A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY Chef John Percarpio is a campus educator at the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder, Colorado. A Certified Executive Chef of the American Culinary Federation, Chef Percarpio’s culinary career has taken him from Colorado to Vermont by way of Munich, Germany and back again. In addition to holding a Level 1 Sommelier degree from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Chef Percarpio had the honor of cooking Julia Child’s 72nd birthday dinner in 1999.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
I was always inspired by the food my family would cook for holidays and special events but my professional inspiration came during high school. I had a job in a local Italian restaurant. The Chef there commanded the kitchen with skill and professionalism but at the same time was having a lot of fun doing it.
What do you love most about being an educator with Auguste Escoffier?
What I love the most is having a student come back to campus to see us, years after they’ve completed the curriculum and personally thank us for the experience they had. That’s from the heart…
Walk us through a typical day for you at the Boulder Campus:
First is preparation at my home. I get caught up on all of my grading, emails and company requirements. This way when I arrive on campus I am not tethered to the MacBook. I arrive on campus and get in to the classroom. On some days where the product is delicate I may check in with purchasing before I set up for lecture. When the students arrive I am getting things inline for lecture like presentations and double checking connectivity. Once class begins I am in lecture for about an hour. We do open discussions, presentations, think pair share sessions, plicker product ID and other fun things. Sometimes I show a quick video if I really think it’s worth it. Then we go into production. In the kitchen is where we let the rubber hit the road. Everything we have researched, discussed and questioned is now coming to fruition. I may have one team one fight or break the class into two smaller teams if the day permits.
I do structured demonstrations and some spontaneous ones. In my current class I do more coaching that hand holding. They are near the end of the curriculum. After production and tasting we take a quick break and then appreciate the kitchen. That means cleaning from head to toe. I clean with my class so they know that this work has no one above it. Once the kitchen is clean and the check list is filled out, we review the menu for the next day and the students sign up for what they are most interested in. I then take that list and decide before class the next day who is doing what. I look at their history and our learning objectives for the class to make that decision. I thank them for cooking and cleaning with me and then dismiss. After dismissal I putter around the kitchen and make sure I have not missed anything. I sweep the classroom and talk to students who love to hang around after class. Then a quick e-mail check and I say goodbye.
In addition to being a chef you’re also a Level 1 Sommelier, how do you incorporate your knowledge of wine when teaching students?
I love this question. I first teach them what wine is and then what are true flaws in wine. This way when they cook with the box wine they can appreciate that it may not be a quality wine but it is for sure not a flawed wine. The next step is teaching them when is it appropriate to use a better quality wine in the kitchen. If we are deglazing pans from roasting veal bones for stock production, use the box wine. On the flip side if you are making sauce beurre blanc that is mainly butter and wine, a step up in quality here will make a marked difference.
A current favorite varietal or region?
Easy. Napa Cab (The Far Niente or Silver Oak)
You cooked at Julia Child’s 72nd Birthday dinner. What was that experience like and what dishes did you create for her?
Check out my menu!
How would you describe your cooking philosophy in five words or less?
What was the last dish you cooked at home?
Venison kabobs, garlic hummus, cucumber yogurt sauce and whole wheat bread from Lucky’s. I cook for my family six nights a week.