Tomorrow’s Culinary Stars
Programs feature visiting chefs and hands-on learning
Paʻina Culinary Center at Maui Community College
Chefs-in-training huddle nervously around the outskirts of the ʻōhia Building at Kapiʻolani Community College, looking slightly haggard but alert as they talk in low voices. Some of them have been up for over 36 hours—slicing, dicing, roasting, braising, glazing and otherwise prepping their entries for their 6 a.m. presentation in the Hawaiʻi State Student Culinary Exposition. Now they watch anxiously as white-coated judges inspect their comestible creations.
As a culinary salon, the expo allows students to compete individually or in teams for top honors in a variety of categories that allow them to show off their skills and creativity. More than 62 participants have come from across the state to compete in the spring 2005 event, including community college students from the Kapiʻolani, Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi campuses and high school students from Farrington and Konawaena.
For Sonny Acosta, a Farrington graduate and second-year student in the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapiʻolani, being tired is just the beginning. He has been practicing his entry at least once a week for a month before the salon and every day on the week of the salon. The hard work pays off. His dish of crispy kalikali rolls with a star anise burre blanc, vine-ripened tomato seaweed compote, braised hon shimeji and ali’i mushrooms with tako-yaki style scallion popovers won the hot food contest and earned him a weeklong internship with Master Chef Hiroyuki Sakai, the "Iron Chef" of Food Network fame. Chef Sakai also lent his considerable charisma to a standing-room-only cooking presentation in the stage-like demonstration kitchen on the ground floor of the building.
Presentation and preparation
Student chef Herval Neto, of Brazil, trains at Maui
Upstairs in the cafeteria, rows of tables covered in white tablecloths form a maze of eye-popping culinary presentations. Unlike the hot foods competition, judging in this part of the salon is based not on taste, but rather the intricate details of presentation. A cake that looks almost exactly like a bonsai tree causes double takes while sugar sculpted into an unbelievable bouquet of tropical flowers looks good enough to lick.
Unfortunately, this is not Willy Wonka’s factory. The rainbow-colored sweets have all been glazed and are inedible—a feast for the eyes only, some weeks in the making.
In contrast, back-to-school mom and Kapiʻolani student Dorothy Colby wins recognition in a timed vegetable-carving contest, with onlookers watching as onions bloom into flowers and cantaloupe becomes a serrated bowl in which to present more fruits and vegetables. Colby has found new energy career-wise as she moves from nonprofit management into the culinary arts. Like many non-traditional students, she has a clear yet evolving picture of where she wants to be.
"I entered the program planning to do personal chef work and teach children and families cooking. As soon as I entered the program, I was lucky and found some work in that area, teaching children’s cooking at the Richard Street YWCA," she explains. "My actual specialty will be not so much a certain type of cuisine, but working with families with special needs, working with members who are disabled or elderly, to find out what they like. This may mean I recreate something from their youth to provide comforting, home-style food or meet special needs regarding food textures and chewing."
Shaping Hawaiʻi cuisine
While Pacific Business News last May asserted that "Hawaiian cuisine is increasingly led by KCC graduates," alumni of the six other Culinary Institute of the Pacific programs—at Leeward, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi and Maui campuses; the UH Center in West Hawaiʻi and the Employment Training Center at Windward—also are making inroads into the industry.
"They’re all famous to me," responds Kauaʻi Community College culinary instructor Clarence Nishi when asked about star chefs from his program. Few who take UH culinary classes will become household names á la Alan Wong, but all play an important role in the state’s economy.
"We want to ensure that student learning outcomes meet industry expectations and needs to perpetuate Hawaiʻi’s reputation as a great dining destination," explains CIP Director Conrad Nonaka. "We also have a role in perpetuating culinary arts as an economic force in the local and global community."
To that end, the CIP Leeward facilities recently got a $3.4 million makeover, doubling the size of the kitchen and tripling the size of the bake shop, and the program is ready to expand. On the Windward side of Oʻahu, students from high-risk populations can get their foot in the door of a culinary career via the 17-week CIP program at ETC while earning credits toward their high school diploma.
At the CIP on Maui, new $17 million dollar facilities span nearly 38,000 square feet in a two-story structure that includes nine kitchens, six quick-serve outlets and The Class Act, an upscale, full-service restaurant staffed by students like Ka ʻIkena at Kapiʻolani or The Pearl at Leeward.
"The culinary industry, through the leadership of the Hawaiʻi Regional Chefs, has grown in size, quality and sophistication," says Interim Vice President for Community Colleges John Morton. Culinary programs of the UH community colleges are tailored to accommodate this growth.
Although the groundbreaking is at least two years away, plans are moving forward for an advanced culinary training center at the Cannon Club at Diamond Head, which would offer the only four-year culinary degrees in the state. (Mānoa offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, but they are focused on restaurant and food service management.)
"The advanced training programs planned for the Cannon Club site are designed to continue local industry growth and also serve as an attraction to those from outside Hawaiʻi, both in North America and Asia, who wish to learn the techniques of east-west fusion that is Hawaiʻi regional cuisine," says Morton.
"Hawaiʻi students who want advanced culinary training currently have to leave the state," adds CIP Director Nonaka. The target population for advanced training includes students from all seven UH culinary training programs and former students now working in industry as well as out-of-state students who want specialty training.
With such ambitious plans, fundraising and innovation are always top of mind for CIP units. Several programs have an annual fundraiser, often featuring gourmet foods and celebrity chefs. All participate in product sales and special events, including fairs, markets and competitions to raise money and awareness.
