It isn’t every day that you get to interview two world-renowned chefs that have a love affair and an insatiable appetite with the restaurant industry. Both have seen the hospitality industry evolve and have made iconic contributions to those that share their passion. This Tuesday, February 25, 2020, at Pier Sixty- Chelsea Piers, these two legends will be honored at the C-CAP 30thAnniversary Benefit.
Resident: Please share your background.
RG: I was born and raised in New York City. I attended PS 6 and then went to the George School in Bucks Co., PA. I graduated from UNC with a degree in economics and went into the Air Force National Guard. I started my business career with Charles H. Demarest & Co, a small import company on Water Street, where the Seaport Museum is now. After six years, I went to Paris to see if I could turn my hobby of cooking into a career. I became the US Representative of Le Cordon Bleu and taught for them for 15 years. In 1990, I founded C-CAP.
Resident: What made you realize that there was a void in the industry for this type of program and how did you come to start C-CAP?
RG: I had been teaching French cooking for Le Cordon Bleu of Paris for 15 years when I left to write my cookbook, At Home With the French Classics now for sale as French Classics Made Easy. During a 15-city book tour, I realized that the American diet was based on hamburgers, pizza and fried chicken and I wanted to expand the options. I also found out that it was difficult to change the habits of an adult, and knew if I were going to have any effect, I would need to get into the schools.
That brought me to the NYC Board of Education. I suggested that I teach their Home Economics teachers recipes from my book so their students would be exposed to French food. They liked the idea, but didn’t have any money. After visiting a classroom and finding out that they truly needed equipment and help, I set out to stock their kitchens with donated products and do what I could to help.
Upon visiting several other schools, I realized that the students who were in the classes were the students who the school system had failed. All had poor grades and didn’t know what they would do if or when they graduated. That’s when I turned my focus to finding careers for the students in these school programs. Hence the name of our organization, Careers through Culinary Arts Program.
Resident: When did you first meet Sarabeth Levine?
RG: I met Sarabeth while I was still teaching for Le Cordon Bleu. My wife and I lived in the neighborhood of her first store and we became fast friends.
Resident: What is her role with C-CAP and what does her recognition at the C-CAP 30th Anniversary Benefit mean to you?
RG: When I started C-CAP, Sarabeth became a supporter and mentor to some of our students. She became a judge for our competitions and she was a role model for our female students who were interested in baking and, one day, owning their own store. Sarabeth is that rare human being who, without formal training, has made a huge success in a very competitive field. This alone is worthy of our recognition.
Resident: What is the biggest takeaway you would like the readers to obtain after reading this?
RG: I founded C-CAP because I came across a problem which I though I could fix, or at least improve. Many people have successful careers, retire and do nothing with the knowledge and expertise they have acquired over the years. I hope that my work with young people will inspire others to get involved and give back. Mentoring is a great way to positively affect the life of a young person. Once you start, the rewards are many and the personal gratification is profound.
Resident: If you had to do anything different, what would it be?
RG: I would have tried earlier on to find a way to engage people of wealth as supporters of my work.
Resident: You have had several recognitions throughout your career, does this upcoming one hit home for you differently than the others?
RG: It is always rewarding to be recognized by the people you work with for the hard work you have done.
Resident: What do you feel have been your greatest contributions?
RG: I have been told by many of our teachers that C-CAP has changed their lives, as teachers, in addition to transforming the lives of their students. Empowering them to help their students, in a way they never thought possible, is very gratifying. In the same way, following the success of their students and our alumni brings much pleasure.
Our interview continues with Sarabeth Levine..
Resident: Please share your background with us.
SL: I began my business in 1980 by making and selling her Orange-Apricot Marmalade, from an old family recipe at my home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In 1981, I opened my first “Sarabeth’s,” a small pastry and jam shop on Amsterdam Avenue. The little shop was received warmly and enthusiastically by critical New Yorkers, spurring me to open my first full scale restaurant in 1986, just across the street, and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Over the following years, I began opening additional restaurants, relocated and built a state-of-the-art bakery and installed a jam factory in a 15,000 sq. ft. facility in the Bronx. I’m the creator of the award winning “SARABETH’S” line of jams and preserves and other Specialty Food Products which are sold nationally in gourmet shops, specialty stores, upscale supermarkets, department stores and hotels throughout the United States and abroad.
