August 1, 2011

The Kopf Scholarship

Robert Mondavi winery in Oakville, CA
Robert Mondavi winery in Oakville, CA

“Opportunity of a lifetime” is an absolute understatement when describing the basket of goodies awarded to recipients of the Kopf Scholarship. First of all, to be quite honest, the “opportunity” is really only available to the most passionate, studious, and driven students amongst us. For that group of students, winning becomes the challenge of a lifetime. And, once the winners are chosen, it becomes the reward of a lifetime.

The challenge starts with earning an A in Wines Class, which is touted as the hardest class on campus for culinary students. Candidates must also have a 3.5 grade point average at the time they apply for the scholarship. Along with the application, each student submits a resume and an essay. The essay must demonstrate the student’s vast knowledge of wine and relevant personal experience. Applicants must have a “compelling career interest in the culinary arts, hospitality, and wine,” according to Steven Kolpan, Professor of Wine Studies. The students with the best essays are then put through a rigorous interview process, and only then are the winners chosen. Even after Kopf Scholars are chosen, they must submit an essay to the scholarship provider on their experience.

The scholarship provider happens to be Kobrand Corporation, which Professor Kolpan describes as “one of America’s leading marketers and importers of fine wines.” The scholarship is in memory of R.C. Kopf, the founder of Kobrand, and is continued by his three daughters. It has been available to students for the past fifteen years. Two scholarships are awarded to CIA students per year; one scholarship is awarded to Cornell, UNLV, and Johnson & Wales as well.

Finally, the basket of goodies: two weeks in Italy, two weeks in France, two weeks in California (touring top wineries and food production facilities with travel and hotel expenses paid), a $5,000 dining budget and a $10,000 cash reward. All in all, the prize is worth at least $30,000 per recipient. The foundation truly spares no expense to make sure the students have a superb time. Professor Kolpan says that it is the most generous and prestigious scholarship available to CIA students, and I most definitely agree.

I was lucky enough to get in touch with two scholarship winners and ask about their experiences. The more recent student of the two is Hwayoung Park, who became a recipient in March 2011. She will start her trip in September and is currently awaiting her itinerary from the Kopf Foundation. She said that she intends to use part of the cash prize to travel to Spain and Portugal and is setting up stages that are close to the places she will be traveling. I was surprised and impressed to hear Park say that winning the scholarship did not require more effort than she would normally put into a class. She described the essay prompt as “pretty easy and open-ended.” Sitting in front of an eight person interview panel was the most nerve-racking part for her. But still, she is incredibly humble in light of the enormity of her success. Park said that it was never actually a goal to win—she had only heard about the scholarship one block before she started Wines class and just knew she would win it. She did share with me two of her actual goals: the first is to be a Master Sommelier; the second, to go to Noma in Copenhagen and work for Rene Redzepi. We will stay tuned.

The second recipient, Yvonne Cheung, won back in 2007 and has been committed to working with wine. She was recently appointed as Chef Sommelier at the internationally acclaimed Café Gray Deluxe at The Upper House in Hong Kong. In short, she runs the wine program for the entire hotel. She therefore has to work a lot with numbers: inventory, revenue, budgets, costs, etc. When it came to winning the scholarship, her experience was similar to Park’s. Cheung says that it was not really effort that caused her to win, but more passion and drive.

I must admit that I am blown away by the successes of these two students. Most students would see this scholarship as the end result. But what separates applicants from recipients is that recipients see winning as a stepping stone, just one of the many experiences that will help them get where they want to go.