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Kamaile Gusman graduated from the Culinary Arts program at Hawai'i CC - Pālamanui and is now a pastry cook at the Kūki'o Beach and Golf Club

Culinary Arts Alum Finds Happiness in the Kitchen

Kamaile Gusman graduated from the Hawai‘i Community College – Pālamanui Culinary Arts program in 2021 and has quickly gained a foothold in the local culinary industry. The connections she made and skills she learned in the Culinary Arts program helped her land a job as a pastry cook at the Kūki‘o Beach and Golf Club even before she graduated, and that’s where she continues to work today. 

But the Kohala High School graduate wasn’t always on the path to a culinary career. Learn more about her journey and her “why” in the following interview.

Q: At Hawai‘i CC we like to ask students to connect with their “why,” the hua — the seed or spark —  that has motivated them to enroll or pursue a certain career. What’s your why? 

A: Growing up I had so many expectations of me. I did really well academically and I felt the expectations to go to the mainland, go to a four-year university or college and do something else. It got to the point where I was really distraught and I didn’t know what to do with myself. My senior year I got to take a culinary class, and going to that class, it just made me happy, and I just realized that food, cooking, baking, it just makes me happy, and it’s as simple as that. I go to work and I’m not super stressed out all the time. I love the people I work with, I love the environment, and I guess that’s the spark for me.

Q. How did your interest in cooking begin?  

A: I didn’t know that I wanted to go to culinary school until my senior year of high school, but I think growing up in Hawai‘i, especially, food is such a big part of the culture. You’re always going to parties and I always liked watching my uncles cook and my dad. Both of my parents regularly cooked at home and my dad especially is a good cook. They both taught me a lot. I remember at one point in time they wanted to teach me and my sisters how to cook, so we each picked three of our favorite dishes and that’s what we got to learn. That was the first time I really had a cooking lesson. 

Q: Once you were enrolled, what did you think of the program? 

I loved it. It’s such a different experience going for a course that’s hands-on. There was obviously a mixture of sitdown classes, which was a good balance. I really, really enjoyed how the entire program was laid out. You really got the whole benefit and experience from the program, from starting out doing basic cookery, then going on and doing all different kinds of cuisines. We learned American regional, we learned Asian, classical European and ended in the advanced cookery course, so you got to learn a lot in a short period of time. And then I really appreciated how they also had courses like baking, pastry, dining room management, and math classes that were specific to the culinary world. It really lets the students take in an abundance of different parts of the culinary industry so you can really take that and do whatever. You can go get a line cook position, can go into pastry, you can be a server, you can be in receiving. There are so many different jobs that people don’t think of when they think of culinary. They just automatically think of cooking, but there’s so much that you can do with it. 

Q: What would you say to someone who’s considering enrolling? 

I think there’s just the greatest opportunity over here. I’d really want them to push themselves and go for it. First of all, the program is extremely affordable. There are scholarships available if you look for them. You can really be going to school for a very small cost. The main cost you would be putting out is your time, your energy, your effort, but I think it’s worth it for two years. Two years is not a long amount of time. And for the opportunities and skills you acquire through the program, it’s totally 100 percent worth it.

To learn more about the Culinary Arts program at Hawai'i CC - Pālamanui, contact Chef Instructor Paul Heerlein at heerlein@hawaii.edu or (808) 969-8838.