The Student Voice Of Contra Costa College, San Pablo, Calif.

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The Student Voice Of Contra Costa College, San Pablo, Calif.

The Advocate

Eight CCC culinary students are going to Italy this summer

The college’s most recent Food and Wine Festival generated enough funds to send the students on a learning trip.
Shawn Williams
Kayla Pule preps bread in the culinary building bakery at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., April 21, 2024. (Shawn Williams/The Advocate)

Eight CCC culinary students head to Italy June 2 for nearly 13 days, thanks to a great turnout of the college’s annual Food and Wine Festival fundraising event. 

For the past 15 years, Contra Costa College Culinary department Head Chef, Nader Sharkes has held the Food and Wine Festival event to help raise money to give culinary students the opportunity to earn a scholarship. 

Sharkes, Instructional Assistant Penny Chuah, Volunteer Coordinator Jayma Brown, plus many sponsors and volunteer vendors supported the event. The scholarship allows the students to go to Italy for two weeks and learn from culinary artists overseas. 

About 800 visitors went to this year’s festival and with a grand total of nearly $70,000 in donations – beating last year’s $60,000 – eight CCC culinary students will be going to Italy this summer. 

Over 45 volunteer vendors came to this year’s Food and Wine Festival, about a quarter of whom were alumni of the college’s culinary department.

Upon hearing of Sharkes upcoming retirement, the alumni reached out to work with their teacher one last time, according to Jayma Brown, the volunteer event coordinator. Sharkes plans to retire later this year in December. 

Contra Costa College Culinary Department Chair Nader Sharkes takes part in the wine ring toss at the annual Food and Wine Festival in San Pablo, Calif., Sunday, April 21, 2024. (Shawn Williams)

“People called him and asked. We put out the word, and a lot of the alumni reached out, since it was his last event” Brown said.

The festival took place on Sunday, April 21 and was from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The culinary department started preparing an hour and a half earlier, beginning with a team meeting. During the preparations for the event, customers lined up early at either side of the courtyard. 

Starting at 11 a.m., people flooded into the courtyard. With over 45 vendors and a silent auction to take part in, people were rushing all over the place. Lines for food started to build, and wine tasting began. In addition to the vendors and silent auction, there was a ring toss for bottles of wine that was extremely popular.

The culinary students were running back and forth from the kitchen, serving food, bussing tables and mingling, hosting the event beautifully. After 1 p.m., everyone had eaten, drank and chilled out, and the auction began.

In the auction, many prizes were up for bid, including cooking lessons with Sharkes, wine paintings by students, an Airbnb and gift cards for dinners. Some big spenders came to support the culinary department by having bidding wars up to over $1,000 in some cases. 

At the end of the event, the announcement for the winners of the scholarship took place. Contra Costa College President Kimberly Rogers delivered the announcement. The eight students that are going to Italy on scholarship are Muhammad Naeem, Iram Akhtar, Hans Wackyne Pedragosa, Demetrio Campos, Priscilla Galvez, Rosario Huerta, Cesar Herrera and Comfort Mensah.

These eight students spent months preparing for the event to earn the required points to qualify. The students gained points by securing vendors for the Food and Wine Festival, selling tickets, generating donations, spending hours on the event and writing an essay. 

Campos, one of the students who will go on the trip, said students and staff worked hard to generate support and resources for the festival.

“Pretty much everyone went out to different restaurants to get vendors and donations,” Campos said.

Instructional Assistant Penny Chuah praised the trip as a learning opportunity for students.

“The more you learn, the more you can show your skills,” Chuah explained.

The eight students are looking forward to the opportunity to go to Italy, they said. 

“The classes, [about] learning on pasta making. I know they have a wine tasting class and enjoying the views and everything that I can,” said Herrera

“For me to be here and get the opportunity to go to Italy and learn different cuisines thats amazing toi experience over there,” Mensah added.

For student Wackyne Pedragosa, it’s about an experience with the culinary team in a new place.

“How chef Nader acts outside of class and like a normal person, and to get some beautiful pictures,” Pedragosa said. “It’s like a dream come true.” 

Muhammad Naeem and Iram Akhtar, who are married, said they’re excited about new skills and learning.

“To learn and explore different food and culture,” Akhtar said of what she’s most looking forward to, while Naeem said he hopes to “talk to the experts and [gain] skills from the experts in Italy.” 

Campos is interested in the cheese factories.

“Since I was a kid I’ve loved cheese,” Campos explained.

With Sharkes’ impending retirement later this year, the future of the Food and Wine Festival is unclear. 

Regardless, without Sharkes, the event may not be the same. 

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Shawn Williams, Advocate Staff

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