Clear Path’s Chef Griffin: ‘(A) successful restaurant requires team effort’

At the heart of it, cooking is caring.

Nearly a year before coming to Clear Path for Veterans, Executive Chef Christopher Griffin was sharing through an article to his culinary students what is, in essence, Clear Path’s culinary mantra.

“We see cooking as a way to show that we care for people. We want to serve our guests or our families great food, and give them a memorable experience. In the industry, it takes a team to do that,” Griffin wrote. Clear Path’s approach to that team effort is through a passionate volunteer base.

Chef Griffin grew up in Plattsburgh. He departed the North Country in March 2001 to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He was stationed in 2002 in Yokosuka, Japan, and in 2004 he was in Fallujah, Iraq. A weapons instructor, Sgt. Griffin was discharged from the military in February 2009.

Although Griffin did not specifically seek out culinary experiences during his military tenure, that is where he first discovered his passion for Latin food, while in California. And serving as an instructor his last four years provided him with insight that he would later embrace while teaching.

After receiving a degree in social sciences from Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh, a representative from Paul Smith’s College enticed Griffin to the college’s undergraduate degree. Paul Smith’s – which is the only four-year college inside the boundaries of the world-famous “forever wild” Adirondacks and the college’s 14,000-acre property was a plus for the mountain bike riding Griffin – is the rare college in New York that offers a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts.

Griffin graduated the Culinary Arts and Service Management program Magna Cum Laude in 2014. Although he appreciated the ingredients and tools at his disposal – including the college’s six professional-grade kitchens and two on-campus restaurants – the real gem of his experience was his instructors. “They were technicians,” as he calls them.

He also had a lot of exposure to farms – which relates well to Clear Path’s push to purchase ingredients direct from Veteran-owned farms; and due to the nature of the area and its high volume of tourists, Griffin was able to work at a renowed four-diamond resort.

Following graduation, Griffin had stints as the director of Culinary Arts and Education at The Mountain Lake Academy in Lake Placid (offering residential therapeutic programs to youth ages 12 to 21) and cooking at Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar in Lake Placid, a gastro pub that focuses on locally-sourced foods.

Griffin then started his own private catering business, Kitchen229 Catering, serving the greater Tri-Lakes region. The private chef’s catering services primarily served smaller parties.

In August 2016, he returned to his alma mater as a chef/instructor. “I wanted to teach what I knew, and prepare students for (a real-world experience of) what it was like in the industry,” Griffin said. He taught courses such as professional cooking fundamentals and American gastronomy, and seeing his students’ progress through the curriculum brought him great satisfaction.

Griffin came to Clear path for a meeting in April. As one of two people representing education at that meeting, he was unfazed … for the most part: “I just walked in and I was like, ‘Holy s…,” Griffin said. “I talked with (Outreach Coordinator) Lynn (Fox) who gave me a tour. She said you were looking for an executive chef and asked if I knew anyone who was interested. I think she was up to something.”

Today, Griffin calls Manlius home along with wife, Sarah, daughter Edith, two dogs – Otis and Lucy, and a cat named “W.”

Clear Path’s executive chef points to three factors that have helped him thoroughly enjoy his time to date. “The general atmosphere around here is great,” Griffin said. And he appreciates “people’s willingness to support each other, and working with other Veterans again.”

On the horizon, Griffin would like to explore benefit dinners that would “build relationships with the community.” He is also very early in the process of developing a better system for serving meals offsite, such as the Mobile Canteens that have been hosted in the Southern Tier.

Those two endeavors – benefit dinners and offsite cooking – will only be made possible through the generous donation of time by Clear Path’s many volunteers. As noted in the article “What a Culinary Degree Should Mean” penned by Griffin, the team effort provided by volunteers at Clear Path is akin to what makes a restaurant so successful.

“There’s value in experiencing what the many other jobs in restaurants entail. Working in different kitchen positions allows us to experience what is required of dishwashers, prep cooks, pantry cooks and line cooks. From this experience, hopefully, by the time you become a chef, you’ll appreciate that a successful restaurant requires team effort.”