A Chef’s Diary, Part 4

By on Thursday, May 5th, 2011

My student at his internship job in Princeton. Lots of carrots to peel.

Editor’s Note: In our last installment of A Chef’s Diary, Larry was encouraged by the progress of his culinary protegees at the Eden Institute, a school for autistic children and adults in Princeton, New Jersey. This week, he reveals a huge turning point for two of his students.

Seven months ago I asked myself if I could pull off creating a culinary program for young adults with autism. Ultimately I decided that “Yes I can!” Now it has become apparent that “yes I am” pulling it off with flying colors…or should I say flying vegetables? My students have taken to this course like a duck breast takes to a rosemary demi glace. As was expected, some of my students are faster learners than others but the remarkable thing is they are ALL learning.

When I was first given my class roster I looked at it and said “you’ve got to be kidding–so-and-so will not be able to do this or that.” Boy was I wrong.  Every one of my students has mastered at least one of the programs, a pretty amazing feat. In fact, I have one group of three students (my “A” team) who had an entire year’s worth of programs mastered in the first trimester.  Now that’s truly amazing!!!

But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine two of my students getting offered internships after just one semester.

Flashback to Back-to-School

Before I get to that, though, we need to take ride in Mr. Peabody’s WA BAC Machine (younger readers Google “Rocky & Bullwinkle”) to see what’s been happening in the Eden kitchen. I have to mention my first “Back to School Night.” No better way to show off the program than to have my culinary class prepare what would be offered in their classroom for their own parents.

I made none of the food–just made up a menu and they did the cooking. The menu included Grilled Fruit Brochettes, Dilled Chicken Mousse in Puff Pastry, the classic cucumber slice with Crème Fraiche and TiTi Shrimp, miniature Beef Wellingtons and a Curried Chicken Salad served in an Asian spoon.

It was a huge success. The parents loved it and the best part was that many of them were unaware of the new culinary program. The idea of a possible new employment opportunity for their children was a very big and happy surprise for them.

The idea of a possible new employment opportunity for their children was a very big and happy surprise for them.

The next big day for my program was the ground breaking for our new school building. All of the parents and donors were invited, along with myriad of local politicos and Princeton aristocracy. Another great opportunity to show off my program. Since it would have been a mobile catering issue we had the local Westin set up tables with a continental breakfast.

I brought four of my students over to the event in their aprons and toques and had them serve the guests.  It made for a great visual and also served as an opportunity to see how long they could remain on task without wanting to escape. As with everything else they did great. They stood behind the line serving for almost an hour.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Something pretty funny happened that day. One of the guests approached the student I was working with and asked for a pastry. I said to my student “That looks like a good one. Grab that one.”  And he proceeded to grab it and gobble it down.

I have since learned how literal my students are. Being one of the parents, the guest just laughed and asked for another.

Back to the Big News

Just before Christmas I went to my best friend Dennis’ private dining club at Princeton University to ask him if one or two of my students could start an internship at his club. He said “Of course!” and noted that it would be a good experience for his staff as well.

I chose the private dining club rather than a restaurant because the kitchen is a little smaller with fewer people working and definitely less chaos. Chaos is not a good thing for a young autistic apprentice. I chose Kevin and Scott to be the first interns because of their advanced skills, work ethic and lack of serious maladaptive behaviors.

Kevin started first and Scott is still waiting for transportation approval. Kevin began working in the middle of February and I have to say that I was probably more nervous than he was. Like everything else related to this program I had no idea how it would work out and like everything else it went extremely well. New things often confuse an autistic student but Kevin was immediately at ease in the new situation.

We walked in, took off our coats and put on our aprons and jumped right into work.  When Greg the club chef brought out a 25-pound bag of carrots and dropped them on the prep table I thought Kevin’s eyes were going to pop out of their sockets. I don’t think he ever saw that many carrots before.  He immediately said “Am I finished?” to which I answered “No, we’ll be finished when that bag is empty.”

I wisely set up a reinforcer (purple ice pop) and left it at school so that he would have something to work for but not receive right away. That really worked. The carrots had to be trimmed and run through a food processor for shredding. Kevin stayed focused and worked hard for two hours without a break.

I have to say that I was so proud and excited for him. It was like being a coach and bringing your freshman high jumper to an Olympic Trial and having him win the event.  I was on a serious pride high!

Kevin Is Cooking

Since that first day Kevin has excelled at everything he has been asked to do. He has grilled 300 tournedos, deep fried over 1,000 chicken wings, grilled hundreds of sausages and done everything to the chef’s approval. His favorite task was the chicken wings (he liked watching the bubbles).