Today, I own 5 “Sarabeth’s” Restaurants in the New York Metropolitan Area, 1 in Key West, Florida, 5 in Japan, 4 in Taiwan, 2 in Dubai and 2 in South Korea. She is the creator of the award winning “SARABETH’S” line of jams and preserves and other Specialty Food Products which are sold nationally in gourmet shops, specialty stores, upscale supermarkets, department stores and hotels throughout the United States and abroad. Her “Legendary Spreadable Fruit” and bakery products are also sold at her restaurants, in her artisan bakery at the Chelsea Market, wholesale and by mail order.
I have taught baking and cooking classes at the New School, De Gustibus at Macy’s, and at Riker’s Island for the Fresh Start Program. I’m the author of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours and received a nomination for the James Beard Outstanding Cookbook of 2010 (Baking and Dessert Category) and “Sarabeth’s Good Morning Cookbook.” I donate my time to numerous charitable fund-raisers, such as Share Our Strength, American Cancer Society, City Meals on Wheels, C-CAP, Kidsave, Int., SHARE, IACP, and many others, as well as a prodigious contributor to various religious and educational organizations.
Resident: What is your day to day like?
SL: I look forward to each day. I never awake and feel that I don’t want to go to work. My days are filled wearing every imaginable hat. Whether I am baking or cooking, training the team, consulting with our Sarabeth’s restaurants, planning menus, solving problems, trouble- shooting equipment issues, and supporting our team. I just love the bustle and never tire of what I do. I feel so blessed that I have spent almost 40 years in this amazing culinary journey.
Resident: How does one choose to be a pastry chef and not a gourmet chef?
SL: I think that becoming a chef is something that evolves as you work. Once you are in a professional kitchen you become very aware of the two kitchens. I think it depends on your personality. Many chefs like to do both. Unfortunately, that isn’t usually possible once you are working in a specified position. Pastry chefs are by nature, rule abiding individuals. They have to be, baking is very precise and recipes must be followed exactly as written. It’s chemistry. Once the baker puts his product in the oven, it is what it is! The recipes are formulas. The only way to fix a mistake is to begin again. Savory chefs on the other hand, are free. They can taste and add more seasoning, fresh herbs… the sky is the limit… adjusting as they create. Totally liberating. In the end it comes down to what you love to eat! And what makes you happiest when you are cooking.
Resident: Share with us your first meeting with Richard.
SL: I met Richard and Susan in our first Sarabeth’s. They loved my pastries and jams. We were both beginning our careers. Richard was so in love with cooking and of course, so was I. It was an immediate connection of mutual admiration and respect that continues to this day.
Resident: How do you see the C-CAP program expanding?
SL: The program is “pretty pretty pretty” amazing when you think about it. Through increased mentoring and getting the schools to take on more students with additional teachers, as well as more local restaurants taking on the students as interns, I believe it will expand the program. More funding with private or public could really help.
Resident: What does your upcoming recognition mean to you?
SL: It’s gratifying to know that I have supported such a worthwhile organization from the very beginning and that I have helped make a difference for these students.
Resident: What advice can you share with inspiring pastry chefs?
SL: Embrace your love of baking and take it very seriously. Push your limits. Get your inspiration from others and then be the from the very individual that you are. Your own inspiration from within you. Look at every day you spend in the kitchen as a chance to do your very best and surpass the day before. Baking is repetitive and the biggest challenge is to maintain the integrity of the recipe so that it always tastes the same or better. It’s your chance to make it perfect every day. That’s what baking is. I always say, you are only as good as your last croissant!
Resident: Please share your social media handles with us.
Instagram: SarabethsOfficial , SarabethLevine, Sarabethsnyc
It has been a pleasure to interview you both and we look forward to seeing you at the event.
To purchase tickets: https://ccapinc.org/news-events/events/