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.
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.
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,"
Visit the Eno Terra Eno Teca website here.