Skip to content
Reading time: 3 minutes

On an April morning, busy hands covered tables and set monogrammed china and silverware shined by hand along with spotless stemware at the fine dining Leis Family Class Act Restaurant on the campus of the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College. Meanwhile, other culinary students prepared a world-class meal that included a salmon cake appetizer and a choice of ricotta agnolottii (stuffed pasta) or Kona kampachi (yellowtail) for an entree.

Three people prepping in the kitchen
Ryan Chang (middle) in pastry class

Student teaching assistant Ryan Chang was constantly in motion supervising, suggesting and supporting through the first half of his 12-hour day. Chang arrived at the restaurant before 7 a.m. to help teach the dining room service operations class, serve as an unofficial maître d’ through lunch service, and much more. At 1:30 p.m., Chang ran to his car and changed from his black dress shirt and slacks to his chef’s whites for his 2–7 p.m. pastry class.

UH Maui College has set up the hardworking student for success. Chang will earn two associate of applied arts degrees in May (one specializing in culinary arts and the other specializing in baking and pastry). He was also key to the college’s emergency production of thousands of meals in the aftermath of the August wildfires.

‘Pivotal” position

Two lines of people preparing lunches
Students volunteering during the wildfire relief efforts

When the culinary students officially joined the relief efforts at the start of the fall semester, Chang staffed the central operations desk as volunteers gathered in the campus’ kitchens, producing thousands of meals on some days for fire victims, emergency workers and other volunteers.

“It felt really good to help our community,” Chang said. “There’s so many people who needed assistance during that time, and not just people that were displaced by the fires.”

Check out more stories of our UH spring graduates

Chef Instructor Mark Malone said Chang’s position was “pivotal” to the relief operation’s success.

“It was almost as if we were answering to Ryan instead of him answering to us, but it was done in the most professional and best way to show his genuine care,” Malone said.

Mis en place

Chang walking past coolers
Chang organizing during the wildfire relief

Malone shared a photo taken during that time of Chang pushing large coolers around. Part of his myriad duties included making sure the coolers got packed with the right number of meals to be sent to the right locations at the right time.

“So if I think of Ryan during the times of the fires, it was just simply being utterly exhausted, but yet coming in with a smile on his face and willingness to do whatever was needed at any point in time,&rquo; Malone said.

Chang credits a French culinary concept with helping him to be effective.

“Mis en place. It’s French for everything in its place,” he said. “So trying to stay organized, plan ahead, have a plan of attack. That and like a sense of urgency. It’s like rushing, but doing it right.”

Paying it forward

Chang flashing shaka
Chang working during the wildfire relief

Chang conveys that concept to the culinary students he is now helping to mentor.

First-year student Kaya Kaleikini remembered that Chang would often pop in to help her and other students in the kitchen during the wildfire relief effort, on top of his organizational duties on the other side of the door. He still provides hands-on assistance now in his teaching assistant role at the restaurant.

“Ryan is a great TA,” Kaleikini said. “I think it really sets us up for not only this class but for the outside world, because not everyone is gonna be as strict as him.”

Chang said after graduation he wants to get some more industry experience under his belt before deciding between cooking and baking.

However, he said, “I think having those skills like in my pocket, I have the confidence to work anywhere.”

Malone agreed, “He’ll be a big asset in anything he wants to do.”

by Kelli Abe Trifonovitch

Back To Top