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Lahainaluna Teens Cook with Heart

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Mar 15, 2018

Lahainaluna High School students and volunteer Maui chefs prepare for the Iron Chef competition, highlighting the American Heart Association’s Teens Cook with Heart program. PHOTO BY ANDREW MILLER.

LAHAINA – Lahainaluna High School students showed off their healthy cooking skills in the American Heart Association (AHA) Iron Chef competition on March 8. The event, held in the high school gymnasium, was the culmination of a seven-week program, Teens Cook with Heart, in which the students learned how to prepare nutritional meals to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

The wide range of healthy cuisine taught in the class included smoothies, salsas, dressings, chili, guacamole, fresh fish and much more.

“Studies show that youth who are involved in preparing their own meals are more likely to eat nutritious foods, and more fruits and vegetables,” said Eve Bondar, AHA development manager.

“Moreover, the lessons get youth excited about trying new foods and encourage them to share this passion with their own families at home, thus expanding the program’s reach to the larger community.”

The classes are offered at Lahainaluna High School and Lahaina Intermediate School through a grant to the AHA by Lahaina residents Sharon and Joe Saunders, who just extended the grant for another three years.

“I just want to give back to the community,” said Sharon. “This is a great way to get the kids to start thinking about eating healthier and leading healthier lives. AHA’s goal is to expand the program to schools across Maui and eventually to the outer islands.”

Keith Ideoka, Lahainaluna agriculture teacher, said of the event, “It’s wonderful to see the students use everything they learned from the volunteer chefs over the past seven weeks. The focus is the relationship between what they grow and what they consume. Now they know about healthy ingredients and how to cook with them. This is a unique opportunity for our Lahaina students. We are the only school complex in Hawaii that is doing this right now.”

The AHA teamed with Maui chefs who shared their talents with the students and taught them both healthy eating skills along with the importance of supporting local farmers and fishermen.

During the Iron Chef competition, the student teams were paired with professional chefs serving as advisors. Starting with a variety of ingredients, participants had 45 minutes to craft a smoothie, appetizer and entree using the skills they learned in their weekly lessons.

Their creations were judged by a panel of professional chefs, representatives of the media, school leaders and others. Chef volunteers at this year’s event were Chef Jojo Vasquez, The Plantation House; Chef Ryan Luckey, Leilani’s; Chef Betty McDonald, B3 A Beach Bunny Bakery; Chef Riko Bartolome, Asia Vous; Craig Erickson, Kaanapali Beach Club; and Chef Paris Nabavi, Pizza Paradiso.

Luckey, executive chef at Leilani’s on the Beach, enjoys teaching students about interaction, laughing and the importance of eating healthy as well as taking care of their bodies through their food choices.

“The goal I hope to accomplish with my service to the students in Lahaina is having them realize that as we go through life, we must be aware of the things we are putting in our bodies,” Luckey said. “We need to educate our children and pass along these smart choices to moms, dads, grandparents and siblings. Additionally, we all need to support our local farmers through farmers’ markets, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding fast food.”

Zain Zakata, a Lahainaluna graduate and two-time participant in the AHA program and Iron Chef competition, visited this year’s event and explained his experience.

“The first year I was in the AHA program, I was a junior; then I participated again in my senior year,” Zakata said. “I learned so much from the program. I was hesitant at the beginning because I wasn’t sure if we were going to spend a lot of time learning how to hold a knife and not much time cooking. As we progressed in the program, I came to learn I was very wrong. We got to make food right away, and it was very exciting. We broke down dishes that we’ve all eaten before and substituted the not-so-healthy ingredients with healthier alternatives. I learned to use fresh and local products in recipes to ensure the quality of my food.”

Zakata said the Iron Chef competition was the highlight of the event for him.

“We were given a stage to showcase what we had learned. It was the real deal. We had the table with tons of ingredients, professional culinarians as judges, and the time was ticking. We were challenged in all aspects,” he said.

The fulfilment and excitement Zakata experienced in the AHA program made him think seriously about going into the culinary field. However, for the most part, he didn’t think of himself as an artistic person in terms of drawing, painting, singing or playing an instrument.

“But then I realized that I can cook,” he said. “So, I use cooking as my outlet to express my artistic side. That’s when I decided I should look into culinary school.”

Avocados are one of Zakata’s favorite foods and are the base of one of his favorite healthy, artistic recipes. “I like to cut them in half and peel the skin, then top the avocado off with what I call an ‘Italian Pico de Gallo,’ which consistS of tomatoes, bell peppers, basil, lemon juice, balsamic and seasoning. Very simple, very tasty!”

Zakata is currently wrapping up his first year in the nationally ranked University of Hawaii Maui College (UHMC) Culinary Arts Program. “I am happy that I did not have to leave home to get a good culinary education. However, after I graduate from UHMC, I hope to travel to expand my experience and then make my way back to Maui. I plan to volunteer some day in the AHA program, following Chef Ryan, who is also an alumnus of Lahainaluna High School,” he said.

“When I feel confident enough to teach, I will be more than happy to give back, as the chefs did when I was a Lahainaluna student. Especially for Lahainaluna kids, because, Lunas for life!”

A fundraising event will be held this summer in Kapalua to support the AHA program. For information, e-mail Eva.Bondar@heart.org or call (808) 212-4861. To donate or become an AHA volunteer, contact Program Coordinator Rob Mason at (808) 280-0991 or e-mail rob.mason@heart.org.