Hong Kong and the mainland have reached an informal understanding to unify their qualifications for Chinese-cuisine chefs, giving locally certified chefs recognition across the border. 'We have effectively agreed that a Chinese chef with the highest qualification in Hong Kong will be recognised as having achieved the mainland's top certification,' Association of Restaurant Managers president Ching Kee said. 'But nothing has been made official yet as we are still finalising the details.' The mainland uses a five-tier certification system for chefs. The Education and Manpower Bureau said while Hong Kong used no such rankings, it was moving towards adopting four levels of certification through discussions between government, the industry and course providers. 'Mutual recognition between Hong Kong and the mainland is our ultimate goal, but we obviously need to have our own framework in place first,' a bureau spokesman said, adding that no timetable had been set for establishing Hong Kong's system. The details of what criteria would be included in each of the skill levels were still being worked out. The lowest level would probably include basic chopping skills, while higher qualifications would apply to cooking ability as well as kitchen hygiene and knowledge of nutrition. The government does not plan to make certification of chefs mandatory. Mr Ching said Chinese-cuisine chefs with proven cooking skills and many years of experience, but no formal qualification, would be exempt from taking certification courses and exams. 'We're not going to consider two or three years as having experience, but a Chinese chef with 20 years is obviously not going to have to take any courses,' he said. 'However, it would be good for the chef to learn about management and other skills.' It had not been decided how many years of experience would be needed to qualify for each of the four certifications, he said. Western cuisine normally uses a seven-tier system, ranging from the lowest, commis chef, to the highest, executive chef.