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A Man and His Mousse

August 16, 1998|Jim Washburn

It was a slow weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center's food concession stalls: How could a foot-long dog compete with the stuffed wild boar, freshly shucked oysters and other gustatory lagniappes being handed out at the American Culinary Federation National Convention late last month?

Over in the convention's competition kitchen, Rudy Garcia had similar cause to feel outclassed as he finessed his Kahla Sunrise. His 11 co-finalists in the 1998 "New Star Dessert Search" were pastry chefs flown in by their fancy-hotel employers from as far away as Maui and New York City. East L.A. native Garcia, 39, does his cooking in classrooms (Sylmar's Monroe High School and Mission Junior College), carries his utensils in a plastic Sears Craftsman toolbox and admits he's more of a saute man.

While the others may have had corporate backers, Garcia had a cheering section of students he has ushered through the nonprofit Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). They had prodded him to enter the national contest, in which the big prize was a trip to Lyon, France.

Garcia was pretty sure his dessert was doomed: a scheduling squeeze and a humid kitchen had kept his mousse from setting properly. Yet with a jeweler's precision he placed each element on the judges' plates. "He handles food like he's handling a baby," said student Kathleen Du Prez. "When he's handling food, you see the real him. His outside personality is a little bit rough."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 20, 1998 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 4 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
In "A Man and His Mousse" (So SoCal, Aug. 16), an editing error resulted in the misnaming of the schools at which chef Rudy Garcia teaches. He instructs at James Monroe High School in North Hills and Los Angeles Mission High School in Sylmar.

So he's a tough teacher?

"Man, he's strict," said former student David Gonzalez. "But that's how I got my [C-CAP] scholarship."

It rather makes one root for Garcia, doesn't it? Could his engaging 700-calorie-per-serving miniature (chocolate demitasse cups held the mousse, accompanied by doll-sized cookies) prevail over Lattice of Love and Irish Creme Cheesecake with White Chocolate Espresso Sorbet--towering constructs that looked more like public art than foodstuffs?

Turns out Garcia will be seeing a lot more of Sylmar than he will of Lyon. He and the other runners-up to the Arizona Biltmore's rhubarb-apple-pineapple cake received medals and $500 checks. The former he'll cherish, and the latter he promptly signed over to New York-based C-CAP, which counts among its sponsors Chocolates a la Carte, the Sylmar confections company that underwrote the "New Star Dessert Search."

"I can look at France on a map," Garcia said. "To give to something where you help kids, you can't put a value on that. Students who don't act too interested in life sometimes learn that cooking is more intense than they imagined. I try to show them that there's a lot of care and dedication in this field, and that it comes from the heart."

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