Oct. 13, 2023

The Jacques Pépin Foundation and Culinary Education with Rollie Wesen

The Jacques Pépin Foundation and Culinary Education with Rollie Wesen

This week on I speak with chef Rollie Wesen. He's the executive Director of the Jacques Pépin foundation, as well as an assistant professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.  Rollie is married to Claudine Pepin, Jaques daughter. In talking with Jacques, they thought it would be a great idea to start a foundation while he was still alive, and create something that would have a lasting, positive affect on the world.

Jacques decided that he wanted the foundation to focus on one singular mission. To support community kitchens that offer free life skills and culinary training to adults with high barriers to employment. Those barriers could be previous incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse issues, low skill or lack of work history. 

On this episode, we talk about how the foundation came to be, and have a more in-depth conversation about their mission, and what the future holds for the foundation. Rollie also shares some fun stories like the photographing of Jaques’s cookbooks. And being a professor at Johnson & Wales University, we spoke about the state of culinary education today.

Rollie Wesen and The Jacques Pépin Foundation
The Jacques Pépin Foundation Website
The Jacques Pépin Foundation's  Instagram and Facebook
Rollie's Instagram
Jacques's cookbook New Complete Techniques

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Transcript

 

 

Chris Spear  00:01

I want you to think about an iconic chef, someone who's truly changed the food industry and really the way people eat. Do you have someone in mind I'm willing to bet that some of you pictured chef Chaka pen. Now before you get super excited, I don't actually have Shaka pen on my show today, one day, I hope. However, I do have Chef Raleigh Wiesen, who's the executive director of the chakra Penn Foundation, as well as an assistant professor at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, my alma mater. Today, you'll hear the story of how the jackpot Penn Foundation came to be and learn about their mission. And this whole conversation centered around food education, something I always enjoy talking about. This is Chris spear. And you're listening to Chefs Without Restaurants, the show where I speak with culinary entrepreneurs and people working in the food and beverage industry outside of a traditional restaurant setting. I have 31 years of working in kitchens, but not restaurants and currently operate a personal chef business throwing dinner parties in the Washington DC area. Why does everyone know the name James Beard? Sure there were the books, columns and television appearances. And I don't want to downplay that. But there were a lot of great people in the culinary world. I'd bet that most people today know the name because of the James Beard Foundation and the awards that have become the standard of culinary excellence in this country. So what does that have to do with Jack Penn and today's guest? Well, today's conversation is with Chef Raleigh Wiesen. Raleigh is actually married to Claudine Penn jocks daughter. And talking with shock, they thought it would be a great idea to start a foundation while he's still alive, and create something that would have a lasting positive effect on the world. Shock decided that he wanted the foundation to focus on one singular mission to support community kitchens that offer free life skills and culinary training to adults with high barriers to employment. Those barriers could be previous incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse issues, low skill or lack of work history. So in this episode, we talked about how the foundation actually came to be and have a more in depth conversation about their mission and what the future holds for the foundation. Raleigh also share some fun stories like The photographing of jocks, cookbooks. And being a professor at Johnson Wales. We spoke about the state of Culinary Education today. Towards the end of our discussion, Raleigh and I spoke about what good food is seasonal cooking and having family meals at home. I thought it was a great side conversation, but it didn't really fit here. I'm actually going to release it as a mini episode in the next couple of weeks. So be on the lookout for that. As always, if you'd like to learn more about Chefs Without Restaurants, you can go to chefs without restaurants.org. From there, you'll find links to things like our email newsletter, my Instagram page, which is at Chefs Without Restaurants, and our private Facebook group for culinary entrepreneurs. If you love this show, please share it with people on social media. Or maybe just bring it up in casual conversation at your next dinner party or when you're talking to other parents at the bus stop. So this week's episode will be coming right up.

 

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Chris Spear  04:00

Hey, Rollie, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on.

 

Rollie Wesen  04:03

Well, thank you. It's great to be with you.

 

Chris Spear  04:05

I'm excited to talk to you today. You might be a little biased. So I think I can say this. But I don't think there's a living chef more revered than jock pen. Wouldn't you agree?

 

Rollie Wesen  04:16

I do actually think that also, I think of him as certainly the greatest culinary educator of our time. It's also hard to compete with, you know, 32 published cookbooks and hundreds of hours of television. I mean, he really set the stage for lots of us, I think I think he's, I think he's pretty accomplished. He's got a lot to be proud of.

 

Chris Spear  04:36

And I want to talk a little bit later about the the endurance of that, because there's a lot of people who cook and put out cookbooks, but to kind of persist for so long, I think is impressive. But you're the executive director of the AKBA pen Foundation. And also you're a professor at Johnson and Wales my, the school that I went to to so we have a little connection there. I love to talk about Johnson and Wales and we'll maybe get into that a little bit. So it sounds

 

