Ever since 1997, the Kapiʻolani Community College culinary arts and hospitality and tourism programs have put on a gala event called Hoʻokipa Night, the biggest fundraiser of the year for both programs.

The gala is an opportunity for students to show off the skills they are learning at Kapiʻolani.

“We do it really as a way to connect with our industry, to connect with our industry partners and to connect with our donors,” said Dave Evans, a professor and chair of Kapiʻolani CC Hospitality and Tourism Education program.

Hundreds of guests attend each year and they are warmly greeted as soon as they arrive by hospitality and tourism students who also run the reception area, silent auction and act as wait staff at the cocktail reception and multi-course gourmet dinner and wine pairings.

The students say they always look forward to the challenge and know exactly what they have to do.

“To serve the food from the left side and pick it up from the right,” said Kapiʻolani hospitality and tourism student Virginia Taylor with smile. “And just make sure the guests are happy and explain to them the entrees.”

baked Hawaii desert

The desert course, a Baked Hawaiʻi, at the Kapiʻolani Community College fundraiser Hoʻokipa Night 2014.

Entrees prepared by the culinary students look and taste like items served at a five star restaurant.

All of the students—culinary and hospitality—know that this is their opportunity to shine.

“We are a very hardworking group of students so I hope they see how much we put into this program and how passionate we are about this industry,” said Vaneza Lyn Agustin, a Kapiʻolani CC culinary arts student.

“Some of these big companies show up and they see the students at work. They say, you know KCC may be doing a pretty good job here— the hospitality and the culinary—these might be students we might want to pull into our department,” said Evans.

Another highlight, chefs who are either Kapiʻolani graduates and/or work with the college, create out-of-this-world appetizers for the event.

“They get to work with the students and we get to experience working with top chefs,” said Augustin.

Proceeds from the gala are used to provide culinary and classroom equipment, interactive airline ticketing and hotel property management software, learning tools, professional development opportunities and the food the students cook with.

Every year, attendees rave about the event but it is the students that impress them the most.

“Oh, they are very, very good,” said Lynne Kaneshiro, a Hoʻokipa Night 2014 attendee. “They are welcoming and we have had a very good time tonight.”

“We are very, very proud of them,” agreed fellow attendee Nina Rapozo. “I didn’t realize they were capable of putting together something as dramatic and as exciting as this. The food is fantastic.”

It’s not surprising that you will find Kapiʻolani graduates in just about every facet of the hospitality industry in Hawaiʻi and scattered throughout the United States and the world.

“What we hear from our industry folks is that they come in well prepared, that they have the right attitude, that they are willing to work hard,” said Evans.

The same is true for the culinary graduates.

“In every kitchen, in every restaurant in the state of Hawaiʻi, and on the west coast and the east coast too,” said Kapiʻolani CC culinary arts instructor Grant Sato.

culinary students fixing food

Kapiʻolani culinary students prepare for Hoʻokipa Night