Editor’s Note: Chef Larry Frazer enters a new phase in his life as instructor to autistic youth at Eden Institute’s Culinary Center. Frazer left his job at Princeton University 18 months ago to launch a culinary program at Eden. While his professional achievements soar he deals with a profound battle in his personal life. As always, he is a man of hope.
I left off bragging about the wonderful job my student Kevin was doing working at the Princeton Cap and Gown Club. Some time has passed since then so I have some things to catch up on. As always in life, some are good and some are not so good.
Kevin continued through the spring semester at the club doing an excellent job. Chef Greg was very happy with his performance throughout the semester and Dennis said that he would be happy to have him back. Now I am considering moving Kevin to another Princeton supper club so that he can adapt to different kitchens.
Adaptation to new surroundings is not a strong point for people with autism–something I have to work on constantly. In teaching it is known as “generalization” and it is a very important concept in our programs. Sometimes just moving a cutting board or towel to a new location will really confuse my students, causing them to shut down. In commercial kitchens there is a lot of that happening on a daily basis so they must be prepared.
Another Success Story
My student Scott will start work this coming semester. Scott is only 16 so I will be working with him for five years. That, along with his current abilities (he is one of my best students), means that the sky’s the limit for him in the culinary world. He also has one of the best personalities with the least behavioral issues so he is very easy to work with and he aims to please. “Scott’s the MAN!!!” as he says with a little prompt followed by “Chef Larry’s the BEST!” He’ll be a great fit at Cap and Gown Club.
I spent the summer writing new programs for the coming year and I have the enviable job of teaching the “little rug rats” how to bake. At ages 5-14 we are not talking serious baking. Most of the students are not able to measure items but they are certainly able to pour things into a mixing bowl and they get a real kick out of seeing everything mixing in the mixer. We do a lot of cupcakes because it is a fine motor skill, always a good thing to teach. We bake cakes and of course the ever-popular Rice Krispie treats. It’s a lot of fun and the looks on the little kids’ faces are priceless.
The most exciting thing that I am doing summer is writing new programs for my A-Team (Scott, Vania, Kelvin and Kevin). I was having a hard time figuring out where I was going to go with them once the knife skills were mastered. Then I had an epiphany one day as I was reading a recipe. I noticed that the actual method part of a recipe is written in task analysis form, very similar to what we use at school. All I needed to do was write the ingredients part in the same task analysis system (e.g. for tomato soup…1) retrieve 2 cans tomato puree & 2) retrieve one onion etc.) and we would establish a true mise en place. (I love throwing around culinary terms like mise en place with my supervisors; it’s payback, since I don’t understand half of the teaching terms they throw around.)
I now have a new direction to take them, building a new and vital skill for my students. I will start with tomato soup and mashed potatoes. Both of these have limited ingredients and I can serve them often for lunch without anyone complaining. I can’t wait for September to try these programs out!
A Shadow on the Joy
I do have one sad bit of news to report. In March I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Adenocarcinoma. The C word was the last thing I expected to hear from anyone especially now that I am doing such a worth while thing for mankind. Life is funny that way. Just when you have your life path figured out it throws you another curve ball.
I will not let this interfere with my work at Eden.
I am responding well to chemo and still working full time for as long as I am physically able. I love my job and it is one of the main things keeping me fighting. Eden has been extraordinarily good working with me and my rigorous medical schedule. I couldn’t do it if they weren’t.
Life is funny that way. Just when you have your life path figured out it throws you another curve ball.
Facing the end of my career as a working chef was very frightening when one night at home, I wasn’t able to break down a chicken for my family because I couldn’t hold on to it. (A side effect of my chemo is an inability to hold cold things.) I get an electric shock up my entire forearm–so much for working in commercial kitchens.
I won’t really miss it, though. I have EDEN!
(Next installment: Eden moves to a new location and Chef Larry gets a new commercial cooking lab)