Award-winning chef visits culinary-arts students at KCC

Kaua‘i Community College culinary-arts students got a special visit Friday from an award-winning chef, George “Chef Mavro” Mavrothalassitis, and his assistant, Nick Erker, of Chef Mavro restaurant in Honolulu. The duo was here as a part of the Hale ‘Aina ‘Ohana Center-of-the-Plate Workshop series.

Students got hands-on, in-kitchen experience with the chef, as he demonstrated proper vegetable-carving techniques, and how to cut a whole body of a lamb into pieces.

“The breaking down of the lamb was the coolest thing,” said KCC second-year culinary-arts student Richard Cariaga. “I’ve never seen that before. He was using the saw and everything. I think it’s really cool.”

Cariaga got to school 30 minutes earlier than usual so he could be one of the students to work directly with the chef.

“I think it’s one of these great opportunities to work with such a great chef,” Cariaga said.

Mavrothalassitis, who is also a board member of Hale ‘Aina ‘Ohana, whose members are dedicated to bringing culinary professionals to work with students, and provide airfare and other travel assistance for students to attend off-island culinary competitions, said it’s important for students to get such interactive training through workshops like these.

“In the class, (students) learn the basics. They learn how to sauté, how to steam. This is not enough,” he said.

“We need to teach them to work with lobster, with lamb, and how to cut them into small pieces,” he continued. “Technique is something they cannot learn in the classroom. We want to make them ready for the industry,” he added.

“We want to expose these students to the best chefs.”

It is the board members of Hale ‘Aina ‘Ohana and their supporters who make it possible to spread these workshops to the Neighbor Islands. According to board member and director of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific for the community colleges of the University of Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i native Conrad Nonaka, the Hale ‘Aina ‘Ohana’s mission is to promote culinary education in both high schools and the University of Hawai‘i.

“We hope for the Hale ‘Aina ‘Ohana to benefit all of the statewide programs and branch out to the Neighbor Islands so that (students) get the same exposure the students get in Honolulu,” Nonaka said. “Get all the attention, take those chefs, and educate all students.”

Kaua‘i locals may remember Nonaka as the Conrad of the restaurant Conrad and Wong’s in Hanapepe. Nonaka is also a graduate of the university’s culinary-arts program.

“The students are better off now than when I was in school,” Nonaka said. “The program has been risen because (chefs and students) are all working together. The better the products, the better the students.”

The Hale ‘Aina ‘Ohana members are dedicated to bringing culinary-arts professionals to work with students in furthering the culinary education, and are providing travel assistance for Neighbor Island students competing in a culinary competition in Honolulu at the end of this month.

Mavrothalassitis is a board member, too. He is also the winner of the James Beard Foundation award as the best chef in Hawai‘i and the Pacific Northwest, the highest honor in the country. Fodor’s Choice 2006 named the Chef Mavro restaurant in Honolulu as one of the “Top 10 Restaurants in the World.”

Friday, Mavrothalassitis shared culinary techniques with the students, using lamb from the Big Island.

“I’m teaching them to do exactly what I’m doing, and exposing them to top-gun techniques.”

Printanier Lamb Navarin

Lamb:

3 1/2 pounds lamb shoulder, leg, neck or shank, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 ounces butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup flour

6 pieces tomatoes, large, peeled, seeded, mashed, strained (keep in water)

1 head garlic, peeled, mashed

1 piece bouquet garni

salt and pepper, to taste

Vegetables:

20 pieces green onions, white part only

6 pieces carrots, medium, peeled, turned, blanched

2 cups English peas, fresh, blanched

8 pieces turnip (or daikon), peeled, turned, blanched

2 ounces butter

Salt and pepper, to taste

To prepare, season lamb with salt, pepper and sugar. Sauté in olive oil and butter. Strain and set aside. Sprinkle with flour.

Put the lamb back in the pot and simmer for a few minutes to cook the flour. Add the tomatoes (and water), garlic and the bouquet garni. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

Remove the lamb, reduce the sauce if needed and pass the sauce with fine chinois and mix with the lamb.

Change pot and sauté white part of green onions in butter. Add the other blanched vegetables and a cup of water. Sauté for a few minutes, to reduce the water. Finish with butter and season to taste.

Serve the Navarin of Lamb surrounded with the vegetables.

Makes 8 servings.

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