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Raising the chocolate bar: Future chefs perform at sixth annual Big Island Chocolate Festival

Updated: 
April 21, 2017 - 1:15am

KOHALA COAST — Similar to students seen on Food Network’s “Chopped Teen Tournament,” 33 high schoolers from Keaau, Pahoa, Waiakea, Hilo, Kealakehe and Konawaena will whip up chocolate-inspired cuisine at the Big Island Chocolate Festival — one of many activities spread over the two-day event April 28 and 29 at Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

The high school gala activity is a new addition to the festival this year. It will showcase students from the six Big Island schools as they work in teams to craft their own creative dishes for Saturday night’s gala as an extension of the Department of Education’s Culinary Performance-Based Assessment.

The teens were selected from winning teams at Big Island schools that offer culinary arts programs. Many are encouraged to pursue culinary degrees or go into the industry locally after high school.

“While at Konawaena I started a culinary conference for Big Island high school culinary students in 2008,” said Patti Kimball, who headed the school’s culinary arts program for 10 years before retiring in 2011. “This is taking it to a new level.”

She is now contracted to run the festival’s DOE high school gala culinary event.

“Prior to that I had been spending a large amount of funding to send six students to competitions in Oahu. For the same funding I was able to offer a better activity to over 100 students each year. Since then, the DOE came up with the Performance Assessment for students,” Kimball said.

She concocts the performance task, organizes the chefs and volunteers and checks in with all of the teachers while helping new teachers with curriculum planning.

“I could not do these activities without the funding in a grant I received from the Kona Brewers Festival,” Kimball said.

The high schoolers’ task at the gala will be to create their own savory dish using chocolate. In advance they must research chocolate, create a recipe, practice, scale to 400 servings and make a production schedule for the event. That night they will prep under the supervision of professional chefs — Noa Hester, Fernand Guiot and John Elkjer — who will determine which students receive three $1,000 culinary scholarships.

“I give the students a budget and they then give us their recipes and we provide the ingredients,” Kimball said. “This year I provided a small plate and told them their dish has to fit on it since attendees go to 12 stations total throughout the night.”

The teens will also help prepare other menu items for the gala dinner such as shredded beef mole sliders, tempura shrimp wrap with chocolate BBQ sauce, spicy chocolate quesadilla and goat cheese, and pumpkin chocolate ravioli.

Currently, 35 high schools in the state have culinary arts programs.

“This event is in addition to the DOE’s Culinary Performance-Based Assessment which is done at the schools,” Kimball said. “The students must first write a technical paper about how they researched chocolate and other aspects, and then there’s a performance at the school. They also present it to the school’s panel and the scores are then turned in to the state.”

Often known for their athletes, Konawaena High School has some high performers in the culinary arts department too. Two teams with three students each will participate in the BICF gala.

Senior Andie Dernbach already knows which dish her team will prepare next Saturday night. They’ve been practicing for the past few weekends to be ready, and she said she watches The Food Network for ideas at least once a week.

“I’m really grateful for this opportunity. I’ve never done an event like this before,” she said. “Our group is doing a chocolate laulau. We originally were going to do pasta, but we came up with a local idea.”

Senior Lily Frazier thought of a different idea for her team.

“We’re doing chocolate ravioli,” she said. “I told my group mates my idea and they got excited. It’s not a dessert; it’s filled with goat cheese and pumpkin and topped with a brown butter with sage and Asian pear sauce, atop squash puree. The chocolate is in the ravioli dough using 52 percent Guittard chocolate.”

Frazier decided she wanted to be a chef two years ago.

“I’m hoping to go to Palamanui Community College in North Kona where they have a culinary program,” she said.

According to Kerstin Pfeiffer, Konawaena’s culinary instructor, Lily has also been accepted to Johnson &Wales University — known for one of the top culinary arts programs in the country.

“Due to the tuition there she may go to Palamanui instead, but we’re going to do a fundraiser for her this summer,” Pfeiffer said. “The event is a great way for the students to showcase their talents for the public.”

The gala begins at 5 p.m. April 29. Food creations by professional chefs, chocolatiers, confectioners and beverage purveyors will also be featured, and attendees can vote for the People’s Choice Awards.

Raising the bar for culinary students, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Friday college undergraduates will vie in BICF’s Student Culinary Competition Statewide. The annual plated dessert competition is free and open to the public. Entries must include chocolate and are judged by participating festival celebrity chefs.

Home cooks can learn from culinary masters beginning at 11 a.m. Friday with a guided plantation tour at the original Hawaiian chocolate factory in Keauhou. All other festival activities will be at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

Workshops will be led by notable speakers including Dr. H.C. Skip Bittenbender of UH’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Co-Owner Paul Picton of Maverick Chocolate, Dr. Nat Bletter of Oahu’s Madre Chocolate, Executive Pasty Chef Donald Wressell from Guittard Chocolate Company, Alicia Boada with Barry Callebaut Chocolate, and Chef Stéphane Tréand from Tréand’s Pastry School.

The Big Island Chocolate Festival is presented by the Kona Cacao Association, Inc. Event proceeds benefit the ACF Kona Kohala Chefs Association, Kona Dance &Performing Arts, Kona Pacific Public Charter School and Waimea Country School’s Na Keiki Aloha Aina.

KCA’s mission is to promote the cacao industry on the Big Island by presenting BICF as an educational and outreach opportunity for local cacao farmers, the hospitality industry and cacao/chocolate enthusiasts.

Info on all BICF activities and tickets: Go to www. BigIslandChocolate Festival.com

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