Under the able direction of Chef Dean Louie, 11 students, all of whom are currently incarcerated at Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC), were put through the paces of the culinary arts program.
But, as Chef Louie said, “We’re not just teaching cooking skills, but life skills; ways of organized thinking where they build something and see the result.”
Renee Borges-Latu, a Maui native who intends to enroll in the MCC Culinary Arts program in January, said she was inspired by Cherie Hoewa‘a-Hubin, who is a BEST participant on furlough, a 3.85 grade point average MCC student and a senator on the MCC Student Council.
“I can do it… All doors are open to me,” said MEO BEST participant Renee Borges-Latu.
“I want to be just like her,” said Borges-Latu. “She’s my role model.” She added, “The people in the MEO BEST program believed in me and showed me how to believe in myself.”
Michael Edwards, who has been with the BEST program for three months, was told about the program by a counselor in Waiawa. “He told me I could get skills and better myself,” said Edwards. “It helped stabilize me.” Edwards intends to, “be an asset, stay out of jail and show them that they haven’t wasted their investment.”
Kimberly Molena, another MEO BEST student who participated in the first culinary arts boot camp, works for Tasty Crust under MCCC’s work furlough program. “I have been supported by amazing people who showed me how to accomplish more than I ever thought I would,” she said.
Everyone was effusive in their praise of Chef Louie, but boot camp participant Robert Weier, who has a degree in psychology, was particularly eloquent. “Chef Louie takes you to the edge and hands you a rope,” said Weier. “But he doesn’t leave you dangling. As you swing through the air, he will ask, ‘How does the rope feel in your hands? What does the wind feel like in your hair?’ He’s a real teacher. Chef Louie opened my eyes to what cooking is all about; the science, the artistry and the variety.”
Chef Louie was amazed that the skill level and understanding of these students “could be so complete in such a short time. They really immersed themselves in a concentrated way. They learned communication, teamwork and how to perform in pressure situations; skills that can be beneficial to all.”
On only the fourth day of the program, the students prepared a luncheon for the Rotary Club of Maui. The Rotarians enjoyed cream of mushroom soup, fresh pesto pasta with pancetta and cake ala-mode with homemade chocolate ice cream.
Dishes served at graduation were challenging without being overly ambitious. Guests were treated to pupu of prosciutto canapé with roasted bell pepper, and caramelized onion and goat cheese tarts followed by Caesar salad, rice pilaf, scalloped potatoes, Snapper Dore with shrimp and calamari sauce, tomatoes Florentine on ratatouille and carved roast lamb and beef.
MEO BEST Program Director Ken Hunt was on the line with the students. Beaming like a dad at a maternity ward, he praised the students for their commitment and perseverance. “When you set out the steps and make them achievable, these people demonstrate their ability and desire to succeed.”
“These students measure up to our regular students,” said Chef Louie. “Any of them could do it if they wanted to.”
Students were also asked to prepare a resume and write a letter about where they see themselves in five years.
Hoewa‘a-Hubin said, “There were so many pieces missing in my life, without MEO, I don’t know whether I could put my life back together again.”
The participants said that when they returned to the facility after eight hours of classes, the other inmates were envious of what they had experienced, curious about what they had eaten and anxious to taste what their fellow inmates had prepared.
MCC Culinary Arts Program Director Chris Speere and Chef Louie are both looking forward to year three of the MEO BEST Culinary Arts Boot Camp.
Carrie-Ann Shirota, former program director of MEO BEST and a George Soros Fellow, sees the program expanding to other fields. “We need to focus on success,” said Shirota, “to see what we can do to contribute to their dream. Why do we have to stop with culinary arts? Why not carpentry or auto mechanics?”
“There are many parts and partners that make this camp a success,” said MEO CEO Sandy Baz, acknowledging the accomplishments of the students and the success of the camp. “The state Department of Public Safety, the County of Maui and the college assisted with the opportunity, but the true success was the participants’ determination to reach their goals.”
The boot camp was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Reed Act program administered by the County of Maui’s Office of Economic Development and the Maui County Workforce Investment Board.