Lunch Bunch: at University of Hawaii Maui College Culinary Arts Program

School’s in for the semester! Student chefs strive to excel at cooking tasty food-court meals

Students Jeff Rieta and Jeraldine Agustin (from left) with Chef Lecturer Joseph Tocci and student Sean Harris -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Can’t decide where to go for an affordable, fast and tasty lunch weekdays in Central Maui? Head to the bunch of lunch spots displayed together like one big smorgasbord at the University of Hawaii Maui College Paina Building situated on the Kahului campus.

The 37,656-square-foot, two-story colossus Paina Building boasts five fast-serve outlets, and salad and dessert bars on the ground floor in the air-conditioned Food Court. Its dining room can seat around 275 people.

Upstairs, the world-famous Leis Family Class Act restaurant practically sells itself. Voted in the Top 100 in the United States and No. 2 overall Best Restaurant in Hawaii by users on Open Table, it has more upscale prices. It’s also certified by Chaine des Rotisseurs, the oldest culinary organization in the world, and is worth every dollar.

All of the outlets serve lunches carefully crafted and served by UH-MC culinary students.

“Hurricane Lane notwithstanding, our Fall 2018 semester is off to a good start,” says Culinary Arts Program Coordinator Chef Teresa Shurilla, “We have a very enthusiastic group of new students, and I’m happy to say that all our chef instructors from last year are back with us. And we’re welcoming one new chef instructor who is also a graduate, Peter Pak. He will be teaching our Skills course.”

Student Chase Cardena -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

While the Food Court feeds students enrolled at UH-MC and its instructors and other faculty, its goal is to attract more of the general public to dine there.

“The Food Court has such great offerings,” Shurilla says. “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 that the students have — as well as the more experience.”

At World Plate, for instance, students learn the ropes from new Chef Lecturer Joe Tocci, who comes from New Jersey and has lived in North Carolina and South Florida.

“I’ve been cooking for the past 20 plus years, and I’ve worked with Ming Tsai, Eric Tanaka and Mario Batali at Chef Central, owned by the son of Bed, Bath and Beyond,” Tocci says. “This is my second semester here. We were all ready to go when then we had two days off when Hurricane Lane breezed by. It was a scary thing.”

At World Plate, Tocci teaches his students how to cook in large batches, while adjusting consistencies and enforcing all of their skills and techniques.

Sodexo GM Douglas Paul -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“I’ve been in the trenches all of my life teaching the dos and the don’ts of cooking. My background is Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, so I just go nuts with it.”

Last week, Tocci and students made blackened mahimahi with Israeli couscous and sauteed vegetables along with chicken katsu and teriyaki flank steak. This week, they’ll be cooking up a storm of Asian cuisine.

In addition, Tocci and his Culinary 120 class have taken over the Farm to Table outlet (not listed in the sidebar box) on an intermittent basis. They produced roasted duck with polenta cakes and multi-colored roasted carrots in a honey-thyme jus entree last week. Retired culinary instructor Karen Tanaka tried it and gave it rave reviews.

“I’m trying to keep it affordable so students and the public can experience it,” says Tocci. “That dish cost $10.99 — and at a fine-dining restaurant, it would be over $30.”

Purchasing and Cost Control Instructor Brant Holland is on track to keeping prices right.

Chef Lecturer Noel Cleary of Paniolo Grill and student Maddy Malott showcase dishes Thursday during lunch. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“Nobody controlled the food costs before,” he says. “We would be losing money by selling $8-a-pound shrimp on a plate for $7 a pound. I’ve concluded our cost should be at 38 percent, still above the average, but we can now afford to buy higher quality food and make money.”

With the exception of the salad bar, the outlets no longer serve food by the pound.

Chef Lecturer Noel Cleary runs the nearby Paniolo Grill in the Food Court. The foods are cooked to order, so it may take a little longer than at the World Plate or at the salad bar.

“The focus for my students is on sandwiches, salads, pastas and fresh fish preparations,” says Cleary. “We try to keep it fresh and change it up. I use New York City delis as inspiration so students see what’s out there.”

Last Thursday, UH-MC Chancellor Lui Hokuana dined with former instructor Tanaka and was seen enjoying the salmon plate with wasabi vinaigrette from Paniolo Grill.

