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Look to the source

Leeward Community College culinary students visit farms to see where their ingredients come from and to learn "sustainability"

By Joleen Oshiro

LAST UPDATED: 1:41 a.m. HST, Oct 31, 2012

Click here for more photos.


What does it entail to create a chef? Used to be, it meant teaching skills in the kitchen, how to create menus and execute dining events.

But that scope of culinary education is being broadened now that issues of food sustainability are here to stay. Current and future curricula require up-and-coming chefs to learn about everything from use of recycled materials to composting, energy-efficient equipment, water conservation, waste reduction and sourcing product locally.

In fact, the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation, which accredits the University of Hawaii community college culinary programs, has come up with sustainability guidelines that ACFEF-accredited schools will be incorporating into their curriculums.

Leeward Community College's culinary students are already exploring such issues. This semester, as part of their final coursework to create a fine-dining event on Nov. 9, students were each paired with a specific product from an Oahu farm and assigned to create dishes to highlight that product. The coursework also included a farm visit.

Students visited produce farms, an egg farm, a hog farm andUnited Fishing Agency.


>> When: 6 p.m. Nov. 9 (one seating)
>> Where: The Pearl, Leeward Community College
>> Tickets: $70, $85 with wine
>> Information: 455-0298



>> Purchase various cuts of Shinsato pork at Higa Meat and Pork Market, 225 N. Nimitz Highway. Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 6 to 11 a.m. Saturdays. Call 531-3591.

>> Find Ho Farms tomatoes at supermarkets and farmers markets across Oahu.

"When this class first started, putting together the event was it. It was about how to organize and pull all the pieces together," said chef-instructor Linda Yamada. "We had guest chefs come in over the years. Alan (Wong), Chai (Chaowasaree), Hiroshi (Fukui), Roy (Yamaguchi), D.K. (Kodama) — they all came.

"Now sustainability has become the direction everyone's going in, so instead of having students listen to the chef talk about a product, we wanted them to go direct to the source and hear from the farmers themselves," she said.

Tatiana Papalii, 21, of Makakilo is preparing Cider-Brined Pork Loin for the dinner. She visited Shinsato Farm in Kahaluu, where her pork is being sourced. Owners Glenn and Amy Shinsato gave Papalii a tour and discussed their work and challenges with the inquisitive student.

Papalii learned how farming methods can affect the quality of the dish she serves.

"You know how pork can get dry if it's overcooked? Glenn told me that it's not just how it's cooked that affects the meat. It's also how it's raised. He said leaner meat tends to indicate a more stressed animal, and his animals are relaxed. He said strong feet interferes with muscle development, so if you see strong feet it means less muscle," she said.

"The price of feed dictates the price of pork, so they're not necessarily making a lot of money — and they work really hard," she said. "I appreciate the product more because I know how hard it was to raise that pig."

Mailyn Hayashi also has newfound respect for farmers and their products. The Ewa Beach resident, 21, visited Ho Farms, where tomatoes for her salad course are being grown. Hayashi's dish is being revamped because the golden and Roma varieties she had originally built her dish around are in low supply following the farm's battle with a new pest.

"They've figured it out, but I'll have to change my menu," she said. "Neil (Ho) showed me their currant tomatoes. They're supertiny and supersweet. I'm thinking of how I can use those."

Hayashi's situation offers the fledgling chef real-world experience in dealing flexibly with farmers, who all face challenges of weather and pests. The dilemma is an eye-opener for her.

"I realize it's harder than expected to grow food," she said. "My dad likes to grow vegetables in our backyard, and it seems easy. But when you're farming large scale and have to satisfy customers, it's not easy."

back In the classroom, students heard from agriculture advocate Dan Naka­sone about how variables such as weather and oil prices affects a farm's ability to survive.

"In 2008, after severe droughts there was a grain shortage, plus oil spiked, so grain prices skyrocketed, and the Big Island lost its last egg farm. We had to work to save the local egg industry," he said. "Like the saying goes, you must think globally and act locally. Pay attention to what happens outside Hawaii."

Nakasone said the current U.S. drought and Asian monsoons will likely affect local farmers in the near future.

"They may have a rough time with grain again next year, so we have to support them," he urged.

Master sommelier Chuck Furuya built upon Nakasone's discussion of championing farmers with a perspective on how personal values affect professional choices.

"Your responsibility is not just cooking, but as a person as well. Who you gonna be? How will you help the industry grow in facing the challenges of sustainability?" he asked. "You'll be dealing with people who have all kinds of different philosophies — organic, free range, hydroponic, etc. What will you bring to the table, in all its diversity?"

Amy Shinsato thinks Papalii's visit to her farm hit the mark.

"Because Tati is matured and she's a thinker, she picked up on some of the issues we face," Shinsato said. "I think this is a very good way for students to see what goes on behind the package of meat they get off the counter. When they get out into the world to cook, they will look differently at things. It's important that we get this next generation."

Furuya couldn't agree more.

"The thing we need to think about as an industry is: What are we doing to train the local workforce to compete for jobs?" he said. "What I saw was young, hungry people who want to learn, so kudos to the instructors of the community colleges. The kids are asking questions now, not just asking for product."

Nakasone said the ACFEF's new requirements don't just address sustainability issues, but also help young chefs succeed professionally.

"The federation knows the public will support a chef if they know the chef stands for something. Guys like Alan Wong or Ed Kenney, who are advocates for local farms, do OK even in a down economy because people believe in what they do," he said. "It's a win-win all the way around, for the environment, the community, the farmer, the chef."

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