ʻUlu Ambassador: Waipahu High School

For the past 25 years, Waipahu High School’s award winning culinary arts program has provided students with practical education and hands-on experience in the food service industry. 

The APPS Culinary Arts Pathway – part of the school’s Academy of Professional and Public Services (APPS) – provides direct mentorship from experienced professionals, including some of the top names in Hawaiʻi's food and restaurant industry such as Leanne Wong of Koko Head Cafe and Ed Kenny of Town. Students are also trained to operate the Marauder Cafe, an on-campus eatery that – in non-pandemic times – prepares meals weekly for public guests.

“The students come up with (menu) ideas, not us,” said Culinary Program Director Elaine Matsuo. This policy echoes the school's motto – “My voice. My choice. My future.” – a philosophy that encourages students to guide their own education and professional development. That includes incorporating local and indigenous ingredients wherever possible and strengthening the students’ relationship with Hawaiʻi’s broader food system.

This year, two students submitted ʻulu recipes to Hawaiʻi Agricultural Foundation’s Localicious Cooking Contest:  a breakfast hash and poke with ʻulu chips.

ʻUlu Ambassador Program

As a member of the Chef Hui’s ʻUlu Ambassador program, Waipahu High School brings an invaluable “youth perspective” to the ‘ulu renaissance movement. In describing their recipes, students emphasize the importance of versatility, family, and health – connecting their dishes to their unique life experiences and tastes.

COVID-19 Pivot

In April 2020, teachers and staff expanded their relationship with the Chef Hui by helping to prepare and distribute meals for COVID-19 response food drives. When the school and cafe closed due to the pandemic, Matsuo recognized an opportunity to increase food security in their community. With the help of eight teachers, they got to work preparing salads, bahn mi, soups, stews, and chicken jook using ingredients from Chef Hui partners, including HUC. The united effort leveraging the school’s commercial kitchen produced on average 150-180 quarts of soup a day for medical personnel and first responders, as well as for organizations such as Child & Family Services, Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Papakōlea Community Development Corporation, Kaimuki Youth Development Organization, Hui Mālama o Ke Kai Foundation, and The Salvation Army. 

Due to the culinary program’s existing focus on local foods and its newly developed food drive kitchen, the school is currently developing a new learning unit for this year’s culinary program – getting students involved in both cooking and menu planning for the pandemic response efforts. In this way, whether they are sharing ‘ulu stories and recipes to educate the public or working to improve community access to nutritious foods, Waipahu High School students and teachers utilize their culinary strengths to help address some of the challenges facing Hawaiʻi today.


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