Learn what’s cooking at the college

New name, new logo at former Maui Culinary Academy part of a plan to upgrade the program

World Plate Chef-Instructor Jake Belmonte (at left) with student Mark Arcano. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

For decades, Maui Culinary Academy has been known far and wide as the tasty college program that launches student chefs into mainstream kitchens.

But today’s program is apples to oranges apart from its super humble beginnings near the old cafeteria at what was then called Maui Community College.

Since 2003, it’s been housed in the Pa’ina Building that cost $17 million to construct in Kahului on the University of Hawaii Maui College campus. Big changes are happening and in store  for what’s housed within.

Now, Maui Culinary Academy is a thing of the past, as Provost Lui Hokoana has rebranded it to be University of Hawaii Maui College Culinary Arts Program. It’s a mouthful, to be sure, but it grows on you, and it’s got a new logo to go with the name and much more.

“It’s been rebranded to match the rest of the college programs,” says Teresa “Cheech” Shurilla, program coordinator. “Lui doesn’t want anyone to go rogue. He wants the college to work as a team and to move forward together.”

Paniolo Grill students Sheena Castillo and Edmon Vaolois flank Chef-Instructor Noel Cleary. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

UH-MC Culinary Arts Program still boasts the Leis Family Class Act Restaurant that is voted in the Top 100 in the United States and No. 2 overall Best Restaurant in Hawaii by users on Open Table, with floor-to-ceiling glass views of Kahului Harbor complete with a private dining room and an exhibition kitchen.  It’s also got six fast-food outlets in the Food Court downstairs in the 37,656-square-foot, two-story colossus of a Pa’ina Building on the campus.

Some of you may have read about the Pa’ina Building in the news awhile back because of design and structural problems. But the kinks are currently being worked out and it was reported in The Maui News’ article then that UH-MC college officials said the building is safe.

In fact, the program was alive and kicking on recent visits. With capacity for 275 people in the main dining hall, it makes the James Beard cooking school in Greenwich Village look tiny and old, in a Charles Dickens way.

The Food Court is shiny and bright, one of my main pit-stops for take-out lunch during the work week. It’s fast and reasonable, it supports the college and there is plenty of parking. So I’m a bit reluctant to give up my “secret” lunch spot for this story. But it’s for a noble cause.

“Basically, our focus is to rebrand, update, make the Food Court more exciting over the next two semesters. Things will happen incrementally and slowly,” says Shurilla.

Culinary Arts Program Coordinator Teresa Shurilla oversees a vat of Guittard chocolate in her other role as pastry chef instructor. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“We’re working on getting new tableware and new disposables for takeout food. And we’re going to put some herb grow-boxes in the main dining area and, hopefully, some big plants, too,” she continues. “We’re shooting for next semester. Right now, we’re focusing on the recruitment of culinary students and so we’re working with high schools.”

Shurilla was promoted to MCA program coordinator in 2016  when its longtime leader and spokesman Chris Speere left for the  Maui Food Technology Center at the college. But Shurilla still teaches her beloved pastry classes.

“I don’t mind wearing both hats. I’m an overachiever type of girl. If I sit at home, I will be counting the cottage cheese on the ceiling. But we all run the program collectively,” Shurilla has said humbly before, acknowledging the other stellar instructors.

Assisting Shurilla in the state-of-the-art pastry department as a lecturer is Krista Garcia, who was sous chef at the Mill House at Maui Tropical Plantation under Jeff Scheer and before that, the French Laundry in Napa.

“I also taught pastry and savory at Napa Valley Cooking School for eight years before that,” said Garcia. “So I’m at my happy place of teaching. It’s great to have so many local students and adults engaged in the culinary arts on Maui. Cheech is great, too. We say we’re cut from the same cloth with similar backgrounds and Michelin training. I will say that Maui Culinary Academy has the most-equipped bake shop I have ever worked in — on an artisan and large-production pastry level way. It is just awesome.”

The Leis Family Class Act’s recent chocolate dessert and The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

The two women and their pastry students bake all of the breads, pies, cakes, cookies, gelato and desserts that are sold in the Food Court and served at the Class Act.

Two chef instructors are in charge of the Food Court. They are  former MCA grad Jake Belmonte at World Plate and Noel Cleary, formerly of Hali’imaile General Store, at Paniolo Grill.

“They are combining forces to make those two outlets THE places to come for lunch,” says Shurilla. “Eventually, we hope it will look more like a marketplace than a cafeteria.”

“The old Farm-to-Table fast food outlet will be revamped to be a market,” chimes in Belmonte. “We’re hoping to roll it out next semester with take-home pastas, our ag department’s vegetables,  bread from the bake shop and more.”

For now, the goal is to get more people to dine at the Food Court and to recruit more students to enroll in the award-winning culinary program at the college.

entree of grilled pork chop with Granny Smith apple sauce and shaved vegetable slaw. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“What we’re trying to do is invite the community back in,” says Shurilla. “It’s not as crowded as it used to be at the Food Court. We have such great offerings. If you get bored easily, you can still come in all of the time and find something different to eat. And the more people who come in the more practice the students have, the more experience.”

At the Food Court’s World Plate that is open from 11 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. (the end time is so that students working the line can get to their next class at 1 p.m.), the Monday through Thursday lunch menu is geared to diners on the go.

“It is a self-served buffet with the attentive assistance of students featuring various cuisines of the world,” explains Belmonte.

“It focuses on fundamental cooking techniques applied in batch cookery, also known as ‘banquet preparation’ for 60 to 120 portions.”

The class interacts with the dining public, which asks lots of questions, needs assistance and makes requests. Students must also keep training in their skill sets, while maintaining quality and freshness and using  local and seasonal products from farmers.

