Keiki Chefs in training, building friendships at Palisades Elementary School’s Hui ‘Aha’aina Culinary Program

I am extremely fortunate for the many opportunities that I am given each school year and to be a part of our outstanding and inspiring Pearl City public and private schools. At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, I was invited to Palisades Elementary School by Principal Gavin Tsue and Vice Principal Jan Kanaeholo to take a tour of their five after-school programs. The tour inspired a discussion on possibly creating a sixth after-school keiki culinary program. The inspiration for a Palisades Elementary culinary program manifested itself over the summer and came to life in the beginning of the new 2022-2023 school year with the creation and announcement of the Hui ‘Aha’aina Culinary Program and mission statement below drafted by Vice Principal Kanaeholo:

Provide opportunities for students to connect with and grow in the community through the culinary arts.

The goal of Hui ‘Aha’aina is to connect Palisades Elementary with culinary programs at Highlands Intermediate, Pearl City High School, and Leeward Community College, as well as build partnerships and support from corporate sponsors. Connecting culinary programs from elementary, middle school, high school, and college would ensure a path and growth for the students as they navigate through each level of their education and eventually reach their higher education goals and beyond. Building their leadership, teamwork, creative, and sustainable skills are the rewards of a successful culinary program at Palisades Elementary that could serve as a template for other schools to follow and incorporate in their own culinary programs.

Hui ‘Aha’aina has gotten off to an amazing start as the culinary students meet weekly after school on Wednesdays, and once a month on Saturday’s.  Top chef Cherlyn Evangelista is leading the newly created Hui ‘Aha’aina Culinary Program that offers 5th and 6th grade students an opportunity to participate in the class under her guidance and expertise as an experienced and highly respected and recognized chef and baker.

Cherlyn is a proud graduate of Pearl City High School’s Class of ’92, and also graduated from culinary programs at Kapiolani Community College and The Culinary Institute of America.

Hui ‘Aha’aina has recently secured much needed supplies to outfit their culinary classroom. The culinary program is off to quick start building partnerships that includes culinary business supply connections like Mid City Restaurant Supply which has helped Hui ‘Aha’aina attain needed supplies to support their culinary classroom.

Jackie Cabebe, Mid City Restaurant Supply

“It’s great to see that it’s in the elementary stages and not only in the high schools. Their starting young because on TV you’re seeing children who are 10, even 7 or 8 who are being cooks, as well as bakers, so it’s exciting to see it in Hawaii.

My main customers are the colleges on Oahu. That is how I got connected. Leeward Community College is one of the schools that I work directly, also, Kapiolani Community College. They asked me to connect with Jan (Kanaeholo) because they need help and they wanted to start a baking program. So, that’s how I’m here, and I’m glad that I could help. The schools are not really my territory, but because of the connection with Leeward, and because it’s a specialized program, I was able to help them. Because of funding, we were able to put this together. We’re still growing and with donations and other support we just have to spread the news.”

(Mid City is a full-service restaurant supply company)

Mahalo to Matt Egami and the Leeward Community College Culinary Arts Program who have been an early supporter of Hui ‘Aha’aina, as well as the Pearl City Shopping Center.

On Saturday, November 19, Hui ‘Aha’aina presented their first baking showcase in their culinary classroom.  Parents and sponsors were invited to attend the morning event. Kyra the Baker, business owner and senior at Punahou School was the featured guest Chef/Baker. Kyra was a true inspiration for us all as she gathered the students around her and taught them how to bake cookies/scones and pumpkin pie with Hui ‘Aha’aina teacher Cherlyn Evangelista.

Kyra owns her own Pop-up Shop business and is a hit on Instagram. Kyra also donates her baked goods to help those in need. She has a huge heart and giving spirit that inspires others to set their goals as she does and go out and try their hand at starting their own businesses.

Kyra the Baker

“My main goal with my shop was to basically inspire other young aspiring entrepreneurs like me, and just really tell them that it’s possible to open up a physical shop even though adults would say its hard and I don’t know if you should even try. But I think it’s worth a try because if you don’t even try, you don’t see the outcome.

I’ve always had a hobby for baking. I started baking cookies for Santa when I was probably 10 years old. It just started for fun. I also use my hobby of baking to donate to fundraising places like the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and Institute of Human Services and it just built up from there. My passion grew even more, so I decided to open up a shop and pursue my passion.

I also baked 100 cookies for the Ronald McDonald House and it made me feel very happy of course to be able to provide some food for them and make them happy through my sweet treats that I made. That’s basically how I could help out. I also fundraised money and baked cookies for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. I made about a $1000.00 from just baking cookies.

I would like to say to everyone to pursue your passions even if people reject you. Just pursue your passions no matter what people say.”

This past Saturday, December 10, Hui ‘Aha’aina hosted their second baking showcase at school. It was so much fun. Cherlyn and her students, along with Vice Principal Kanaeholo and her son, baked gingerbread Christmas cookies and decorated them in the spirit of Christmas (well most of them were Christmas themed. Very creative designs.) Even Mary (Villamil) and I got a chance to decorate a bunch of cookies to take home. Sorry to say that some of them didn’t make it. They were so good on the ride home.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to experience and appreciate those in our schools who make a difference for their students and their families. I am a witness and beneficiary with every visit of the sincere caring and love that comes from the leadership, staff, and amazing students that most people don’t see or experience. I wish everyone could spend a few hours with all the wonderful students in our Pearl City District Complex. It would change your lives as it has done and continue to change and inspire mine.

This is what it’s all about:

Hui ‘Aha’aina Culinary students/friends:

We’re happy because we’re also making friends with some people that we weren’t really friends with before, so it helps us build friendships. We are also learning about what happens in the kitchen, and how to do things properly, and safety. Knife safety.

We are also happy that they created this program because we never really had anything like this before, especially on Wednesday’s, because we never had anything after school on Wednesday’s.

Hui ‘Aha’aina Culinary mom Melissa

I’m happy and excited to see my daughter working in person in class Seeing what she is doing in class and learning and all the techniques, all the tools, all the ingredients they use. I’m very proud and can’t wait to taste everything. Thank you to everyone for supporting this program.”

Photos by Barry Villamil |