Don’t let the name of the Kahala Culinary Academy intimidate
your clients. The new offering isn’t one of those gourmands-only,
nose-in-the-air affairs. On the contrary, said Kahala Mandarin
Oriental Hawaii executive chef and mastermind of the series.
“Our classes are extremely relaxed and interactive, filled with
laughter, conversation, and lots of give-and-take,” Wayne
Hirabayashi said. “We even share a few trade secrets.”
Every Saturday at midday since January, Hirabayashi and his
culinary counterparts have been attracting lively crowds to the
luxury hotel’s Hoku’s restaurant, which conveniently doesn’t serve
lunch that day.
A wise move since classes are geared toward various skill
levels, from the enthusiastic amateur to the budding professional
“We make each class very user-friendly, so you can take home the
knowledge that you’ve learned,” Hirabayashi said. “I make sure to
break each step down to the basics, so everyone in the room can
“We’re not out to compete with professional culinary schools in
Honolulu,” he added. “This is purely for hobbyists.”
Husbands take note: So far, at least half of the classes this
year have been attended by men.
The academy’s setting alone whets the appetite: A bright, cheery
restaurant with walls of windows looking out to palm trees and the
sea, Hoku’s is the kind of room that makes people happy as soon as
they step in.
“Where else can you go to a cooking class with this sort of
view?” Hirabayashi asked.
While sessions are arranged in a sensical thematic order
throughout the year, hotel guests can step into a class on any
given week and not feel lost, Hirabayashi said.
“We’ve been drawing mostly residents so far, but we always make
room for our hotel guests,” he said, adding that the academy is
appropriate for the hotel’s high-end guests, many of whom like to
When the culinary academy calendar calls for a demonstration,
the staff removes tables from Hoku’s and sets up a showcase
platform at one end of the room. For hands-on classes, four
stations accommodate five people each, with one chef by each
station to oversee activities and answer questions.
“We don’t want the class to get any bigger than this, because
this should be a quality time where folks can really learn,”
Hirabayashi said. “With too many people, that sense of intimacy is
While Hirabayashi leads many of the classes, he likes to bring
in specialists who add meaning to each theme.
For example, a sushi class might call on the knowledge of the
hotel’s Japanese chef. A knife class could feature an expert from a
company that sells classy cutlery, and a pizza class could showcase
the skills of someone from a neighboring trattoria.
Variety lovers can pick up pointers on wine-and-food pairing,
while those with a sweet tooth can drop by for the dessert and
specialty coffees class. Themes run the gamut, from Cooking for
Singles to How to Plan a Party. Whenever possible, the day’s lesson
ties into an upcoming event, like Mother’s Day, or season, like
summer barbecues. For a Valentine’s Day related class, the topic
turned to chocolate.
“We discussed what chocolate is, we learned how to melt it, and
each person practiced piping it out of a squeeze bag, following
lines on printouts,” Hirabayashi said. “Everyone made their own
ganache [melted chocolate and hot cream]. There was a lot of
licking of spoons and fingers.”
At the end of each class, participants dig into refreshments
that tie into the day’s theme.
For instance, at the chocolate class, clients gathered around a
chocolate fountain to dip in pieces of cake and strawberries.
If the 2005 classes are a hit and they appear to be so far the
Kahala Mandarin hopes to build a freestanding cooking academy
headed by a full-time director.
“Our property in Bangkok has a Thai cooking school that has become
a real landmark after 15 years,” Hirabayashi said. “Our facility
would follow suit. It would have its own filming capacities, and
feature a retail component so people who take classes can purchase
ingredients and tools to take them home.”
The Kahala Culinary Academy, held in Hoku’s
restaurant at Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hawaii, takes place every
Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Clients can drop in for one class or
sign up for a series with each class dedicated to a different
topic. Demonstrations generally cost $55 to $75 per person, while
hands-on sessions range from $115 to $125.
Meanwhile, for clients who enjoy the high life, the Kahala Mandarin
offers a commissionable package called Sensational Suite and
Dining, good on stays through June 30. Priced from $950 to $1,200
per night with a four-night minimum, the deal provides suite
accommodations, all meals at any of the hotel’s restaurants
including in-room dining and roundtrip airport transfers in a
Nightly rack rates at the hotel range from $345 to $735 with suites
starting at $950.