Rollie Wesen  05:00

like we're gonna be talking about culinary education today. Yes, sounds great. I mean, it's very important to me, both for in both of my jobs, both as a professor at Johnson, Wales and as the Director of the Foundation. I mean, we really believe in the value and the power of Culinary Education, it has the potential to help people get jobs, help them to eat better, help them to eat more nutritiously help them to take care of themselves and take care of their family. I mean, learning how to cook I think is truly an essential skill and something that's at risk. I mean, we've when we look at where we are in society today, we're not teaching people how to cook in school, lots of people there, we can't learn how to cook from their parents, because their parents don't know how to cook, you know, we're, we really become a kind of a grab and go convenience foods society. And it worries me that we're maybe only one generation away from from losing these skills. So I definitely want to be part of the movement that keeps cooking alive. Me too. I mean, I'm a personal chef, and I go into people's homes all the time, and I do dinner parties. And, you know, sometimes it's fancy, but a lot of the stuff I do I don't feel is out of the reach of a normal person. And people are so surprised. And they say, Well, you know, how do you make this? And I'll say, Well, I don't have a recipe, just you know, listen, I'll kind of talk you through it. And people will have trouble following along, you know, and I have a friend who has an oil and vinegar shop, and she sells dozens of them. And people come in and say like, I don't know what I do. What would I do with a peach vinegar? What would I do with a Meyer lemon oil? And like, to me, it seems so basic, like what do you mean, like make a vinegar and instead of using apple cider vinegar put peach vinegar in, but it just seems like it's so out there for people who aren't used to cooking? Yeah, for sure. And we really tried to stress especially, you know, taking the ethos from Jacque, we try to stress the importance of technique and understanding, you know that there are some fundamental techniques and some fundamental understandings that go into being a good cook. And once you have command of a few of them, you can really do a lot of things. We actually, two years ago, during the pandemic, we built out a course with ruby.com, which is our ouxv.com. And I'm not promoting it. But what what's really interesting about the course is that we started with ingredient profiles. So for example, there's a whole lesson on Leafy, leafy greens and tender vegetables. And we use that as a starting point to say like, Okay, here's all the different ways that you can actually cook leafy greens and tender vegetables, you can steam them, you can saute them, you know, you can sweat them, and hear all the things that can come out of it in the end. So it's, I really feel like there's, there's an understanding that comes from having a repertoire that's organized around sets of ingredients, sets of skills, and breaking free of the recipe, I think it's important to follow the recipe, as you're learning how to cook, it's important to follow the recipe, if you're cooking out of your comfort zone. That is if it's Moroccan food, and you want to learn how to make Moroccan food, follow the recipe the first time, don't go, don't go off piste. Your very first time through the recipe. But after you've done it a couple of times, you'll get the idea you can substitute turnips for carrots and substitute this base for that spice. And that's really how you build up your repertoire and become a good cook, in my opinion. Well, I used to ask guests on the show what their favorite cookbook is or culinary resource for a number of years. You know, people just say the flavor Bible is one of them. And I think that kind of touches on, you know, you've got this ingredient, what goes with it? How do you prepare it if I've got carrots, you know, here's some synergy here. And then, of course, he literally wrote a book called complete techniques. And I think that's one of those like, culinary foundation kind of Bibles. Especially, there's so many photos in the new complete techniques book, you know, it's it's hard to read about breaking down a chicken, if you're going to look at it in a cookbook, as opposed to a video and kind of get the feel so to have a book where you can flip through and not only read about it, but also see a lot of photos in detail about how to do that. So those are two books that have always come up on my podcast as far as like books that chefs love. Sure, and I will I won't belabor the story behind that too much. But complete techniques is an amalgamation of two books that Jacque wrote way back in the 70s lot technique and law methode. So complete techniques is a reissue of those. But the original story behind law technique was which was probably the cookbook that launched jocks cookbook career was he was approached by a publisher who said, Oh, you know, we think your that your approach to cooking is really interesting that you're always focused on technique, and you're always showing people how to do it. Would you write a cookbook for us? And he said, Sure, and they started down this path. And he said, what's really important to me in this cookbook, is we're going to have lots of close ups and close ups on my hands actually doing the skill so you get to see when he's breaking down a chicken like here is where you put the knife for all the successive cuts that gets you to a chicken that's broken down into eight parts. And the they were like, okay, sure, we'll do that. And you know, of course at that time back in the 70s He's, you know, trying to put photographs into a book was pretty expensive. So they said, Well, how many photographs you think you're going to need? He said, Well, probably like 500. They're like, whoa, well, that's a lot, but okay, we'll go with that. And then he called him back a month later, he said, I think we're gonna need like 1000 photographs. And they were like, Okay. And then he called him back. Later, he said, maybe like 3000 photographs. And they're like, Okay, you could have 3000 photographs, but no more than that. And literally, they shot he and his photographer, Tom Hopkins, literally shot 3000 photographs for that, for that series of books. So

 

USPCA AD  10:34

that's amazing. And, and now it's, you know, pretty common to have all these cookbooks that have lots of photos, although they're not technique driven. It's, you know, a photo of the dish. But, you know, when I started collecting cookbooks, when I was younger, it was just all text, and you just kind of, you know, flip through these books. And there were no photos. So to see a book like that, with so many pictures,

 

Rollie Wesen  10:52

and super interesting for So there, we have some professional friends, like, for example, Tom Colicchio and Chris Cosentino, both are two that really stand out in my mind that, that, you know, were struggling in school. And they were and they're trying to teach themselves how to cook. And they discovered law technique, you know, at the very early beginning of their career, and they said, Oh, this is a book that I can really learn from, because it's showing me what to do rather than just telling me what to do. And I think both of those chefs excellent in their own right, credit law technique as being sort of the book that inspired them to stick with cooking.

 

Chris Spear  11:25

I can totally see that. And the interesting thing about technique, though, is, you might have even seen this in, you know, working in culinary school. In kitchens, I was seeing a generation of younger cooks come in. And they were technique focus, but they were focusing on new and advanced techniques. And instead of some of the basics, you know, it's like, I want to come in and learn how to start doing fermentation because that's cool. And working with koji yet, if you ask them to roasted chicken, or even butcher and chicken, they were having trouble with that. So you know, it's great to have a resource like that, that I feel also addresses the basics, not that there's anything wrong with that advanced stuff. I love that too. But I feel like today, a lot of younger chefs and cooks want to run before they can walk and are really looking at some of the really advanced stuff when they don't have the building blocks there.

