Chefs Of Tomorrow Shine AT KCC

Have you ever planned for a big meal by putting on your stretchy pants? Those comfy favorites that have a skosh more room, so you can eat a tad bit more.

Well, it’s time to don those duds because the students of the Culinary Arts program at Kaua’i Community College are cooking Asian cuisine, and as usual, it’s a lot of food for a little money.

For seven weeks, students explore food of the Orient, and today Chinese cuisine is on the menu. Animated conversation bursts from every table like big, red Chinese lanterns, and well-dressed wait staff buzz by carrying food-laden trays with one arm.

Sichuan cuisine is the underlying theme, and each table chooses either the Dragon Menu or the Phoenix Menu for $17. The Phoenix Menu features Crisp Swimming Fish and Black Bean Spare Ribs.

Student and server Patricia Bishop recommends General Tso’s Chicken, so my husband Dan and I decide on the Dragon.

A warm pot of jasmine tea is directly delivered, and our teacups are brimming throughout the meal. On the heels of the tea, an assortment of dim sum is presented. Comforting char siu bao, a pillow soft bun stuffed with sweet barbecued meat and caramelized onions, is warm and delectable.

Thick and chunky Hot and Sour Soup, plump and porky dumplings, and the zippy Bang Bang Chicken salad are also set out. The flavors pop on my tongue, leaving my mouth reeling in surprise. We are warned that the meal is going to be hot, because little bits of Sichuan pepper are woven throughout. Sichuan pepper is not spicy-hot, but they do enhance flavor.

The aroma is floral, almost piney, a little lemony. They contain a chemical that activates the spit machine and creates a tingly numbness on the tongue, and this is why the flavors pop.

The second course fills our table with a balmy bouquet, and I decide to leave the steamed rice for Dan. I do have on stretchy pants, but in the name of research, I need to ensure I have room to taste everything.

Fragrant and Crispy Duck is served with a Sichuan Five Spice Salt for dipping. The skin has a light and crispy flour coating that is laced with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel and Sichuan pepper. The spicy smell warms my nose, and the flesh is flavorful, tender and juicy.

Are you full yet? So am I. But there is more. A lot more.

Thin slices of Orange Beef are first marinated in tangerine juice, zest, shoyu and ginger before being sautéed and set on a bed of fragrant oranges. The beef is tender and sweet, laced with a mild orange flavor.

Flayed like a flower, whole eggplant is stuffed with a mound of pork and shrimp and flashfried. The crispy bits of flavorful filling contrast nicely with the silky eggplant and soy based sauc

Dumpling dough is filled with sesame oil, cilantro and scallions and folded into wavy layers, making a soft and savory blossom.

Blackened chili peppers shoot through the sweet and sour General Tso’s Chicken, and leaves a warm heat in its wake nothing too alarming, just a pleasant warm feeling.

We get two desserts! The gao is a traditional sweet dish that is served with tea, and made with a variety of ingredients. Today’s Gao is glutinous,

Spicy Pork-stuffed Eggplant First course

and other than being a little dry, it’s similar to butter mochi. The taste and texture remind me of shortbread.

Delicate and flouncey, the Almond Bean Curd is infused with sweet almond flavor. It’s similar to an Italian panna cotta, or a baked milk custard such as flan, except this delightful confection jiggles more

While the culinary students master the art of Asian cuisine, we have four more weeks to experience their culinary travels. With each week featuring a different region, they will be our trusted guides in Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and the Pacific Islands. Just remember to wear your stretchy pants, they’re good for this kind of travel!

Kaua’i Community College Asian Cuisine Oct. 25 to Dec. 7

For reservations, call 245-8365. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Seatings at 11:30 a.m. and noon.