and passion, imagination, tenacity, ambition and commitment,
these are some of the words that begin to describe master
chef Caprial Pence. Her fans know her as the celebrity chef
and cookbook author, her weekly students as a cooking teacher,
her restaurant guests as chef/proprietor and her family
as wife and mother. One could also say that she possesses
genius combined with impeccable timing and just plain old-fashioned
good luck for being in the right place at the right time.
Whatever the words, Caprial Pence has been knocking down
doors in the culinary world since she was barely out of
Born in Washington and raised in Portland, Caprial became
interested in cooking at a young age, inspired by her maternal
grandfather (who was a very good home cook) and her creative
parents. "While everyone else was watching The Brady Bunch,
I was watching Julia Child making Coquille Saint-Jacques,"
says Caprial. Her father, renowned artist Patrick Horsley
and her mother had a natural flair for entertaining and
used "themes" to create memorable and inspired dinner parties.
"We didn't dine out that much, but my parents were very
much into food," recalls Caprial. She remembers how they
would do extensive research about a certain culture and
were meticulous about all the details of the meal. They
would completely decorate the house to fit the theme or
culture, wore native dress and even had their guests sit
on the floor whenever appropriate. With a beginning like
that, its not surprising that Caprial gravitated towards
food preparation with the bar set at a very high level.
During her junior year in high school, Caprial (her friends
and family call her Cappy) worked at a local deli making
fresh pasta and salads and set her sights on attending the
premier cooking school in the United States, the Culinary
Institute of America (the other CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.
She was immediately accepted, but her dream had to wait
a year as the class was full. So in 1982 at the age of 19,
Caprial, a very naive and somewhat sheltered young woman,
arrived at the CIA ready to work and learn. She was just
one of four women in her class.
The competitive and serious training lasted two years, during
which time Caprial quickly learned what she liked and didn't
like about the restaurant business. Her favorite classes
were always the hands on cooking; her passion for creating
simple, well-prepared food continued to grow and develop.
And as fate would have it, she met fellow student John Pence
through another classmate. As they soon discovered, they
were opposite sides of the same coin - it turned out that
John liked the administrative and business development aspects
of the restaurant world - and they both had a similar love
of bold flavors and unfussy food. Within a short time, Caprial
knew that John was her soul mate, the love of her life and
the perfect business partner.
Upon graduating, Caprial returned to work at the Shoalwater
restaurant (where she spent the previous summer completing
her CIA externship), on the southern Washington coast with
plans to meet up with John after summer. At the Shoalwater,
she thrived working in a kitchen that focused on local and
seasonal products and where she had the opportunity of working
directly with local farmers. "It was very inspiring to work
with local products and it really sparked my interest in
working more closely with the seasons," Caprial says. "That
summer set me on the path that I have continued to explore
and develop throughout my career," she adds.
With John heading west, they married in late 1984 and decided
to relocate to Seattle, which at the time was just beginning
a gastronomical renaissance. Caprial landed at a "very traditional"
French bistro where it turned out the owner still thought
that the only thing women did in the kitchen was pantry
and cleanup. After six months of frustration, she was hired
as the poissonnier at Fullers at the Sheraton Hotel. In
1985, Fullers was the cutting-edge restaurant in the city,
noted for an innovative menu using high-quality products
and was the epitome of what fine dining should be.
Caprial's talents flourished as she worked different positions
over the next year. She was among the best - young, enthusiastic
chefs from Malaysia, Vietnam, Hawaii, the Philippines. It
was at this time that she developed her love of Asian cuisine
that has greatly influenced her cooking. In that energized
atmosphere, her extraordinary talents blossomed and she
was promoted to sous chef. Then fate stepped in a second
time. One month after her promotion, the chef left and Caprial
became the chef de cuisine at the age of 24.
With her remarkably sunny disposition and winning smile,
Caprial admits to the position being extremely overwhelming
and difficult at first. She modestly credits having a great
crew and supportive management who gave her full rein to
run Fullers as an independent restaurant. Caprial began
working with the small boutique farms, even though hotel
management just didn't quite understand a farmer "showing
up on their back doorstep with a single box of product."
Driven to succeed, Caprial spent the next seven years developing
and honing her style, bringing more of an Asian influence
to the menu of Northwest fare and in the process, earning
herself and Fullers great acclaim. In 1988 until 1990, Fullers
was recognized by Conde Nast as one of the top 50 restaurants
in the nation, and received the Mobile 4-Star, the 3-Diamond
and the Golden Fork awards.
And in May 1988, Time magazine heralded Caprial as "the
latest star in town" she turns out dishes that are
as delicious as they are pretty." A testament to her many
groundbreaking achievements at Fullers was earning the James
Beard Award for Best Chef, Pacific Northwest 1990, the first
year the distinguished award was given. More than any other,
this award solidified her status as an innovator, a master
About this same time, she wrote the first of her many cookbooks,
Caprial's Seasonal Kitchen, based on the seasonal cooking
and Northwest ingredients that are a hallmark of her style.
