Helping Master Tasters Develop Palate Acuity

To become a ChefsBest Certified Master Taster® and participate in the judging panel, chefs must meet a number of pre-requisite requirements and undergo an arduous training process. In addition to holding years of experience in the industry, they must learn to quantify taste through objective evaluation. Upholding this training protocol, which only about 50% of chefs who undertake successfully complete, is essential to maintaining the independence of ChefsBest Awards.

Pre-Requisite Requirements

In order to be considered for ChefsBest training, chefs must hold either a culinary degree or a hospitality degree from an accredited institution. They must be considered an executive-level chef, a distinction reserved for those who have served in an advisory role in a kitchen, with responsibilities that range from menu creation to management of kitchen staff, ordering and purchasing of inventory, and plating design. Chefs who own or operate their own business, or those who serve as instructors at accredited culinary institutions also qualify for consideration.

We’re asking our chefs to act as a precise instrument. Just as you would calibrate your instruments in a lab, we train them for our panel. We’re all about repeatability and reliability. Janet Williams ChefsBest Sensory Director

Palate Acuity Testing

Once chefs have shown they meet pre-requisite requirements set by ChefsBest, they begin their training with rigorous palate acuity testing. They are initially screened for their ability to reliably discriminate between different samples. Chefs must be able to tell the difference between simply prepared samples, such as two waters, one of which is sweetened slightly more than the other, and more complex samples, such as two tomato sauces with different amounts of salt. As training progresses, chefs are presented with samples that have smaller and smaller differences.

The next step is ensuring that chefs can clearly describe foods they sample. They must be able to share their perceptions of foods tasted, and hear and consider descriptions offered by other panelists. To accurately relate to shared experiences with foods, beverages and culinary products, they must use a common language as their fellow judges. In this phase of training, chefs are assessed on their ability to make the acuity of their palates clear and accessible to others. In addition to individual testing, they are also interviewed by members of the ChefsBest team.

Sensory Attribute Quality Analysis™ (SAQA)

Once chefs complete palate acuity testing, they move on to learning about the ChefsBest proprietary judging methodology, Sensory Attribute Quality Analysis. SAQA helps to organize the sensory experience of eating into an objective set of dimensions, attributes and anchors that all judges can understand. At ChefsBest, attributes are measured in order of experience, starting with appearance and moving on to aroma, basic taste, flavor and texture. In this phase of training, chefs learn key terminology used in the process and how impartial moderators facilitate each blind tasting session. They also gain a deep understanding of how data is used to determine the Best Tasting product and whether products merit the ChefsBest Award of Excellence.

Chefs have a level of knowledge that consumers value and respect. Advice from them is a valuable shortcut to understand quality in a category. Scott Thompson ChefsBest Vice President of Operations

Judging Panel

After a chef has passed palate acuity screening, completed the interviews assessing their descriptive ability, and received initial training in the SAQA process, then they begin to participate in evaluation sessions. A limited number of trainees are allowed to participate in each session, although their data is initially segregated from experienced panelists. Their data is then reviewed to determine if they apply key terms and evaluate products in a way that shows consensus with experienced panelists. Over time, as they demonstrate the ability to execute the process properly, their scores are included in the final results. This process takes, on average, about 4 to 6 months, depending on the chef’s individual results.


Meet Some of Our Chefs

  • Alison Negrin

    Certified Master Taster

    Chef Alison Negrin holds two culinary degrees from California Culinary Academy and Bauman College for Holistic Nutrition. Her resume includes stints at prestigious restaurants including Chez Panisse in Berkley, California, and Bridges Restaurant near San Francisco. Alison has been recognized with several awards, for both her talent and mindfulness in the kitchen. In 2014, she was given the Women Who Inspire Award for Community Service from Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, and in 2012, she was given the Health Care Without Harm Food and Climate Change Award for Sustainable Purchasing. She now develops recipes and menus as a consultant for various companies, and teaches at Diablo Valley College of Culinary Arts.

  • Christina Cutino

    Certified Master Taster

    Chef Christina Cutino has been in the food and beverage industry for the past 25 years, of which 14 years have been spent as owner and operator of Cutinos Catering in San Francisco. Before starting her own company, she worked in the front of the house at numerous eating establishments throughout the San Francisco area. She holds a culinary arts degree from the California Culinary Academy.

  • James Reid

    Certified Master Taster

    Chef James Reid is a graduate from Hastings College in England, where he studied hotel and restaurant management. He has worked in fine restaurants throughout England, France and Germany, including work as a pastry chef at a Michelin two-starred restaurant. For nearly 20 years, James operated his own catering company, James Reid & Company, which was voted one of the top 10 Bay Area caterers by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1999. In 2001, he began creating and developing an exceptional line of decadent and hand-crafted truffle bars, which led him to open Sterling Truffle Bar in San Francisco three years later. In 2010, Sterling was recognized with a master award by International Chocolate Salon. Currently, James caters private parties and serves as a culinary instructor for the Job Corp at Treasure Island in San Francisco.

  • Julie Tan

    Certified Master Taster

    With over 25 years of professional culinary experience, Chef Julie Tan is one of the most experienced Certified Master Tasters on the panel. Although trained in the art of French cooking, Julie works closely with Chef Martin Yan developing recipes and cookbooks, and serving as culinary coordinator for Yan Can Cook productions. She has been featured on the Academy’s PBS series, The Academy’s World Cuisine, and Martin Yan’s PBS series, Asian Favorites, Martin Yan’s China and Taste of Vietnam. Julie also serves in a number of advisory positions within the industry, and she was welcomed as the first female member of an elite male club, The Gastronome Club. She has served on the board at the Center for Culinary Development Innovation for the past 15 years, and continues to teach at Le Cordon Bleu San Francisco, the Art Institute of San Francisco and Chow SF.

  • Lauren Cheong

    Certified Master Taster

    A trained pastry chef, Lauren Cheong studied at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and The French Pastry School in Chicago before earning her master's degree in gastronomy from the University of Adelaide, Australia. She has served as a pastry chef at Chez TJ in Mountain View, California, and as a research and development pastry chef at Full Bloom Baking Company in Newark, California. Lauren also loves to travel and often uses her itineraries when vacationing to incorporate searches for special breads, pastries, chocolate shops and cheeses.

  • Nicolas Baron

    Certified Master Taster

    Chef Nicolas Baron has traveled the world in the name of culinary arts. Following his initial chef training in France, he worked at two Michelin Star two-starred restaurants, Auberge du Vieux Logis under Master Chef of France Yves Louet, and Le Close Longchamps under Chef Maurice Brazier. He then earned his bachelor's degree in hospitality management from the University of Sydney, Australia before serving as a sous chef at Maxims Singapore for two years, followed by two years at Club Med Bali and Lindeman Island. He then served as a private chef for former Beatles lead guitarist, George Harrison, and his son, Dhanni. Before transitioning to private catering at Rebecca Jean Catering, where he now works as lead chef, he served on the executive catering team at Apple.