Program Offers Kids Future in Restaurant Biz

"We see them responding to caring adults who provide them with a strong academic preparation," said Rizzo. They "help them to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

As the son of an immigrant truck driver and the first member of his family to graduate from high school, Santana said he wouldn't be living the life he is today if it weren't for the cooking program.

"If I wasn't a cook," he said, "I'd be probably working, doing deliveries in a truck."

Rizzo said that with an average graduation rate of 68 percent in U.S. high schools, programs like C-CAP are vital.

"Schools that have programs like C-CAP are absolutely ahead of the curve," said Rizzo. "They are going to be models for the rest of the country as folks try to find solutions to this appalling graduation rate."

Empowering Youth

The Careers through Culinary Arts Program was started by Richard Grausman, the former U.S. representative for Le Cordon Bleu, a French culinary school. The inspiration came while Grausman was teaching French cooking in the United States.

"I began to see that the palate of America was rather narrow," said Grausman. "Immediately the answer was, 'I have to get into schools.'"

And so, despite some resistance, Grausman began to change those old home economics classes into modern French culinary courses.

"He introduced the French curriculum into our programs," said Matsis. "We all fought him like crazy. [We] said, 'Our kids can't do it,' and, 'It's too difficult.'"

But Grausman persevered, and it wasn't long before he realized that an education in the culinary arts was an opportunity for many of these kids to have a bright future.

"You could see that many of them were very excited about what they were doing," Grausman said.

The popularity of C-CAP can also be attributed -- in part -- to the popularity of cooking shows, and the rise of the celebrity chef has made it a viable career option not just for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Being a chef is now like being a doctor," said Grausman. "[It] used to be, 'My son the doctor,' or, 'My son the lawyer.' Now, there are lawyers and doctors that are saying, 'My son the chef' with great pride."

Grausman believes getting kids excited about the culinary arts can lead them down the road to a career and personal success.

"I think once you're able to empower someone to do something that seems difficult, that gives them a lot of confidence," he said. "You take flour, butter, sugar, milk eggs and you create beautiful cakes. That's magic to kids."

George Stephanopoulos originally reported this story for "Nightline" on Jan. 18, 2005.

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