 

Rollie Wesen  12:11

Yeah, I think that's probably true. You know, having been at Johnson and Wales for 12 years now, I've definitely seen some cycles. I mean, the year that I was hired at Johnson and Wales, what was our largest year for incoming freshmen, we welcomed 12 150 freshmen at the Providence campus, the year that I started, and that was really a magnificently large number, they had to they, they converted the bookstore in the library into into culinary classrooms. It was it was kind of amazing. But you know, at that point, which was, you know, 2010, whatever. People, students were really coming with this idea of like, I want to be the next Bobby Flay, right, they were looking at, like, I want to be on television, that that's where I'm headed. And we definitely saw that sort of peek out and then drop off. And I would say now, even though we have less students, and that's not only be that doesn't really have any reflection on the curriculum, or on the content, because we're actually in this strange demographic cliff, for anybody who's paying attention to higher ed, we all have the baby boomers, kids have all graduated from college. So now we have less students available to us to be in college. So we have less students now. But I would say the students that are Johnson whales now are really there for the right reasons and really working hard to, to learn how to do things the right way. And they're there because they love cooking, and they love making food, and they and they want to make food. And they understand that it's a hard job. But they're they're willing to put in the hard work. And I really, I'm really proud of our student body where they're at right at the moment.

 

Chris Spear  13:47

I talked about culinary education all the time. And I want to talk about a lot of that more later in the show. But what I'll say is, you know, the thing that I didn't realize early enough, as I focus too much on grades, you know, I came up at a time in the 80s and 90s, where you know, there's a focus on grades, and I think there's an opportunity to maybe take on some easier stuff. My example is like, I never really liked fish. So you're in a class and it's a group, right? There's four of you and you have to make a fish or chicken or beef. It's like, oh, well do I want to do the fish that I don't know how to do and do poorly or do I want to take the chicken where I know I'm gonna do okay. And you know, I think I shorted myself in my education, because there are ways to kind of get around that I had a roommate and I love him Gary, if you're listening, but he was like book smart and he knew that he could do really well on the projects, the tests, the quizzes, and like maybe the practical aspect, not so much and like come out with a great you know, GPA, but maybe not be a hands on chef kind of guy. And just like I tell everyone you get out of it, what you put into it, right? You should not be leaving a culinary school like that and not be able to butcher fish like it's, you know, like really put in the work and learn all that stuff. Join the clubs do whatever.

 

Rollie Wesen  14:56

100% I absolutely agree with that. And I also think you know, As my teaching philosophy is concerned, I work really hard to create what I consider to be a safe environment for the students. Like I hear lots of instructors say, oh, there's no stupid questions in my class. But then I hear them actually, like make fun of students when they ask a question that's really not that bright. But I really try to be strict with myself and say, there really are no stupid questions in this class, I want you to feel comfortable asking questions. And the next step after that in a safe environment for the students is to say, challenge yourself. Don't take the easy task, take the hard task, take the thing that you don't know how to do it school, for Christ's sake, if you screw it up, nobody cares. It doesn't matter. There's nobody that paid $50 For that dish that's going to come complain about it, you totally get it wrong. Well, you're going to learn from that experience. I'm going to help you understand what you did wrong. And you're not going to do that same wrong thing again, you'll do better the next time.

 

USPCA AD  15:52

I still say I remember the only thing I missed on My storeroom exam was like horseradish. Like he held it up. And I didn't know what it was. And I got it wrong. And I think that's probably the only thing I remember, like from that exam that he held up because it's the thing very harsh, right? Yeah, I have no idea. Going back to the foundation, you know, as well known as I think Chef Papan, obviously, is I don't think everyone realizes that there's a foundation. So I'd like to dig into that a little bit. What's the history? How and when did it start? And more importantly, why start a foundation?

 

Rollie Wesen  16:24

Sure. Well, well, first, I haven't in because I am married to Claudine Papan. So I am jocks son in law. Spoiler alert, and yep, spoiler alert, my, and my wife is my best friend and my partner and my and my companion. And it's, we have had great opportunities and a great life together. We've been married for over 20 years now. But you know, we were thinking about, well, let me take a step back and say, I have had many conversations with Jacque about sort of the history of American cuisine, the history of cooking in America, the history of culinary in the last, you know, 3040 50 years, you know, he he arrived in the United States in 1959. And he always says, and anybody who's heard him speak, they've heard this line, he says, oh, when when I arrived in the United States, the culinary world was very small. I had been here less than six months, and I had already met Julia Child, James Beard and Helen McCauley the the trilogy, and Craig Claiborne, the trilogy of, of good cooking at that time. And, and that was pretty amazing that you could just arrive in the United States, that would be like the equivalent of like, showing up here as an immigrant now and getting to hang out with Thomas Keller and Daniel balut. And Jose Andreas, it'd be like, Okay, I I know all the important people. That's, that's all I needed to do. So the culinary world was really, really small. And when I think about, in particular, those three right, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and Julia Child and conversations that I had with Jacques, you know, James Beard was was a decent cook. And he wrote some good, pretty good cookbooks, and he hosted a lot of dinner parties. And he was kind of well known in the West Village, but he was terrible on camera. And he really didn't do all that much to teach all that many people how to cook so so he was solid in the cooking world, but but really not all that special. And when you look at the James Beard Foundation, his name is sacrosanct now, right? I mean, James Beard Foundation is is huge and important, and really the, you know, the arbiter of great food in the United States, they've set themselves up to be, you know, like the Michelin guide of the of the United States. The James Beard Foundation gives the awards to the best food. So James Beard is more remembered maybe even than he deserved, based on what the foundation has done. And then there's Craig Claiborne's, I don't know, do you know who Craig Wright is? I do. So that's great. I'm glad to know that but what I asked my students that none of them know and generally even if you ask people who know something about food, they still don't know who Craig Claiborne's. But Craig Claiborne, was the first food editor at the New York Times. And when he took over that role at the New York Times, the food section in the paper, it was 1/8 of a page in the home and garden section. That was the whole food section. And he grew it from 1/8 of the page to 16 page section on food and dining in the New York Times. And in that process discovered great chefs like Marcela Hassan and, and Diana Kennedy and a dozen other chefs Japan in a certain sense that he discovered wrote his own cookbooks made it possible to believe that American cuisine could be as good as European cuisine, you know, embraced the Pantheon Pierre for MA and, and really had this outsized influence on how Americans eat, he really changed how Americans eat much more so than James Beard did. But nobody remembers who Craig Claiborne's is because Nobody has made the effort to, you know, remember him and nurture his legacy and remember all of his writings. So it was really the those two and the Julia Child foundation as well, that made me think like, I am not going to let Jacque be forgotten, right. And you could say like, Oh, of course, he won't be forgotten. He's got 32 cookbooks, and he's so famous. But you know what America's attention span is really, really short. And it wouldn't surprise me at all, if there wasn't a foundation, and Claudine and myself and, and our great team at the foundation, nurturing and projecting and extending the legacy around shock, that he could be forgotten in a matter of a couple of short years. And so that was really the genesis of the foundation. That's why we decided, you know, what, we need to start this and we want to start it now, while you're alive, so that you can participate so that you can tell us what to do so that we can, we could do the things that you want to want us to do in the way that you want us to do them. And with this longer term goal of making sure that 10 years, 20 years, 50 years from now, you're still not forgotten for the great contribution that you've made the culinary arts in the United States and culinary education.

