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The Wait is Over: The Culinary Institute of the Pacific is Now Open

The four-year culinary school opens on the slopes of Diamond Head, just in time to meet the demand of Hawai‘i’s restaurant boom.


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Culinary Institute of the Pacific

Photo: Courtesy of University of Hawai‘i

 

What a dump!” recalls Kelvin Ro, of the 1997 visit he and Alan Wong paid to the old Cannon Club on the slopes of Diamond Head. Wong, the restaurateur, and Ro, who’d helped resurrect Monsarrat Avenue with his Diamond Head Market & Grill, had been asked by John Morton, vice president of community colleges in the University of Hawai‘i system, if they’d like to open a restaurant at the location, recently returned to the state by the U.S. Army.

 

The duo’s thumbs-down actually allowed Morton to chase bigger game: building a four-year culinary school down the street from Kapi‘olani Community College.  This March, the dream came true when the Culinary Institute of the Pacific held its grand opening. Gone was the two-year construction project on Monsarrat; in its place was a handsome campus, designed by the architecture firm of Ferraro Choi, on the graded hillside of the volcano.  

 

“This is John Morton’s brainchild,” says Ron Takahashi, chair of the culinary arts program at KCC. “I remember the day he presented the idea over 20 years ago. He saw so much more of what we could be—a world-class institution.” 

 

“We knew we had great culinary programs,” says Morton. “But when they graduated, the best students had no place else to go but the Mainland, to Rhode Island and New York, at great expense.” 

 

“Every restaurant is suffering from shortages of experienced culinary staff.”—Kelvin Ro

 

The Institute expands community college degrees and certificates to four-year bachelor of applied science degrees: in culinary arts with a concentration in culinary management at UH West O‘ahu, and in food science and human nutrition with a culinary track at UH Mānoa.

 

Phase I debuted two spacious food labs, one described as Asian, the other as Western, rigged out with closed-circuit television screens. Morton says Phase II will include a restaurant, an auditorium, an innovation lab and more. 

 

The timing seems right. “Hawai‘i’s largest workforce segment is restaurant-related,” says Ro, “and every restaurant is suffering from shortages of experienced culinary staff. We actually were ahead of our time because—boom!—suddenly we need it.” At the opening, Morton singled out Ro for leading the $25 million fundraising effort on a volunteer basis. “I used my community service contacts,” he says, talking to big donors who “don’t usually get involved at the community college level. But dining is different, and this is for the future of Hawai‘i.”

 

A mahalo event included neighbors whose lives had been inconvenienced by construction. “They showed they cared about the community,” says Kainoa Kaku. His wife, Malia, sounded a little wistful: “I’ll miss the brownies and fresh-baked bread they used to drop off.”    

 

At the opening, Morton confided he’d never set foot in the facility. “Today is like Christmas for me.” However, when the first students finally light their burners, “There will be no ceremony,” Takahashi says. “We just start cooking.”

 


 

Learn by Chewing 

Sign up for one of KCC’s popular public classes and you can be one of the first to cook in one of the new food labs.

 

May offerings: Laminated Doughs and My Korean Obsession.

 

Restaurant and food industry members can also earn certificates in short-term professional development courses. Check out continuinged.kapiolani.hawaii.edu.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY DON WALLACE 

 

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