Amador Vintners Help Culinary School Expand
Forks and Corks event benefits American River College in Sacramento
The Amador Vintners Association (AVA), representing the “Corks” of the event, worked with the American River College Foundation over the past year on event planning. AVA president Chris Chinco of Driven Cellars in Plymouth, Calif., said, “We’re very pleased with how the whole event came together—and the turnout of attendees who have the opportunity to sample and learn more about Amador County wines.” He added, “I’m also happy with the turnout from our members, with 28 wineries participating out of the 37 members in our association.”
The event’s “Forks” were represented by 40 area restaurants and food purveyors. ARC students presented culinary demonstrations during the event. The vintners and food providers prepared a list of suggested food pairings for the Amador wines being poured. Wineries and restaurants also donated wines, meals and gift cards for raffle prizes, which raised additional construction funds during the event.
Brian Knirk, chair of ARC’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Department, said, “It’s been good for our program—and for this event—to partner with the Amador vintners and growers.” Knirk also observed: “It’s gratifying to look around at all the area restaurants represented here and see some of my former students, who are now employed in the kitchens at top restaurants such as Ella, Grange and Bacon & Butter.”
AVA director Jennifer Pechette and marketing and communications consultant Lee Hodo were the primary event liaisons between Amador and ARC, and they provided pre-event publicity. The AVA has focused on building stronger ties with the Sacramento food and wine community, as Amador vineyards and wineries are just 35 miles east of Sacramento. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson last year declared the region “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” a theme the area’s specialty crop and food producers, restaurants and grocers are using to build business connections and consumer marketing efforts.
New ARC culinary facility
A short presentation by the ARC Foundation, department faculty and donors was held prior to the official start of Forks & Corks, and a ceremonial groundbreaking was held for the new culinary facility. Knirk said the official construction groundbreaking will be in July, and facility completion is expected in April 2015. The $4 million facility is being funded by an ongoing capital campaign with contributions from area donors and businesses and events such as Forks & Corks.
ARC offers an associate’s degree and certificate programs in culinary arts and restaurant management that combine hands-on cooking and business theory. The ARC program currently occupies 2,000 square feet of space where all cooking, preparation and teaching take place. The facility has been at maximum enrollment capacity for several years. The program includes the 400-square-foot, on-campus Oak Café, which showcases student skills and is acclaimed by restaurant critics for its lunch served to the public several days a week. The new facility will expand the cooking and learning center to 19,000 square feet, and the Oak Café will grow to 2,000 square feet. Knirk said, “The new facility will enable more students to enroll in the program, which is currently impacted and has a waiting list as large as the current enrollment.” Current enrollment is 400, and the expanded facility will allow 800 students. Knirk added, “The impact of our graduates will cast a much wider net locally and across the nation.” In addition to becoming line cooks and chefs, ARC students have gone on to operate and own restaurants throughout the country. One of the program’s best-known graduates is Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and owner of his own restaurants, which include Johnny Garlic’s in Sacramento.
ARC horticulture program faculty and students participated in Forks & Corks by filling a booth displaying produce and plants grown in the campus garden and providing floral arrangements and demonstrations.
Amador County Wine Grape Growers Association past president Dick Martella invited ARC horticulture chair Paul MacGowan and his students to his Oleta Winery in Fiddletown, Calif., in February as part of a viticulture class field day to learn about grapevine pruning, and to collect vine cuttings to grow in the campus nursery. The students grew nearly 300 potted Amador grapevines, which were given to Forks & Corks attendees as souvenirs to take home and plant. The potted vines included signature Amador wine grape varieties Zinfandel, Barbera, Primitivo and Tempranillo.
MacGowan said the horticulture program planted a small vineyard on campus in 2005 and has offered viticulture classes for about three years as part of its associate’s degree and certificate programs. Although the program is aimed at general horticulture, landscape and nursery careers, MacGowan said some students have been inspired by the viticulture classes to continue their studies at the University of California, Davis, in viticulture and enology.