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Tomorrow’s top chefs are preparing top-notch meals today at the Leis Family Class Act Restaurant at the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College. The restaurant is staffed by second-semester students from the college’s Maui Culinary Academy, with a new group of students coming in each semester. The group is split into chefs and servers and they switch roles halfway through the semester. Waiting on tables is a surreal experience for many of the students who came to college to learn how to cook.

“I can’t believe I’m serving fine dining, you know, and I’m actually getting really good at it in just a short amount of time,” said culinary student Dalena Duong. “But I’m excited to get into the kitchen.”

“This week is our last week of service before we do our rotations, so Friday’s the last day, then I get to be doing what all these guys are doing,” said fellow student RJ Domingo. “I get out of the jacket and pants and get to put on a tie and my whites.”

By getting out of the classroom and cooking and serving in a real restaurant, the students learn every aspect of fine dining.

“The only way you can really understand is to do real world experience, and we give it to them,” said dining room instructor Juli Umetsu. “This is a fine dining restaurant, our guests expect the best, we give it to them each and every week.”

The proof is the zuchinni saltimbocha and every item on the Italian menu, which changes weekly. Then there’s the quality service. Leis Family Class Act is the number one rated restaurant in all of Hawaii according to national online reservation service The customers raved about this day’s lunch.

“The hors d’oeuvre was the zucchini saltimbocca,” said Kathy Pisony. “It was awesome.”

“It was really great, the fish was cooked perfectly, it was just super, good stuff,” said Timothy Pisony.

The compliments and national recognition is nice, but it’s the real world experience the students appreciate.

“We’re just introduced to a lot of different things, said Duong. “You’re learning every day. There is so much to learn about the different foods that we make and, there’s just a lot to it.”

“So grateful, for everything we’ve been given going to this school and learning from all of our great chefs,” said Domingo.

The Leis Family Class Act restaurant is open for lunch Wednesdays and Fridays. Menus and reservations are available online.

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