AUGUSTA – During his 28-year culinary career, Charles J. Izzi Jr. of Hartford has made meals in Maine summer camps for the children of such celebrities as Eddie Murphy and Sigourney Weaver.

In the 1980s, when the jovial Rhode Island native worked as the head chef’s assistant at the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel in Boston – back before it became a chain – he did likewise for Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird, the prince of Saudi Arabia, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Morris the Cat, and more.

But for the past 20 years, Izzi has taught his profession to more than 400 juniors and seniors from eight sending high schools in the Monmouth to Augusta area at the Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta.

They are, he says, his celebrities – his pride and joy- and the future of the world’s food service industry.

“Hopefully, I can give my students an edge and make them ready for the real world,” Izzi said Tuesday morning in class. “These guys are my success stories. I had a gentleman from Gardiner who graduated five to six years ago and started as a line cook for the Longhorn Steaks Restaurant chain. Now, he’s on the corporate team and he opens all of them around the U.S.”

The center’s production kitchen bustled with activity as white-frocked students worked to produce school lunches.

“I’m here with the knowledge and I want them to soak it in from me, but they don’t have to do it like me,” Izzi said.

On Monday night at the Maine Culinary Association’s annual awards banquet in Augusta, the portly bespectacled man was presented with the coveted American Culinary Federation Maine Chapter’s Chef of the Year award. It was his second such achievement, the first being in 1990.

“It’s a great honor. But like I told the people last night, don’t thank me, thank the children … this is a team effort,” Izzi said.

Come Tuesday, he was back teaching, surrounded by the aromas of fresh vegetables, meatloaf, a simmering brown broth of sliced mushrooms, and fresh-baked frosted chocolate cake.

Unlike other Maine culinary arts programs, Izzi’s students learn while designing, prepping, cooking and serving 150 nutritional school lunches a day.

“Ninety-five percent of it is done from scratch. They do their own baking and they butcher meat, fish and poultry, and prepare fresh vegetables. The pace is not a restaurant pace, but it gives them guidelines. I strongly feel … that they’re past entry level positions by the time they leave here,” Izzi said.

Two of his proteges – Mischa Antemann, 18, an exchange student at Erskine Academy from Weil Am Rhein, Germany, and Cony High School student Tucker Bear, 17, – spoke highly of Izzi on Tuesday. Both plan to open their own restaurants.

“I think it’s a big honor to be in his class,” Antemann said. “He’s showed me things and life lessons and he’s a big idol for me. He gives us great opportunities and not just an education. He’s never negative, always positive. He gives me the basics and a good base to see into the future.”

“If it wasn’t for him and other people, I never would have gotten this far,” Bear said. “He’s an inspiration for me. He’s kind and helpful. He’s taught me a lot.”

Charles and Lynn, his wife of 27 years, also operate a two-month food service program during summers for Camp Vega at Kents Hill. They serve more than 1,500 meals a day.

So, what’s his favorite food? Despite working for the Ritz-Carlton, it’s not what you’d think.

“Kraft mac and cheese and hot dogs, I’ve got to admit it,” he said.


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