By Katlin Cilliers | Staff Writer
KCC culinary professor and chef Salvatore Coppola has seen the royal family of Monaco grow older.
From 1988 to 2011, he was the executive chef of Princess Caroline of Monaco, daughter of American actress Grace Kelly. Coppola went down memory lane and shared stories from when he worked for the princess in their private house in France.
“[Princess Caroline is a] very friendly person,” the Italian professor said. “… Not the kind of person which they have to show off who they are and have this kind of strong barrier.”
Coppola’s 25 years with the monarchy helped him land a position in Hawai‘i as part of Kapi‘olani Community College’s culinary department, where he has worked since 2016. The KCC professor’s experiences in Europe before arriving in Hawaiʻi — where he’s lived since 2011 — make up a colorful story.
Born in Trieste, Italy, Coppola attended the Amerigo Vespucci Culinary Institute in 1984, where he graduated with a culinary and hotel management degree and went on to work around Europe before being invited to work for the royal family. His English is sprinkled with the unique musicality of romance languages. It is a hybrid of French – due to his 25 years in the country – Slavic, as a mere 19 miles separate his hometown from Croatia, and punctuated by the melody of Italian, his mother language.
He led the kitchen staff of the crown’s private properties in France, Austria and northern Germany. In the Monaco private house, he was responsible for about five people plus a few other staff members outside the kitchen. At any given point, eight to 12 people worked under his supervision.
Although he had access to modern appliances and top-notch resources to cook, Coppola recalls that the crown requested “simple, but high quality” food in its daily meals. He was allowed to take as much time as he needed to ensure that food would be served up to the family’s standards.
The relationship Coppola had with the family was, above all, a professional one. The KCC professor observed that in a setting where there’s such socioeconomic gap, there tends to be a “natural division,” he said. In spite of that, he made sure his staff knew what its role was and was aware not to cross that invisible line.
“Even after a certain number of years [it] becomes something which could be more friendly,” the professor said. “But still, you have your position.”
However, 25 years can also make one begin to feel like part of an extended family. Coppola has seen members of the Monaco royal family get married, have children, and grow older. He was sometimes invited for dinners and social outings, such as hunting trips in northern Germany, to cook while they vacationed.
“I became a part of the family, because after so many years. … We could also sit together, like you and me now talking, with the princess,” he said. “[I] became a person of confidence, you know. Me and the butler, Tony.”
After eight years working for the crown, Coppola decided it was time for a new challenge, and considered furthering his studies in Switzerland. The royal family, despite acknowledging he “would be hard to replace,” was supportive of his decision. But he ended up staying with them for another 17 years, up until 2011.
Coppola moved to Hawai‘i that year, after reconnecting with an old friend who lived on the island. They ended up getting married and taking residency on Oʻahu. Upon moving here in 2011, he joined Gros Bonnet Culinary Academy, a private culinary school in Honolulu where he worked for two years.
This is Coppola’s first year of teaching the Fundamentals of Cooking class at KCC. Coppola was hired to teach the noncredit program once a week in 2016. Early this year, he became a professor for the State of Hawai‘i Apprenticeship Program, aimed at all those who wish to learn how to cook or improve their skills.
His audience is made of students who work in the restaurant business and are often struggling to work and survive. The class offered by the state provides students with a chance to practice and perfect their skills so that they can better perform in real life.
“The reality between [theoretical] teaching and the practical at work is totally different,” Coppola said. [Through the program,] they can learn better techniques, the terms, without having the stress of their own job. … So they can take their time [to cook].”
Although he hadn’t planned to stay in Monaco for 25 years, Coppola said that he was pretty satisfied with his life in Hawaii. He acknowledged that his time with the royalty was valuable to his career and went by very quickly.
“The years there, they flew away,” Coppola said. “Sometimes we were thinking about the back, the past … ‘Wow, already 10 years. Wow, already 20 years.’ You don’t realize.”