Getting a Taste for Cuisine at Pearl City High School
July is National Culinary Arts Month. In honor of this, I wanted to share two experiences that are close to my heart – both involve working with local youth who are interested in breaking into the field of culinary arts. It’s so important to light a fire under these kids who will become the next generation of pioneers and pirates in the kitchen, and who can keep our Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement alive, while challenging it and making it better.
Since 2013 I have been paired with Pearl City High School’s Culinary Arts Academy through the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation. For those who may not be familiar with the HCEF, it was created by a group of visitor industry leaders, top chefs and culinary education officials in 1998 for the sole purpose of supporting culinary arts education in Hawaii. The high school mentoring program is just one of the ways the HCEF achieves their mission.
More than Just a Cooking Class
As chef mentors our job is not just to go out and demonstrate how to prepare a specific dish but to also share our experience and knowledge about the industry. We go on field trips to places like the Honolulu fish auction and visit growers who are supplying fresh produce to local markets and restaurants. We talk about culinary careers and the type of training and skills that chefs look for when hiring new staff. I try to give students a realistic view of the challenges as well as the opportunities in our industry. While there are kids that have sincere interest in a career in the culinary industry there are also kids who just thought it would be cool to take a cooking class. That’s OK. I like to encourage students to make choices. In or out, either way it helps them move forward and become better prepared for the future.
Home Coming for Da Kine
Shawn Kimball, the PCHS culinary arts instructor recently invited me to come out and do a demo of the sous vide cooking technique in her culinary arts classroom at Pearl City High School. Derek Wong was along as my assistant. While neither Derek nor I graduated from PCHS, Derek can claim at least some school spirit having dated a girl from there when he was a student at McKinley. Known for his sushi chef headband and impressive collection of tattoos, Derek also brings his local style sense of humor and energy wherever he goes. He kept the kids smiling and engaged with his off handed comments and good natured snickers all through the demo. Although the kids don’t typically say much at these things, keeping it fun helps make it more approachable and probably helps more of the information actually sink in. Of course they always get more enthusiastic when you feed them.
From Coach Class to Haute Cuisine
I first learned sous vide while working at Roy’s. Roy bought all his Hawaii chefs thermal circulators and vacuum sealers and encouraged us to experiment with them and develop dishes. Originally developed by the French for large commercial kitchens and for preparing and heating airplane food, sous vide has been around for a long time. It made its way into a few top French restaurants during the 70s and 80s but didn’t really make it to America in a big way until the early 90s. Literally it means “under vacuum”, which refers to vacuum sealing the meat, or vegetables or whatever you want to cook in plastic before cooking it. The technique uses relatively low heat applied over a longer cooking time to the sealed food submerged in a circulating bath of water. The results are incredibly moist and flavorful as the food is essentially cooked in its own juices.
“Thank you for a wonderful sous vide class, you inspired the kids, they’re on Amazon ordering circulators!” – Shawn Kimball
The Future of Sous Vide
It may be more of a fad right now as far as it being in the haute cuisine scene but I don’t think sous vide will ever go away. The consistency and quality of flavor and improved nutrition that you can achieve with sous vide is unique. While commercial kitchens using sous vide don’t currently require certification in Hawaii as they do in some states, there is a category for it now in the state health regulations. The regulations now require detailed temperature logs that are all part of our Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan. This alone will make it less approachable for Hawaii chefs by putting them under more scrutiny by the health department. Hopefully introducing sous vide to the next generation of culinary students will help insure we have the trained professionals to keep it alive and help grow the culinary scene here in Hawaii.
Thank you to Shawn and the students of the PCHS Culinary Arts Academy for hosting us. It is always a pleasure to be sharing the things that I’ve learned along the way.