Linda Carucci

Author Profile

WHAT I’M UP TO

My cookbook, Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks, has kept me busy, and I have been honored by the incredible reception the book has received. In the summer of 2006, the cookbook went into its third printing. It was also nominated for two book awards: the Julia Child First Book Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and the James Beard Award. You can read reviews of my book in the In the News section.

At the end of December 2006, after two-and-a-half years, I left my full-time position as Julia Child Director of Culinary Programs at COPIA in Napa, California, in order to do some writing, work on new culinary projects, and do more teaching--my favorite pastime. Beginning this June, my friend and fellow chef Cindy Race and I will be teaching an exciting new series of hands-on cooking classes called 2 Chefs, 5 Days, Countless Secrets. The classes will be taught in Emeryville, California--in the same immaculate kitchen that served as the set for the first season of Top Chef!

MORE ABOUT ME

After graduating from the California Culinary Academy (CCA) in 1984, I bought a one-way ticket for my first trip to Europe. One of the highlights was traveling through Italy, especially the southern regions where all four of my grandparents were born. In just about every trattoria in Naples, I saw someone who was a dead ringer for one of my cousins back home in New England.

Much of what I learned in cooking school in California about the relationship between geography and food was reinforced in my travel abroad. The trip was enlightening and inspirational, and I couldn’t wait to get back to California to start cooking professionally.

My first full-time cooking job was as a private, live-in chef for a prominent San Francisco family. Cooking three meals a day, six days a week for an active family was a great way to practice and refine my craft. And it was a great way to save some money to pay back the loans I took out to go to cooking school. But after a year working as a private chef, I grew weary from the isolation that comes from working alone everyday.

When an offer came my way to manage a restaurant near Point Reyes National Seashore, I grabbed it. I had cooked in several restaurants part-time during cooking school, and I often entertained a fantasy of managing the front of the house. (In cooking school I was one of the few students who didn’t object to table service classes. I had a feeling all that tray-balancing would come in handy someday.)

I loved interacting with the guests in our restaurant, and I particularly enjoyed buying the wine and creating each night’s list of wines-by-the-glass to match the chef’s specials. Of course, as the manager, I was also the one who fixed the toilet in the middle of service on a Saturday night. It was a grueling schedule, but I found managing a restaurant to be almost as exhilarating as cooking in one. Until I got hit by cupid’s arrow. After fulfilling my contract and managing the restaurant for a year, I moved back to San Francisco and got married.

Finding a cooking job with most nights and weekends free was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to land one in the Catering Department at UCSF Medical Center, preparing retirement luncheons for aging physicians who had been offered the golden parachute. It was my first job in a huge food service kitchen powered by union cooks and servers. While I was tucked away in the catering kitchen, my colleagues nearby turned out something like 3000 meals a day for hospital patients, UCSF employees, and the Medical Center’s public cafeteria.

When the doctors’ retirement parties subsided, I shifted over to the public food service area of the department, where I managed a union shop of what seemed like a mini-United Nations of food service workers in charge of serving breakfast and lunch.

With early hours like those and a pretty predictable hospital supervisor job, I was able to start a part-time catering business on the side. (Little did I know back then that this would be the material I’d draw on to teach the freshman Catering course at my alma mater, the CCA, almost ten years later.) I catered events for 100 or fewer guests, from the BleachMan campaign kick-off brunch for the SF AIDS Foundation, to non-traditional weddings and memorial services. (It was the ‘80s in San Francisco, afterall.)

While I was working at UCSF Medical Center, I helped the department’s dieticians overhaul the patient and public menus to include heart-healthy food choices in every meal. It was one thing to come up with enticing menus on paper, and quite another to scale them up for the volume production required in the hospital setting. It was my first experience with recipe development and testing, and I learned invaluable skills which I’m drawing on today as I write my first cookbook. The hospital job was great in terms of hours and benefits, but I felt under-utilized and not challenged enough. Just when I was starting to feel antsy, a friend told me that the dean at the CCA was about to resign. My friend insisted that I send in a resume and apply for the job. Within a month, I was planning a graduation for 96 members of the senior class at my alma mater. I was hired as Dean of Students and Registrar in July of 1989. In 1990, after working there for less than a year, I was promoted to Dean of the Academy, and hired a full-time registrar. In the next three years, the place grew like fava beans. On paper, it was the perfect marriage of my two careers. But in reality, something was missing. I missed cooking.

An unexpected diagnosis of breast cancer in 1991 gave me pause, to say the least. My prognosis was very favorable, and I knew I wanted to make the most of the long life my doctors told me I could expect.

In 1993, with significant financial and emotional support from my husband, I decided to make a change. I wasn’t sure just what I was going to do, but I knew it involved cooking and having my own business.  The photos above were taken at KQED-TV in San Francisco in 1994, when I taped three shows for the television series ”Cooking at the Academy.” The recipes I prepared on TV are in the cookbook Festive Favorites: Entertaining with the California Culinary Academy. After a couple of years of freelancing and some volunteer work on a couple of non-profit boards, it came to me: I wanted to teach cooking to home cooks in my own home kitchen.

We sold our urban condo in San Francisco in 1995, and bought a more spacious home among the redwood trees in the Montclair district of the Oakland, California hills. I sat down and wrote a business plan while my multi-talented (and multi-tasking) husband remodeled our kitchen. A year-and-a-half later, I sent out my first Linda Carucci’s Kitchen cooking class brochure, including a class co-taught with my husband called “Thinking of Remodeling Your Kitchen?”

Early on, Karola Saekel from the San Francisco Chronicle paid us a visit and wrote a cover story about our kitchen remodel for the Chronicle Food Section. We received more than 200 phone calls from people all over the San Francisco Bay Area who wanted to take our kitchen remodeling class. It was an incredible jumpstart for the business, as many people signed up for cooking classes, too.

As my home-based cooking school was taking off, cooking schools began to open all over the SF Bay Area at places like Sur La Table, Draegers, and Ramekins. The dotcom boom was in full force. Corporate managers looking for a novel way to entertain and reward their staffs began to book teambuilding cooking classes. For me, organizing teambuildings was like planning a catering event and teaching a hands-on cooking class all rolled into one. Since then, I’ve conducted at least 50 of these interactive cooking events for groups of all sizes, from a spouse activity for nine in my own kitchen, to a complete office staff cooking party for 70 people at a local winery.

I’ve been teaching cooking in my own kitchen and in cooking schools around the SF Bay Area for the past several years now, and I enjoy it thoroughly. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and teach cooking in Southern California, Colorado, and Oregon, and look forward to expanding my travel and teaching in the years to come. In April of 2002, my colleagues in the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) bestowed on me a tremendous honor by voting me IACP Cooking Teacher of the Year.

During the past year or so, as the economy has shifted, so has one of my activities. I’ve felt compelled to share my craft with a broader audience by writing a cookbook. I am under contract with Chronicle Books to write Cooking School Secrets for Real-World Cooks, a technique-based cookbook with 150 recipes triple-tested by home cooks--many who are my students--across the U.S. While I write Cooking School Secrets, I’ve decided to take a hiatus from teaching at home. I do still offer my kitchen for private parties here, but my classes are at cooking schools in the greater SF Bay Area.

Website: http://www.lckitchen.com/

Cookbooks by Linda Carucci