Mark Arriola had never seen snow until he moved to Summit County to begin his culinary education at Colorado Mountain College. Originally from coastal Texas, he fell in love with snowboarding and the natural beauty of the mountains. But after graduating with a culinary arts degree, he traded his snowboard for a surfboard once again.
Today, Mark is the executive chef of Merriman’s Fish House on Kauai, a pioneer in the Hawaiian “farm to table” movement, and recently voted ‘Best Restaurant on Kauai’ by Honolulu Magazine.
“It is more than I could have imagined.” says Chef Arriola. “The quality and variety of ingredients available to me as a chef is just unbelievable. I always start my day with the ocean, whether I am surfing, diving, fishing or paddling.”
Like many accomplished chefs, Marks’s impressive culinary career had simple beginnings. At 15, he found himself shucking oysters in a beachside bar in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. After several other restaurant jobs, he knew the next step was culinary school. He moved to Colorado and applied to the Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute (CMCCI) at Keystone Resort. After three years of apprenticeships in six different kitchens, he graduated and moved to Maui.
Right out of college, Chef Arriola began working for Peter Merriman, an established and respected Hawaiian restaurateur, thanks to a connection with the former CMCCI director. But beyond networking, Mark credits the quality of education he received at Colorado Mountain College for his success as top chef in an award-winning Hawaiian restaurant.
“In my opinion, it is the best program out there,” says Mark, “because of the direct link between the classroom and the kitchen. The instructors and the chefs that we were able to train under were amazing. We left school with the confidence to take our skills anywhere and be successful.”
A lifelong learner, Mark’s passion for his career is apparent. Although Colorado Mountain College sparked his success, his hunger for new experiences - and ingredients - keeps it growing.
“What I love most about this career is that I will never learn it all, “ says Mark, “I am humbled by the opportunities that have come my way in my career. It’s hard to believe that a 15 year old kid, whose first job was shucking oysters in an oyster bar on the coast in Texas, was starting on a career path like this.”