New York City celebrity Chef Vincent Tropepe had a message for the Cape High Gay Student Alliance.
“The most important thing you can do personally and professionally is to be authentic,” Tropepe said. “When you’re an authentic individual, and you’re OK with yourself, that comes through. Same thing for the chef who cooks in an authentic way. It comes through on the plate, and the dining public appreciates it.”
Tropepe, a restaurant consultant and author, stopped by Cape High March 7, ahead of his Browseabout booksigning and celebrity judge duties for the Rehoboth Chocolate Festival, to speak about his career and his mission to empower students to speak up when they see someone being bullied.
Tropepe said his career choice and coming out as gay were not well received by his family.
“I went to an all-boys, college-prep high school in New York that groomed you to become lawyers, doctors, CPAs,” he said. “I did very well in school and was offered university scholarships, but I said I wanted to go to culinary school.”
Tropepe said he knew he was gay since second grade. “I didn’t know the terminology, but I always knew I was different than everybody else.”
He came out to his parents at age 17, just a few months before his high school graduation. “I have old-world Italian parents, and you know they’re borderline crazy. They didn’t speak to me for 20 years.”
So, he left home. With his savings, he rented an apartment the next day, paying for six months’ rent in advance. Tropepe said he jumped into survival mode overnight after losing the camaraderie of his big family, working three jobs to pay for his rent and degree.
Tropepe said his mother called him for the first time in 20 years after news of his book release was published. She called to ask if she could attend the booksigning, and he told her yes.
“You have to forgive them,” he said. “It doesn’t mean what they did was right. If you can’t forgive, you will live a very angry life.”
Tropepe said teen suicide is an epidemic, and he told students about Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who killed himself after his roommate posted a video online of Clementi kissing another man.
In response to Clementi’s death, his parents launched the Tyler Clementi Foundation to bring awareness to teen suicide and bullying. Through the foundation, the public can to take a pledge to stand up to bullies and offer support to victims.
“I would like all students and faculty to take the upstander pledge to stop bullying if you see it and not to be a bully yourself,” he said. “I hope to give Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mom, a lot of these pledges back to make her very happy.”
Afterward, Tropepe met with Cape High culinary students to show them how to prepare four different versions of French toast.
Students made toast with American bread topped with caramel sauce and sliced bananas, brioche with chilled pastry cream and carmelized supreme of orange, panettone with pears and peaches in a balsamic reduction, and challah with mixed berries.
“Make sure everything is balanced and in harmony with each other,” he said. “If you put in too much of one thing, it will overpower the rest. That goes for when you cook and when you plate.”
While plating the food, Tropepe told students to eat with their eyes. “If it doesn’t look good, no one will want to eat it.”
At the end of class, students pulled out forks to devour their creations, leaving behind half a dozen empty plates.