On Tuesday evening, Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) hosted their annual benefit at Chelsea Piers’ Pier 60. The non-profit, which has provided thousands of at-risk high-school students across the country with job training, mentorships, and scholarships over the last two decades, honored chef Michael White with the C-CAP Honors Award for his culinary achievements and efforts to educate future generations of chefs.
The Marea chef’s humble upbringing and mentorships that would shape his current career parallel the paths several C-CAP students have taken. Born and bred in Wisconsin, chef White traveled to Italy to learn the ins and outs of Italian cuisine and culture for seven years. While developing his budding career in New York, he befriended businessman and C-CAP Event Chair Ahmass Fakahany to build the highly-successful Altamarea Group. The rest (AKA the success of Marea, Nicoletta, and Ai Fiori, et al.) is history.
Along with being honored, chef White showed off his culinary skills (a braised beef agnolotti with butternut squash puree, black truffle sugo and brown butter) to the masses. He was in good company on the floor - 39 other high-profile and up-and-coming chefs (with assistance coming from current and former C-CAP culinary students) also provided decadent dishes to guests.
While celebrity chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Marc Forgione were whipping up exquisite food for the benefit, two C-CAP alums were serving up some of the night’s most dynamic dishes. The General’s Thiago Silva presented a multi-dimensional spiced pear tart accompanied by such components as whipped cheesecake and a sesame sable, meanwhile Kelvin Fernandez from Long Island City staple Blend on the Water presented the quintessential Latin American bite with his crispy arepa topped with braised short rib, lime-scented crema and micro-cilantro.
Silva initially got involved with the non-profit during his junior year of high school. Despite not winning a scholarship, the pastry chef saw how much those involved wanted to see him succeed. “I didn’t win, but Richard Grausman [founder of C-CAP and renowned cookbook author] called me over and asked, ‘What could we do to help you?’,” Silva said. “He helped me get a job, he helped me get internships, and he’s been supporting me ever since. He always wants to know what I’m doing and what I’m up to.”
Fernandez, who went on to become the program’s youngest executive chef at the age of 22, got involved with the program for reasons of the heart. “I fell in love with my high school sweetheart,” he said. “She was interested in cooking and I wanted to impress her. So I joined a cooking class and I found a passion for cooking. I loved the attention that I got from creating something and making someone happy.”
While both men paved their own paths to success, they’ve never forgotten where they came from. “It’s really good to build bridges and not burn bridges,” Silva said. “It’s very important in this industry since it’s so small. It gives you a lot of confidence to know that you have somebody help you."
Ahmass Fakahany and Andrew Zimmern
Chefs Daniel Boulud and Michael White
C-CAP President Susan Robbins, honoree Michael White, and chef Marcus Samuelsson