A Zest For Life

Kansas City’s love affair with food is destined to continue into the next decade and beyond, thanks in part to the future generation of graduates from Johnson County Community College’s (JCCC) Culinary School. This dynamic program recently received the green light on a new 36,000-square-foot building, which will house five culinary labs, an innovation kitchen and a demonstration kitchen in a culinary theater. The project is slated to be completed in the fall of 2013.

The culinary school is nationally recognized for its apprenticeship program, which positions students with some of the metro’s top-drawer restaurant talent, and acknowledges the contributions of innovators who continue to leave their imprint on the food industry.


Marc Valiani was one such innovator, a chef whose passion for life and cooking was abruptly cut short in 2011 when, at 48, he succumbed to the effects of ALS, or LouGehrig’s disease. His amazing career in the culinary world included positions on the West Coast where he worked for Wolfgang Puck at two of Puck’s restaurants: Eureka, and his Beverly Hills flagship, Spago. Valiani later found his way to Kansas City, making an impact on the local food scene as executive chef for all nine of the iconic Kansas City-area PB&J restaurants. Afterwards, Valiani landed a corporate chef position with Frito-Lay’s Culinary Innovation Center in Texas, where he helped create a line of Lay’s flavored potato chips.

Spice!, a fundraiser slated for August 25 in JCCC’s Regnier Center, is being held in honor of Chef Valiani. It will benefit the JCCC Apprenticeship Scholarship, JCCC Hospitality & Culinary Academy and the Marc Valiani Foundation. The event, which Puck will attend, is the brainchild of Bill Crooks, one of the masterminds behind PB&J, his wife Sarah, and Marc’s wife Kaymie.

“Marc believed he was very fortunate to have worked with some of the best chefs in the country, and he loved to share that knowledge with others. He had a way of teaching that the kids really enjoyed,” says Crooks. “Once the idea of a fundraiser came about, it was apparent that there was a large group of chefs who wanted to be part of something ongoing that would benefit Marc’s family and other young chefs.”

Dinner is Served

Saturday, August 25, 2012
Johnson County Community College
Regnier Center
7 p.m.

To attend the dinner, participants may become Master Chef Sponsors, purchasing two tables of eight and invitations to the VIP reception for $25,000; Executive Chef Table Sponsors, purchasing one table of eight and invitations to the VIP reception for $5,000; or Sous Chef Table Patrons, purchasing one table of eight for $2,500.

Kaymie was immediately on board with the idea.

“Marc had a hard time accepting that he had ALS, and this is such a wonderful way to remember him as someone who had a zest for life, was passionate about cooking, and loved teaching young people,” says Kaymie.

Once the ball was rolling, it seemed especially fitting that Valiani’s longtime friend and mentor, Wolfgang Puck, should be the first featured chef in what is scheduled to be a yearly event. Puck agreed.

“Marc had great passion and energy for new ideas,” says Puck. “He was a humble guy, but he pushed himself and his line cooks to really create something special at both our brewery restaurant and Spago. I’m very happy to be a part of this evening celebrating Marc’s life.”

Spice! includes a five-course dinner with a menu selected by Puck and prepared by JCCC culinary students under the direction of chefs from Puck’s restaurants. The dinner will be served in the same style that Puck used for the Governor’s Ball that took place in conjunction with the Academy Awards® in 2012, complete with action stations. Participants will be able to interact with Puck, the chefs and the students.

For more information about this event, contact kateallen@jccc.edu. For more information about ALS, visit alsa.org.