She also began teaching cooking classes at Fullers and was
tapped as a guest chef for local television appearances.
The whirlwind national attention was soon followed by international
kudos from the former Soviet Union to Malaysia. Visiting
Soviet Georgians had flipped over her cooking and created
the first cultural exchange program between the two countries.
Caprial (seven months pregnant with her first child!), and
her team (all women) traveled with cases of Northwest ingredients
and cooked a series of dinners for Soviet dignitaries, officials
and the U.S. ambassador. The Soviet team later came to Fullers
to cook for a week with Caprial. The high-profile exchange
culminated with a New York press dinner covered by the Times
and an event at the Soviet embassy in Washington D.C. And
later that same year, Caprial was flown to Kuala Lumpur
where she cooked for the Sultan's birthday party. Quite
a heady experience for a 25-year-old!
Caprial took a few months off to enjoy her new baby son
and then it was back to work at a ferocious pace. Husband
John joined her as Co-chef at Fullers for a time but they
made the decision that one of them should be a stay-at-home
parent. So John became the "house dad", allowing Caprial
to capitalize on her growing celebrity. Cooking demonstrations,
travel and television appearances became commonplace.
By 1991, Caprial and John began thinking of slowing down
and owning their own lives again. Caprial was pregnant with
their daughter and had enough of the high profile, high-stress
life. Her parents (who still lived in Portland) suggested
looking at a small storefront bistro that was on the market.
Within a few months, the unpretentious Westmoreland Bistro
belonged to the young couple.
And, as the saying goes, "the best-laid plans," the bistro
opened to rave reviews and was an instant success. The calmer
pace they had envisioned was not to be. Their mandate that
"the food must live up to the presentation," wowed locals
and visitors alike. Julia Child was a guest and invited
Caprial to cook at her 80th birthday party after tasting
the bold, simple flavors of her cuisine.
With two young children and a "hot" restaurant, Caprial's
world changed again when she was approached to host her
own cooking show. Caprial's Cafe debuted on the Learning
Channel in 1994. The 65-episode series spawned a companion
cookbook called Caprial's Cafe Favorites and still airs
on the Discovery Channel internationally. The following
year, the show moved to Public Television under the new
name Caprial! Cooking for Friends, and has been airing for
the past five years. The 2001 series brought John on board
and was renamed Cooking with Caprial and John. With each
new season, a new cookbook is also introduced, bringing
Caprial's best-selling cookbooks to a total of eight. The
latest was Caprial and John's first co-authored book, Caprial
& John's Kitchen; Recipes for Cooking Together which hit
shelves in June 2003.
Caprial and John opened a cooking school, Caprial & John's
Kitchen, in January 2002. The school features a spacious
40-seat kitchen and small retail shop. The culinary program
features classes taught by Caprial and John, as well as
classes taught by local and national chefs. The companion
website was launched in December 2001. The site highlights
a complete listing of classes as well as allows for online
To relax these days, Caprial has taken up yoga. She loves
to garden, growing her own herbs and some vegetables too.
She enjoys just staying home and spending time with her
children. And every so often, she and John try to have a
When asked what keeps her going, Caprial quickly answers,
"continuing to experiment and develop as a chef and the
challenge of creating unfussy, beautiful food that our guests
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For John Pence, the road to becoming the triple threat of
chef/proprietor/entrepreneur really began at the age of
20 - not that he hadn't given it a little thought prior
to that age. But growing up in Chester, New Jersey with
six siblings and a mother that overcooked most meals, cooking
for a living was just not something that initially came
to his mind while watching his father barbecuing for the
family. John Pence is a living testament to success through
hard work fueled by passion, excellence, loyalty and integrity.
Growing up the middle child of six brothers and sisters
makes one tough, tenacious and very resourceful. After all,
the older siblings always have a sense of proprietorship
- they were here first; and the younger ones, well, they
are the "babies," pampered and protected. So John, not a
particularly good student due to undiagnosed dyslexia that
went untreated, decided to follow his heart when he graduated
from high school.
Enrolling in a local junior college to satisfy his parents,
John worked part-time as a bus person at a local landmark
restaurant the Public House. While watching the chef one
day, John discovered that he had an interest and an aptitude
for cooking. The chef quickly recognized the young man's
talents and was soon mentoring him. Starting from the ground
up, John rapidly learned the basics and, after years of
shunning books, he began buying and studying every cookbook
he could get his hands on, much to his parents' surprise.
After only three months in the kitchen, he was given the
opportunity to cook Sunday brunch. That day was a huge victory
that he will never forget; a day that solidified John's
resolve to pursue cooking as a career.
