New school lunch option tries to “curry” favor with Mene Culinary students

Jameson Huang, Staff Writer

Get ready to move over, hot dog. A new dish might be coming to school lunch plates across the nation, courtesy of Moanalua High School. Just before fall break, culinary teacher Lars Mitsuda’s students partnered with Kapiolani Community College to prepare and taste-test a Thai red curry featuring local produce. If approved, the new dish has the potential to be served in cafeterias across the country. 

Culinary teacher Lars Mitsuda and his students worked on this project just before the Fall Break. They tested the Thai Red Curry recipe which was tweaked and perfected by a Kapiolani Community College Team. After preparing the dish, it was taste-tested by the school’s cafeteria staff, some Moanalua students, as well as other food service leaders in Hawaii. The program, which is funded by a grant, seeks to change how school lunches are served throughout the country.

“I really liked it. The flavor was good because of the soup and the squash,” said senior James Wiederholt-Yamaguchi. 

Despite there being no added sodium, Mitsuda thought that it was still very flavorful and was impressed with how well it turned out. The sweetness of the coconut milk was an important part of the dish.

The curry was an orange-tinged, aromatic soup with chunks of pumpkin and tofu flavored with basil and served over jasmine rice.

Curtis Haida, Moanalua High School cafeteria manager, said that he thought the curry would work at a school, but that if this dish were selected, cafeterias would have to substitute the jasmine rice with the brown-white rice mix in order to meet state standards.

Nationwide, the United States Department of Agriculture wanted states to encourage more locally sourced ingredients and more creative use of the foods listed in the government’s database.

In their search for the perfect dish, USDA held a competition to find potential dishes. Recipes were submitted by parents, cafeteria workers, and other staff. After the 11 finalists were selected, culinary professors and students standardized the recipes so any cafeteria could replicate it. Then, KCC tested it in its kitchens. After that, KCC worked directly with Mitsuda to provide this opportunity for Moanalua to cook and test the dish. 

The students started the cooking process by preparing the fresh, local ingredients provided by KCC. They used kabocha squash, long beans, as well as different aromatics such as onion, basil, and curry paste. They also used tofu and coconut milk in the curry. Working together, and under Mitsuda’s guidance, they were able to finish the dish in time to serve the taste-testers in the cafeteria. 

Junior Lyla Sato was a part of the student team that put the dish together for the event. She said that even though it was nerve-racking in the beginning, working together in a supportive environment really helped to make the experience enjoyable. 

“[The experience] taught me how to manage my time wisely,“Sato said.. [It made me think] ‘what do I have to do next to get the ingredients together in order to make the meal?” She also said that when she needed help, there was always someone on the team that could lend a hand.

After going through the judging, eleven dishes were selected as winners. Out of these eleven, eight will be selected to be added to the USDA National School Lunch Recipe Database. This database is standardized, meaning that schools across the country have the ability to serve these lunches. They all meet the strict requirements for fat, sugar, protein levels, vegetable intake, etc. After this selection process, KCC had the job of testing these recipes and standardizing them for cafeteria staff. Afterwards, different schools were selected to test and make these recipes, including Moanalua. 

Mitsuda stated that he was very proud of his students and felt that the end product turned out great. 

“I think they gained a lot of experience as far as just working under pressure,”. Mitsuda said. “I think that’s the next level that you just can’t teach in a book.” 

He said he hoped that this experience taught his students valuable lessons that they don’t get to experience every day. 

“Even if you make mistakes, as long as you reflect on it, you’ll learn something from it,” he said. 

He was grateful for the opportunity to work with KCC as well as everything he learned from the cafeteria staff.