Little or rarely known among newcomers and visitors to Maui is the Culinary Academy at Maui College. Just a short ride from the Kahului Airport on the way to Wailuku, the cafeteria (food court) and upstairs restaurant are housed in a building called “Paina” on the Maui College campus.
It’s open Monday to Friday for lunch for the public at large. But it’s not widely advertised.
I’ve never seen the food court packed. Considering Maui College’s enrollment of 4,300 you’d expect it would be. That it’s also open to the public and closed by 2 pm, you’d wonder why not?
I’m guessing: the same reason why the free concerts at music conservatories are not well attended. They are not advertised. Too much work. It’s not for commercial gain. The purpose is for the Culinary Academy students to cook and serve. Who are the lucky ones? Those that get to eat there at very reasonable and affordable prices.
By the time I get there after 1 pm usually, just the grill and salad bar are open. Sometimes organic sushi (brown rice) is still available. I decided I had to get there earlier.
At 11:20 am today, I was spoiled for choice.
At first I nodded to an order of seafood linguini with tomato cream sauce (I can’t quite replicate the title and description). While it was being prepared, I wandered to other counters only to discover all sorts of gourmet varieties that made my mouth water and my eyes widen. I returned to the pasta counter to wiggle out of my order with the lame excuse that I did not have enough time to eat. Luckily a lady had just placed an order, so I generously gave her my order — to reduce her wait, as the dish was nearly done.
I rushed to the Japanese counter and grabbed a box of ahi poke — freshly cut and marinated tuna with white rice. Concerned that I might want something for dinner, I went to the salad bar and packed my container to the max.
The two items came to $12.36. Not bad for lunch AND dinner.
While I was wolfing down my Japanese lunch I saw two ladies eating hot soba soup with chopsticks. I mentally registered that I would get that next time.
In fact, I decided that I should go to the Maui College cafeteria every day. It reminded me of my days working at a bank in London. I would look forward to my 3-course lunch curated by Swiss chefs in tall white hats. Perhaps this glutton for good food came even earlier — the summer I took economics and psychology at Cornell University, known for its hospitality management school. Or was it the summer before at the Chien Tan Overseas Summer Camp in Taiwan? A taste explosion every time!
What’s special about Maui Culinary Academy’s food court is that the cuisines are multi-ethnic with plenty of Asian varieties. The native Hawaiian influence is also strong in the selection of locally grown vegetables and fruit.
Upstairs is the Class Act Restaurant where I had dined a few times with the Maui Rotary Club. Their menu is intoxicating:
- Seafood Chawan Muschi
- Thai-Basil Sea Salt Grilled Kauai Shrimp
- Big Island Hamakua Champignon & Applewood Smoked Bacon Vol-au-Vent
- Asian Pesto Grilled Shrimp and Pohole Fern Salad
- Soupe de Asperges
- Curried Duck Lumpia
- Caprese Martini
- Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Dried Cherry Compote
- Miso Sake Broiled Black Cod (butterfish)
- Hoisin-Honey Grilled Lamb Chops
- Wild Rice Tamale with Medley of Hamakua Mushrooms
- Grilled Maui Cattle Company Strip Loin Steak
- Roasted Pear with an almond Financier, served with a chamomile coulis and a pear sorbet
- Mini Gianduja Cannoli’s served with Espresso Gelato
- Soft Hazelnut Cream, Chocolate mousse, and a frozen lemongrass parfait
- Coconut Cream with Passion Fruit Curd and Angel Food Cake served with a Burnt Milk Gelato and Hot mexican Chocolate
- Ginger Tapioca with banana beignets and a pineapple chip
I have to apologise for this blog entry. I’m too much of a glutton to be a food critic. I should kowtow to local experts Mr & Mrs James & Molly Jacobson who met on a beach in Maui, got married, and started to write reviews of restaurants on this island. Here’s what they wrote in their book “Top Maui Restaurants from thrifty to four star” about Maui College’s food court: “…. which makes it one of the best lunch places in central Maui.”
Say no more!
[Note: The best way to get to the “Paina” building on Maui Campus is through the large parking lot which is near the Maui Arts and Cultural Center from the Kahului Beach Road side, not the main entrance of Kaahumanu. Parking is free.]