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Chad Pata

Keiki In The Kitchen

Hawaii Food and Wine Festival isn’t just for grown-ups, thanks to Keiki in the Kitchen, a children’s cooking competition that encourages creativity and using healthy local ingredients. It happens Saturday at Honolulu Zoo

There is an old adage about the advisability of giving away fish as opposed to fishing lessons that seems to suit today’s national battle against obesity — and not just because if we all started eating more fish we would be considerably slimmer.

The first lady is leading initiatives, Burger King is creating low-fat fries and even our schools are substituting chicken patties on whole wheat buns for their traditional sloppy joes. But in order to enact a sea change in the health of our children, they must be taught how to cook healthy food for themselves.

That’s the idea behind this weekend’s Keiki in the Kitchen: Food, Fitness & Fun!, presented by HMAA in coordination with Kellogg’s and Foodland. More than 60 kids from across Oahu submitted lunch recipes that had to be affordable, original — and most importantly, healthy — with the top three in two different age groups (8-12, 13-17) earning the chance to compete this Saturday at Honolulu Zoo.

Their dishes will be judged by a panel of celebrity chefs — Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu restaurants, Jason Fox of Commonwealth from San Francisco, and Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai of La Rochelle in Japan — on criteria heavily weighted toward the nutritional value of each recipe.

The children will get to prepare their dish in front of what organizers predict will be thousands of onlookers in hope of grabbing the top prize: a “Keiki Night Out” for 10 at either Alan Wong’s or Roy’s, including a special appearance by the restaurant’s chef and a two-night stay for the winner’s family in an Outrigger Reef oceanfront room.

Sound like fun?

This is the key to getting our keiki in the kitchen, according to mother of four, TV celebrity and Keiki in the Kitchen presenter Cat Cora.

“I have the four most awesome boys you have ever met,” says Cora, who was the first woman to break the glass ceiling on Iron Chef America in 2005. “They help me out in the kitchen from time to time, and I could definitely see one or two of them becoming really passionate about cooking.

“I think the best way to get them interested is to show them how much fun it can be. When I am cooking, I am usually laughing and having a good time. It’s hard to not want to join someone when they are having a blast!”

The event will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., featuring not just the kids cooking but also food trucks, fitness activities and cooking demos by celebrity chefs like Cora.

“I’ve got a great grilled shrimp with a chimichurri sauce and hot sweet slaw recipe I’ll be preparing,” says Cora. “I really wanted to do something that fits in with the Hawaiian culture, but with a twist. I think people are going to love what I’ve got planned.”

While you expect great things from the celebrities, it was the recipes from the kids that really wowed event organizer Ann Wharton.

“For years, people have been asking, ‘Can my kids go to this event?’ because they are so into cooking with it being all over TV,” says Wharton, speaking of previous Hawaii Food & Wine Festivals. “It is a new career. Who tells their kid to be a cook? But the recipes submitted were just amazing, especially by the younger group.”

The recipes are exceptional, but the stories of the food touch at something deeper, such as the submission from 9-year-old Anabel Kinsey. Her inspiration came from her mother, when she was diagnosed with diabetes and the family needed to start eating healthier to help Mom out.

“It started out as a breakfast dish that I helped make and come up with, called, ‘Baked Eggs in a Nest,’ and it is similar to ‘Eggs in a Confetti Nest,’” explains Kinsey. “Then, when I heard about this contest, I improvised and improved it. I added local organic MA’O Farms kale; used local, organic, free-range eggs from our own chickens; and used a Maui onion. In fact, all the ingredients in the recipe are local. The local goat cheese gets a little crunchy and makes it very delicious.”

Not all the recipes came out of necessity; some were just in response to their upbringing.

“I mostly like cooking for fun and feeding myself. My mom likes to cook the unhealthy stuff, so I have to cook the healthy stuff,” admits Krislyn Miyagawa with a laugh.

Miyagawa, a 16-year-old Mid-Pac student, submitted an item worthy of her favorite chef, Alan Wong: seared salmon with pineapple salsa over sautéed asparagus.

“I was inspired to create this dish because of my enjoyment of cooking and eating healthy,” says Miyagawa, who plans on a career in nutrition and physical therapy. “My favorite fish always has been salmon. It is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids and it’s one of many lean proteins. I decided to put a Hawaiian twist by adding a salsa that is as fresh and local as can be.”

For others, it was about finding a happy medium between a mother’s obsession and a child’s distaste for that ingredient.

“My mom loves quinoa and is always trying to get me to eat it,” says Aubrey Lock, 9, who attends Holy Nativity School. “I don’t like plain quinoa, but I do love coconut. So, I thought, maybe if I cooked the quinoa with coconut milk instead of water, I’d like it — and I did.

“Next I thought of what to top the quinoa with. We always have apple bananas on our counter and kalo in our fridge, so I put those on top, and sprinkled it all with toasted shredded coconut. Delicious! And my mom is happy that I’m eating quinoa.”

Then there are those who just seem born to do it, like Hunter Gentry. Since the age of 2 he has been in the kitchen with his mother, Lela, intrigued by all things culinary but especially drawn to baking.

This interest in the oven led him to making a healthy alternative from a local, not-so-healthy favorite: wontons.

“So I baked the wontons instead of frying them, and made it into a little salad in a cup,” says Gentry, 14, a freshman at Mililani High School who plans a career in baking. “I love seafood, I love won ton wrappers and I love making dishes with these ingredients. Whenever I make a party dish with seafood and won ton wrappers, my dish gets wiped out! I love sharing my culinary creations and watching people enjoy them.”

His snack is comprised of locally grown shrimp, onion, corn, tomatoes and cucumber — and he is sure to impress the judges with his presentation.

Rounding out the field of participants are Arianna Thompson, 11, with her combination of a smoothie and a cold soup she named “Strawmato” featuring local strawberries, tomatoes and kale; and Kirra Seale, 16, with Seared Ahi Macadamia Nut Pesto, in which she substituted locally sourced macadamia nuts for traditional pine nuts and placed it all atop angel hair pasta.

All are worthy winners, but no matter who takes away the top prize, the mission of coaxing kids down the path toward healthy eating will be accomplished, which is something all parents, including celebrity chefs, can get behind.

“It’s great because I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old, and the topic of cooking healthy for them is always at the forefront of my mind,” says contest judge chef James Fox. “So when they talked to me about this event, I was, like, right on, because I am always trying to get my kids involved and get them to not eat chicken nuggets and french fries. So this is right up my alley.”

Tickets cost $5 and are available at hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com. Admission is free to HMAA members, guests of the Outrigger Hotels and Honolulu Zoo Society members.

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