ʻUlu Ambassador: Karen Sheff - Culinary Program Director at Kealakehe High School

Karen Sheff - Culinary Program Director at Kealakehe High School

Karen Sheffʻs mission is to prepare students holistically with a broad liberal arts education, healthy world view and an appreciation for culture to become ambassadors of Hawaiʻi's future. Her department at Kealakehe High School – Career Technical Education – offers students real life opportunities preparing them for careers and college.

Karen believes that understanding and appreciating homegrown products to cook with is what promotes island sustainability.

“Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Co-op promotes Hawaiian culture and food, providing not only products, but educational outreach,” Karen said.

Kealakehe student preparing ʻulu in the classroom

Kealakehe High School’s culinary program director, Karen Sheff, says the culinary aspect of her program is “just the lollipop at the end of the road” for her students. Instead, she wants them to develop the real life skills necessary to create an end product. “They have to learn teamwork, communication skills, critical thinking, [and] organization … [all] in the process of cooking and getting that meal ready in an hour.”

The innovative young chefs of Kealakehe High School bring a school food service perspective and invaluable feedback to the Chef Hui ‘Ulu Ambassador program, partnering with HUC to recipe test added-value ‘ulu products since 2018. Sheff explains that this brilliant partnership gives her students the opportunity to practice “project-based learning and [have] tangible experiences,” while contributing to HUC’s work with the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education to make ‘ulu viable in public school cafeterias. “What better place to do it than in our high school since we’re the largest … on [Hawaiʻi] Island,” Sheff said. In the first semester of partnering with HUC, her students tested six different ‘ulu recipes, each one six times, learning “how much work goes into product development.”

Many students preparing ʻulu in the culinary class at Kealakehe Highschool

“We scaffolded the experience further by actually having the kids create [taste test] surveys and conduct data analysis of the results,” with students getting direct feedback from theirs peers in the cafeteria on the most ‘ono ways to serve ‘ulu in schools. Incorporating math curriculum and computer education, Sheff’s class also calculated the cost of ingredients for the DOE and used real DOE recipe templates to compute servings. They even pared down commercial quantities for home versions of each recipe developed. By developing written food critiques, students additionally practiced their English writing skills – further demonstrating the interdisciplinary potential of culinary arts education.

The result of Kealakehe High School students’ hard work over the past two years include several mouth-watering recipes such as ‘Ulu Chicken Curry, ‘Ulu Corn Chowder, ‘Ulu and ʻUala Salad, ‘Ulu Chili, and ‘Ulu Hash. All can be found on HUC’s website recipe page.

Along with the collaborative problem-solving skills practiced through her program, Sheff emphasizes that the “other component is understanding the history of this island.” Considering past self-sufficiency in Hawaiʻi, she encourages her students to observe and question the socio-economic factors and politics which affect food systems and impact sustainability here today. By championing the use of ʻulu in both traditional and contemporary ways, Kealakehe High School students showcase the crop’s versatility and cultural importance while thinking critically about how ʻulu can support a more food secure and sustainable future for Hawaiʻi – starting with their own cafeteria.

Kealakehe HS Culinary Arts Program Recipe: ʻUlu & Okinawan Sweet Potato Salad

See Featured Recipe
[uc-featured-product handle="ulu-retail-packs" description="Now you can have our peeled, cored, steamed, and frozen ‘ulu delivered directly to your door!"]


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published