Last year at this time, James Beard award-winning chef, restaurateur, and author, Marcus Samuelsson became the Co-Chair for the Board of Directors of Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). Since then he has written a new cookbook called The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem, which was released in October; opened new restaurants here in the United States and around the world; and worked tirelessly with C-CAP Founder Richard Grausman to continue to transform the lives of at-risk students through the culinary arts and prepare them for college and careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
We recently sat down with Marcus Samuelsson to ask him about his cookbook and his plans for C-CAP.
Tell us about your newest book, The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem.
This book offers many favorite recipes, and also celebrates the dynamic neighborhood of Harlem through food, art, fashion, and music. I waited six years before writing the book and felt that was the right amount of time for the food and stories to develop. This book is a dive into Harlem Culture. You get not only some of Rooster’s most celebrated recipes, but incredible stories by Harlem icons like Thelma Golden, Bevy Smith, Lana Turner, Dapper Dan, and more. It’s a love story to Harlem from the community in a lot of ways too.
What fuels your motivation to work with C-CAP?
C-CAP has an incredible system in place that, through education and training, prepares underserved youth for careers in the professional world of culinary and hospitality. The program is also a huge benefit to the growing market and chefs looking for skilled and motivated talent, especially when we are talking about the labor shortage and diversity in the kitchen. Our programs and services are results-oriented. Never before have so many students had the opportunity to enter the culinary field and have their dreams come true.
Why is your work with C-CAP so important?
The students are good workers. I have hosted C-CAP interns and hired graduates from the programs in my restaurants. It’s good for me to give a break to anyone I can. I got a few in my career, and I believe I should do it for anyone I can.
In our programs around the country, gun violence, gangs, and drugs affect many teens. I want to give students options, safe places, and a “kitchen family” that they can depend on. We say that once you’re in C-CAP you’re in C-CAP for life. We continue to provide mentorship and professional development after high school.
What is it about the C-CAP students that make them such good workers?
C-CAP works with culinary arts teachers around the country to focus their students on the basic technical skills needed to get started in the industry together with the very important “soft” or employable skills that are needed for success. They come to work on time, eager to learn, and willing to do whatever is asked of them. They enter our restaurant ready to be mentored.
Why is mentoring so important to C-CAP?
A factor holding back many chefs is the lack of mentors. Nonetheless, a growing number of chefs from many ethnic groups and races are stepping up and serving as role models for talented cooks. We have so many chefs volunteering to help us around the country. As many of the alumni are competing on TV food shows, our support is so important. C-CAP NY alum Sylva Senat, formerly at Dos Tacos in Philadelphia, appeared on the 14th season of Top Chef on Bravo. He is one of the C-CAP students that I mentored in my restaurant and I am so proud of his accomplishments.
You’ve worked in some of the finest kitchens in Europe. Tell us about the cultural exchange opportunities C-CAP is providing for alumni.
We were able to offer several culinary scholarship exchange opportunities for our alumni last year and we will increase the number of opportunities this year. This was the first year that C-CAP and Olesay, a premier organization that promotes global education and international learning through internships, have partnered together to provide two stages for five months at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Sant Pau, located in Catalunya, Spain; Krystal Lewis, was the Sous Chef of The Spotted Pig and now is a Line Cook at Public both in New York City; and Rafael Perezchica, is a Sous Chef at Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs, California. With the collaborative efforts of Asociacion de Turismo Madrid, Olesay will offer seven scholarships to C-CAP for our alumni to work abroad in Madrid at Michelin-starred restaurants for three-month externships. With the support of The Gohan Society, C-CAP Alum Brother Luck, Chef/Owner of Brother Luck Street Eats in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was awarded a two-week scholarship to Japan to explore Japanese culture and cuisine. In addition, he was also awarded the inaugural The Joyce Chen and Helen Chen Foundation Fund Scholarship, extending his cultural experience into China for an additional week.
How can the industry help C-CAP?
C-CAP is proud to be a leading culinary education for our nation’s youth. We need to help broaden the students’ exposure to the industry through job training and job shadows, stages and internships here in the United States and through culinary exchange programs abroad. We must continue to stock the classrooms with the finest ingredients and equipment that the school budgets don’t normally purchase. We welcome industry professionals into the classrooms to prepare these inspiring students for the real world.
For more information and to get involved with C-CAP, visit them at www.ccapinc.org
For more information on Marcus Samuelsson and his cookbook, visit his website.