Chefs And Students Join Forces For Kapolei Cultural Feast

Note: This article was submitted by Pauline Sato, executive and program director of Malama Learning Center.

Who says Kapolei has no culture of cuisine? On Nov. 2, Calabash & Cooks, a fundraiser for the Malama Learning Center (MLC), clearly demonstrated that good food exemplifying the “melting pot” of Hawaii has a home in Kapolei.


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Malama Learning Center staff members (from left) Cassandra Ohelo, Pauline Sato, Paula Nagao, Chelsey Jay and Jeremy Soriano enjoy the event.

More than 300 people attended the benefit on the grounds of Kapolei High School – a strong partner of MLC. Created as a means to raise funds and strengthen the links between farmers, chefs, and students, Calabash & Cooks accomplished all that and more.

Calabash & Cooks was thoughtfully named to mimic the idea of bringing many cooks, both seasoned and students alike, together to create a cultural feast for guests. Professional chefs worked alongside Kapolei High’s culinary students to create memorable dishes using locally sourced ingredients, or had cultural ties to the Islands.

It was a collaboration among staff, students, farms, chefs and MLC that culminated in a night of good company, good food, great entertainment – all to benefit MLC.

Emceed by KITV4’s Paula Akana, a Kapolei resident, Calabash & Cooks featured some of Hawaii’s finest chefs and their connections to their cultures and their co-producers. Celebrity Chef Lee Anne Wong (Top Chef) served as the honorary chef chairwoman for the event along with co-chef chairman Mark “Gooch” Noguchi from Pili Group. Other participating chefs were Kealoha Domingo (Highway Inn @ Kakaako), Mark Kaahaaina (Kaahaaina Café), Ori Ann Li (Ori Ann Li’s Vegan Kitchen), Darryl Shinogi (Roy’s Ko ‘Olina), Eddie Mafnas (Firehouse), Chris Okuhara (Miso & Ale), and Cynthia Pratt with her students from Hurricane Heat, Kapolei High’s culinary program.

Together, they provided sumptuous dishes (served on biodegradable materials) including: pulehu Papahana Kuaola ulu poke, ulu palasadas, pan-fried seafood cakes with MA’O Sassy salad, Kimo’s pastele stew, sea asparagus and cucumber salad with mung bean long rice, seared misoyaki salmon, chicken kelaguen with red rice finadene, kulana vinha d’ahlo, and banana lumpia with vanilla ice cream. Delicious non-alcoholic drinks included Ono Pops Hawaiian soda, Morning Glass Coffee + Café iced coffee and MLC’s specialty organic lime and hibiscus drinks.

Cultural practitioners from Kaala Learning Center also demonstrated ku’i kalo (pounding taro) and lei making.

Kapolei High School’s involvement was integral to the success of this event. Not only did it provide facilities, but students from a variety of programs helped in a variety of ways. In so doing, students experienced job-shadowing and community service, and some were even able to link their senior projects to the event. We were extremely pleased with the student involvement.

To prepare her students for working with chefs and understanding the farm-to-restaurant connection, longtime Kapolei culinary instructor Cynthia Pratt ked her students on field trips supported by MLC and Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

First, they went to meet Chef Russell Shinogi at Roy’s Ko Olina. Then they visited MA’O Organic Farm in Waianae to see how fresh produce is grown and how it gets from farm to restaurant or market. The students even made their own fresh pizzas using the earthen oven there.

“It was important for me to expose my students to where food comes from and where it is served to gain a much better picture of the culinary industry,” Pratt explained.

Calabash & Cooks was made possible through the help and support of many people, especially corporate honoree, Hawaiian Electric Company, along with other sponsors: D.R Horton – Schuler Division, Hunt, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Chevron Energy Solutions, Gentry and DuPont Pioneer.

Local farms, companies and individuals from the community also contributed by making cash and in-kind donations.

Malama Learning Center is a non-profit organization that strives to teach and inspire communities to create healthy living environments. MLC’s programs primarily serve West Oahu communities through hands-on workshops, courses, teacher training, native habitat restoration projects, and Makeke Kapolei, a weekly farmers’ and green market based at Kapolei High School.

For more information, go to, email or call 692-8200 ext 2267.