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PacRim 11

Firing up the kitchen at Cerritos College.


By Tammye McDuff

Cerritos College Culinary Arts program may be 22 years in the making but they are really making a statement this year.  With the grand opening of the new Culinary Arts kitchen and the introduction of an inventive curriculum, Chef Michael Pierini is making sure that his students receive the best instruction in Southern California.

One of the many additions to the program is the Falcon Room Restaurant and Café. The idea was to give students a real restaurant experience, in food handling, preparation and presentation.

The concept of the restaurant is to be an organic and farm to table institution. “The idea is when patrons visit the restaurant;” says Pierini “that they will be able to see foods being grown. Then come inside and taste the experience”. Under current construction, will be three raised planter beds, watering drip system, composter, where all of the produce for the restaurant will be grown on site.  The new garden program is slated for completion January 2016. “We had one before, but the problem was that it wasn’t fenced in,” notes Pierini, “anyone could just come in and take a tomato, or sling cigarettes butts into the beds.” Vegetables, herbs, exotic spices and dwarf fruit trees will be grown to further students understanding of the plant life cycle.

The restaurant offers the “Taste Of” series. Every three weeks, senior students compile, prepare and present a five course meal.

The culinary program has evolved into a fund generating operation. The Falcon Café, Restaurant and catering divisions generate 30k to 50k, which is reinvested into the program and needed equipment,” We are in such a huge growth phase,” comments Chef.

HMG was invited to experience ‘A Taste of Pacific Rim’. The first course was a simply prepared and presented Hawaiian Style Poke, of Tuna cradled in an edible fried shell. The second course combined Seafood Chowder, a medley of mussels, white fish, shrimp and salmon in potato chowder. The remaining three courses were Chicken ala Guam; Fried fish with green rice accompanied by baby squash and fried plantains and to top it off real iced cream with orange marmalade with a spiced sugar cookie.

The restaurant is open five days a week, Monday through Thursday 11am to 12:45. The meal is $15 per person. Gratuities are greatly appreciated and go toward the culinary Scholarships.

Within the next two to three weeks a new parking lot will be available to patrons free of charge.

Pierini had no aspiration to become a teacher, ““I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, a small farm town of 2,000 people. My family was a combination of Italian immigrants and farmers. I did two things as a kid ~ farmed for my Uncles and worked in the family restaurant, a real Mayberry type of town.”

Pierini came from MASA, one of the top restaurants in San Francisco. Michael graduated from the Academy as a top student receiving the Founder’s Award for Culinary Excellence. He then joined Hyatt Hotels and Resorts in their management training program to renovate a hotel, move in, re-train employees and get them ready for the grand opening, stay for the opening and take off to another hotel.

Pierini was successful in opening non-unionized hotels and survived the city-wide hotel union workers’ strike and the San Francisco Earthquake in 1989 in which his hotel hosted and fed evacuees for two weeks without water or electricity. He continued in the hotel make-over business in San Francisco and Hawaii. “I would work straight for two months,” recalls Michael. His ultimate goal at that time was to become a general manager and live the high life. He was transferred to Newport Beach where he experienced the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the aftermath in which he experienced a high amount of stress and got burnt out.

One day he noticed a job flyer looking for a part-time baking and pastry instructor at Cerritos College. He applied and got the job. Pierini has executed a major make-over of the two culinary arts programs, brought entrepreneurship to the campus and opened four unique on-campus businesses that support the program both financially and educationally.

Coming from hospitality, he treats students as customers. “I’m first and foremost a chef, not a teacher. We have basic instruction, but I do not believe in cook books or recipes. I encourage the students to be inventive and creative. I always look for ways to provide the best environment possible for student learning and make them successful,” said Pierini.