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Chain Reaction

Assisting independents in their cook-off with corporate chain restaurants, CAFÉ Trust and First Cardinal Corporation are serving $50,000 in culinary scholarships to New York chefs and restaurateurs.

“What we do is very different from the chain restaurants. We don’t have the mass appeal of a chain, we do made-to-order and prepare everything fresh from high-quality products,” said Sharon Taylor, owner of Friends Lake Inn in Chestertown and sponsor of scholarship winner Kirk Gibson, her kitchen’s sous-chef. “Keeping on top of trends is paramount when the industry is so fickle, and our employees would love to take a few classes and heighten their experiences as chefs.”

With the proliferation of national restaurant chains, and their nationally funded marketing and advertising plans zeroing in on relatively small markets, independent restaurants nationwide have felt greater competitive pressure, said Evan Christou, scholarship winner and owner of Tops Diner in Rotterdam and Gateway Diner on Central Avenue in Albany.

“If you look at who we compete with, we are up against corporate America,” said Christou. “Through this scholarship I can better season myself. It opens me up to resources that I wouldn’t be able to attain on my own.”

Four two-year scholarships to the Culinary Institute of America were awarded last year, and five continuing- education scholarships were awarded this year. The continuing-education scholarships are open-ended, and curricula can be designed by individuals to enhance skills specific to their jobs. Christou plans to enroll in courses to better his skills in both the kitchen and the back office, as he “needs information and knowledge in all areas at all times.”

Todd Bishop, of First Cardinal Corporation, said the scholarships “are a great way to give something back to the industry,” and looks forward to the five more continuing-education scholarships to be given out next year.

“A lot of restaurateurs are enticed by the cruise ships or moving to Vegas or Miami, high-profile places, and these scholarships can enhance the talent pool in upstate New York,” said Bishop. “If these small markets can offer higher culinary education, this is a great way to keep them in the state.”


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