I spend a lot of time thinking about restaurants, food, where our food comes from, chefs, the people on the line doing the chopping, searing and serving. It’s interesting when you can trace something back to its source. These days people are into going back to the growers and the land. But I’m interested in going back in a different direction–back to the people who may someday be cooking your food.
Young people these days have not even a dim memory of the Home Ec classes of yesteryear. They probably know what they know of food from television or a parent if they’re lucky. Or maybe they have a friend or family member that works in the industry. They know its tough work, long hours, not so great pay, but there’s something that calls them to it.
I serve on the LA Board for C-CAP–Careers Through the Culinary Arts Profession–an organization that works with public schools to prepare high school students for college and career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Each year we hold a series of cooking competitions where students use the skills they’ve learned from C-CAP instructors and industry mentors to compete for scholarships to culinary programs and community colleges across the country.
As a past culinary graduate and culinarian I am often asked to judge these competitions. Now…I judge at culinary events pretty regularly–Pellegrino’s Almost Famous Chef Competition, The Chocolate Salon, this weekend’s Cochon 555, but this experience is different.
The competitors are all under 18, but they’re the most regal looking chefs you’ve ever seen, each trying to display a bit of their own style through their uniforms and cooking paraphanalia. And, while they’re all executing the exact same dishes as their fellow students, you can see the yearning to be different and the little pops of style here and there. They’re intense. They’re nervous. And they’re…they’d hate me for saying this…so sweet.
It seems amazing that kids with the entire world at their feet would choose this profession. Whether they think it’s a safe toss, or something to really strive for, they’re coming. Coming in droves.
I wish them the best of luck.