Every chef has to learn the culinary arts somewhere.

Some start with their grandmother’s recipes; others travel to Europe to study under internationally renowned chefs. But there is a middle ground, and for a lot of locals, it’s Cabrillo College. Their culinary program is highly respected, and their restaurant, Pino Alto, allows the public to sample the area’s future chefs. Department Chair for Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Sue Slater gives the lowdown.

GT: It seems like Cabrillo has quite an advanced program for a community college.

SUE SLATER: Probably the reason why you think that is much of the exposure to the community is the advanced classes. The advanced class is the one that does the dinners. But we do start off on a really basic level. When people come into the program, there is a series of classes we recommend they take. Some are prerequisites. The entry-level classes are three five-week classes that mash together into one semester. And that’s what I teach. It’s a culinary theory class. Attached to that lecture portion is the beginning lab, which is the lunch class. It is entry-level students. I’ve had people in my class that have never used a knife, so it’s a lot of work in the beginning to keep them on track. Some of them get jobs out of the first semester, and they go on to start their own things. One of our students is Justin from Kickin Chicken.

How do you pick the menu?

We have three classes that work out of the restaurant. The catering class is not exactly the restaurant, but it works out of the restaurant. The beginning class is kind of a survey of international foods. Every week we have a different style of cuisine. We want to expose students to other ways of thinking about food because some people are just stuck in their home kitchen. Yesterday we had snapper piccata and portobello mushrooms. One student said, “I’ve never had fish and I’ve never had mushrooms.” This was continental cuisine. But we also have Italian, Middle Eastern, we’ve got Indian, we’ve got French. We’ve got a lot of different types of food that aren’t complicated, but they get the flavor and the spices and the feel of what that cuisine is. The beginning class changes every week. The advanced class changes every four weeks. For the advanced class, the instructor picks the menu for the first four weeks and then the students start menu planning. Usually the last grouping is tapas, and then the students pick the middle four-week block. The middle thing is usually the more fun things that the students want to do. We never know what that’s going to be.

6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos; 479-6524.

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