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For more than 15 years, Leeward Community College held a special event, featuring a guest chef, at the on-campus restaurant The Pearl every semester as a capstone class for culinary students. Chef Robynne Maii, owner of Fête restaurant in Chinatown, had been scheduled for spring 2020 but the dinner was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in December, the students and appreciative diners were able to welcome Maii to the campus for the delayed Chef Dinner, this time as a 2022 James Beard award-winning chef.

The culinary arts instructors and students were thrilled to meet the distinguished chef, and were excited about the opportunity to work in The Pearl after such a long break.

Student in chef hat holding plates of food
Alex Nii presenting her Foi Gras Gyoza
Plated sliced beef with vegetable garnish
Grilled Marinated Ribeye
Chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and a circle of sauce
Dorie Greenspanʻs Chocolate Cake

Nearly 80 guests were treated to Maii’s five-course meal, prepared by the students:

  • Course 1: Foie Gyoza—presented by Chef de Cuisine Alex Nii
    Banana jam, soy balsamic reduction (vegetarian option with mushrooms)
    Dr. Konstatin Frank Dry Riesling New York 2020
  • Course 2: Kampachi Tataki—presented by Chef de Cuisine Janelle Butac
    Sea asparagus lomi, tomatillo salsa verde, crushed avocado (vegetarian option with pan-roasted hearts of palm)
    Craggy Range “Te Muna” Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand 2021
  • Course 3: Local Oyster Mushroom Toast—presented by Chef de Cuisine Mark Luie Cafirma
    Brioche, poached egg, chives
    Red Car Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2018
  • Course 4: Grilled Marinated Ribeye—presented by Chef de Cuisine Derin Pascual
    Maui onion rings, aligot potatoes, perigourdine sauce (vegetarian option with grilled aliʻi mushrooms)
    Domaine Rostaing “La Vassel” Syrah France 2019
  • Course 5: Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Cake—presented by Chef de Cuisine Alec Parker
    Lāʻie vanilla ice cream, Mānoa chocolate sauce
    Villa Sarche Single Estate Coffee, Costa Rica

“Loved seeing the students in action! They executed our menu flawlessly!” Maii said.

Maii is a graduate of the Kapiʻolani CC culinary program. She has been a part of the restaurant industry since 1996 and is the owner of both ­Fête and HeyDay in Waikīkī. Her 2022 James Beard Award was for Best Chef in the Northwest and Pacific Region. She is the first Native Hawaiian female chef to win, and it has been 19 years since Hawaiʻi has won a James Beard Award.

“Our program has enjoyed a great relationship with Chef Robynne for a number of years. We appreciate chef’s approach to teaching her employees and her dedication to education,” said Assistant Professor Matthew Egami. “It was an honor to have chef take the time (especially after her recent James Beard Award) to work so closely with our students.”

Leeward CC also thanked their community partners for their contributions. Partners included: Ho Farms, Blue Ocean Mariculture, Honolulu Meat Company, Hamakua Farms, Mari’s Garden, Waialua Egg Farm, Sumida Farms, Laie Vanilla Company, Mānoa Chocolate Hawaii and Kona Coffee Purveyors.

Among those in attendance was Hayley Matson-Mathes, executive director of the Hawaiʻi Culinary Education Foundation.

“This was an exceptional evening,” Matson Mathes said. “The food was well executed, thoughtfully presented, and the friendly service was knowledgeable. The experience was comparable to a fine dining experience at a top restaurant.”

Learn more about Leeward CC’s Culinary Arts Program.

In the spring semester, The Pearl’s lunch service will run February 2–April 21. Visit The Pearl website for the schedule, menus, reservations and future events.

Smiling people
From left: Marietoni Hipolito, Cali Perry, Chef Robynne Maii, Jasmyne Wood, Rayna Mercado
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