Scene from a Gourmet Gala. Photo by Matt Takata

It’s a win-win for KCC Gourmet Gala


The 2012 KCC Spring Gourmet Gala, a food and wine-tasting event, is much heralded in this community and will take place on Friday, April 13 at 6 p.m. in KCC’s fine dining room.

According to Chef Mark Oyama, an assistant professor at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kaua`i Community College — as well as owner of a couple of his own food operations — tickets for the event always sell out in advance.

Selling out is music to the ears for Oyama and others at the college; 300 tickets at $125 will put something into the culinary coffers, all right, and that’s important, because the gala profits go the foundation of the culinary program — it funds student scholarships.

Students need the aid, according to Oyama.

“It’s not a cheap program,” he says. “The initial cost for an entering student is about $2,500 for tuition, books, knives and uniforms.”

Of the gala itself, Oyama has said, “It is the greatest and latest in culinary fashion matched with the most delicious wine pairings; together with a fantastic silent auction and blind auction.”

And of course, there is always a headliner chef or two, and this year the gala features Alan Wong and Vikram Garg. As well, about 15 other chefs will proffer plates filled with foods of paradise presented to gourmet gala goers.

What’s doubly pleasing to the palate in every way is that some of the young chefs participating are homegrown graduates of the KCC Kaua`i Culinary Institute of the Pacific. And of course, current students of the program will participate as able assistants.

Among the homegrown grads presenting is Cheryl Arizo, Kaua`i born and raised and currently a sous chef at Mark’s Place & Contemporary Flavors Catering — Oyama’s establishment. She’s been working with food, she says, “Since my hanabata days, making all kinds of snacks for me and my younger brother to eat.”

Now that she’s grown up and has worked 18 years as a chef, Arizo’s recipes have gotten considerably more sophisticated. Here’s what she’s offering at the gala: smoke duck “hot dog” on brioche bun with a foie gras aioli and cherry mustard, served with truffle parmesan popcorn.

Matt Dela Cruz, in his fifth year as executive chef at Roy’s Po`ipu Bar & Grill, bounced onto the planet over at Kaua`i Veteran’s Memorial Hospital in Waimea, and was raised in Kekaha. The KCC Class of ’88 grad says he’s been working with food “from the day I realized I enjoy eating food.”

As for what he’ll serve, Dela Cruz says, “I’m toying around with ideas. I’ll be using King salmon from New Zealand. We were using Atlantic salmon, and once the salmon came in from New Zealand, we never turned back. It’s got a fat content that’s spread throughout the fish.”

Possibly the youngest chef dishing up at the event will be Ritchard Cariaga, who talks of his graduating class as “oh-six,” the lingo of Generation Y, aka the Millennials. Born in the Philippines, Cariaga arrived here at age 12 and is no holds barred headed on a career path mixed with exploration.

Employed by the Grand Hyatt Kaua`i Resort and Spa and engaged in their corporate management training program, Cariaga aspires to the rank of sous chef. His gala offering, he says, will feature `uala, or sweet potato from Moloka`i and breadfruit. “It’s a work in progress,” he adds.

With no shortage of enticing dishes, a built-in audience and talented chefs, the 2012 KCC Spring Gourmet Gala is a win-win benefit.

It may be too late for a ticket this year, but the KCC culinary arts program appreciates donations any time. Send to KCC, 3-1901 Kaumuali`i Highway, Lihu`e, HI 96766, ATTN: Karen Morita-Lee, Culinary Arts.