ʻUlu Ambassador: Aunty Tammy Mahealani Smith

Aunty Tammy Mahealani Smith - Dietary manager at Lunalilo Home

A born ʻulu ambassador, Aunty Tammy Mahealani Smith traces her lineage back 10 generations in Hakipuʻu, a small but important ahupuaʻa on the Island of Oʻahu, where the navigator Kahaʻi is credited with bringing one of the first ʻulu trees back to Hawaiʻi from Samoa. 

"ʻUlu traditionally symbolized famine food because it can feed plenty in time of need,” Tammy said. “We must respect ʻulu because if you have a tree, you are rich. Today many people might not know how to eat it, which is unfortunate; but we are keepers of ʻulu recipes." 

In 1989, Tammy took over her fatherʻs food service business, Hale Kealoha - ʻAi Pono, and expanded it to specialize in meal service for Hawaiian Schools. Two years ago, she passed the business on to her eldest and went on to become the dietary manager at Lunalilo Home, a kūpuna care home founded over 130 years ago in fulfillment of King Lunaliloʻs trust to honor, tend to, and protect the well-being of elders. 

With COVID-19, Lunaliloʻs meal service has become busier than ever, and Aunty Tammy now provides 1,000 nutrient-packed frozen meals each Monday for seniors living independently, and an additional 50 hot meals Monday through Friday for Lunalilo residents. For Hale Kealoha, however, the pandemic has halted virtually all regular business. Sadly, this is the situation for many Hawaiʻi foodservice operations struggling to survive through COVID-19. 

Yet Aunty Tammyʻs message through all this is clear: community first.

"Take care of your own community and be proactive,” she said. “Especially for people who give their time to nourish others. Now is the time to give back to them if you are able." 

Tammy hopes that Hale Kealoha will be a kuleana that her family will carry on for generations to come, sharing the taste, benefits, knowledge, and moʻolelo of ʻulu and other traditional foods. 

Aunty Tammy's Recipe: Easy ʻUlu Vegetable Stir Fry

See Featured Recipe
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