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Mama T and Jordan Ragasa make veggie fare fun

It’s hard to resist a cooking show-the perfectly proportioned condiments, the impressive slicing, dicing and, of course, the final product that comes out of the bottom oven mere seconds after the studio-prepared version makes its way into the top one. But it stops there. We won’t get to sample even a forkful of whatever delectable dish was created in front of our very eyes. Luckily, Honolulu has a few places that will let you see and taste a gourmet spread while teaching you a thing or two as well…

MACRO MADAME

“What is appealing about macrobiotics is that it emphasizes local, organic, seasonal foods that are prepared as close to the source as possible,” shares chef Leslie Ashburn, founder of Macrobiotic Hawaii.

With 25 years of food finesse tucked into her apron, Ashburn amuses clients with “extraordinary food for extraordinary living” via her mastery of vegan macrobiotics, a wholesome approach to eating she serves through personal chef services and cooking classes.

After earning an MAT and pursuing psycholinguistic, neurolinguistic and biomedical research, Ashburn transplanted to Japan to teach culinary classes and become certified in macrobiotics—victual knowledge that she brought back to Hawai‘i. Now a macrobiotic master and artful eating aficionado, courtesy Ashburn, eating more healthful tastes oh-so heavenly. Bonus? Per Ashburn, “You will feel better, and it’s really good for the earth.”

Private classes span the gamut, promise “hands-on fun” and come custom-tailored to individuals or groups (to accommodate choosy palates). “My chef services are on-site in the client’s home, and are 100-percent plant-based,” Ashburn says. “Catering is possible with on-site facilities.” In fact, 300+ person cooking classes, spas and soir?es are just a few locales in which Macrobiotic Hawaii’s dietary sound fare has satisfied.

Designed for health-conscious individuals seeking Mother Nature’s cure for lifestyle-related illnesses, or people simply wishing to whip up health-giving grub, fare comes flavored with the nutrient-dense colors of the season. Refining menus with luscious, local cuisine, in Macrobiotic Hawaii’s classes, you’ll savor Hawai‘i agriculture and enjoy a wide variety of ethnic, eco-friendly foods with a nourishing twist. Menus joining kabocha bisque, asparagus and mushroom tofu quiche, French lentil salad and a sweet blueberry mango crisp are enough to leave anyone craving another macrobiotic meal.

Above all, Ashburn approaches cooking with an open heart and mind, crafting dreamy feasts, while providing lovers of fine food an entertaining, interactive get-together. To schedule a class, simply contact Ashburn, and conceptualize an intimate, “potentially life-changing” fit feast. macrobiotichawaii.com

FIT TO A T

“Cooking is the best life skill that you can get,” shares Trisha “Mama T” Gonsalves, community outreach team leader/event coordinator at Down to Earth Organic & Natural.

She earned her nickname at the ripe, young age of 25 from friends commenting on her maternal traits: “If I’d come to your house, I’d want to cook you something,” she laughs. Mama T always had a passion for food—learning how to make soup featured on “The Mickey Mouse Club” when she was only 7, veggie soup and biscuits being her childhood signature.

Now, Mama T hops between Maui, Kailua, Kapolei and Honolulu, whipping up delicious, plant-based recipes for DTE’s culinary classes and workshops. While the organic oasis has offered its just-under-an-hour vegetarian cooking classes for the last 20 years, its fare and theme are ever evolving, and its recently remodeled kitchen, on the third floor of the Honolulu locale, accommodates larger gatherings.

“People love getting together with their friends to do something social and fun for an hour,” Mama T beams. “To teach yourself how to nourish your own self, then share it with others, I’m really blessed to teach that.”

Menus are crafted through Mama T and the team’s culinary finesse, creativity and appreciation for delicious, nutritious foods. Regardless of the inspiration, recipes are rooted in DTE’s “love life, eat healthy and be happy” beliefs, and all menu items are free of animal products, eggs and alcohol.

“Usually people think of health food as being bland, and I like to show them that it doesn’t have to be,” Mama T says. “And the majority of people who come to our classes are not vegetarian, which I think is so great.”

A recent barbecue-themed menu: gluten-free black bean burgers; purple potato salad with cashew mayo; country slaw; melon spritzer. Delish!

“Sometimes, we get inspired by flavors around the world, such as Italian, just all over the gamut. For summer cooking, we may focus on juicing and detoxifying raw foods and salads.”

Cooking classes are free in all DTE locations, except the Honolulu store. The $5 Honolulu class fee grants participants access to more ingredients and four recipes—which, of course, they get to taste, then take home to test run!

With millennials, baby boomers and senior citizens in attendance, DTE’s hands-on lessons wow the pickiest palates, keiki included (check out DTE’s keiki cooking classes). While Mama T teaches at all DTE Hawai‘i locations, dates and times are venue-specific. Sign up online ahead of time, or show up at the door. To keep up with what’s taking root at DTE, sign up for their newsletter, or check the events calendar online. downtoearth.org

FETE WORTHY

Store opening, wedding, private VIP party—chances are, you’ve already sampled some the tasty vittles Gourmet Events Hawaii has dished out. For more than a decade, Kat Lin-Hurtubise and the rest of her team have consistently delivered “the whole package” as a full-service event production and catering company.

