Top chefs at South Coast Plaza offer benefits to culinary students

Foodies who enjoy dining in and around South Coast Plaza need to know that “Top Chef” runner-up Amar Santana, chef/owner of Vaca and Broadway and chef Tony Esnault of Michelin-starred restaurant Knife Pleat gathered an all-star on Sunday, June 5, The shopping center’s lineup of chefs provides dinner for culinary students.

  • Top Chef runner-up Amar Santana, seen here, and Tony Esnault, chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Knife Pleat, gathered an all-star lineup of chefs at South Coast Plaza to serve dinner to students through the Culinary Arts program. (Courtesy of Bravo)

  • “Top Chef” runner-up Amar Santana and chef Tony Esnault of Michelin-starred restaurant Knife Pleat gathered an all-star lineup of chefs at South Coast Plaza to serve dinner to students through the Culinary Arts Careers program. Seen here, Chef Tony Esnow. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz of the Orange County Register/SCNG)

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    “Top Chef” runner-up Amar Santana and chef Tony Esnault of Michelin-starred restaurant Knife Pleat gathered an all-star lineup of chefs at South Coast Plaza to serve dinner to students through the Culinary Arts Careers program. Seen here, Ross Pangilinan (left) and Populaire’s Nicholas Weber will make appetizers for dinner. (Photo by John Pangilinan, courtesy of Populaire)

  • OCR L CCAP 0512 06

    “Top Chef” runner-up Amar Santana and chef Tony Esnault of Michelin-starred restaurant Knife Pleat gathered an all-star lineup of chefs at South Coast Plaza to serve dinner to students through the Culinary Arts Careers program. Seen here, Chef John Park of Tableau Kitchen and Bar at South Coast Plaza will create appetizers for dinner. (Courtesy of Tableau)

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    “Top Chef” runner-up Amar Santana and chef Tony Esnault of Michelin-starred restaurant Knife Pleat gathered an all-star lineup of chefs at South Coast Plaza to serve dinner to students through the Culinary Arts Careers program. Chef Tony Esnault prepares vegetables à la grecque in the kitchen of new French restaurant Knife Pleat with wife Yassmin Sarmadi at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • OCR L CCAP 0512 03

    “Top Chef” runner-up Amar Santana and chef Tony Esnault of Michelin-starred restaurant Knife Pleat gathered an all-star lineup of chefs at South Coast Plaza to serve dinner to students through the Culinary Arts Careers program. Here you can see Chef James Hamamori making appetizers for dinner.Photo by Nick Kun/Orange County Register

As one of many events celebrating South Coast Plaza’s 55th anniversary, Santana and Esnault will be preparing a four-course meal and wine pairing.

At the dinner, Ross Pangilinan (Terrace by Mix Mix), James Hamamori (Hamamori Restaurant & Sushi Bar), John Park (Tableau) and Nick Weber (Populaire) will prepare a range of appetizers. Vaca’s Beverage Director Michael Rooney and Knife Pleat Sommelier Victor Moreno will arrange the reception, which will include cocktails and a wine bar hosted by Whispering Angel. Diners will have the opportunity to bid in silent and live auctions.

Evening, titled “OC Chef: The Next Generation,” C-CAP Benefit, C-CAP, Careers Through the Culinary Arts Program. According to its website, the nonprofit “provides cooking, work, and life skills to more than 20,000 middle school students in seven U.S. regions: New York City, Newark, Philadelphia and Camden, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, DC/Maryland/ Northern Virginia and Arizona, including seven Navajo Reservation schools.”

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Santana, who is from the Dominican Republic and barely speaks English when he arrived in New York at age 13, is an alumnus of the program. He received his first scholarship as a teenager through C-CAP: two weeks at Le Cordon Bleu, London. When he entered his second C-CAP scholarship competition, he was at Butterfield 81 in New York with former ballet dancer Patricia Williams, who ran the now-defunct restaurant and had many fans. “She’s an amazing mentor,” Santana said in 2015.

The program helped launch Santana’s career. He received a scholarship at the Culinary Institute of America and an internship at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole in New York, before Palmer found him hired at midnight washing dishes after his normal shift.

His success as a restaurateur and chef was predicted in 2005 by the program’s founder, Richard Grausman, who gave an interview to NBC-TV in 2005. At the time, Santana was just a 23-year-old sous chef, but Grossman’s comments proved prescient. “As long as he remains focused and enthusiastic, there are no limits,” Grossman said. “He has character, he has integrity, and soon there will be investors who want to open a restaurant. Amar will be seen as the man to lead the kitchen.”

If you go: “OC Chefs: The Next Generation” will be held at South Coast Plaza at 3333 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, on Sunday, June 5 from 6-9pm. Tickets are $475 per person and include valet parking, reception, dinner, drinks and a goodie bag. To purchase, visit ccapinc.org/event/oc-chefs-the-next-generation/.

US News.

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