All of us are feeling the pinch these days with higher prices across the board. But Maui Culinary Academy's program coordinator Chris Speere has a convincing answer as to why we should buy tickets to MCA's event, its signature fundraiser of the year.
"We all know what's happening economically," Speere says. "We're all feeling the pinch. Yet we as a community need to understand where to give. I say education is always number one on the list."
MCA's 12th annual Noble Grape Celebration will be held Oct. 25 at the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui in Wailea. So Speere is giving everyone plenty of notice to put money aside for the cause. And after hearing about it firsthand, I say it's worth every dollar.
Fairmont Kea Lani Maui’s Jake Belmonte (center) is chef de cuisine at the resort’s Ko restaurant. The 1998 graduate of Maui Culinary Academy and his hotel will once again set the stage for Noble Grape. He’s flanked by MCA students Michelle Cabebe and Wesley Villanueva.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
"In previous years, it was a grazing format where you walked around to the various food stations. Now it will be a formal sit-down dinner in the ballroom. We want to set some trends. Want it to be cutting edge. It's Maui's premier food and wine event dedicated to education."
That means that all of you restaurant owners, hoteliers and famous chefs are the target audience Speere wants to see in the ballroom.
Noble Grape 2008 will give a big nod to the distinguished alumni of MCA, one of which is Jake Belmonte, the chef de cuisine at Ko, the Fairmont's new restaurant venture that features upscale local cuisines.
NOBLE GRAPE FAST FACTS:
* WHERE: The main ballroom of the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui Resort in Wailea.
* WHEN: The gala will begin at 6 p.m. with a champagne reception Saturday, Oct. 25
* HOW MUCH: Tickets are $175 per person, or $1,400 for a table of eight. Cost includes reception, sit-down dinner, dessert extravaganza, fine wines, live music and live and silent auctions. All proceeds will benefit MCA.
* SPONSORS ARE WELCOME: Sponsors are welcome: For a contribution of $2,500, sponsors receive a benefits package that includes a premium table for eight, discounted room rates and guaranteed free upgrades, and much more.
* ABOUT MAUI CULINARY ACADEMY: The award-winning program is in the 38,000-square-feet Pa'ina Culinary Arts Center at Maui Community College in Kahului. Instructors integrate classes with various commercial operations to offer a dynamic learning environment. Students gain hands-on training in nine kitchen facilities, and prepare for the real world by operating seven restaurants.
* FOR TICKETS:?Call MCA 984-3261.
"We need to nurture these students. "The Fairmont Kea Lani has been a Noble Grape supporter from the beginning, and that has only benefitted us," says Fairmont's Executive Chef Tylun Pang. "The school has provided me with the best of students. In my culinary team, six are from the academy; they hold key positions."
Chef Belmonte is one of the key players. At Noble Grape, he'll present fresh kampachi with miso butter and pair it with succulent lobster tempura.
A champagne reception will kick off the benefit at 6 p.m. outdoors at the Fairmont's Maui Fountain Court. The butler- passed appetizers will be created by distinguished alumni Kyle Kawakami, who graduated in 2003 and is now a chef instructor at MCA.
Kawakami will do caramelized Kula onion and Surfing Goat Dairy cheese tartlets drizzled in balsamic syrup; roasted Upcountry cauliflower on anchovy crostinis with Ishii Farms mico greens; curried-chicken salad with MCA's pineapple ginger jam chutney; and miniature caprese salads with tear-drop tomatoes and bocconcini. This is a good opportunity to bid on silent auction items.
"We'll have a harpist and a violinist at the reception," says Speere. "Then, throughout the dinner, we'll feature video vignettes of the distinguished alumni. It's an opportunity to spotlight these guys, instead of giving speeches. No hard sell here. Just fun!"
The next DA (distinguished alumni) to step up to the plate at dinner will be Ben Marquez, who graduated in 1990 and is now an MCA chef instructor extraordinaire. He'll present the amuse bouche of kabocha pumpkin and foie gras soup with white-truffle oil.
DA James McDonald is like the "poster boy" for MCA. He's a 1991 graduate and for years he's been executive chef at Pacific'o and I'o in Lahaina. McDonald will make roasted organic beets, feta cheese, pesto and raisins.
"Southern Wine and Spirits will pair various fine wines with each of the courses. As usual, Southern's Kimo Correa brings the creme de la creme of wine. "This annual fund- raiser is the Academy's primary way of obtaining funds, and we are ecstatic to contribute to its success," says Correa, Southern's Maui Branch sales manager.
The entree will be prepared by 1994 MCA grad Noel Badillo, who is chef of DUO at the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea. He'll wow the crowd with boursin-crusted filet mignon in Szechuan-pepper sauce with truffle-lobster potato strudel and pohole-fern salad.
After all of these courses, you'll want to get up and stretch your legs. Listen to cool jazz tunes, bid on more auction items, perhaps buy a copy of MCA's new cookbook, "Taste of Maui," that will be launched at the event, and get ready for the grand finale.
"We will unveil a big exhibit of desserts and cordials," says Speere. "It will be a lounge-y feel with jazz and after dinner drinks. Creating the delectable dessert display will be world-renowned Pastry Chef Stanton Ho of Chocolates a la Carte in Las Vegas and MCA Pastry Chef Instructor Teresa 'Cheech' Shurilla. Please join us at this fabulous event in support of Maui's culinary-art students."