Chef Mark Oyama overseeing his final Spring Gourmet Gala

PUHI — Watching the Spring Gourmet Gala at Kauai Community College grow since 2003 has been an achievement for Chef Mark Oyama.

But the 15th annual gala today will be bittersweet for him, as it will be his final one.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and it’s time to retire,” Oyama said.

The gala began as a fundraiser for the culinary program.

“We’ve built it to such a good event,” he said. “That’s why I’m hoping someone can take it over. It’s been a great fundraiser for our students, but it also gives our students a great opportunity to work with our chefs and network.”

When the culinary building was being renovated the first year, Oyama began the gala. He saw it as an opportunity to say mahalo and give back to the community, the college and, most of all, his students.

Though Oyama will be stepping down from his position, the work he has done to support students through the gala has gone beyond providing a night of entertainment and food.

“I’ve been really fortunate to have really good committee members from the community and the college to plan this thing out,” Oyama said. “A lot of the funds we raise are used for scholarships for students.”

The program also uses funds to pay for junior membership status in the American Culinary Federation junior chapter. By graduating from KCC, each culinary student will receive an associate’s degree and will be able to join the American Culinary Federation and become a certified chef.

Some of the money is also used for KCC faculty to do professional development and send students to off-island events.

This year’s gala sold out in less than a week — two weeks faster than it did in 2016 and 2015. Three hundred tickets were sold at $150 each: sponsorship packages worth $1,000, $1,5000 and $2,000.

Some chefs headlining the gala are Alan Wong of Alan Wong’s Restaurant and The Pineapple Room, Kevin Cryan of Duke’s Canoe Club Barefoot Bar and Restaurant, Todd Barrett of Gaylord’s and Eliza Vicoy of Hukilau Lanai. There will also be an auction from 6 to 8 p.m.

Some dishes that will be served include Keahole lobster duck broth, kataifi and macadamia nut crusted jumbo black tiger prawns, seared marinated ono, hoisin marinated lamb and crispy roasted pork belly.

Since it’s Oyama’s last gala, culinary student Austin Manipon-Hamada and his peers want to send him out in style.

“This one has to be perfect. It’s the last gala we’re going to have, so it has to go off with no hitches, whatsoever,” he said. “But with all of the backing that our teachers give us, we’re not worried. Our teachers and chefs put in so much in just the lead up to the gala. This is something that we work very hard for and something we work up to.”

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