With a contagious excitement and enthusiasm for cooking
growing daily, his mentor encouraged John to apply to the
Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Hyde Park where he
was accepted into the two-year program in 1982. John remembers
with fondness learning the foundations and principles of
cooking, and not being able to learn fast enough to satisfy
his growing passion. He found that he also excelled at the
business side of restaurant work and knew that one day he
wanted to own his own place. There was nothing that John
encountered during his two years at the CIA that he didn't
love, especially meeting his future wife, Caprial.
When John graduated in 1984, he returned home and worked
at David's Country Inn for a few months while interviewing
for positions in Seattle where he would soon join Caprial.
His first position in Seattle was at the French bistro,
Crepe de Paris, working pantry before being wooed away by
Fullers, at that time, Seattle's most prestigious restaurant.
What a year 1985 was - getting married to Caprial and working
at one of the top restaurants in Seattle! Beginning as saucier
and working in a variety of positions for nearly two years,
John acknowledges, "I don't think that I began to develop
my style or specialty until my time at Fullers. What an
exciting, creative place to work so early in my career."
After working several stations at Fullers, John instinctively
knew that it was time to head up his own kitchen. He subsequently
was hired as chef at Le Fleur, a popular neighborhood restaurant
known for its classic Continental cuisine. John was given
carte blanche and he soon started to shake things up a bit.
Seattle began to sit up and notice his new wave blend of
simple yet bold food. From Le Fleur, he moved on to Cafe
Sport. Known for their innovative Pan Asian/Pacific Rim
food, Cafe Sport was Fullers' big competition. John began
to create cutting edge cuisine that has become his signature
- good, hearty Northwest food with Asian influences.
From there, John moved to Place Pigalle, a restaurant that
specialized in Mediterranean cuisine. He had served as chef
for about a year when Caprial's career really started taking
off backed by Fullers' publicity machine. The two of them
discussed the need that one parent should stay home with
their new son and John decided it should be him. Giving
Caprial the security and freedom to explore the many opportunities
coming her way, John was a stay-at-home dad, raising their
son Alex for the next year and a half. He states that "it
was the best thing that I have ever done!"
The time off also energized John. He continued to fine-tune
his many innovative creations and used the time to formulate
ideas for a restaurant that he and Caprial hoped to have
one day. After his son's second birthday, an opportunity
presented itself to return to Fullers as Co-chef with Caprial.
Her new celebrity status meant that she was traveling, working
on a cookbook etc., and the restaurant needed another top
chef to maintain its consistency. For the next year, the
young couple worked side-by-side, sharing the responsibilities
of running the kitchen.
In late 1991, Caprial pregnant with their daughter Savannah,
John started looking around for a space to launch their
own restaurant and simplify their lives. Wanting to move
closer to family, he investigated a small bistro in Portland
that was up for sale. Moving quickly, John grabbed the space
"as is" and he set about to transform what was Westmoreland
Bistro, a very small restaurant that was known more as a
retail wine outlet than a dining destination.
As a guiding force in the conception of Caprial's Bistro
(originally they kept the name Westmoreland), John drew
from his extensive business and cultural awareness to oversee
the evolution of the restaurant. Focusing on Pacific Northwest
seasonal produce, seafood, poultry and game, the multi-ethnic
menu includes many dishes influenced by classic French,
Mediterranean and Pacific Rim cooking. He also decided to
keep the retail wine concept and to this day, all wine is
priced at retail with a minimal corkage fee.
From its simple origins in 1992, John has masterminded the
bistro's development with his vision and many talents. In
1998, he oversaw the expansion to its present size without
having to close down during the construction. From "Mr.
Fix It" to his marketing skills, John has helped create
a thriving business with a loyal customer base that continues
to grow. The modest staff has grown from eight to 50 employees.
In January 2002, new doors were opened as Caprial & John's
Kitchen, a cooking school catering to the needs of the inspired
home chef, was unveiled. John joins Caprial in teaching
over 200 classes per year. The culinary program hosts local
and national guest chefs as well as offers a permanent teaching
venue to the resident chef and a handful of seasoned Bistro
John was co-host to Caprial on the American Public Television
series, Cooking with Caprial & John and most recently appears
in the series Caprial & John's Kitchen: Cooking for Family
and Friends, which was filmed in the cooking school.
Keeping pace with the demands of modern "foodies," John
has taken the business to a new level with attention to
food, service and style with good old-fashioned standards.
He loves the daily challenges that owning a restaurant and
running a cooking school provides. John says that "the smell
of the food, the customers enjoyment and working with good
people" keeps his passion going. He also makes sure to give
back to the community by participating in various charity
events throughout the year.
John's business philosophy is based on his own life experience:
"create your own opportunities. Provide a great atmosphere
for people to work and be part of it yourself." With a thriving
business, wonderful family and home, John is enjoying the
fruits of his work while giving back to his employees, customers
and his community.
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