BY MELORA PURELL
Special to NHN
The cooking shows that have gained popularity on television these days portray the culinary world as a high powered sport, amping up the traditional cook-off to a winner-takes-all, loser-goes-home competition. The culinary community of West Hawaii shattered those stereotypes on Sunday, as it brought together a collaborative mix of professional chefs, local confectioners, culinary students, nutrition educators, and community supporters to share their talents and celebrate good food.
The Kona-Kohala Chef Association, the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF), held its 17th annual “Q”uisine of Hearts fundraiser brunch at the Hilton Waikoloa on Sunday, February 12.
At the brunch, the pastry chefs and their creations were in the spotlight. Seventeen years ago, event founder Chef Jean Hull recognized that pastry chefs rarely had an opportunity to showcase their work. “They were hidden in the kitchens,” she said. She created the event to not only give the pastry chefs a chance to shine, but also to support the ACF’s outreach program.
The ultimate goal of the annual event is to raise funds to continue the Chef and Child Foundation (CCF) nutrition education programs in West Hawaii. Every year, Hull and her colleagues visit second grade classrooms to teach children about wise food decisions. Carol Whittaker, a volunteer educator with the CCF program, said many people do not realize children as young as second grade are making food choices once they are away from home. The program teaches students how to eat from all the food groups, and helps then become aware of the choices available in common foods like breakfast cereals, many of which contain large amounts of refined sugar, she said. “They are so eager to learn,” said Whittaker, who encourages children to try healthy alternatives like whole wheat bread and fresh fruit.
The event has gone through various transformations in name and venue over the years, but it hit a “sweet spot” when the Hilton Waikoloa began to host the event 12 years ago. The hotel supports ACF by providing the ballroom space, servers, signs, and linens. “I couldn’t do it without them,” said Hull.
Guests circulated amongst the ten elegantly decorated dessert tables and had a chance to see and talk to the pastry chefs, and sample gourmet sweets. A team of judges also moved through the ballroom, tasting each dessert. Kristen Klassert, described by the other judges as the “cupcake queen,” said that they were looking for complexity, presentation, originality, and above all, taste.
The most creative desserts at the event included a size 6 shoe replica made of Belgian chocolate by Elena Garcia, a vegan chocolate confection made by Farsheed Bonakdar with local avocados, and a six-layer heart-shaped mini cake created by pastry chef Eddie Enojardo of the Hilton Waikoloa.
Hearing Executive Sous Chef Stephen Rouelle of the Fairmont Orchid describe a pastry was a culinary education in itself. Guests learned that the delicious three layer fruity cake made by pastry chef Aron Weber was a “gianduja topped with lilikoi curd, white chocolate mousse, with a pairing of raspberry foam, and a fresh raspberry in Chambord.”
Rouelle, recently honored as local ACF “Chef of the Year,” has been participating in the “Q”uisine of Hearts event for the past ten years. He said his participation is a way to “give back.” He explained that the ACF supports not only nutrition education for elementary students, but also provides scholarships to culinary students at the Hawaii Community College (HCC) program, and participates in mentoring opportunities like this event.
Culinary students were on hand at two cooking stations, preparing both made-to-order omelets as well as Eggs Benedict. “It’s all in the wrist; it’s all in the right pan,” explained student Sam Varron about cooking the perfect omelet.
Students in the culinary program are required to participate in community events, and they seized the opportunity to work in a world-class resort kitchen for the day, and to try out their skills with the public, said Gary Dimond, a first year student from Kona. This was his third such event of the year. “It’s good to see what it’s all about in a large kitchen like this. It’s really fast-paced and everyone has to work in sync,” he said.
The HCC culinary program not only trains future chefs in cooking skills, but also educates them in business, management, and hospitality, said Varron. His dream is to put these diverse skills into practice by opening his own restaurant.
Jim Lightner, Chair of the Hospitality Division at HCC, said that the culinary program is one of only 170 in the country that are accredited by ACF. The accreditation requirements are rigorous, but the program here is strong, supported by the thirteen world class resorts and clubs in West Hawaii. In the world of cooking, it is unusual for restaurants to work together like this to raise the level of education and training for local chefs, he said.
When asked about the apparent discrepancy of a fundraiser for child nutrition programs that highlights desserts, probably the least healthy part of a menu, Hull had an articulate answer. “The nutrition standards say that if you have eaten foods with all 40 essential nutrients within your calorie range, you are allowed about 200 discretionary calories. That’s just about what you get with a cookie, slice of cake, or scoop of ice cream. So enjoy!”