Salmon and -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“This is fantastic,” he said. “I’ve had it two days in a row.”

This week, Paniolo Grill is serving pan-seared scallop risotto with arugula and pancetta, cheeseburger with pickled pineapple and teriyaki cucumber, and cheesesteak sandwiches and pork Cubano sandwiches.

“We do a fresh burger every day that we’re open, and use a combination of brisket and chuck and change it up,” Cleary says.

This week, the cheeseburger is a rip on a ban mi with pickled pineapple inside.

The Sodexo company runs all of the Food Court outlets such as Raw Fish Camp, Ramen X and Campus Cafe.

burgers are part of the rotating menu of salads, sandwiches, fish and pastas at this eatery. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Sodexo is a French food service and facilities management company with headquarters in a suburb of Paris. It’s one of the globe’s largest multinational corporations, with 420,000 employees at 34,000 locations in at least 80 countries.

Chef Jimmy Yanagida is a Sodexo employee who runs both the Raw Fish Camp and Ramen X.

“The sushi we sell costs a third of what it would be in most restaurants on Maui,” he says. “I make California roll, spicy ahi and a mixed sushi plate.”

Besides the five fast-serve outlets, sip freshly brewed hot coffee from beans roasted by Maui Oma Coffee Co., sodas, healthful juices and bottled water.

“Freshly baked pastries are available all day Monday to Friday,” says Douglas Paul, Sodexo general manager. “Regularly displayed on the tables leading up to the cash registers are giant chocolate-chip cookies, berry muffins and blueberry cream-cheese and raspberry white-chocolate scones.”

Throughout the semester, croissants, pies and cakes will rotate in — all baked fresh by Shurilla and her pastry team. Check it out as the selection changes daily.”

The salad bar is also popular with diners.

“We feature both raw and prepared ingredients that are light and refreshing for those on-the-go weekday lunches,” says Paul.

“Both are self-served and priced by the pound. Hot soups and chilis come in two sizes. You may also enjoy ready-made sandwiches along with composed salads and hot entrees.”

Do look for soups chilled and ready to go home to heat and serve. As reported before, no visit to the Food Court would be complete without warm and welcoming cashiers Midge Kanaha and Kevin Ageno.

“We feel like the quality of our food has been getting better and better each year,” says Shurilla. “We expect that to continue. And we hope lots of folks from the community who’ve never eaten here will try us out for lunch during this semester.”

Last but not least, the annual Noble Chef fundraiser for the culinary department will be held Nov. 10, moving to the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali.

* Carla Tracy can be reached at

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Here’s a primer on what’s cooking weekdays at the college

Food Court outlets and hours

• World Plate: Open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays with global cuisines on rotation. This week the international menu by chef Lecturer Joseph Tocci and students is Asian.

• Paniolo Grill: Open 11 a.m. to 1 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 hot noodle soup from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Choose from three different ramen broths — miso, shoyu and tonkatsu — with three ingredient combos.

• Campus Cafe: Beef, turkey and veggie burgers are topped with a choice of bacon, onions, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until 1 p.m. Fridays.

• Self-serve breakfast: Wake up to breakfast items on the hot bar such as sausage or veggie patties, French toast, banana pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and fried rice along with fresh fruits served from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays.

• Salad Bar: Raw and prepared ingredients are light and refreshing for those on-the-go weekday lunches. Both are self-served and priced by the pound. Hot soups and chilis come in two sizes. Enjoy hot entrees, too. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until 1 p.m. on Fridays.

• Sugar Cubed: Now open only for special occasions and holidays, such as selling an array of pies leading up to Thanksgiving and desserts before Christmas.

• For more details: Call Sodexo General Manager Douglas Paul or Catering Coordinator Krystine Nakano with food-court questions or catering needs for private parties at 984-3225.

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. New is a Spanish menu! The cost for four-courses is $31 to $44, plus $5 corkage fee, tax and cash gratuity. Reservations highly recommended. Chef’s Tasting Experience is on select Fridays for $80 with small tastes of everything on that day’s menu. All major credit cards are accepted on campus. For reservations, call 984-3280. To view Class Act menus, visit