 

Chris Spear  21:08

That's amazing. Because I was going to ask about that, you know, the, there are a lot of amazing people and like, what's the difference between the legacy of them, you know, so many people, not just in culinary, but everything they, whether they're an artist, or a musician, they do things and then they just kind of fall off. I have kids, I have twins who are 11. And whatever we're talking about, you can be talking about movies, and it's like, who's Steven Spielberg? You're like, Oh, my God, like, Well, I'm not doing my job. You don't know. But yeah, it's especially as someone who's taught a lot of younger people in the kitchens, you know, I'll have younger cooks Come on. And I would reference chefs that I would think, you know, you're a cook, you should know. And I'm just amazed that they just, they don't know, they're not interested, they, they're more likely to tell you about someone who's cooking on tick tock, then, like someone who, you know, was a trailblazer in the industry, and it's, you know, disappointing in some regard. So, I'm glad to see that it's living on so like, what is the foundation doing now?

 

Rollie Wesen  22:01

So, at that origin point, were sort of muddied and I decided, You know what, we should really started a foundation and jocks name. First, we were a little nervous, you know, like, as, you know, jocks, pretty serious guy. I mean, he's, he's fun loving, and he's kind and generous. And I always say, to anyone who asks you the best thing about jock is he is exactly the person that you think he is the person that you have gotten to know through PBS, and through videos and cookbooks, is the person that Jaquez he's kind. And he's funny, and he's generous, and he's smart. And he loves a good joke. And he's willing to share himself with anybody who asked, and he's probably assigned, you know, a couple million autographs in the course of his career. So he is exactly the person that you think he is, which is absolutely terrific. But you know, what, when we started the foundation, first, we were a little nervous. And we said, you know, John, we think we should start a foundation in your name. And the first thing he said was, well, it's about time. You know, all the other chefs have them Jose Andres has one. Thomas Keller has one, I guess I should have one too. And we're like, okay, great. So we'll go from here. And then, you know, I went to him. And I said, Well, you know, what do you want us to do? And I started presented him a menu of possibilities. I said, Look, we could help, you know, inspire cooking classes in elementary school, or in junior high school, we could support culinary programs at the high school level, we could provide scholarships for kids to go to higher ed at Johnson and Wales or CIA and, and extend their their culinary education, or we could provide advanced scholarships for people who had already graduated, and were industry to go to Europe for a couple of years and, and finish their training. Or we could help people who have been in jail, learn how to cook when they get out so they can get a job. And he said, that's the one. That's what we need to do. We need to help people who need skills to take care of themselves by teaching them how to cook. And at the time, I was already volunteering my time at a local community kitchen. That's our sort of shorthand for a nonprofit based organization that offers short culinary training programs between 12 and 16 weeks. That's what we call a community kitchen. So I was already volunteering my time at a community kitchen here in Rhode Island. And I said, you know, Jack at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, they've got this program where, you know, they do three cohorts a year of about 10 students that go through a 12 week program, they learn fundamental skills, and they said, That's great. That's what we should do. You should keep teaching them and and how else could we help them? Can we give them books? Can we give them materials? Can we provide them curriculum, said absolutely. We can do all of that. And, and that's really been our raise on debt from the beginning is to is to think about how can we help people who have barriers to employment, learn fundamental cooking skills so that they can get jobs and foods service. And the great thing about it is it's that it's this triple win win win, because it's a win for the individual to learn skills, who learns how to feed themselves better, who learns how to save money. It's a win for our the industry that we love. Because food service is desperate for cooks. There's over a million job vacancies in foodservice right now. And it's a win for society. Because here's people that get rejected from everywhere else, but they have the opportunity to take a job in kitchens. I'm sure you saw this, when you were when you were working in kitchens. I mean, we're a very welcoming community. If when you show up at the door of the back door of a restaurant, and you're there on time, and you've put the jacket on and your knives are sharp, nobody cares, where you came from, who you worship, what color your skin is, whether you had been in jail or not, if you show up and do the work, you're all in we're family. And we're going to work hard together.

