The Palama Settlement 808 Junior Chef Team Visits Tiki’s

Posted on July 14, 2016 by admin

The Palama Settlement 808 Junior Chef Team Visits Tiki’s

July is National Culinary Arts Month. In honor of this, I wanted to share two experiences that are close to my heart – both involve working with local youth who are interested in breaking into the field of culinary arts. It’s so important to light a fire under these kids who will become the next generation of pioneers and pirates in the kitchen, and who can keep our Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement alive, while challenging it and making it better.

Their First Real Restaurant

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It was a revelation. The email had come from Larry Sweets, the youth recreation specialist at the Palama Settlement in Kalihi. He wrote to thank us for dinner and offer to have some of the kids from Palama’s fire knife dancing and hula programs perform at Tiki’s. A few days earlier we had hosted three boys from Palama’s 808 Junior Chef Showdown team for dinner. According to Larry the visit to Tiki’s was the “first time any of them have been to a real restaurant”. What struck me was that these kids were already honing their culinary skills and competing in a cooking competition yet had never been inside a real restaurant let alone a commercial kitchen.

The 808 Junior Chef Showdown is styled after the popular Iron Chef TV show but geared for kids with an emphasis on healthy food with inexpensive easy-to-find ingredients. This year’s third annual showdown had seven teams competing from five different after school programs in Kalihi. Palama received an award for using the largest variety of fruits and vegetables with their Stuffed Chicken Thighs with Quinoa Pilaf, Carrots and Pecans, and Strawberry Salad with Orange-Honey Dressing.

My own experience with competitions when I was just starting out on my culinary education was awesome. I was part of a group of students from my high school that got to go into Boston and stay in a hotel. The program was called VICA…Vocational Industrial Clubs of America.  The competition was pretty advanced and the winner went on to compete at the national level.

Everyone Wins

As part of the 808 Junior Chef program the winners have a budget to go out to dinner. Larry liked the response in past years coming to Tiki’s so we were really honored to have them come again. When they arrived, I showed them what a busy commercial kitchen looks like. We were ramping up for the sunset dinner crowd and there was plenty of activity. I was stoked by the assertiveness and politeness these kids demonstrated. I think their accomplishments are amplified even more for me because many come from unfortunate situations and broken homes. One boy in particular showed real interest in a culinary career and had a lot of good questions. The fact that this kid has direction toward a career choice is huge to me because I think that really helps put you on the road to success.

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I later learned that he’s originally from the Marshal Islands and as well as being on their Junior Chef Showdown team, he’s one of the best fire knife dancers at Palama Settlement. Being a master chef who can twirl a pair of flaming machetes would be a pretty killer skill set to have.

Dining in Style

The boys got to order off the dinner menu plus we styled them out with a bunch of desserts so they could try lots of things. I’m pretty happy with how their first visit to a “real restaurant” went down. They got to see the sun set over Waikiki Beach, sipped drinks from coconut cups they could keep as souvenirs and got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it takes to put out hundreds of plates of consistently delicious food. We’ll be looking forward to welcoming more junior chefs in the future but next year I’m hoping for more. That’s when I’d love a chance to be in on the judging part. Thanks to Larry Sweets and the Palama Settlement 808 Junior Chef Team for coming in and making Tiki’s their first real restaurant.

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One thought on “The Palama Settlement 808 Junior Chef Team Visits Tiki’s”

  1. This is fantastic, Ronnie! Well written and clearly from your heart. I know that your example will bear much good fruit in these young people! Aloha & Blessings, Scott

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