As Cesar Chavez once said, the people who give you food give you their hearts.
For some people, articulating cuisines into personal masterpieces exemplifies with guests what emotion simply can’t be put into words.
Every week, Orange Coast College’s on-campus Captain’s Table Restaurant presents a different culturally themed menu.
Chef Ali Flecky, a part time instructor at OCC, begins her week just like every other — flipping menus with her students in the Culinary Arts department — the same menus she once flipped herself as a student 11 years ago.
Flecky first started her culinary career at OCC under Director of Culinary Arts Bill Barber in 2008. After touring the campus with Barber, Flecky saw OCC as a great affordable option to start her culinary career.
When she first enrolled at OCC, Flecky said she found herself on a waiting list due to no other culinary classes other than a lunchtime lab open to enroll in. After persistently coming in early to secure her enrollment in the classes she was previously waitlisted on, Flecky discovered a knack for the kitchen naturally flowing through each culinary and pastry course she once patiently waited to take.
“Me and my dad laugh now about how I’m still at OCC,” Flecky said. “I was living on my own and working when my dad and I really started researching culinary schools together.”
Upon graduating from OCC in 2011 and receiving her advanced culinary certification and pastry certification, the hunt for a job was on.
In the restaurant industry, long shifts full of chaos can turn into a weekly occurrence. But if you love what you do, those nights are where all the magic resides.
Flecky has held an array of hectic positions over the course of her professional culinary career.
Starting in the summer of 2011, Flecky worked rigorously in the pool kitchen at the Monarch Beach Hotel in Dana Point, picking up every little nugget of knowledge she possibly could.
“I got an email from Chef Barber. People back in the day would email Barber looking for cooks and he would send over resumes, interview times and the job descriptions over to us,” Flecky said. “He sent out for the Monarch Beach Hotel in Dana Point. Four different people interviewed me and ultimately that was the perfect fit for me. You come in and get fitted for work wears. It was very classy.”
Flecky gained bar experience in a five-star environment while working at the Monarch. Flecky would constantly ask her bosses what she could be doing to improve her craft, pocketing every little bit of information given along the way.
Following the Monarch hotel, Flecky took her skills to the Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach as a junior sous-chef. She said learning how to control fire times (scanning a restaurant to first serve guests based on their importance) and sautéing $300 cuts of Japanese steak helped build her foundation as an educator.
“It was such a crazy cool experience to be able to get manager responsibilities while being a junior sous-chef. I was doing inventory, ordering and scheduling,” Flecky said. “It was first job I held that I was a people manager was a lot of pressure but also a lot of fun.”
In 2015, Flecky received an email from Barber looking for cooks to hire part time. Delighted at the offer, Flecky accepted and began instructing the Culinary Principles and Pantry classes at OCC in 2016.
With persistence and leadership came the opportunity to teach Culinary 3 and 4, the highest level of the culinary arts program offered at OCC that serves the international menu at the Captain’s Table à la minute style.
“Personally I think she’s a great teacher. Having been through the program, I think when she was approaching graduating and working in the industry, I asked her if she would want to apply for a part time position and luckily for us she took my offer,” Barber said. “She’s been great since.”
For students on campus, Flecky is highly respected because she regularly lets her students plate their own meals, allowing for maximum personal growth in the kitchen.
Students learn quickly what works and what doesn’t without being overly overshadowed by their instructor.
According to Kenna Delisanti, a 28-year-old culinary and pastry arts major at OCC, Flecky has been a big influence in her culinary aspirations.
“I love Chef Ali. I’ve been in the culinary arts program for two years and she’s opened up my creativity which has helped me in my current job,” Delisanti said. “She’s only a few years older than me and it’s a personal goal of mine to be in her position after seeing that opportunity could be for me.”
After recently leaving her last position as a sous-chef at Driftwood Kitchen in Laguna Beach, Flecky has been solely devoted to her students in the kitchen at OCC.
In the near future, Flecky alongside her sister, plans to open a small, family style café that would serve the same comfort-style food her siblings have fond memories of.
“I want to give all new students the tools to be successful and thrive. It feeds my soul daily teaching because it brings life to me to see students thriving doing what I do everyday and that’s the best feeling in the world,” Flecky said.