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Caprial + John - The Kitchen
Caprial and John Pence

Caprial
John

Biographies

Caprial Pence

Extraordinary talent 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 high school.

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 chef.

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 registration.

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 get-a-way.

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 enjoy."
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John Pence

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 chefs.

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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Copyright 2009, Caprial and John Pence