Proud parents with Kevin.

Last week Kevin’s parents came to the club to observe. They were overwhelmed with pride. Kevin’s father kept repeating “This is the real thing!”  When he shook my hand before leaving, I could see the emotion welling up in his eyes.

That was a special moment for me.

Written by Larry Frazer

Larry Frazer, CEC, AAC was Executive Chef at and for Princeton University. Currently he is Culinary Arts Instructor for The Eden Institute/Eden Autism Services.

23 Comments

  1. How chef Larry Frazer got Princeton jobs for his talented autistic students: new on Toque http://tinyurl.com/3e7w7ah

  2. Erika Kotite says:

    How chef Larry Frazer got Princeton jobs for his talented autistic students: new on Toque http://tinyurl.com/3e7w7ah

  3. RT @etkotite: How chef Larry Frazer got Princeton jobs for his talented autistic students: new on Toque http://tinyurl.com/3e7w7ah

  4. Rieva says:

    RT @marlamarkman: RT @etkotite: How chef Larry Frazer got Princeton jobs 4 his talented autistic students: Toque http://tinyurl.com/3e7w7ah

  5. Barbara Martin says:

    Thanks for sharing!
    As always– an inspring story. Keep up the good work.

  6. Megan Blakemore says:

    Another great article! As a teacher, I find this story inspiring. When I’m working with my students, I can think, “If Larry can do it, so can I!”

  7. Alice Murray says:

    LOVE CHEF LARRYS STORY,

    KEEP THEM COMING, YOU ROCK!

  8. Lou DiFalco says:

    just a wonderful story of inspiration, pride, and caring on everyones behalf. three cheers chef!

  9. I am not only so incredibly proud of our students and their hard work in the culinary arts program at Eden but I am also so proud of Chef Larry for working so hard to make it happen for them! Great article!

  10. Danielle Luz says:

    Chef Larry you are the best!!! I alway love reading your articles. They really give a wonderful perspective on life with Autism and how great this culinary program is for them. Keep up the wonderful job your doing!!!!

  11. Colin Marsh says:

    Great Job Larry,

    I love reading the article and getting a progress report on the kids. You are doing amazing work there and i am proud to call you a fellow teacher.

    Good to see the kids working in a real kitchen situation and “holding their own,” Hey, I like looking at the bubbles when i fry wings too

  12. Janet St. Amand says:

    An inspiring story writtenw ith humor and pride. The readers wants to celebrate along with the students, parents and teacher!

  13. Thomas Florek says:

    Awesome, and inspring.

  14. Marilynn Winston says:

    There’s nothing more important than finding something they can do to help them fit into the great life!

  15. Fahad says:

    Great to hear about your students progressing so well to this challenge. Very nice work!

  16. Pat Walker says:

    Larry has always been a “Yes I can!” type of guy. He has been very inspriing to me, and evidently he is to these special kids as well.

  17. Robert Gebhardt says:

    Chef Larry,
    I am not surprised that the kids are progressing so quickly. They have a great teacher! Keep up the good work and keep writing these great articles. I can’t wait to see what you have the students doing next.

  18. Marie Santos says:

    Chef Larry is an a amazing chef but an even more incredible human being. His faith in our kids has never wavered. My son is one of his lucky students and LOVES his time in the kitchen. He’s been helping out at home quite a bit these days. Kudos, Chef Larry!!!

  19. Madeline Castellano says:

    Chef Larry is to be commended on the wonderful work he is doing at Eden. My grandson is one of his students and he really enjoys getting involved in the kitchen. Who would have thought he would want to help prepare some of his meals. Thanks Larry and keep your articles comimg.

  20. Sam Johnston says:

    Larry, Congrats! Bet you didnt teach them to bake a cake like you taught me!! Best, sambo

  21. Beth says:

    Thanks for sharing your stories — they inspire me!

  22. FanofKevin says:

    Thanks to Chef Larry for creating such an excellent cooking program at Eden for his autistic students. It ain’t easy..to say the least. Behind the scene, it requires a visionary like Chef Larry to design the cirriculum, also Larry’s tremendous patience to execute it and his personal public relationship to find such previleged internship opportunities for his students.
    And It probably is the first of such installment in the United States within an Academic Institution setting. I was very touched to witness them all. Kudos to you, Chef Larry
    Kevin’s Dad

  23. Tammy says:

    It is wonderful that you are providing a window to this world to us all. I truly enjoy hearing the latest news. Even brought a tear to my eye to hear of the parents pride in their son. Please continue with your updates. I so enjoy them.

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