Chris Carp has been executive chef of Capital Camps & Retreat Center, a conference center and summer camp, for three years. Founded as a rustic retreat center for Jewish communities in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Capital Retreat Center caters to Jewish and non-Jewish groups from 10 to 500 or more.
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One unique aspect of the facility is that the kitchen is strictly kosher, with a religious-based separation of meat and dairy items.
This was a whole new experience for Carp.
"The first year was really rough. I just couldn't figure out what this was all about," he said. "It's been a challenge, but it's made me think outside the box about what I can do."
Carp chatted with me in his small office. On his desk was a photo of Kalea, the 2-year-old daughter of Carp and his wife, Ali.
What does Kalea's name mean?
It means bright and clear. It's Hawaiian. I've been surfing since I was a little kid. I grew up surfing. Me and my dad went on surf trips every weekend. That culture has always been a part of me. Figured I'd pass it on.
So where'd you grow up?
Oh, yeah — the surfing capital of the world.
(Laughs) My dad and I would drive down to Cape Hatteras (N.C.) or Wrightsville Beach (N.C.) every weekend. We'd camp. I'm not from a rich family at all. That's how we'd go surfing every weekend. My dad's been surfing since he was, like, 16. He grew up in Florida.
When did you decide to become a chef?
I was more of a social person than an academic person. When I finished high school, I worked in restaurants. And during that time, I was going to community college in Roanoke. And then I started to take a culinary class offered at the community college. I was about two weeks into it, and I said, "You know what? This is something I can do. I feel comfortable, like I have a natural gift for it." That's what led me to go to culinary school.
What school did you go to?
I went to Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh. It was an accelerated program. I was there a little over a year and a half.
How long have you been a chef?
I'm 26, and I (graduated from culinary school and) started for Hyatt Dulles when I was 21. But really, culinary school is not going to teach you how to cook. It's not going to teach you how to be a chef. It's going to give you the foundation.
Being a chef is managing a whole team of people to produce a quality product. It's not just cooking. If you can cook great, great. You're a great cook. But being a chef is being able to take on the entire thing and being able to overcome obstacles.