 

USPCA AD  25:51

But the hard part of that is I've worked for some big companies, and they don't see it that way. And that's always been one of my challenges when you work for, say, a contract company like Sodexo or something like that. If you have on your resume that you were incarcerated, you might not get a call for an interview, you know, or someone shows up to your door. And they have no experience except that they went through one of these training programs. I was always an advocate for them. But I feel like it was swimming upstream a little bit with some of that. Or when it came time, you know, I would hire someone and they'd get in the door. And then there'd be time for a sous chef, which is a managerial position. When you get to that. It's like oh, well, the company's requirements are a minimum of an associate's degree in culinary arts, it's like, well, but this guy has been here for five years doing the job, he literally can do the job. And getting stonewalled at the corporate level of like our corporate policy is. So I do think there's still some frustrations with some of those things. Yes, our restaurant is open and welcoming, but I do having been on the corporate kitchen side of things, I still think there's a ways to go with some of that stuff. Sure,

 

Rollie Wesen  26:55

absolutely. There are definitely barriers there. And we always work with our community kitchens, in particular, we have a granting program. So we encourage community kitchen partners to apply for a jack of Penn Foundation grant. And, and with with that granting opportunity, where we don't restrict our funds in any way. But we do have sort of certain expectations that we have about how the program will be run, how you treat your students, how many of your students graduated from the program, how many of your students get placed, we also have one of the qualifiers that we like to stress is employer partners and how those organizations work to cultivate employer partners. And you know, there's there's also some great success stories there. You know, our friend, we have a great friend in Maryland, that at the Maryland Food Bank, Tim Regan, who said he got a call from a corporate partner who said, I want to hire your entire next cohort, all 12 students, I want to hire all of them. And he was like, Oh, my god, that's amazing, and why. And what that corporate partner said was, your students are so hungry to work, and were so willing to work hard that they changed the culture in our kitchens, and I want them to inspire the people that are here, to see how valuable this job is, and to see how much energy and enthusiasm they can put into it.

 

USPCA AD  28:18

That's amazing to hear, it must be so rewarding to hear something like that is, you know, and I think sometimes the people who have to work harder for it, appreciate it more. Again, I have a culinary degree. So you know, I see it from my side. But having run kitchens, I've had a lot of people come in who have culinary degrees, quite often think themselves better than people maybe didn't have to work for their to pay for their degree their parents did or something. And as opposed to someone who really had to hustle and bust their butt to like, do it and like it's life or death to get a job, right, like so many people are on the whether it be on the poverty line, or they just really need the paycheck, they're going to work for it. And some people you know, it's like, yeah, you know, if this job doesn't work out, I'll just bounce around and go do something else. And you can see the difference in those people.

 

Rollie Wesen  29:07

Sure. Well, and that speaks a little bit to my history as, as a chef is, you know, I took a what is seems to be a pretty traditional path. I got a I got a degree in literature and journalism.

 

Chris Spear  29:20

And then needed a job not culinary,

 

Rollie Wesen  29:23

culinary, but I needed a job when I got done. And, you know, food was something that I always liked. And so I was looking around and trying to find a job I went to college in Pittsburgh and so I was looking for a job there and and I got hired by this high end bakery down in the Strip District. And I had to go in for three interviews to convince my hiring manager that I was I was worth taking a bet on because I was going to work hard even though I had no culinary experience whatsoever. before. And you know, from that beginning I just I loved being in kitchens and I love the energy of working with other people. I loved working with my hands And I loved making food loved all the different kinds of food that I was making, and then just took a step by step approach. And you know, a couple years later I said, You know what, maybe this is really what I want to do and, and really committed to food service as my career.

 

Chris Spear  30:14

I think it's really rewarding teaching people. It can sometimes be frustrating if you have people who feel like they're not really giving it their all. But there's nothing like that feeling of like teaching people, it's something I really enjoy doing these training programs. Is there a cost involved? Like if someone is, you know, what, what does that look like?

 

Rollie Wesen  30:33

They're basically all free. And there, there are a couple of programs that we know of that charge, like sort of a nominal fee for the for the training. But for the most part, it's in the culinary training curriculum, the program is offered for free to people with barriers to employment. So anyone who's been incarcerated or homeless, or high poverty, low education, attainment, all of those things are qualifiers. And each each of the communications we support a network of like 150, across the country, we've given grants from everywhere from Alaska to Miami Dade County, to San Diego to New Hampshire. You know, they're all over the country. And each one has sort of its own individual personality, as it were. So for example, the community kitchen in Pittsburgh, which we love 99% of their students are straight out of federal prison, they're, they're previously incarcerated. And you know, that our, our contract with with Americans and with the penal system is that you know, you did something wrong, you got arrested, you went to jail, you paid your dues, right after that you should be welcomed back into society, and, you know, really appreciate their program and other programs have, have younger populations, other programs have more immigrant oriented populations, it just varies a lot based on the individual program and where they are, and who that who's in their community,

 

Chris Spear  32:00

are all the grants that the Foundation offers for community kitchens or their grants for other things besides the kitchens.

 

Rollie Wesen  32:08

Only for Culinary Education, slash workforce development, we've tried to keep the mission of the foundation to be really, really narrow. And that's really benefited us quite a lot. You know, it's it as your there's a, there's a phrase in the nonprofit world that is, it's called mission creep, where, you know, you start raising some money, and then you're like, and then we could do this, and then we could do that. And then we could do this other thing. But we've been very, very focused. And I think I'm very proud of the fact that we've we've stayed on mission to support culinary education only. And in most cases, it's this workforce development, job training. We occasionally we support things like c cap, which is a high school level program.

 

Chris Spear  32:54

We obviously have to do fundraising. I know some of what you do is there's an online platform that are like a membership, right that people can join is that can you talk about that a little bit? And I'm assuming that the money if you're paying for platform, that money's going back into the foundation to benefit these things? Is that right?

