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Cooking up collaboration


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POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dr. Michele Carbone quick-steps under the weight of an enormous platter of Risotto e Funghi that he's prepared for nearly 100 guests in his Black Point home. A red Williams-Sonoma apron covers his Italian designer clothes, and a constant smile remains etched on his face. Politically infused discussions fade as people accept small portions on plates carried by Carbone's assistants and Ph.D. candidates from his research lab at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii.

Back in the kitchen, olive oil, wine, onions, a chef's knife and portobello mushrooms stand by. As usual, there isn't a recipe in sight. Moving about his stove like a veteran actor on a stage is how Carbone, a seventh-generation physician from Italy with a penchant for the finest ingredients, does business. And it often disarms even his most loyal supporters.

“;He's standing there cooking pasta right now,”; noted Andre Bachmann, an assistant professor at the Cancer Research Center gazing past the room packed with award-winning scientists, physicians, university leaders and hospital CEOs. “;Who would do that?”;

University of Hawaii President David McClain is getting used to it. “;He has this knack for bringing people together,”; McClain said. Carbone's expertise as a chef and the personal touch he brings to his dinner parties are “;metaphors for what he brings to his profession. He gives a great deal of himself.”;

Last month, Carbone and his wife, Beth Chambers, hosted the extravagant dinner in honor of “;Preventative and Therapeutic Opportunities in Gene-Environment Interaction & Immunotherapy,”; a conference Carbone organized as interim director of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii. It featured Dr. Harald zur Hausen, a 2008 Nobel Prize recipient in medicine.

Guests at the party gushed about Carbone's ability to make complex tasks seem effortless. But he is the first to admit that none of it is easy, especially when the future remains nebulous.

“;Being an interim director is a very difficult job because I can't give up my research,”; said Carbone, who stepped into the role on Dec. 1 but remains a researcher in the Thoracic Oncology Department, as well as its director. “;I have to assume that on July 1, or earlier, I will be back doing my research full-time. If I were to become director, I would cut some of my research commitments. But at this time, it would be foolish to do that.”;

As much work as cooking for this many people requires, it never seems to be a chore for Carbone. “;It makes people feel more welcome, and puts them in a better mood, which is conducive to collaborative spirit and success. It's a completely different atmosphere that you create. Of course, having good food helps, too,”; he added with a grin. “;Good food and good wine.”;

The conference and party allowed researchers and clinicians from different areas of science in various parts of the country to share knowledge, stimulating ideas for treatment and cures. But Carbone also hopes it attracts new researchers to the Cancer Center — necessary for its viability. And what better way to recruit than with a home-cooked meal?