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Alum Frank Caponi Savors Opportunities in Culinary World


West Windsor, N.J. - Frank Caponi Jr. '10 thrives on learning the tricks of the trade as he helps run the busy kitchen at Eno Terra Eno Teca, a popular Italian fine dining establishment in Kingston, N.J., where he has served as sous chef for the past five months.

Caponi, who completed Certificates of Proficiency in Cooking and Baking at MCCC in May 2010, takes great pride in whipping up a wide variety of daily specials to delight patrons. Loyal customers stream in regularly for dishes accented with fresh organic herbs from local farmers and nurseries.

According to Caponi, the most challenging and exhilarating part of his job is keeping up with the constant flow of orders, particularly on Saturday nights. "When the rush crowd comes in, it's a race to make sure that everything goes out on time and that the hot food remains hot and that the cold food stays cold," Caponi notes. "Talking to our customers and seeing their positive reaction makes it worth all of the effort."

Alum Frank Caponi ('10)

This food enthusiast's career path has been circuitous. Upon graduating from Hightstown High School in 2002, Caponi contemplated a law enforcement career to follow in the footsteps of his father, a police lieutenant. At Jersey City University, which gave him the opportunity to play football, he took criminal justice courses. Though intrigued by the field, he quickly realized it was not the "right fit" for him as he found himself repeatedly reflecting on a childhood passion: cooking.

Caponi recalls growing up helping his mother and grandmothers in the kitchen. As a teenager, he worked in his mother's restaurant, Michelle's Country Kitchen, in Hightstown. "I used go over every day after school to wash dishes and, during the summer, I served lunch," he said.

Leaving Jersey City University, Caponi enrolled part-time at MCCC in 2003, first taking business administration courses while working on the dock at a Central Jersey-based trucking company. Determined to excel academically, he made the Dean's List. "It was tough. Sometimes I was working 50-plus hours a week and going to school at the same time. I took classes whenever I could fit them into my work schedule."

Eventually, Caponi decided to go all-in in pursuit of his new career path. In 2008 he resigned from his job and began taking culinary classes at MCCC in earnest. He particularly remembers learning alongside MCCC culinary instructor Frank Benowitz, whom, he maintains, always emphasized "quality over quantity." MCCC instructor Bill Beyer also made a memorable impact - not only for his skill as an instructor, but for going the extra mile to help find students jobs in the field. Both mentors helped Caponi build his confidence to seek connections in the culinary world.

Having lunch one day at Bistro Soleil in Hightstown, Caponi spoke of his culinary ambitions with Chef Jim Hayes, who quickly took him under his wing, hiring him as a lunch cook. "He taught me everything he knew until the restaurant closed about two years ago," Caponi said.

Soon after, while dining at Eno Terra Eno Teca, Caponi chatted with head chef Chris Albrecht, who offered him a part-time prep position on the spot. From there, he was promoted to a full-time position as a line worker at dinner time and then to his current post.

What's in Caponi's future? Someday, he would like to open his own restaurant, of course. And his resounding message to one and all is to "never give up on your passion. Sometimes it just takes a little time before you find the right path," he says.

Visit the Eno Terra Eno Teca website here.

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