When Richard Grausman (economics ’59) took a career assessment test in high school, it suggested he should become a social worker. Grausman read a list of job descriptions and thought that was nuts. Decades later, he has become a social worker of sorts by transforming the lives of underserved students through the culinary arts.
Grausman, a graduate of the acclaimed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, cookbook author and educator, is founder and chairman emeritus of the Careers through Culinary Arts Program. Based in his hometown of New York City, the nonprofit helps high school seniors get scholarships to culinary school. In 1990 he set up the program, which has since spread across the country,
“What I’m doing is social work, but I had to come to it through my own travels and by finding a way I could give back,” Grausman said. “Young people need help. They need mentorship. They need doors opened for them.”
Since C-CAP’s inception, the program has provided $46 million to nearly 5,000 students and has benefited more than 200,000 students, Grausman said.
Star alumni include Amar Santana, a Top Chef competitor and executive chef and partner at Broadway by Amar Santana and Vaca Restaurant in Orange County, Calif.; Lasheeda Perry, executive pastry chef for LinkedIn; and Carlton McCoy, wine director at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colo.
After graduating from Carolina, Grausman spent six years traveling the globe for an Asian products import business. The flavors of Taiwan, Japan and India were exciting. But the gratification from work wasn’t there.
Cooking was always a hobby, so Grausman enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu. He went on to represent and teach cooking classes for the school in the United States and Canada and authored a cookbook, French Classics Made Easy.
Grausman loved teaching but soon realized Americans were increasingly turning to fast food. He wanted to get school children interested in cooking and eating healthy.
“In high school, if a student has the palate and the passion, I knew it wouldn’t be hard to train them for the food service industry,” Grausman said.
When he first began interviewing students for scholarships, many said they got their love of cooking by watching family members. A few years later, many began reporting they were fixated on TV cooking shows.
“All of a sudden people like Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay took the place of the family,” Grausman said, adding that for kids who don’t have family members who cook, such shows have been “a great inspiration.”
In 1997, Grausman won the President’s Service Award from Bill and Hillary Clinton for his work with C-CAP. In 2008, he and C-CAP were the inspiration for Pressure Cooker, a documentary directed by Grausman’s daughter, Jennifer.
The film follows three inner-city kids at Philadelphia’s Frankford High School who compete for scholarships under the direction of Wilma Stephenson, a tough-love culinary arts teacher.
C-CAP is now piloting an after-school job-training program to reach even more students.
Grausman is on Facebook often, connecting with former scholarship winners, helping them advance their careers or just to hear how they are doing.
When he was teaching for Le Cordon Bleu, Grausman loved it when students would say things like, “Thank you Mr. Grausman for teaching me about carrots — my kids ate carrots for the first time,” or “My husband loves me more because of the tarte tatin I made last night.”
“Now that I am changing lives through our work at C-CAP, my work is much more meaningful,” Grausman said.
“That’s the key to life: Finding that little spark that gives you the direction and the joy in your life and your work,” Grausman said.
By Pamela Babcock