Tiffani Figaroa is a second-year student at the Class Act serving with front of the house instructor Mark Malone. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“Everything is prepared in-house daily,” says Belmonte. “Food is made from scratch with great care and pride. The menu consists of three types of protein, and three vegetables and three starches. My students are always happy and have the desire to adapt, absorb and learn.”

This week’s menu at World Plate will feature mahimahi baked in macadamia-nut crust with Haiku lemon butter sauce; rotisserie chicken in an orange gastrique; and French steak pan fried in butter and served with caramelized onions and wine demi glace.

“Soon, World Plate will be featuring ready-to-go bentos and also highlighting healthier alternatives,” he adds.

At the Food Court’s nearby Paniolo Grill, Cleary and his a la carte student-chef team are also cooking up a storm with  fresh and vibrant lunch foods to dine in or take out.

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” explains  Cleary.

“We’re serving made-from-scratch sandwiches, salads and pastas at great prices. We grind the meat for our burgers, cure briskets for corned beef and use fresh bread from our own bakeshop. We use Local Harvest (LLC) as much as possible, so we have great ingredients. I got my start working in a New York deli so I try to use that as inspiration for our dishes. I want to show my students that we can make highly seasoned, delicious dishes, a la carte, in five minutes or less.”

Paniolo Grill’s menu this week starting Tuesday will be Oriental chicken salad, Cuban sandwich, pasta of the day, house-cured Reuben sandwich with kale kim chee and bacon cheeseburgers.

You may also savor sushi from Raw Fish Camp and slurp noodles from Ramen X, with dishes made by Sodexo Chef Jimmy Yanagida, a longtime Food Court fixture.

Sodexo is the company that runs the culinary program and its general manager is Douglas Paul, also a chef.

“We do offer catering with three different venues, but no off-site service,” says Paul. “We are centrally located, have lots of parking, air conditioning and reasonable prices. Catering brings in extra money to pay for the facility. Our goal is to break even. The big thing is to be self sufficient within the state system.”

That’s good, because it costs a lot to run the program and hire new staffers.

“New Chef Instructor Kane Carbonneau has a cool name,” says Shurilla. “He’s a Southern gentleman who is originally from South Carolina and he has lots of great new ideas. He’s teaching skills. And  new Purchasing Instructor Brandt Holland is implementing some great new systems for us and he’s our new program’s social media person, too. He’s really amazing at that.”

Longtimers Midge Kanaha and Kevin Ageno both offer up a taste of  aloha as cashiers in the Food Court.

“Having Midge in here is like a calming effect,” Shurilla says. “Otherwise, we’d all run amok without her. She is the matriarch of our program. Of course, Kevin is great and Mr. personality, too.”

Of course, Shurilla speaks highly of the Class Act and its instructors Tom Lelli and Mark Malone.

“Tom is an amazing chef. He’s got a great palate,” she says. “You can’t get food like his elsewhere on Maui. Tom inspires me to be a better pastry chef. People forget that the Class Act operates as a school. They think it’s just a restaurant. But I guess that bodes well for Tom as the chef and for Mark who runs the front of the Class Act house.”

What else will be happening at the University of Hawaii Maui College Culinary Arts Program?

“We want people to know we’re working hard on all of what we talked about,” Shurilla concludes. “We’ll be changing the signage and probably the name of the Food Court down the road. We’re very excited about it and know the results will be great. But, we don’t want to raise everyone’s expectations too much until we’re ready to deliver on our promises.”

For now, rest assured your meals at the Food Court and the Class Act will be top notch  and that when you dine there, you are supporting the next generation of chefs coming up on Maui.

* Carla Tracy can be reached at carlatracy@mauinews.com.


Food Court outlets and hours

• World Plate: Open 11 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays with global cuisine foods sold by the pound.  Menu by Chef-Instructor Jake Belmonte and students changes weekly.

• Paniolo Grill: Open 11 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays with made-to-order hot and cold sandwiches, salads, pastas and burgers by Chef-Instructor Noel Cleary and his a la carte cooking students.

• Raw Fish Camp: Open from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, RFC Sushi Chef Jimmy Yanagida creates California roll, spicy tuna and other Japanese classics along with bentos.

• Ramen X: Slurp noodle soup from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Opt from three different ramen broths of miso, shoyu and tonkatsu with three topping combos.

• Campus Cafe: Grind burgers, burgers and more burgers from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until 1 p.m. Fridays.

• Breakfast and salad bar: Wake up to hot breakfast items like scrambled eggs, bacon, Portuguese sausage and fried rice from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Mondays to Fridays. Salad bar is light and refreshing for those on-the-go weekday lunches. Both are self-served and priced by the pound. Hot soups and chili come in two sizes.

• Sugar Cubed: Now open only for special occasions and holidays, such as selling chocolates for Valentine’s Day on Feb. 13 and 14.

For more details: Call manager Douglas Paul of Sodexo with food-court questions or catering needs for private parties at 984-3684.

Leis Family Class Act

• The details: Open from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for lunch only Wednesdays and Fridays. International menu changes weekly. Cost for four-courses is $30 to $42, plus $5 corkage fee, tax and cash gratuity. Reservations highly recommended. Chef’s Tasting Experience is on select Fridays. Call 984-3280. Visit www.mauiculinaryacademy.com to view menus.

Class Act Chef Instructor Tom Lelli (seated) poses with students Joyce Rosal, Courtney Galarita, Hechelle Acob, Hanidee Cacalda, Jessica Kapoor and Tatiana Kaniaupio. UH-MC photo

Cashier Kevin Ageno and The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Midge Kanaha are all smiles. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

A recent Class Act salad was roasted beets, compressed apples, goat cheese coulis, candied macadamia nuts and carrot vinaigrette. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo


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