College of Education professor reaches out to celebrity chefs

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Jennifer L. Parks, (808) 956-0416
Communications Coordinator, College of Education
Posted: Apr 10, 2012

Students at MA'O farms transform fruits and vegetables they raised into a gourmet meal.
Students at MA'O farms transform fruits and vegetables they raised into a gourmet meal.
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education professor Cristy Kessler has been doing some exciting, innovative, and tasty work with the College's Hoʻokulāiwi cohort students. Last month, Kessler hosted two well-known chefs from the mainland.  The chefs worked with college and high school students at MA'O Organic Farms in Waiʻanae. The hands-on learning experience culminated with the preparation of a gourmet meal using food from the farm.
With a backstory as interesting as the student-chef collaboration, Kessler said, “It all began with Twitter."
Recovering from three autoimmune diseases that were destroying her internal organs, Kessler is a bone marrow-stem cell transplant recipient. She could only receive the procedure in Turkey, which is where she discovered a television cooking competition program called "MasterChef." Although there were no subtitles, she explained, the show provided a wonderful escape from intense chemotherapy and isolation.
Upon her return to Hawaiʻi in April 2011, Kessler was ecstatic to stumble upon "MasterChef America." Still in recovery and learning how to adjust her cooking and eating habits, the show could not have come at a better time. It was during the end of season two that she reached out to one of the contestants, Ben Starr, via Twitter. He responded within 24 hours, and Kessler began tweeting with him and some of the other finalists.
Four of the show’s chefs, including the winner, agreed to come to Hawaiʻi in January 2012 and cook for outreach programs through the Parish of St. Clement in Honolulu. Kessler persuaded Starr and Adrien Nieto to return in March and accompany her on a site visit to Waiʻanae High School. Starr, Nieto, and fellow contestant-chef, Christian Collins, spent the day talking to students about farming and working together on the school’s certified organic farm.
"The fact that these kids are learning life skills which include their math, science, culture, and business education is amazing. They will be more successful in life than they realize,” said Collins.
Starr and Nieto spent another day at MA'O Organic Farms where they talked with high school and college agriculture interns. Then, they did something spectacular. The chefs picked fresh fruits and vegetables right from the fields and prepared a meal for everyone. The students got a step-by-step lesson on cooking Thai coconut vegetable curry, fresh salad greens with homemade dressing, ahi poke with fresh greens and avocado, Spanish rice and chorizo. Nieto showed the students how to chop things without cutting themselves, and Starr talked about the amazing life skills each of them were learning even if they do not become farmers.
"I never dreamed I would be able to pick fresh vegetables and literally put them on a plate to eat in ten minutes,” said Nieto. “Doing it with the kids made it even better."
Starr added, "I fell in love with this school. They are doing incredible things to keep kids in school and transition them to college, particularly in the area of agriculture and culinary arts.”