By Viviane Gilbert Stein
It’s tempting to assume the best part of KCC’s Spring Gourmet Gala is the food: an enticing array of culinary creations, perfectly paired with fine wines or coffee.
But beyond the elegant presentation, other benefits are layered like an elaborate trifle.
Financial support of a worthy educational program. Networking and employment opportunities for students. And a chance for successful alumni to strut their culinary stuff.
All that, and it tastes great, too.
“It’s a really good thing for students to be out in front, working side-by-side with visiting chefs and these nice products,” says Mark Oyama, assistant professor at KCC’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific and owner of Contemporary Flavors Catering and Mark’s Place.
“They get a feel for seeing people enjoying themselves, really savoring the foods and wine. It does create a real good sense of pride and happiness in what we do. Because it is hard work, but we do this to make people happy.”
And the people appear to be happy — the gala is so popular, tickets sold out weeks in advance.
The 11th annual event will feature world-renowned chefs Alan Wong of Alan Wong’s Restaurants and Vikram Garg, executive chef of the Halekulani in Waikiki. On April 12, they will join local chefs and sommeliers in KCC’s fine dining room for what organizers describe as “an epicurean delight.”
Funds raised by the $125 tickets and a silent auction — offering a catering package and Alaskan fishing lodge stay, among other treats — are put to excellent use by the culinary arts program.
Proceeds pay for kitchen equipment, a “state-of-the-art media system,” and the new Fundamental Skills Learning Kitchen, as well as students’ First Aid and CPR certification and American Culinary Federation Certified Culinarian membership, which Oyama describes as a “very rigorous certification process.”
All that effort pays off, graduates say.
“If I didn’t go through the culinary program at KCC, and learn all the things that I did, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Gavin Onishi, executive chef at Contemporary Flavors Catering.
The 1997 Kauai High graduate earned his KCC degree in 1999 and has been working in fine dining in Oahu, California and Alaska ever since.
“They say you need to go to a four-year college to prepare for your future job career,” Onishi says, but “it happens in a two-year program” at KCC.
The Culinary Institute of the Pacific taught him the basics, from the fundamentals of working in kitchens to the history of cuisine. “It prepared me so well for my field and my career. I’m a more well-rounded cook.”
Hukilau Lanai sous chef Eliza Vicoy agrees.
After graduating from Kapaa High in 2004, Vicoy worked in restaurants on Kauai and Oahu. “I had been in the industry for 8 to 10 years but didn’t have that knowledge,” she says. “I worked in a lot of places, but I never really understood how things ‘worked.’ ”
So she enrolled in the culinary arts program, graduating last spring. Lessons on method, inventory and food cost formulas “helped me a lot,” Vicoy says.
Onishi and Vicoy are just two KCC grads proud to be preparing dishes for the gala. Onishi plans to offer a homemade tofu dish with Kauai shrimp, while Vicoy is working on a sweet potato blini with smoked local fish.
But she is most excited about a kaffir lime caviar with coconut-lemongrass foam. After all, the gala is a “real upscale” event that deserves something fancy, Vicoy says. “I wanted to go all out.”
Corporate sponsorships, which include VIP tickets to the gala, may still be available. For more information, call 245-0107.