Three Payson students competed this weekend in hopes of adding to the total of $152,271 in scholarships Payson High School (PHS) Culinary Arts students have received since 2006 from the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (CCAP).
Senior Jennifer Bailey, and juniors Emily Hoffman and Dallas Walker whipped and diced together a French omelet paired with a tomato, cucumber, and colored pepper salad in a timed competition to show their culinary, safety and sanitation skills.
They hope their hours of practice and help from past students will pay off.
On the Friday before the event, the three worked feverishly in the PHS Culinary Arts kitchen under the watchful, experienced eye of PHS alumnus Justin Richardson. He is now a sous-chef at the Squaw Peak Hilton Resort in Phoenix and comes up most Fridays to mentor the students in Devon Wells’ program.
“This year is the first time we have been lucky to have past students assisting in the students practicing,” said Wells. “Typically I am working only with the students or a local chef like Gerardo, but this year we have had four past students who are either working in the industry or currently at culinary arts schools that you could say are ‘Paying It Forward.’ That is such a cool twist!”
Last year, two PHS Culinary arts students won significant scholarships. Autumn Parrish won a $32,200 scholarship to AA Le Cordon Bleu Baking and Pastry and Levi Lopez won a $19,200 Culinary Arts Certificate at Le Cordon Bleu.
This year, both Parrish and Lopez are part of the alumni-mentoring group along with Richardson and Leticia Martinez, a Phoenix Community College student.
As the three PHS students finished their French omelets, Richardson hunched over their dishes taking a sample, letting it sit on his tongue for a long moment to savor the flavor and texture.
The French omelet is a simple affair, three eggs whipped into froth, a touch of salt and white pepper all carefully cooked to a yellow perfection.
“The color counts,” said Richardson, speaking with the authority of his position as sous-chef at a prestigious hotel.
A sous-chef basically stands as second in command in the kitchen. They fill in the top spot when the executive chef has days off or vacations. The kitchen staff gives the sous-chef as much respect as the executive chef, and in turn the sous-chef must be a team player as well as a leader — a tough job in the high-stress environment of a professional kitchen.
Richardson credits Wells’ success in getting PHS into the CCAP program for his career.
The program was the brainchild of Richard Grausman — a man who originally thought of cooking as a hobby, but not something a man would take a class about. But he fell into his love of cooking when his boss at the import company he worked for asked Grausman to take his place in a cooking class. Grausman told Lifestyles magazine he only went because his boss would not get a refund on the classes.
James Beard, the famous French-American chef, cookbook writer, and inspiration for a world-renowned foundation, taught the class.
After stuffing a few cannelloni, Grausman decided cooking was his passion. He received his grand diplome from Paris’ Cordon Bleu, and then served as its ambassador for 15 years.
After collecting hundreds of French recipes and adapting them to American kitchens, he authored the At Home with the French Classics cookbook.
Then he cast about for the next stage of his foodie career.
In the Lifestyles Magazine piece, Grausman said he realized that if he wanted to expand the horizons of Americans’ palates, he had to capture them at an impressionable age.
“It hit me in the shower one morning,” said Grausman in Lifestyles, “I realized that if there’s anything that I could do to change that forecast, I have to get into the schools and teach a group that hasn’t made up their minds yet about food.”
He decided to change the high school home economics class.
Instead of making pizza and chocolate chip cookies, he brought in his cookbook and created CCAP to prepare students for college and career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
To date, CCAP has given out millions of dollars in scholarships and stocked high school kitchens with equipment donated from culinary companies such as Calphalon, T-Fal and Cuisinart. Grausman focused on starting up his foundation in the inner cities of Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles — but he decided to offer his program throughout Arizona.
Wells said she has been trained as an instructor in the CCAP program. Richardson has high regard for the program for one of the purposes of the program is to find opportunities for graduates.
When Grausman approached chefs to ask what it took to get a job in their kitchen, they said showing up on time. When Grausman asked what the chef would do if the student knew how to wield a knife, they said that applicant would work on the production line, not as a dishwasher.
From then on, Grausman helped CCAP students by introducing them to his contacts.
Many of his students have gone on to well-known culinary arts schools or have stepped into kitchen positions.
Bailey, Walker and Hoffman have completed their competition.
Hoffman placed 17th out of 46 juniors in the state.
Walker took 20th.
Bailey was selected to continue on to the finals to earn scholarship dollars to a culinary school.
“Basically CCAP offers approximately 30 culinary scholarships each year,” said Wells. “With the placement of our juniors they would have continued on to the finals, but they will have to wait until their senior year. Jennifer will earn anywhere from $1,000 to a full ride scholarship to a culinary school with some over $100,000. Jennifer now begins practicing her Chicken, Stock, Sauce, and Crepes, which she will perform in March. Her application, interview, essay and cooking skills will determine what she receives.”