 

Rollie Wesen  33:11

Sure. Yeah. One of the things that we realized that we were really good at was throwing events. So I mean, we everybody in our organization has a hospitality background. So when we first started the foundation, back in 2016 2017, we raised money sort of exclusively through in person events. So we still have a big annual gala. We had our sixth and our sixth annual gala lit this year, our seventh will be April 4 2024, in New York City. And you know, at that big gala, we have about 250 people and it's a pretty high dollar ticket. But we also have an extraordinary lineup of celebrity chefs, I mean, everybody from Jose Andres to Andrew Zimmern to Ming Tsai, you know, just Alon Shaya was was one of our lead chefs last year. We also have, you know, Esther Choi, great, great female chefs, great ethnic chefs, we really try to be provide a diverse experience, but also excellence, right? My marketing director has a phrase that says we don't play jocks name on anything that's not excellent. And we try to maintain that. But those in person events, they were really our bread and butter all the way up until the pandemic and then of course, all events got canceled. And so we had to figure out what to do in order to maintain the foundation. And not only was it hard for us to make revenue, but it was also a very desperate time amongst our partners, the kinds of organizations the food banks in the in the community kitchens that we support around the country were desperate through the pandemic because it was just very difficult for them as well. And so It was kind of an interesting progression. You know, Jacque was when when the pandemic really hit in March of 2020. Jacque and Claudine were having a conversation. He's like, Oh my god, I'm going to be stuck at home for three weeks. What am I going to do with myself? Who knew? We thought it was gonna be three weeks, right? Two years. And flooding was cutting and said, Well, you know, why don't you? Why don't you just take some videos on your cell phone of like, whatever you're making for dinner, you know, everybody's trying to cook at home. So I'm sure people would be interested to see what you're cooking at home, you know, trying to get through the pandemic. And it was like, oh, okay, I guess I could do that. And he started doing that, again, working with his same longtime photographer, friend, Tom Hopkins. And, like, about a month later, you know, Tom calls me up, and he says, you know anything about video editing? And I'm like, Well, I know a little bit about video editing. But what are you trying to do? He's like, Well, I really think I need to use like, two cameras and some better sound for these videos that Jacque is shooting. And I was like, Well, I can't do that. But I have team members at the foundation that are really good at that. Maybe you should send us the footage, and we'll turn it into videos. He's like, Oh, that's great. That's a great idea. Well, from that conversation, and from that, those in auspicious beginnings, we created what we call the cooking at home series. And Jacque has done over 300 individual video recipes that he shot in his in his home kitchen, just you know, shooting whatever he was making for dinner and it's been wildly popular and catapulted the our followers both on Instagram and on Facebook, you know, by a factor of like six, the the foundation went from 35,000 followers to well over 200,000 followers and those two years and, and his Facebook following went from 300,000 to almost 2 million. So it's pretty, pretty amazing. And then, while he was doing that, we realized that all of our other chef friends, you know, the, the Thomas Keller and Daniel balloon and Jose Andrea says the world they were all cooking at home too. And so I was thinking like, Okay, how are we going to make money for the foundation? Well, I asked all of them, would you make a video for us in support of the foundation, not having any idea how we were going to turn that into money, but said, okay, you know, shoot the video, and let's see what we get. And we asked 100 chefs and all 100 said yes, so of course, suddenly, we had all of this content coming in of these little video recipes that everybody was shooting at home and everybody was telling their stories about Jacque and Thomas Keller did hit did fried clams and his and he wore a Howard Johnson's hat. And, you know, just really fun, cute stuff like that, that happened when when these chefs started shooting these cooking at home videos. Well, we took that all that video content. And as we were scratching our heads trying to figure out how to turn that into some revenue to support the foundation, we hit upon the idea of membership. And so now if you join the Java pen foundation as a member, you get access to what now is over 200 video recipes shot by the best of the best chefs across the country in support of the foundation. So that's our that's our carrot for membership. And it's been pretty successful in its its was successful enough that it generated revenue that allowed us to keep all of our staff all the way through the foundation and to continue our granting program. It was it was lean those couple of years but but very, very satisfying to hit upon that revenue generator that that not only teaches people how to cook, right, if you're a member, you get to watch all these videos, but also the money that you spend to become a member supports culinary education of others.

 

Chris Spear  38:54

I mean, he's a natural right eye, he has a little experience in front of the camera cooking, right? You know, and I think with the foundation, you know, expressing what the money's going to, I think people are more than willing to support a good cause. Because, you know, obviously in this day and age, there's a million places you can go for free, you can go on YouTube and watch all this stuff and learn how to cook you know, why should people be you know, doing this, but I think coming back to the core of you know, this isn't a money making thing to line someone's personal pockets, it's really going to good and I don't know any industry that does more I think then the culinary community everyone seems so giving of both time and, and money and trying to put people in a better spot and I think it's great to see, you know, a foundation like this. It's genuine, genuinely trying to improve people's lives and make our industry better. So you know, thank you to you and him and the foundation for all of that.

 

Rollie Wesen  39:50

Yeah, I think that's really true. And it's something that that's another thing that Jacque mentions frequently is chefs and and really everybody in the hospitality industry is so generous. I mean, we spend our lives committed to making other people happy making other people happy with food, making other people happy with service, making other people happy with cocktails, you know that the hospitality industry is about generosity and conviviality and community. And, and really, you know, if you look at Jack's career, long before we had the foundation, he would say yes to anybody who came knocking. I mean, if it was, if it was St. Jude hospital, or the March of Dimes, and United Way, or you know, you name you name it, if somebody came knocking, and they said, Hey, would you contribute to our fundraiser? Would you show up? Or would you do do this or that for us? Jack always said yes. He always said yes. And I think that's true of a lot of chefs. If they have the time, they're going to say, yes, they're going to show up, they're going to contribute their, their skills, their celebrity, their food, to helping organizations that want to make other people's lives better. And it's, it's just a testament to what we do.

