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The colorful dishes were full of umami, not meat, when 10 University of Hawaiʻi Community College culinary arts students competed in 7-Eleven Hawaii’s fourth annual contest to produce a better-for-you bento or entrée that could potentially be sold at all 7-Eleven Hawaii locations for a limited time in 2022.

Kaleb Molina’s Vegan Rigatoni Bolognese.
rice and tofu
Avery Serna’s Furikake Fried Tofu and Gomoku Rice
tofu on rice
Jihun Lee’s Spicy Braised Tofu

This year, the students were challenged to create a plant-based dish that contained a minimum of two locally grown or produced ingredients.

To prepare for the competition, students were provided background information of 7-Eleven Hawaii’s food development process and were given an exclusive tour of the company’s food commissary partner, Warabeya USA.

Leeward Community College’s Kaleb Molina placed first and will pocket $1,000 for his Vegan Rigatoni Bolognese. Kapiʻolani Community College’s Avery Serna and Jihun Lee placed second and third, respectively, with Serna’s Furikake Fried Tofu and Gomoku Rice, and Lee’s Spicy Braised Tofu. Serna won $750 and Lee won $250.

“[Vegan Rigatoni Bolognese had] a really good flavor profile and we think customers who don’t eat vegan would eat this,” said 7-Eleven Senior Category Manager Debbie Lee Soon. “So with a little bit of tweaking, we are going to introduce this dish next year.”

Molina said his advanced culinary classes at Leeward CC introduced him to different flavors from around the world.

“A lot of contemporary fusion cuisine is coming out, and with vegan being on the rise, I think it’s important that culinary school brings flavors to you and it adapts your palate to new things and changes everything and your spectrum of taste and nutrition,” Molina said.

U H C C culinary student in the kitchen
Kaleb Molina

The finalists included:

  • Sierra Bumanglag, Kapiʻolani CC, “Chicken” Mushroom Pasta
  • Von Cariaga, Kapiʻolani CC, Kalbi Cauliflower Japchae
  • Aimee Chock, Kapiʻolani CC, Teriyaki Stir Fry with Mixed Rice
  • Reymar Faraon, Leeward CC, Eggplant and Tofu Adobo
  • Rachel Smith, Kapiʻolani CC, Nishime
  • Dyan Tanaka, Kapiʻolani CC, Mapo Mushroom
  • Jonas Valerio, Kapiʻolani CC, Local Style Vegetarian Chili Over Rice

Upping the umami

This year, besides being plant-based, entrées had to fit in a standard 7-Eleven Hawaii entrée container, contain less than 900 calories, contain more than five grams of fiber and had to include two locally grown or produced ingredients. The entrées had to cost less than $4 per serving and the recipe had to mirror 7-Eleven Hawaii’s cooking process, including being reheated in a microwave and displayed in a warmer for four hours without compromising flavor or appeal.

Culinary instructors say the meatless requirement made this perhaps the most challenging 7-Eleven competition so far.

culinary instructor
Matthew Egami

“You know, it’s very challenging, but it’s also the way the world’s going,” said Leeward CC Culinary Program Coordinator Matthew Egami. “I think it is a really exciting opportunity for them to try to challenge themselves that way.”

Kapiʻolani CC Culinary Innovation Center Coordinator Lauren Tamamoto was impressed with the students’ creations.

“Students should know how to create healthier foods—how to cut down sodium, how to cut down sugars, how to cut down some fats,” Tamamoto said. “I think the students did a good job trying to increase the umami flavors without those animal proteins in it.”

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