from El Centro College [now Dallas College]. That was it; I was ready to go to school. By the fall, I was enrolled.
What impact has the ACF had on you and your career?
I can’t figure out how it is that I would be where I am today if it had not been for my involvement with the ACF. Moving up through the ranks was surely happenstance or just from being tired of not having enough minorities, women of color, and pastry people. I’ve always kind of felt like it was like a triple whammy being Black, female, and in pastry, so I’ve always had to work a little harder. How can we be represented better if we’re not there at the table to speak to whatever the issues are? The more diverse of a crowd you have at the table, the better your results will be.
What does it mean to you to now be elected president of ACF?
People were asking me years ago if I was going to run for president, and I said, are you kidding? But as more people asked me, it really kicked in. Basically, how am I talking to all these people, mentoring all the ladies about leaning in and taking advantage of opportunities if I have an opportunity and I don’t take it? I’m only the third female who’s been on the national board and the first female of color, so how can I not take the opportunity when I’m in a position to do so? All I had to do was try. Even to win the regional vice-presidency was like an oh, my God moment. It signifies to me that our group, while still majority white men, are ready for something different and ready for change.
You’ve also discussed the need for more pastry arts programming.
I would still like to see more pastry stuff happening. I love lamb, but if I have to see one more lamb demo… It has nothing to do with what I’m doing as a pastry chef. We need more baking and pastry stuff. Anytime there are baking [programs], we pastry chefs almost couldn’t get in the room because so many other chefs were there. They want to learn it, too. They want to see it because it’s fascinating to them, but for us, it’s what we do. We need to learn something new.
Why do you think representation at the leadership level is so important?
I remember when ACF was partnering with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. I was one of the examiners who proctor tests for people who want to become ACF-certified. We had about 15 people who we were taking exams on the cruise that week, and they were all guys.
One day I was in the chef’s office counting off scores, and one of the female colleagues—who was Black and from the Caribbean—came and talked to me. I asked why she didn’t take the test. She said, “Well, they didn’t ever really talk to us, so we just figured it wasn’t for us.” I said that this is for you and that you need to make them talk to you and teach you. She just didn’t feel like it was for her because she’d never seen a woman or a person of color with the patches I had on my jacket. She’d only seen white people, white guys.
Looking ahead, what are your hopes for ACF and the greater foodservice industry?
I hope we all go back to thriving or get better—be it paying people a livable wage or having better margins so people can open businesses or keep their businesses. COVID did a lot of things, but many things were already wrong with our industry as a whole.
The ACF has done right by me, and it’s been a game changer in my career—just being able to utilize everything they have to offer, like the certifications and networking. Getting to network and talk to people so that they know you so when something opens up is key. My goal is to grow the membership, get some more chapters active again, get some fresh blood, and keep our students motivated. We got to pass this onto somebody. Cheers to 90 years, but let’s say cheers to 100 and more.