 

USPCA AD  41:02

I have a friend here in town, she goes to my church actually cooked for her a couple of weeks ago, and she knew your wife, or, like, I guess they grew up and went to school together. I'm not sure whether it was like high school or college or something. But she talked about, like, I think there was a fundraiser or something and like, she's like, Oh, my dad's making, you know, cookies or cake or something. And it was just this, like, big shock that like, you know, Giacomo Penn's making cake for the school, you know, bake sale or something like that. I thought was really funny, because I've known Kim for more than a decade, and I had no idea and we're just, you know, recreationally talking about food and cooking. She's like, Oh, I went to school with Claudine back in the day. And yeah, I knew her dad, and he would just like make stuff for all these events. And I thought, Man, how cool would that be?

 

Rollie Wesen  41:45

Yeah, I mean, he doesn't cook as much for those kinds of things now as he as he used to, but, but happy to come and do a book signing, happy to do a demonstration. One of the things that's been really heartwarming over the last couple of years, is when we like, we have this network of community kitchens that we support. And, you know, we we very much want to project and show that, you know, Jacque is still in it and is still willing to teach and is still committed to teaching. So we've actually taken him into some of our community kitchen partners and, and organized classes where we, where he'll teach shoulder to shoulder with the students that are in the program. And then we get to capture all that content, you know, through video production, so that we can turn it into lessons that we can then feed back to the to the community kitchen. So last December, he did a you did a demonstration at Community servings, which is just outside of Boston. And last August, he did a demonstration at hot red kitchen, which is in New York. And he has so much fun when he does it. It's really it's really great to see him interacting with the students, and they're so excited to have him there. And you know, those kinds of things. You know, we did a demo a few years ago, back at the beginning of the foundation, and back in 2017 2018, at the New England Center for Arts and Technology, which is a culinary program, also in Boston. And they literally said to us, you know, after Jack came here, it totally changed the fortunes of our organization. Suddenly, we had more donors that were interested in supporting us, we became more visible, our students were happier, our employer partners were more interested in the students that were here. And so it really added so much value and with really not all that much effort and something that we're really proud of that we were able to support in that direct way.

 

USPCA AD  43:35

And I think that kind of thing keeps you young, right? You know, like going out and still doing what you love, even if it's infrequently, but you know, just to stay active. It seems like every time I've seen him, whether it be on TV or something, he seems like he's still very much loving this industry. I got to see him talk in DC it was probably 2018 or so Joe Yonan interviewed him at the Smithsonian. And I got to see him sign a book had a picture with him back there. So I feel grateful because it's the only time we had met in person. So I thought that was cool. Looking at culinary education in general, it's it can be expensive. You know, and for someone who maybe doesn't qualify for one of the grant programs, but also maybe doesn't have the money to go to a top tier culinary school. Do you have any advice for people you know, let's say you're a high school, junior senior, you want to go on culinary arts, but you know, maybe don't have 100 or a couple $100,000 to go to culinary school. Any thoughts on that?

 

Rollie Wesen  44:31

Well, I would say first just go and get a job. I mean, especially right now, but it's always been true. If you pick out your favorite restaurant in your town and say, Hey, can I can I work a couple of days a week and and right now for sure you'll be able to get a job. And even even for students who say I'm going to go to culinary school I always ask them like have you actually worked in a restaurant because the environment or the restaurant environment is Very, very specific, you know, it's hard, it's hot, it's fast, there's things that can burn you things that can cut you. It's highly stressful. And it's really not an environment for everyone. I mean, some, some people really thrive on that, and some people do not. And so I always recommend, you know, before somebody signs up for, you know, expensive culinary education that they go and actually try it out and see what it feels like to work in a restaurant. On the other hand, I would say, one of the things that's really terrific about Johnson and Wales right now, especially, is that we've really broadened our understanding of what culinary education is. So of course, we still teach technical competency, we teach people how to cook, you don't spend four years at Johnson Wales, and not know how to cook when you get done, you absolutely do. But in addition, and I'm very excited about this relatively new program that we have, we have a Bachelor of Science in sustainable food systems. And that degree program gives us the opportunity to introduce students to many challenges that we have in the food system, whether that's environmental sustainability, or childhood nutrition, or food insecurity, or, you know, not teaching culinary skills in school, or community gardens, and all of these different areas in which the food system is lacking, or it's or it's not actually clear, you know, most people, it's easy for them to understand. The idea of like, farmer grows, food, food gets harvested, food goes to a processing plant gets packaged, or goes to the grocery store, Chef buys it, it gets cooked, and you eat it, right that that linear approach to the food system, pretty easy to understand. But the fact of the matter is, is that there's all of these other organizations, there's all of these other forces, whether you know, from the USDA, to the farm bill, to your local food bank, to your your local church, all of these different organizations that are also involved in the food system in one way or another. And so what we're doing in a lot of the courses, and in particular, I teach a couple of courses, one called cultivating local food systems, and another called shaping the future of food, where we introduce students to all of these problems that we have, whether that's environmental sustainability, or food insecurity, and then get them to think about what the causes of those problems are, and to think about what the laws and the food policy is that's in place that affects these problems. And then we actually asked them to go out and volunteer with an organization that's trying to solve the problem that they're most interested in. And once they go out there, and they spend 20 hours at a food, food hub, like farm fresh Rhode Island, or a food bank, like the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, they come back and they say, Oh, my God, I had no idea. First of all the great work that's being done to solve this problem, and all of these amazing people that are working so hard, that are getting up every day and going and committing to making other people's lives better through food, or how complex these problems are, and how complex the system is. So we're really like starting to graduate students that have a much broader understanding of the food system than just, I'm a chef. I'm going to order food from this purveyor, and then I'm going to cook it and then I'm going to serve it like, Okay, that's great. And I love to cook too. And if that's what you want to do, you go for it, you I want to come to your restaurant, I think it'd be awesome. But we also find all these students now that not only do they want to cook great food, but they want to make a difference. They want to make a difference in their community. And so we're showing them pathways and opportunities to do that.

