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Here's my biggest challenge in the kitchen

Restaurant clientele has changed drastically in the last 10 to 15 years. Diners come to the table with more knowledge about food than a chef could ever hope for.

Diners are experienced, curious and more adventurous than in generations past. They want to know where their dinner came from, what is in season and what a beautiful plate of food should look like. They're on Instagram looking at pictures of lush, tablescapes and precious produce. They're watching the Food Network at night, imagining what they would do with their own "Chopped" basket. But what most diners may not realize is that there is a huge shortage of skilled cooks in the kitchen.

Marcus Samuelsson
Source: Marcus Samuelsson
Marcus Samuelsson

When I opened Streetbird Rotisserie in April, one of the biggest challenges I faced was finding able bodies who could not only cook, but lived in the restaurant's Harlem neighborhood and were passionate about cooking. I reached out to a few of my chef friends for advice. They all said the same thing—it's a hard time to find good help.

Fortunately, I was able to call on my friends Richard Grausman and Susan Robbins to help. Richard is the founder of C-CAP, Careers through Culinary Arts Program and Susan is its president. Since I've known the organization, they have always had students and young chefs for me to hire. Cooks from C-CAP come ready to learn, eager to push through a shift of sizzling pans, sharp knives, long hours and precision. The organization focuses its time on helping at-risk high school students improve grades, learn certifiable kitchen skills, get into culinary schools through scholarship, find jobs and offer career advice for alums long past their graduation dates. The success stories are astounding and the impact beyond the kitchen is priceless.


C-CAP benefits not just the chef like me looking for skilled hands, but it benefits the student, the culture of urban American cities and it chips away at the jobless rate in neighborhoods like my own. In Harlem on my walk to work, every day I meet someone who asks me for a job. "Come into the restaurant; Fill out an application," I respond. If they don't have the background we're looking for, they start at the bottom and work their way up, learning as they go. But to have someone walk through the door and fill out an application that already understands mise en place or how to make an omelet (the truest lesson in culinary school!) is like receiving a present in the mail.

To think that every person who wanted to work at Red Rooster or Streetbird or any other kitchen had been offered the guidance that C-CAP provides would make any restaurant owner or chef overwhelmed with relief. C-CAP is celebrating its 25th birthday this year and it continues to grow; students in California, Illinois, Arizona, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. are learning every day and finding their way into schools and jobs they might not have otherwise had access to. As much as it's growing, the demand is still there.

Organizations like C-CAP exist in most industries and are the back-bone of success. When people ask me for business advice, I always say that the best thing a business owner can do is embrace the community they run their company in and work with organizations that benefit everyone. It creates an inclusiveness that naturally builds lasting relationships that keep your company running and the people around you thriving.

Commentary by Marcus Samuelsson, celebrity chef and owner of Red Rooster Harlem and Streetbird Rotisserie. Samuelsson has appeared on "Top Chef Masters" and "Chopped All-Stars" and is the author of best-selling memoir "Yes, Chef" and multiple cook books, including "Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook At Home." He also co-produces Harlem EatUp!, a food and culture festival that launched in 2015. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscooks.