I have been a professional chef for 8 years now. Even when I was a culinary student, I believe my experience was much different than that of most culinary students I have come into contact with. My school, which I have always said was mediocre, was also small. Now to clarify, the school had potential, it just didn´t live up to it. In cases like those it defines what kind of student you are and professional you will become when you can take a mediocre situation and turn it into one that helps you excel.
I had extensively corresponded strictly through email with the curriculum coordinator Frank Gonzales and signed up for 2 culinary courses at Kapiolani Community College. I always thought I missed out on the college experience, having studied in a third world country. I imagined fabulous facilities, expert teachers, crazy parties and landscaped campuses. I imagined community college to be a smaller version of the former. I was in for a HUGE surprise. While community colleges are usually a bit smaller scale, there is an immense difference between smaller scale USA style and smaller scale Costa Rica style.
My Texas bred, Costa Rican polished heels strode across the campus of Kapiolani Community College in search of my first class in a real American adult educational facility. I hate being late; I was prepared to be a little out of my element, so I had mapped a bus route and arrived 15 minutes early. Much to my dismay, after repeatedly getting lost, not only was I 15 minutes late, but also the last person to arrive.
I felt so embarrassed walking in, wearing my crisply pressed chef coat, pencil snug behind my ear and camera case slung over my shoulder. All heads turned to stare… ¨We are introducing ourselves. I am Chef Brown. I will get to you in just a minute.¨ came the swift comment from the teacher. I quickly got over my red-faced shame as we were ushered into the classroom and began to cook. I was instantly fond of Chef Brown. He was a to the point kind of guy, the kind that is who he is and his talents are no less for it.
Another man with dark hair and inquisitive eyes walked into the classroom wearing a chef coat bearing the Kapiolani Community College logo. He looked around, his eyes pausing ever so slightly in my direction; he looked a bit puzzled and left. About 30 minutes later the man returned, looked around the room equally baffled and again left. ¨Curiouser and curiouser,¨ I thought to myself. As we continued cooking; I furiously took notes of everything Chef Brown had to say.
We finally got to taste the recipe I had been looking forward to all day. PIADINA! The fabulous Italian street food comprised of grilled flat bread and a variety of fillings, whose recipe had eluded me since Mission Europe. The man with dark hair was back, this time he approached me. ¨Are you Chandler?¨ He asked. ¨Yes, you must be Frank. Nice to meet you.¨ I replied. ¨I thought you were a dude,¨ said Frank.
I was fortunate to take several other classes at Kapiolani Community College, including Heavenly Holiday Desserts, Chocolate, My Korean Obsession 2 and Gluten Free Breads. The chefs on staff know their stuff. I particularly enjoyed Chef Grant Sato (Korean cuisine) who has a very practical but traditional approach to his teaching methods. I have since learned he will not be teaching at Kapiolani Community College much longer, which is a shame, but I wish him all the best as he focuses more on his personal life. Chef Carol Nardello (gluten free cooking) and I became quick friends and I hope we will continue to stay in touch and swap recipes. Carol, when you get that book published let me know!
The facilities at Kapiolani Community College are wonderful, the teachers are extremely knowledgeable and the assistants are very helpful. If you ever go take a class and meet a woman named Gracie, know that you are in the presence of a great woman. She is as quick as she is quiet and I would love to have her work in my kitchen any day. Also if you make it down there, ask for Frank and tell him I sent you. I guarantee he will help make your experience a fulfilling and memorable one.