A 25th anniversary with taste

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  • Photo at 2018 Keystone Culinary Dinner
    Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute alumni chefs Bailey Bryant, Mark Arriola and Matt Vawter
CMC Culinary Institute alumni return to create feast for 100 lucky diners

By Carrie Click

If you’re like most college alumni, during your reunion you probably walked around holding a little plate topped with cheese and crackers and maybe a few carrot sticks while you balanced a drink in your other hand.

In a way, the 2018 Keystone Culinary Dinner held in February at Keystone Ranch was like a college reunion – except the part about the food. For this event, an esteemed group of celebrated chefs who attended the Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute returned to the school where they earned their chops and honed their skills.

The reunion part of the evening came when these successful alums jumped in to cook alongside each other and current culinary institute apprentices, preparing a six-course dinner complete with beverage pairings for a lucky dining room of supporters.

The evening celebrated the institute’s 25th anniversary and Colorado Mountain College’s partnership with Vail Resorts, a partnership that has long trained apprentice chefs in the college’s culinary classroom and at a number of the company’s popular resort restaurants.

Celebrated alumni

 The CMC Culinary Institute’s alumni are now responsible for the cuisine at some of Colorado’s – and the country’s – most innovative and talked-about restaurants. Chefs such as Matt Vawter, who works at the top-rated Mercantile Dining & Provision in Denver’s Union Station, and Chef Charles MacDonald of The Plimoth, located in Denver’s North City Park neighborhood, came up to Summit County for the fete.

Alumnus Chef Mark Arriola even flew in from Kauai, Hawaii, where he works at Merriman’s Fish House. He and fellow former and current students, plus several local chefs, prepared the six-course meal under the direction of Executive Chef Steve Nguyen of Keystone Hospitality. Nguyen is a Glenwood Springs native who graduated from the culinary institute in 2002.

“My ability to grow my culinary career with Keystone Resort upon graduation from Colorado Mountain College says a lot about their culinary apprenticeship program and what they have to offer,” Nguyen told FSR magazine in 2015. “Hats off to CMC.”

The power of apprenticeships

 Each year, the Colorado Mountain College Foundation presents this culinary dinner to showcase the talents of the culinary institute’s apprentices. This year, as word traveled that chef-alumni would be in the kitchen alongside current students, the 100 available seats sold out before the event was even advertised.

The reputations of culinary alumni inspire the college’s culinary apprentices, such as Fernando Saldivar and Daniel Molina. Both students graduated from Summit High School and are second-year apprentices at the culinary institute.

During dinner preparation, they were able to rub elbows in the kitchen with some CMC culinary institute alumni who’ve since gone on to successful careers, such as Mercantile’s Vawter, also a Summit High School graduate. Saldivar and Molina are first-generation college students who are now seeing first-hand what a fellow Summit High alumnus can achieve in a culinary career.

Kevin Clarke, Colorado Mountain College director of culinary education, was a graduate of the first CMC Culinary Institute class in 1993 and has been leading the program since 2000. He is a strong believer in apprenticeships, and models the institute’s curriculum around those opportunities.

“It is up to the working chefs to get the word out about why a formal apprenticeship helps prepare you for the industry,” said Clarke.