Rancho Cielo Culinary Round-Up Preview
January 18, 2011
The wines rank among the best born in the county—Bernardus, Ray Franscioni Wines, De Tierra, J. Lohr, Manzoni and Talbott among them. The chef lineup is led by some of the most gifted to grace local kitchens—ever (hall of famers Cal Stamenov and Bert Cutino)—and is deepened by some of the area's freshest talent. But the real heart of the upcoming Rancho Cielo Culinary Round-up benefit lies elsewhere. Like the foothills of Salinas.
That's where Rancho Cielo houses its sanctuary for multi-disciplinary intervention programs provided for kids who might otherwise turn to gangs—like its GED equivalency programs, youth corps (which recently gave The Bakery Station a new glow) and the new Drummond Culinary Academy.
The Sunday benefit at Monterey Plaza Hotel (it goes 5-8pm), whose riches can be had for a $150 donation, will direct much of the proceeds specifically to the DCA, which debuted several months ago. The Weekly was there to document its infancy. Here's a peek at what we reported:
On a recent Thursday evening, Alisal Rotary Club members gather around tables set with white linens. In the kitchen behind them, chefs in crisp white hats and smocks slice pork ribs fresh from the grill, set out the toppings for a baked potato bar and plate sugar cookies.
It’s a typical moment before any catered event, except the chefs are in high school. And cooking dinners like this is part of their curriculum.
“It makes me want to come to school,” says student Nicole Perez, 16, as she slices tomatoes. “And I’m not a school person.”
Perez and her classmates make up the first cohort to enroll in Drummond Culinary Academy, the latest addition to the 100-acre Rancho Cielo Youth Campus in rural Salinas. The campus offers educational and vocational programs for at-risk youth.
The 18 culinary students spend four hours a day in a classroom working toward their high school diploma, and four more hours in a professional-grade kitchen. Every Thursday night, they cook for the 30-plus members of the Alisal Rotary Club, who pay $15 each.
Instructor Marcus Whisenant, who trained at the California Culinary Academy, says he’s seen his students’ self-esteem improve since classes began in August: “They are really motivated, excited and eager to learn.”
Student Joel Guaracha happily took on grilling the ribs for this meal, since he hopes to follow in the footsteps of celebrity griller Bobby Flay. But before coming to Drummond, Guaracha wasn’t headed in that direction. At 19, he hadn’t finished high school and “was getting into a little bit of trouble.” With the diploma and certificate he’ll get after 12 months at Drummond, he says, he’ll be able to move up in the business or to a more advanced culinary school.
Monterey County Superior Court Judge John Phillips, the Rancho Cielo president, opened the campus in 2004 in an effort to break the cycle of youth crime, gang affiliation and incarceration by preparing young people for careers. Phillips then tapped local help from restaurateur Bert Cutino of The Sardine Factory and Cannery Row Company.
Cutino says the students, who are learning a nationally recognized culinary curriculum, will be well positioned to fill jobs in the local hospitality industry.
“When they come out of the school, they are going to have background and some training,” Cutino says. “We have tremendous demand for these people.”
The school is already growing. More students will be accepted within the next couple of weeks. Come November, Cutino plans to bring five of the top students to help cater the Panetta Institute’s annual black-tie gala at Pebble Beach’s Inn at Spanish Bay. By then, Whisenant hopes the school’s dining room will be transformed into a restaurant where patrons can come for student-made and hosted meals.
Alisal Rotary club members will vouch for the taste—they moved their weekly ritual at Denny’s to Drummond.
“Every time the food is getting better,” says club member Diana Martinez. “They have passion for food; you can really see it.”