Kapolei Chefs Show Off Their New Skills

“The Heat Is On” once again as the judges visit Cynthia Pratt’s culinary arts laboratory at Kapolei High School. Mission: Examine technique, check knife-wielding skills, preparation, then observe and taste the final product of creative teenage cooks.

Pratt had the sessions running like a Tokyo train schedule all through April as her students stepped into the spotlight to show what they’d learned in their Culinary Arts II class. They chose their entree and side dish in January and have been practicing on their families until now, when the final grade looms.

Vilma Ulandez

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Vilma Ulandez, a junior at Kapolei High School, prepares Thai Chicken Yellow Curry as part of her final exam last month for a culinary arts course, while judge Marissa Capeluto (background, left) confers with culinary arts teacher Cynthia Pratt. The students had practiced their dishes for months, and 'The Heat Is On' was a culmination of what they learned throughout the semester. Photo by Leah Friel,

Sophomore Raine Teodoro admits to being “very nervous” as he slowly and carefully moves his carrots and onions under the knife to prepare his Pancit. “I just want to do it one at a time,” he explains. “I don’t want to rush it.” While he’s mastered several slicing techniques, Teodoro succumbs to onion tears and suffers a setback.

“You wiped your eyes!,” Pratt says. “Better go wash your hands.”

Meanwhile, judge Clifton Kaholokula, a chef for 20 years, slips in to help with the noodles and chicken slices, quietly encouraging Teodoro as the clock ticks on.

Standing at the gas range opposite her classmate is junior Vilma Ulandez, preparing Hamakua mushrooms for Thai Chicken Yellow Curry. Kapolei alumnus Patrick Guanzon, now a part-time video teacher at the school, hones in on her bubbling sauce with his camera to immortalize the moment. (Islander photographer Leah Friel confesses that she learned simpler fair, like jello, from home ec class at Kailua High.)

As Ulandez moves to the plating phase, Kaholokula comes up and shows her how to clip the dill (fresh from the school herb garden) for a perfect garnish. Pratt too is watching, as teachers do. “We try to serve bigger, Sam Choy-kind portions here, rather than (another chef) portions,” she points out proudly. She also shares that they have new Bokashi buckets, so all discarded food bits go into the composting system.

Student Angela Patacsil is assigned to cook the judges’ meal, which is a more relaxing job. “Mrs. Pratt is a great teacher,” she declares.

“I’m kind of a picky teacher,” Pratt replies. What with all the knives and burners and hot peppers, it’s good that she’s on top of things. She also does a running commentary of cooking tips, commands, stories and guidance for her students, and they respond instantly.

The ultimate project for her food science students – as well as others in graphic arts, photography, business and English – is From the Heart of Hawaii’s Families, a hard-bound, homegrown cookbook published last year that has sold 1,200 copies so far and made $4,000 for Kapiolani Medical Center’s neonatal care unit.

To enjoy these recipes – and not be graded on how you prepare them – call Pratt at 232-4014 to make an order ($15) or email