Theodosopoulos recently started Arizona’s first-ever baking apprenticeship in partnership with C-CAP Arizona — an internationally recognized two-year program. Founded by Richard Grausman and co-chaired by Marcus Samuelsson, C-CAP offers 15,000 students across the nation a chance to develop their interest in the culinary and hospitality fields. The program offers graduating high school students the opportunity to advance their culinary skills in a working environment.
“Culinary school is expensive,” Theodosopoulos continues. “It is $60,000 a year. Most people can’t afford it. They want to start working right away. With the C-CAP apprenticeship program, the kids graduate from high school culinary and start working immediately.”
Theodosopoulos currently has two people who want to go into baking, another who graduated from culinary school and wants to do management, and a fourth who is interested in learning front of house. With her program, they have a chance at a hands-on experience early on.
“You start working straight away ... you are making money. Then you can supplement with programs, maybe online,” she says. “Plus, if this is not something you want to do, you still have a skill to fall back on and are not in debt.”
So what made Chef Theo personally interested in participating? She loves teaching and now gets to do it every day.
She's already talking about opening a cooking school.
Her C-CAP program is 4,000 hours. The students mostly work 40 hours a week. In those hours, they learn how to make croissants, cookies, macarons, breads, and creams. At this time, she takes four students. They start upon graduation or when the school year's over and stay for two years. She even has one student still in high school who works weekends.
The same attitude permeates the the kitchen. As she gives a tour, she introduces all the employees. Past the line, there are two rooms — one with three ovens, the other where pastries and cookies are prepared. Three young women are working in the baking area.
Denise Garcia, 24, works on macarons.
She completed culinary school and studies hospitality. “Because I had done competitions, I felt comfortable with speed and efficiency,” Garcia says. “But this was my first time doing pastry. Chef Theo thinks I was calm when I started, but in my mind, I was freaking out.”
Garcia goes on to explain working with Theodosopoulos. “She’s patient with everybody and knows your limits and strengths. Even when I don't know if I can, she says, 'Yes you can,' then leaves the room. Somehow, I find myself doing the assigned task.” Garcia says she's comfortable with challenging bakes, even patiently guides the other young bakers.
“It’s a family atmosphere here,” says one of the girls, smiling. The others concur.
Charlize Cipres, 18, did three competitions: Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA); one for the National Dairy Council; and C-CAP. She says she really wanted to win a scholarship for baking and pastry, because she's always loved desserts.
“After the competitions, I received a $5,000 scholarship to Scottsdale Community College. Then, from the Dairy Council, I got second place and this internship,” Cipres says. “I’ve been here for four months and have already learned how to make the dough, rolls, croissants, and Kouign Amann."
And if that doesn't sound complicated, be prepared to eat your words, like so many delicious pastries. "Baking is very, very precise. The temperature of the room, the temperatures of the dough and butter all affect the final product," she says.
"This environment is very different than where I worked before. I was the only woman in a kitchen full of men and I was the only one who cleaned the kitchen. I even took the time to deep-clean," she says. "Here, cleaning is part of the daily routine and we deep-clean once a month. Look at these refrigerators and ovens. They look brand-new because of the care that goes into them. I love it here and don’t regret making this decision for one second.”
Valerie Moreno, 18, is petite but exudes confidence. “I’ve been here since 4 a.m.,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do baking. One of my teachers warned me about the work and hours. It didn’t matter. This is what I want to do. If you have any questions about any of the bakes, let me know.”
Their excitement is infectious. These young women know what they want and are given the opportunity to blossom. Yes, they clean here, too, but cleaning is only part of the job, not all of it.
What Theodosopoulos is giving these students is beyond mere baking skills. It's clear she's a mentor who instills confidence and fosters independence in young women.
According to Jill Smith, the C-CAP program director, the school supports students through SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis to help them have smooth transitions during the apprenticeship.
The school is also looking for possible chefs outside of metro Phoenix. Yes, they're going statewide. By the end of this year, C-CAP Arizona hopes to place 25 students.
Of the experience, one of the young bakers, Cipres, has a simple send-off: "I love it," she says, "and I love Chef Theo."