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Culinary Students ‘Strut Their Stuff’ at Palamanui Café

February 26, 2019, 1:27 PM HST (Updated February 26, 2019, 1:29 PM)
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Let’s do lunch! Meeting up with friends for a meal is one of life’s small pleasures. However, many of us become creatures of habit when it comes to where we dine, so Big Island Now looked for an interesting alternative to the routine corner diner.

The Palamanui Café, located on the Hawai‘i Community College Palamanui campus in Kona, is a perfect location for an off-the-beaten-path lunch date.

Culinary Arts Professor Kerstin Pfeiffer graduated from the Art Institute of Houston and teaches first-year culinary students while managing the Palamanui Café.

She teaches her students to prepare, cook and serve delicious meals to the community.

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“The culinary arts program is a two-year program for newly graduated high school students and adults who are changing careers or looking for upward mobility within the culinary world,” said Pfeiffer.

The college-level culinary program is designed to provide entry-level employment in hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals and correctional facilities, to name a few. The program was accredited by the American Culinary Federation in 2005.

“The new campus opened almost three years ago, and the café is designed for students to apply the cooking techniques and knowledge they’ve learn in the kitchen lab, and work in real business scenarios by serving the public in the café,” explained Pfeiffer.

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The café is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays for breakfast and lunch. In the fall semester, the cafe offers classical world cuisine. During the spring semester, the cafe offers American Regional cuisine, where the students learn to cook their way through the various culinary regions of the United States. The café offers a different cuisine every week, with a few standard menu items remaining on the menu from week to week.

“Currently, our main customers are the faculty and students,” Pfeiffer said. “We make it very affordable, and we would love to have more people from community join us, because it gives students the opportunity to showcase their talents and strut their stuff.”

The culinary program allows students to stay on island while providing new workforce members for our very high demand visitor industry.

“I love seeing the students return to school for a career change,” said Pfeiffer. “They really apply themselves, and it’s wonderful we can provide this opportunity for the community. I really enjoy mentoring and training my students so I can help prepare them for a successful future.”

The most popular items on the café’s menu are the Super Food Salad and the Palamanui Burger. The Super Food Salad is Blue Zone-approved and made with kale, avocado, broccoli and quinoa. The Palamanui Burger is made with locally raised, grass-fed Kulana ground beef on a brioche bun with bacon jam and cheddar cheese. (All the beef used by the program is locally raised, grass-fed Big Island beef.)

The school proudly partners with local vendors, emphasizing the importance of community involvement.

After completion of their first year, students begin studying with second-year teacher Paul Heerlein, who brings 30 years of industry experience to his classroom. The second-year students host pre-set luncheons throughout the semester, offering four-course meals for $25. The students are in charge of the menu from start to finish. These luncheons are offered two or three Fridays a month, with schedules released monthly.

There’s no doubt that Palamanui’s culinary program is nurturing fresh new chefs who will have much to give back to the culinary arts world.

Pfeiffer’s passion for good food began when she was a young girl, and today it provides inspiration to her students.

“Food has always been an integral part of my life,” she said. “Growing up in East Germany, my grandma had a house out in the country where we grew all our own food. We had a food orchard, where we grew our own vegetables, and we raised pigs and rabbits for food. From the time I could walk, I would partake in raising the food from seed.”

“I’ve always loved good food because it brings people together, brings family together and over a good meal, you can forget your worries,” Pfeiffer concludes. “It’s one of the most basic human needs, but also gives us pleasure. Food is so much more than nourishment for the body—it’s nourishment for the soul.”

For more information and current menus, visit the program’s Facebook page West Hawaii Culinary-Palamanui.

Culinary Arts Professor Kerstin Pfeiffer with her culinary students at Palamanui Café, Feb. 2019. PC: Karen Rose

Palamanui Burger at Palamanui Café, Feb. 2019. PC: Karen Rose

Shrimp and Grits with Fried Green Tomatoes; Southern regional cuisineat Palamanui Café, Feb. 2019. PC: Karen Rose.

Super Food Salad at Palamanui Café, Feb. 2019. PC: Karen Rose

Karen Rose
Karen Rose is a writer and journalist living on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel, arts and entertainment. She never met a food she didn't like—except black licorice.
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