However, perhaps a lesser-known arm of the business involves private cooking events. Through Gourmet Events Hawaii, you can arrange to have the total cooking experience—all you have to do is show up at the final venue (usually the restaurant of the chef you’ll be learning from). Past chefs Gourmet Events Hawaii has worked with include those from Ruth’s Chris Steak House on O‘ahu, Maui and the Big Island, as well as Roy’s Waikiki. One hands-on session lasts three hours and comes with a three-course meal after the cooking portion. Being the detail-oriented company that they are, you and your group will also receive a personal keepsake photo with the chef, a professional chef ’s apron and a certificate of completion.

So far, GEH serves a mix of corporate clients and private parties. “Corporate events are usually used as celebrations and team-building activities,” Lin-Hurtubise says. For instance, the Culinary Challenge Hawaii experience is really popular for team building, since there’s a competitive aspect involved—think group quick-fire challenge a la “Top Chef ” (with more time, of course). A variety of set menus are available and allergies and food sensitivities are certainly accommodated. If there are oenophiles in your group, GEH offer wine pairings with all their cooking experiences. And just like the cooking shows you see on television, while you carefully finesse your cooking technique, there’s a perfected version ready for you to savor when Cooking 101 is done.

“Participants do not eat their own cooking, (thank goodness!),” Lin-Hurtubise shares. “While the participants are cooking, the chefs are preparing the same dish in the back for all of the participants.” So don’t feel too bad if there are bits of eggshell in your half-cooked omelet—you won’t be forced to eat it. gourmeteventshawaii.com

PLAYING BY THE COOK

An open kitchen, replete with every pan, pot and cooking utensil you can dream up, not to mention sleek Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances—it’s a kitchen that’ll entice anyone to throw on an apron and go into chef-mode. That’s exactly what Melanie Kosaka had in mind when she dreamed up CookSpace a few years ago—to get a group of like-minded foodies together all in the same room to cook and chat about all things edible.

Ironically, getting a space at CookSpace may be easier said than done. Typically, events usually accommodate 25 people (technically, there’s a seating capacity of 32, but guests appreciate the valuable prep space). And with Kosaka’s roster of star-studded chefs who have made appearances at the Ward Warehouse venue so far, it’s not surprising that the workshops held there often fill up fast. From local “It” chefs, like Lee Anne Wong, Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Jonathan Mizukami, to those in transit, such as Christina Tosi from Momofuku Milk Bar and Filipino Pop-up personality Yana Gilbuena, each workshop/demo/tasting is fresh, innovative and ever changing.

“What we try to do is help people have more live experiences with food, whether it’s hands-on cooking, tasting or workshops,” Kosaka says.

As of press time, CookSpace has several events looming on the horizon, ranging from a “Korean BBQ vs. North Carolina BBQ” smackdown, to a three-week “Detox Mindful Plate” series—smartly planned to take place after the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. And while CookSpace activities are usually onsite, they’ve done a few off-site events as well. cookspacehawaii.com

HIGHER LEARNING

Have a few hours on a Saturday to spare? Always wondered about the proper way to use a paring knife, or how to prepare delicious vegan fare? Kapi‘olani Community College’s Continuing Education Program has just the answer.

A public extension of KCC’s renowned Culinary Arts Department, the continuing education culinary classes are taught in the same classrooms/kitchens that the for-credit program uses. “All the kitchens and equipment are professional-grade,” says Frank Gonzales, program manager for the continuing education culinary arts program at KCC.

While KCC chef instructors—such as chef Grant Sato and chef David Brown—teach some of the courses, the program offers many classes from instructors outside KCC as well.

Because of the range of topics covered—an array of baking and sweets classes thanks to Chef David Brown, KCC’s patisserie/confiserie chef instructor; vegan/vegetarian; Southern food; Mediterranean cuisines, Mexican regional cuisines (“I’m always on the lookout for more chefs,” Gonzales says)—there is never one “most popular” class. However, Basic Knife Skills is offered every semester. “Chef Grant Sato has taught this one for years and it’s very popular,” Gonzales says. “He covers everything you need to know about the most important kitchen tool, from types of knives to formal cuts to practical techniques for the home cook.”

The program enjoys hearty participation from people of all walks of life. “We get students from 18 to 80 years old, people who have zero experience cooking, who just want to learn the basics, to people who are world-traveling gourmands who want to add to their skill set; but mostly just regular people who want to have fun on a Saturday and learn some practical recipes and techniques so they can put dinner on the table,” Gonzales says.

“The primary goal of every class is to teach every student the hows and whys behind their favorite dishes,” Gonzales explains. “Our chefs empower them with the knowledge to make their own home cooking easier and more enjoyable.” Class offerings are changed up each semester, and if a class is repeated, the dishes are changed; so regular students can enjoy new experiences. kapiolani.hawaii.edu/ academics/continuing-education