(Opening photo credit: Food Network)

From bonbons to baked goods, University of Hawaiʻi Maui College Assistant Professor and Culinary Arts Program Coordinator Teresa Shurilla—better known as Cheech—is in her element in the pastry kitchen. Her sugar work is especially sensational.

So it’s no surprise that she’s been an invited competitor multiple times on Food Network shows, such as Halloween Wars.

“It’s good for me personally, because it just pushes me to a limit that I don’t think I would do normally,” Shurilla says. “So competition is always good. It makes you better.”

Her latest sweet skirmish, (No. 5, to be exact) with shades of Santa, is on a new show called Holiday Wars, scheduled to begin airing on Food Network on December 1.

culinary teacher and student making bon bons
UH Maui College Assistant Professor Teresa Shurilla teaches one of her students how to make bon bons.

Shurilla said, “I think the reason that I go out and do these little adventures that I do is so that I can entice students to come to the program and see what we have in the baking and pastry department as well as cooking.”

Students, who have come to UH Maui College from near and far, are impressed with both Shurilla and the program.

“I think her dedication and her love for pastry kind rubbed off on us, because she’s so motivated and she’s so energetic,” says culinary arts student Meili Jahja, a Baldwin High School graduate, who said she considered going away to the mainland at first, “And then I was like, ‘Why would I go there for culinary school when we have such an amazing program here?’”

Culinary arts student Stephanie Serraglio moved from Vancouver, Canada, to study at UH Maui College. “It was worth traveling half-way across the world,” she said. “It’s a really great program and the community here is amazing.”

Shurilla started teaching pastry at UH Maui College 18 years ago and was a pastry chef for almost 20 years before that. In March 1992, her piña colada cheesecake graced the cover of Food & Wine.

These days, she’s teaching everything from the proper tempering of chocolate for elaborate handcrafted bon bons (to sell as a fundraiser for the program), to the design and construction of many-tiered wedding cakes and, of course, sugar artistry.

Serraglio said, “She is amazing and very enthusiastic. I’ve never met anybody that wakes up every day and really puts that much passion into what she does and also teaching the students, because she’s really here for us; which is the best part.”

“She really loves what she’s doing and she loves her students,” added culinary arts student Angel Burger, a Maui High School graduate. “This is like the perfect place for her to be.”

—By Kelli Trifonovitch

female bakers with christmas themed cake
Cake artist Flora Aghababyan and UH Maui College Assistant Professor Teresa Shurilla (Team Peppermint Posse) compete in Holiday Wars. (Photo credit: Food Network)