Now You’re Cooking

Forget room service: Guests vacation in the kitchen

By: Marty Wentzel

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 chef.

“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 follow along.

“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 entertain.

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 lost.”

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 towncar.
Nightly rack rates at the hotel range from $345 to $735 with suites starting at $950.
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