 

Chris Spear  48:50

And it gives you a much more well rounded background that I think is important in, you know, whatever industry you're going into, I had Chef Ross Zito on the show, this past year, he was always one of my favorite instructors. He was actually my culinary advisor for my senior when I had to do my internship. So I wanted to have him on, you know, he posts on his Instagram a lot about his garden, and he talks a lot lovingly about the garden and taking the students out there, which is, you know, so different than my experience that I had 20 years ago, I graduated 98. And to say, you know, we didn't have the giant I call it like the spaceship, you know, because you come down the hill now. And you see this giant building lit up and that wasn't even there when I moved out to Rhode Island. And 2002 there but, you know, I even remember when I was in school, so many of the kids at the time went to school just to be a chef. And we have related courses like leadership and business ethics. And I remember kids like complaining about like, I didn't come to culinary school to learn, you know, philosophy and leadership and stuff. But it's so important, especially if you're looking to move up. You know, my assumption is, if you're going to a four year bachelor's program, you're probably looking to move into an executive chef type level. You absolutely need to know things like this Isn't his ethics and leadership but at the time, so many people griped about that. But now seeing like, the wide variety of topics at the school, I think is really interesting. I still don't know that if I today was 18, if I could see spending that much money on a culinary degree, because that's something people still ask. It's like, if you had to go back and do it all over again, what do you it's like, I don't know what my path would be. It's, it's a lot. And I tell people like it's, you know, if you don't have the money, and you're going to be paying it off for a decade, like you really have to think about that.

 

Rollie Wesen  50:31

Yeah, for sure. I mean, Zito is great. He's, he's a good friend of mine. And he's also heavily involved in this sustainable food systems degree, as I'm sure you guys got to, and you're in the podcast. But yeah, I mean, I think it's a hard question. You know, particularly if you're, if you don't have a lot of money there, there are lots of different ways you can go first, you can, you can just not go to culinary school at all. And, and as long as you put yourself in the right environment, you are likely to be able to find a mentor who will teach you and take you under their wing, and help you learn what you need to learn and nurture your skill set. And a good mentor will be happy when you exceed the when your skills exceed the demands of that place, and will and will be glad to send you along somewhere else. So that's definitely a route. And then there's also you know, community college where it's hard to kind of stomach the $20,000 that you have to spend to go to Johnson and Wales when you could spend $2,000 to go to a community college. On the other hand, the thing that you get from Johnson Wales experience is this full sort of like university life experience, it's a residential university, you get to meet a lots of other people that spend time with them that have similar interest as you do. It's, it's in a great environment, I think that the faculty are outstanding. So, you know, again, it really depends on your own personal financial situation. And, and the fact of the matter is, is that 90% of the students that go to Johnson and Wales gets some sort of tuition remission, some sort of discount from the published price. So, you know, again, I agree with you, if, if you can't afford it, you should, there's plenty of other ways to get there. But I think it's also a great experience. And it's also it's really amazing to me, where I teach at all levels, sometimes I teach freshmen, I often teach juniors and seniors. And so but it's always amazing to me to see the progression of students and how much they changed from you know, that first freshman fall year where they're, like, scared of everybody and they've never held a knife before and you're worried that they're gonna cut themselves and and then you get all the way to like the senior level. And they're, you know, in my conscious cuisine class in the sustainable food systems degree. And they're breaking down a whole pig and they're making like a really awesome plate that has that has pork four different ways on it, complete with like, foams, and gels and smoked homemade smoked bacon. And, you know, the progression from like that scared little kid three years ago to what you're capable of doing. Now, when I can say you are, have all the skills you need to be successful in the restaurant industry is just magical, you know, and it's great to see.

 

USPCA AD  53:20

And you have so many cool experiences. Like one of the things I remember, I'll always remember is, I was there when they were making the movie Arma stod. And we were like, I was in advanced buffet catering with Chef Terra Nova. And they're like, we worked on that like stuff that was in a movie that was nominated for Oscars, right? Like they came into our class and we're making these like styrofoam things coated and shofar with like crayfish coming out with like, all these spotlight things I would never get to do you know, we went to the street like Chris Rock was doing a show and our class was asked to like, you know, do his his rider, right, and like, just stuff like that. That was really fun. I lived on campus for four years. I loved it. Well, thanks

 

53:57

so much for coming on the show. I

 

Chris Spear  53:58

love talking to you today.

 

Rollie Wesen  53:59

Yeah, it was really great. I really appreciate you inviting me, Chris, this is fun. Hopefully,

 

Chris Spear  54:03

I'll make it up to Johnson and Wales. At some point. Maybe we can meet up in person.

 

Rollie Wesen  54:08

That'd be terrific. You're always welcome. We have dinner every night.

 

Chris Spear  54:11

Love it. Love it. I'll come knock on the door. So thank you. To all of our listeners. This has been Chris, as always with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. Thank you so much, and have a great week. You're still here, the podcast is over. If you are indeed still here. Thanks for taking the time to listen to the show. I'd love to direct you to one place and that's chefs without restaurants.org. From there, you'll be able to join our email newsletter. Get connected in our free Facebook group and join our personal chef catering and food truck database so I can help get you more job leads. And you'll also find a link to our sponsor page where you'll find products and services I love. You pay nothing additional to use these links, but I may get a small commission which helps keep the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast and organization running. You might even get a discount for using some of these links. As always, you can reach out to me on Instagram at Chefs Without Restaurants or send me an email at chefs without restaurants@gmail.com Thanks so much