October 3, 2014

By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student

Each member of the staff at Auguste Escoffier has a resume worth envying, but none of those culinary giants can quite measure up to the experience chef Jean-Claude Cavalera brings to the table.  With over four decades in the industry and a willingness to share his massive amount of experience, Chef JC is one of the greatest resources AE has to offer.  I interviewed him this week, as we transitioned from classic cuisines to Farm-to-table, to learn a little bit more about him and his time in the kitchen.

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What’s your background in the culinary industry?

41 years going 100 miles an hour! 2 years apprentice in 1973 (most of you were not born!) at the Plaza Hotel in Nice France.  From there the Savoy in London 1975, classic Escoffier Cuisine on silver platter with no plate! Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra each had their own floor! We only served classic food, so you had to bring the repertoire (the “bible” had 7500 recipes) because the menu will change weekly! Went back to France and worked in the Alps.  I was a ski bum for a while, moved Briancon to my time in a French army! Oh god food was good!

In 1977 I worked in Monte-Carlo at the Loews Hotel.  I cooked for people that lost heavy overnight in the Casino!

1978 I was a private Chef for very wealthy family (The Varsanos) in Ville Franche next to Monte-Carlo. I met Caesar the sculptor, the sister of the King of Italy, the Prince of Monaco.  I was really like a little brat.  The Varsano family used to own all the sugar in the world. Jimmy Carter used to call Mr. Varsano because the embargo with Cuba! I drove a Mercedes and the Varsanos only came once a months. They lived in Paris! They had 4 houses and a private plane!

In 1979 worked in DC in a French Restaurant (La Chaumiere) right in Georgetown! I became Executive-Chef at 22 years old!

Moved to San Diego in 1983 and open the Intercontinental hotel as gourmet Chef. I was working for Chef YVes Menes MOF

1984 I moved to Laguna Beach for The Ritz-Carlton worked as restaurant Chef and then Executive-Chef. I served President Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Barbara Streisand and even Michael Jackson in the tent in his room with monkeys!

1989 I moved to the Ritz-Carlton Boston as Executive Chef, became good friends with Julia Child. She came over one day for dinner at my house.  It was a lot of fun! I was ready to move to Barcelona for the Olympics of 1992 but surprise at the time I moved to Grand Lake, CO with my wife Caroline!

1991 We opened  Caroline’s Cuisine restaurant in the middle of nowhere in the mountains and kept it going for 20  years.  It went back to life a little like Europe. Pick my own mushrooms, went fishing and opened a smoked salmon company!

2011 I closed the restaurant and moved to Denver as Executive Chef for the Warwick hotel corporation. Their headquarters is in Paris on the Champs Elysee.

2013 I came to work with Escoffier school of culinary arts!

What made you want to get into culinary education?

I have been an educator in the food industry forever. I just wanted to do it professionally. I never kept secrets—I have to pass all my knowledge to the next generation!

What is your favorite part of being a teacher at Escoffier?

The diversity and demographic of the classes! And the classics that I love! It’s a universal language. I have a student in France that did not speak French well, and he is now working in a one star Michelin in Provence! I am very proud of him! He wants to stay there another season!

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What is the most challenging part of teaching?

When I feel I do not reach the students! When I lose their attention! That is when I have to talk about those 41 years in the kitchen and give them really great, funny stories.

What was your favorite job prior to coming to Escoffier?

Working at the Varsanos home!  I used to tell girlfriends that their house was my castle and I was the Prince!  [He laughs] We had 35 hectares, 14 bedrooms, a movie theater, and a horizon pool 900 feet up overlooking the Mediterranean. The dining table was a piece from the 13th Century that could sit 20 peoples! They had a buffet that a man spent his life building that had hundred secrets drawers!

What is your favorite thing/dish to cook?

Ryan you know I do not like that question!!! I am farm to the table guy for 41 years! What I found fresh and nice is what I like!

What advice would you give to students about to come to the Culinary Arts block?

Pay attention!  The time flies!  Take notes and ask questions! Read the emails I send you in the forum because they have key answers. Be patient! We are your instructors, we all went through the same way! You have the best team of instructors under one roof! It’s the best brigade ever, with one mission—to teach you the classic arts block!

And if they ask you for a left-handed ladle, just say “Oui Chef!”

With so much experience and having so many famous and talented colleagues, you would think Chef JC would be one of the more difficult instructors, but his humility and ability to remember what it was like as a beginner makes him one of the most versatile and valuable instructors I’ve had the pleasure of working under.  Thanks for a great six weeks Chef!