"We have a very dedicated staff that is willing to get involved in almost every food event on Maui," CIP Maui Director Bobby Santos says proudly. "We have been active participants in the famous Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, Taste of Lahaina, Taste of Wailea, Maui Calls, the Terry Fox Run event at the Four Seasons Wailea and Maui Academy of Performing Arts Garden Party."
Maui student Bryson Ching and the sugar-free oatcakes he helped create
Another kind of community focus drives the Maui Culinary Academy Research and Development Center. Second-year student Bryson Ching has worked with Chris Speere and Teresa Shurilla for more than a year in product research, testing and tasting to develop tasty pastries with sugar alternatives. His sugar-free strawberry and blueberry shortcake recipe won HMSA’s 5-A-Day contest, and the team produced E Hele Mai ʻAi, a video series that shares healthy ways to prepare locally grown foods.
A Native Hawaiian afflicted with diabetes, Ching is almost shy until he starts talking about the sugar-free initiative. "Sugar plays a main role in baking. It influences color, crispiness, tenderness; it makes cakes rise. It is hard to make sugar-free stuff that doesn’t taste like rubber or like crap," he says with a laugh. "Synthetic sugars like Splenda don’t hold up in high heat. Xylitol holds up well, and has a lot of other benefits, so that is what we use in the oat cakes we make and sell." His main goal is "to let other diabetics enjoy what they are missing."
Try Ching’s sugar-free oat cakes on campus in the Paʻina facility or weekly Aloha Friday Farmer’s Market. Or make his sugar-free strawberry and blueberry shortcake, recipe below.
Another place people can taste the work of UH culinary students is at the new John A. Burns School of Medicine building in Kakaʻako, where apprentice chefs from Kapiʻolani run the cafeteria.
From resorts to nursing homes, fine dining establishments to edgy start-ups, students of the UH community colleges are influencing the way Hawaiʻi eats, today and in the future.
Sweet and healthy fare
As an emerging pastry chef, Bryson Ching wants food to taste good. As a Native Hawaiian afflicted with diabetes, he’s concerned about sugar content. So Ching works to develop tasty, healthy pastries like his cranberry and date oat cakes, available at Maui Community College. His shortcake recipe was an HMSA 5-A-Day Recipe Contest winner.
Sugar-Free Strawberry and Blueberry Shortcake
8 oz all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. artificial sweetener for baking
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
6 Tbsp. margarine
5 Tbsp. buttermilk
1 egg yolk
Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cut margarine in by rubbing between your fingertips as if making pie dough. When most of the margarine is blended, add buttermilk and form into a ball. Press into an 8" round and freeze. When dough hardens, cut into six wedges. Brush with mixture of 1 tsp, egg yolk and 1 Tbsp, buttermilk. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and bake 20–25 minutes or until golden brown.
1 1/2 cups non-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp. orange zest
1 1/2 Tbsp. artificial sweetener for baking
3 cups strawberries, quartered
2 small baskets blueberries
Combine yogurt, orange juice and orange zest. Stir in strawberries and blueberries.
1 cup strawberries, puréed
1 Tbsp. artificial sweetener for baking
Drizzle purée onto dessert plates. Cut each shortcake wedge in half horizontally. Cover the bottom half of each shortcake with 3/4 cup fruit filling and place other half of shortcake on top. Garnish with a sprig of mint and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 350 calories (120 from fat); 13g fat (2.5g saturated fat); 35 mg cholesterol; 380 mg sodium; 57g total carbohydrate (15g sugar); 4g dietary fiber; 9g protein
CIP program information and contacts
Programs: certificate and AAS in food service
Public dining: cafeteria
Contact: (808) 974-7611
200 West Kāwili Street, Hilo, HI 96720-4091
Programs: certificate and AS in culinary arts and patisserie
Public dining: Ka ʻIkena fine dining (lunch and dinner), Saturday farmer’s market, cafeteria
Major fundraiser: Hoʻokipa, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Oct 8
Contact: (808) 734-9466
ʻŌhelo 125, 4303 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu, HI 96816
Programs: certificate in food service, certificate and AAS in culinary arts
Public dining: lunch service
Major Fundraiser: Spring Gourmet Gala at the school, Apr. 14
Contact: (808) 245-8311
3-1901 Kaumualiʻi Highway, Līhue, HI 96766
Programs: certificate and AAS in food service
Public dining: cafeteria, The Pearl fine-dining restaurant (open for lunch Wednesday–Friday)
Major Fundraiser: Taste of the Stars at the school, May 6
Contact: (808) 455-0011
96-045 Ala ʻIke, Pearl City, HI 96782
Programs: certificate and AAS in culinary arts and baking, AAS in restaurant supervision
Public dining: Class Act restaurant and exhibition kitchen, food court with six quick-serve outlets
Major fundraiser: Nobel Grape and Kea Lani Dinner, April
Contact: (808) 984-3225
310 W. Kaʻahumanu Ave., Kahului, HI 96732
UH Center in West Hawaiʻi
Program: certificate and AAS in food service
Public dining: kitchen extension dining room open a couple days a week
Contact: (808) 322-4850, 322-4856 (admission and advising)
81-964 Halekiʻi St., Kealakekua, HI 96750
ETC at Windward
Program: introduction to culinary arts
Public dining: cafeteria
Contact: (808) 844-2365
45-720 Keaʻahala Rd., Kāneʻohe, HI 96744