Editors Note: The original title of the interview was “Journey to the Kitchen.” During a “light bulb” moment, we decided “Class Act” was more fitting for a man that has taught and influenced so many individuals to pursue culinary careers. Let us know what you think of the new title!
In a prior interview with Chef Kelvin Fernandez, we learned that Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) played a big part in launching his culinary career. C-CAP is a national non-profit leader in providing culinary career opportunities for at-risk high school students. After visiting their website to learn more about the organization, we decided to reach out to the man behind the vision of C-CAP, cookbook author and culinary educator Richard Grausman.
FP: We love the concept of C-CAP as you’ve provided so many opportunities for high school students to pursue careers in the hospitality industry. How did the concept come about?
RG: I had been teaching French Cooking around the U.S. for Le Cordon Bleu school of cooking in Paris from 1969-85. In 1989, through a variety of circumstances, I found myself in New York City high schools helping to upgrade their Home Economic classrooms. In these classes, I found that the school system had failed the students and most of them had no possibility of going to college and no job prospects. Seeing the untapped abilities of these young people, I believed through proper culinary education, I could help them obtain rewarding careers in the food service and hospitality industry, which needed skilled employees.
By teaching students basic culinary skills and some French recipes from my cookbook At Home With the French Classics (now French Classics Made Easy), they gained the confidence to get a job in the industry. Teaching them the importance of showing up to work on time, proved even more important to their success. It was with this challenge of teaching a focused number of culinary skills together with the soft skills of employment that C-CAP was born.
FP: We understand that the late James Beard was a big influence in your growth as a professional. Share with us your relationship with him.
RG: Jim had the ability to make you feel at ease in his kitchen, and he always complimented you on the things you did well. So even in the early days, before I thought of cooking seriously, he told me that I made good omelets and soufflés. That gave me the confidence to eventually think of cooking as a profession. Later when I became the first representative of the famed French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, Jim was very warm and generous in sharing his knowledge and his contacts in the press. He was always supportive of my work.
FP: When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself?
RG: Cooking is not something one generally does just for yourself, since most of the pleasure comes when cooking for others. From time to time, I do find myself without family or friends and in those instances I often splurge on a well-aged New York Strip steak that I either grill or sauté au poivre, using the recipe in my book. I love baby spinach, which I blanch for a minute, drain and press gently to remove the excess water and then toss in butter and a touch of salt.
FP: Your original cookbook, At Home With the French Classics (now French Classics Made Easy), is easily one of the most popular cookbooks. Do you have plans to write another book in the future?
RG: I’ve been working daily for the past 23 years to help young people get started in the food service industry and haven’t had time to develop new recipes. Since I still love the recipes in my book and receive words of praise from new readers each year, I know the book continues to give pleasure to new cooks of all ages and I do not see another cookbook on the horizon. I have been asked, over the years to write about my work with C-CAP and the day may come for me to do that.
FP: A book about your work with C-CAP is a great idea! We’re sure lots of people would be interested in learning more about the organization.
What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
RG: Foie Gras, Triple Crème Cheese, and Ice Cream. You get the idea…
FP: All true foodie pleasures indeed!
Explain the feeling you get when you see C-CAP graduates like Kelvin Fernandez and so many others establish themselves as true professionals.
RG: If you are a parent, you’ll understand the pride and pleasure one gets from watching your children succeed.
FP: We’re not parents but can only imagine the influence you’ve had on young professionals. Chef Kelvin told us that you’re like a father to him.
What advice would you give novice chefs?
RG: Make sure you enjoy the hard work of a dishwasher or prep cook, that you have a passion for food and the industry, always seek out good chefs to work for and constantly improve your knowledge and skills. Focus on your skills and the pleasure you get from pleasing others and you will be successful.
FP: Words to live by for sure! Thank you again for your time.
For more information on Richard Grausman, visit http://www.ccapinc.org/grausman-bio.php
To learn more about the history of C-CAP visit http://www.ccapinc.org/history.php