A team of culinary students from Kapiʻolani Community College is headed to Las Vegas, Nevada in mid-July for the national championships of the American Culinary Federation Student Team competition.

“Just the thought of like winning nationals, it is so motivating, it’s just like, unbelievable to have this opportunity,” said Kapiʻolani CC team member Joy Yamane.

They earned it. The team—Yamane, Ian Sagayaga, Emi Akiyama, Bickna Sim and Hwanjae Lee—won the state championships in December and then in April, topped six other states to win the western regionals in Idaho.

“This team is very young,” said team coach Grant Sato, a chef and instructor from the Kapiʻolani CC Culinary Arts program. “They had almost no experience, and they saved their best performance for last so their best run through was at the regional.”

Now the focus is on preparing for the nationals and taking advantage of what they do best.

“We all work well together,” said Kapiʻolani CC team member Sagayaga. “We have no arguments, nothing at all. We all help each other. If someone does something wrong we just improvise and just think of something and we’ll fix it instantly.”

“I think their teamwork is the key that is setting them apart from all other teams from the past,” said Sato.

The team is truly representing the 50th state. The menu for the national competition showcases Hawaiʻi regional cuisine and products.

“Everything that we have on our plate, from the protein to the vegetables to as much as you could of everything, is grown or produced locally,” said Sato.

“A lot of people on the mainland, they don’t really get to use these products that much, so we want to teach them or show them what we do in Hawaii,” said Yamane.

Kapiʻolani Community College has proven it is no flash in the pan, winning the national championship in 2009 and consistently placing high in the regionals each year.

And each year, supporters like Y. Hata, Dura Contractors, D. Otani Produce, Shinsato Farms, and many other sponsors make it all possible by contributing thousands of dollars to pay for the team’s travel and expenses—about $60,000 this year for the regional and national competitions.

“We just want to win and bring home the gold for all of them, everybody,” said Yamane.

“We are just going to go strong and win the competition,” said Sagayaga.

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