Students find career paths, lifelong mentoring in culinary training program

The Careers through Culinary Arts Program is a national non-profit that prepares at-risk high school students for college and careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry. 

“Today, C-CAP is celebrating 25 years of transforming lives through the culinary arts,” said Lisa Fontanesi, the culinary coordinator and college advisor for C-CAP Los Angeles.

“Many of our students will tell you that they would be on the street or without a career if C-CAP had not become a part of their lives,” she said. “C-CAP is committed to helping underserved at-risk students secure meaningful employment in the restaurant and hospitality industry, and truly grow in their careers, while mentoring the next generation.”

Founded in 1990 by culinary educator and cookbook author Richard Grausman, C-CAP provides job training and internships, scholarships, teacher training, cooking competitions, college and career advising, as well as lifetime career support and product and equipment donations to schools. 

C-CAP currently operates in seven regions across the country, working with more than 160 high schools and 16,000 students annually. New York City remains the headquarters and flagship program, and chapters exist throughout the East Coast, Chicago and Arizona.

“Our role doesn’t end when they graduate high school — we continue to mentor our alumni through college and throughout their careers,” Fontanesi said.

C-CAP LA serves mainly at-risk students from 14 to 21 years of age in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Glendale School District, Pasadena Unified School District and Agua Dulce School District, especially at underperforming schools or with impoverished backgrounds.

In a recent survey, nearly 80% of L.A. program respondents reported their estimated annual income was less than $49,000, and almost half reported less than $24,000 annually.

“Mr. Grausman realized that what most inner-city students needed were jobs for the future and that the restaurant and hospitality industry was in need of talent,” Fontanesi said. “These students lacked job skills and college prospects. So Grausman started C-CAP to enhance the culinary arts curriculum in public schools and better prepare at-risk students for college and career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality industry.” 

Today, C-CAP is known for managing the largest independent scholarship program in the United States, Fontanesi said. Since inception, the nonprofit has awarded more than $43 million in scholarships and classrooms have received $3.2 million worth of supplies and equipment. 

In 2014, C-CAP LA awarded more than $600,000 in scholarships under the direction of C-CAP LA Program Director Mitzie Cultler.

“In the 2014-2015 academic year, C-CAP Los Angeles served 3,000 students in 22 schools,” Fontanesi said, “and a large percentage of our students find rewarding careers in the food service and hospitality industry.” 

The future of C-CAP will involve enhancing its job-training-to-work program and nutrition for students, families and communities, as well as alumni opportunities. 

“We are always looking for more industry partners to mentor and employ our students and alumni, provide needed products for our high school classrooms, and increase our scholarships for post-secondary colleges and culinary schools,” Fontanesi said. “And of course we always need donations for our educational programs.”

The ultimate goal of C-CAP is to transform lives through the culinary arts and to support students in their future careers. 

“Outside of the government, the restaurant and hospitality industry is the largest employer in this country,” Fontanesi said. “Our goal is to reach more students to give them successful careers in the industry and to provide a support network for them throughout their entire lives.” 

“The next 25 years will see exciting growth for C-CAP into new arenas,” she added, “while we keep up with the pulse of the food and beverage community and evolve programming to keep ahead of the curve.” 

For more information, visit www.ccapinc.org.

-Alicia Doyle, Brand Publishing Writer

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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