In 1990, cookbook author and culinary educator Richard Grausman piloted a French cooking program in 12 New York City classrooms. But he noticed many of the students lacked not only job skills, but also prospects for a college education. At the same time, the culinary industry has a difficult time finding and retaining skilled employees.
Grausman connected the dots, and what was originally a program meant to instill a love of cooking in young people turned into the nonprofit Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), which helps underserved students gain the skills, experience, and contacts to enter the foodservice industry.
After Grausman figured out what abilities students were lacking and how to teach them, restaurants were quick to take on C-CAP students for shadow programs, internships, and summer jobs. “We’d tell a chef, ‘If we send you a student, you can be confident they’ll show up on time, will want to work and learn, and will have basic safety, sanitation, and knife skills,’” Grausman says.
There are many reasons why foodservice is a good prospect for at-risk students. “This industry permits people to make it to the top through grit and hard work,” says Christine Lee, national career adviser for the organization. “When we throw in education, it makes us all the stronger in reaching our goals.”
C-CAP now has 250 participating teachers in underserved schools in seven areas of the country, including Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and all of Arizona. These educators, who typically teach career and technical education or family and consumer science (what used to be called home ec), receive a curriculum enrichment program that includes training and materials to help them instruct students in culinary topics. C-CAP also brings chefs and other industry experts into the classrooms to share their experiences. Every C-CAP student is able to take advantage of training and job opportunities, college and career advising, and cooking contests that can lead to coveted scholarships.
C-CAP boasts a long list of success stories. Grausman’s favorite is Carlton McCoy, who lived in a neighborhood dubbed the “murder capital” of Washington, D.C. McCoy couldn’t decide whether to become a doctor or a chef, and Grausman, seeing the talent in his hands during a C-CAP competition in 2002, encouraged him to go the chef route. C-CAP helped McCoy land a job at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, and then offered him a scholarship to attend The Culinary Institute of America.
Today, McCoy is the wine director of The Little Nell, a five-star hotel in Aspen, Colorado. He’s also one of the youngest Master Sommeliers in the world, and the second African-American to earn the title.
C-CAP reaches 18,000 students annually. Last year Grausman stepped down as chairman, but the C-CAP vision is to prepare even more students for the culinary industry. The nonprofit is raising funds to start new programs in different cities, such as Detroit and Miami, and to build training kitchens that will help C-CAP students gain the hands-on skills they’ll need to land jobs.