Culinary Students Cook The Classics

French Onion Soup

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, second-year students of the Kaua’i Community College Culinary Arts program put their first-year skills to practice. And for 12 weeks, residents enjoy a fine-dining experience at budget-friendly prices.

“I teach them basic skills the first year, and then they apply that to a restaurant setting the second year,” says instructor Steven Nakata. “We start off with continental cuisine for six weeks, and then we do Asian cuisine for six weeks.”

During the continental cuisine module, students sharpen their skills while making classic American and European dishes. “Our sole purpose is to ready students for the work force,” explains assistant professor Martina Hilldorfer. “We have a board of advisers and an employer focus group, and we groom our students to industry standards.”

The fine dining class with instructors Mark Oyama (front, second from left) and Duane Miyasato (back, far right). Daniel Lane photos

Hawaiian music quietly plays in the background as my husband Dan and I walk into the air-conditioned dining room. White tablecloths are bedecked with blushing anthuriums and polished silverware; oversized windows frame emerald mountains and an indigo sky.

Dining room instructor Duane Miyasato quietly escorts us to our table. He pulls out my chair and with a graceful flick of the wrist, presents me with a red linen napkin, which I dutifully take and place on my lap. Ice water is poured as fresh baked biscuits and sweet rolls, made by Chloe Sorey, are brought to the table. “I really like that this is a well-rounded program,” says Sorey, who wants to own a bakery. “Many of us plan on being at high levels of management, or opening up our own businesses.”

As our waiter Keoki Derego hands out menus, he explains that we can select one item from each of the three courses. There are three first courses, five second courses and two desserts to choose from. I decide on the French Onion Soup, Chicken Chasseur with potato pancakes, apple pie and unsweetened iced tea for $15.50. For $19.95, Dan orders the soup; roast rib eye with au jus, horseradish cream, whipped potatoes, and steamed broccoli with hollandaise sauce; a chocolate éclair and tropical fruit punch.

Juicy, tender rib eye with au jus

A spoonful of the cheesy onion soup has a wonderful depth of flavor.

“The key is to caramelize the onions just right,” says Derego, who wants to open a breakfast restaurant. “If it’s too dark, it’s gonna be bitter. If it’s too light, it’s not gonna have enough taste.”

In France, chicken chasseur, or hunter’s chicken, is a one-pot dish that is slow-cooked and ready after a long day of hunting.

“I brown the chicken,” explains Derego, who made the dish yesterday. “I put it aside and add some beef stock, shallots and white wine. I deglaze it a little and add mushrooms, tomatoes and some demi-glace.”

Lokilani Galvez with her Chicken Chasseur

“I designed this class to focus on cooking methods so they get real comfortable with the techniques, and so they’re fast and consistent,” says assistant professor Mark Oyama of his fine dining class. “In the Asian Pacific class, I teach them flavors. I teach them what goes together, how you marry them and why.” Besides funding from the state, the Culinary Arts program relies on fundraisers to provide new classrooms, cooking equipment and scholarships. KCC puts on a variety of events throughout the year, including the Biggest Breakfast on Kaua’i in February, and the exclusive Spring Gala in April.

“I’m building a new facility next door at the old bookstore,” Hilldorfer explains. “All the stoves, the pots, the pans come from money that we have to raise.”

Even students help each other out. In an act of continued support, KCC culinary graduate and owner of the Jailhouse Pub, Liana Soong, takes two of her employees to the culinary’s dining room every Wednesday.

Apple pie and chocolate eclair. Daniel Lane photos

“Students pool their tips over the course of two years,” Soong explains. “When my class started, a lot of people couldn’t afford books, so we decided to buy the incoming class their books and knives, and put together a $500 scholarship.” KCC’s culinary community receives intangible blessings as well.

“It’s rewarding to see the student’s progress,” says Oyama. “Once they get that, ‘Ah ha! Now I understand! Now I get it!’ That’s when it’s like … I did my job.”

“Most of my students have never left Kaua’i, let alone Hawaii,” says Hilldorfer. “I want to give them all my years in Europe, all my years in Alaska, I want to give them all my experience with the Starwood Hotels. I tell them real-life stories. I tell them what happened, when it happened and how it happened. I wanna pay it forward.”

Continental Cuisine Aug. 29-Oct. 6;
Asian Cuisine Oct. 25-Dec. 1

For reservations, call 2458365; open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; seatings at 11:30 a.m. and noon