It’s amazing how far enthusiasm and dedication can take a person. In the case of Diane Griffin, it moves her about 4,500 miles — roughly the distance between Wadsworth, Ohio, where she lives, and Honolulu.
The executive chef is a five-year veteran of Kapiolani Community College’s continuing-education culinary courses. She visits Hawaii specifically for that reason and has more than 120 classes under her belt. And she’s not done yet.
Griffin, 62, is a whirlwind of exuberance with three loves: learning, cooking and Hawaii, which she’s been visiting for the past 20 years.
“I’ve always felt Hawaii is home. I was born in the wrong place,” Griffin says.
After wrapping up a 30-year career as an elementary school teacher, Griffin delved into the culinary arts, becoming a sous-chef for international food service chain Sodexo. But she had her eye on becoming an executive chef.
During one visit to Hawaii, Griffin had a meal at Ka ‘Ikena, KCC’s fine-dining restaurant run by the school’s culinary students. The experience left her so impressed that it gave her an idea for a way to combine her three loves.
After chatting with chef Frank Gonzales, who runs the continuing-education culinary program, Griffin decided she wanted to take some of the noncredit classes to fulfill requirements for becoming an executive chef. Her mentor, chef Joy Duhnwoodie, agreed to sign off on her plan. Griffin earned her executive chef certification in 2008.
The selling factor, says Griffin, was the diversity of KCC’s extensive course list.
“They’ve got it all. I’ve taken everything from Cajun cooking to butchering. I learned Asian, gluten-free, French and Spanish cooking. Now I’m taking baking classes. The list goes on and on,” she says. “Plus, chefs come from all over the world to be part of that staff.”
In fact, the program offers nearly 100 classes a year, including classes from visiting international chefs.
“We try to provide as authentic an experience as possible,” says Gonzales.
“The goal is to address the public who can’t cook or want to learn to cook a new cuisine. We have a lot of regulars locally … who’ve become friends and actually make the program better because they know me and share what they want.
“We have fun, and the fees they pay raise modest revenue for KCC’s culinary program.”
Because of the caliber of the classes, the program is attended not just by locals, but also by former Hawaii residents who want to expand their repertoire of local dishes — and tourists who want an unusual experience.
But there’s no one quite like Griffin.
During her first year taking classes at KCC, she spent six months in Hawaii. For the following two years she flew out every month. Illness kept her in Ohio in 2009, but last year she eased back in with one trip. This year she’s into her third of six visits.
“Diane’s taken everything,” says chef Grant Sato, an instructor for the program. “She’s great because she’s always wanting to learn more. She found her passion and is willing to alter her daily life to do this. It’s remarkable.”
Gonzales says he was surprised that Griffin wanted to attempt to become an executive chef.
“It’s very difficult to do when you’re older. I told her it would be a real challenge but that we’d help her in any way we could,” he recalls.
“She kept coming and took all kinds of classes. She was 110 percent gung-ho about pursuing her dream. I’m really proud of her.”
Next up for Griffin is a personal chef business she plans to start in 2012. It’s why she’s taking all those baking classes.
“I can cook just about anything, from Cajun to kalua pig,” she says. “I want to take the gamut of tastes to clients, if they wish. If not, I can do beef Wellington, too.”
SLOW COOKER UNSTUFFED CABBAGE
Courtesy Diane Griffin
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 small onion, small dice
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium head of cabbage, shredded
2 teaspoons paprika
1 cup cooked rice
1 16-ounce can V8 juice
6 teaspoons sour cream
Spray 3 1/2-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.
In bowl, combine ground beef, onion, caraway seeds and salt and pepper.
Layer bottom of slow cooker with half of cabbage. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of paprika. Layer half of ground beef mixture. Top with half of rice.
Layer another round of ingredients. Pour V8 over the top. Cook on low for 6 hours. Top each serving with sour cream immediately before serving. Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving (not including salt to taste): 320 calories, 14 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 27 g protein
For more on Kapiolani Community College’s continuing-education culinary classes, email Frank Gonzales at email@example.com.