Supporting Arizona’s Culinary Future

Writer Shoshana Leon

Photography by Olivia Vlachos and Tamara Stanger

Arizona chefs regularly donate their time and talent to a variety of worthy causes and events. A cause that is especially meaningful to Arizona’s culinary community is helping high school students achieve their dreams through Arizona’s Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). 

“We want to see these students succeed, not only for their own future, but for what they have to offer to the future of Phoenix food culture. This happens by helping the students build confidence and trust in their creative ideas,” said Tamara Stanger, executive chef at Cotton and Copper in Tempe who mentors C-CAP students.

“I remember the moment that lightbulb clicked on for me, and it would be wonderful to help spark that in them.” 

C-CAP is a nationwide non-profit organization that started in 1990 at 12 New York City high schools to help prepare underserved students for college and career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Today, C-CAP partners with 150 public high schools to support more than 17,000 students and 220 teachers nationwide. 

C-CAP offers job training, professional development for teachers, career guidance, competitions and scholarships, along with product and equipment donations to partner high schools. Since C-CAP was founded, it has awarded $56 million in scholarships. 

C-CAP operates in seven locations across the United States, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Some of Arizona’s most influential chefs helped to start C-CAP Arizona in 1992, including Christopher Gross, Vincent Guerithault and Mark Tarbell, who remains very involved with the program.

C-CAP Arizona helps more than 6,600 high school students state-wide develop their skills for careers in the culinary and hospitality industry.

“C-CAP Arizona started with just a few schools in the East Valley and organically grew over the years as more teachers found out about it,” said Leslie Gennaro, program coordinator for C-CAP Arizona. “Now we have about 40 high schools across the state participating in the program. 

“In the beginning, C-CAP was primarily the culinary competition and teacher assistance, including product donations to use in their classrooms. Over the years, it has evolved to include many other programs.” 

C-CAP Arizona provides training, internships and apprenticeships, as well as competitions where students demonstrate their culinary and presentation skills with opportunities to win scholarships. C-CAP also offers students tours of professional kitchens, demonstrations by professional chefs and job placement.

“We typically get three to four calls a week from employers,” said Gennaro. “We place 100 percent of students seeking employment in the Phoenix metropolitan area.”

One of the most exciting opportunities for C-CAP students to practice their technical and soft skills is participating in culinary events where they work alongside professional chefs, including James Beard Taste America and the Nirvana Food and Wine Festival at Sanctuary Resort and Spa in Paradise Valley. 

One of the events that students, chefs and supporters look forward to every year is the annual Harvest Moon Feast fundraiser. November 12, C-CAP students, alumni and teachers will cook with some of the Valley’s best chefs at the Sixth Annual Harvest Moon Feast fundraiser at Ocotillo Restaurant in Phoenix. 

“Harvest Moon is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students,” said Gennaro. “The collaboration of student, teacher and chef mentor makes this event so unique and leaves students with a feeling that they’ve participated in something really special.”

Last year’s Harvest Moon Feast was hosted at the Omni Montelucia Resort and Spa in Scottsdale. Marcos Seville, executive chef at Montelucia and a C-CAP alumnus, is participating in this year’s event and is extremely supportive of the program. 

“I currently employ six C-CAP alumni. It is a great resource for local culinary professionals to be able to work with young adults who are passionate about working in our industry,” he said.

Chefs understand the importance of hands-on training. 

“C-CAP offers unique educational experiences in far more areas than just cooking in the constraints of a classroom,” said Chef Stanger who is mentoring C-CAP students for the Harvest Moon Feast.

C-CAP programs are designed to prepare students for the workforce and a productive future, said Gennaro. 

“By offering opportunities for students to work food events and participate in competitions and workshops, we allow them to hone their technical skills and develop the crucial soft skills necessary to be successful in the industry and in life.”

Harvest Moon Feast

Nov. 12 | 6 p.m. | Ocotillo Restaurant | 3243 N. Third St., Phoenix | $125 general; $175 VIP  |

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