The Organic Iron Chef Cook Off

Twelve children in three teams are battling it out on a Saturday afternoon.

“I need a cutting board,” a kid in a yellow T-shirt calls out. Another, wearing red, stirs kalo (taro) in a wok bubbling with oil. “We need one more plate,” shouts someone in green.

The Organic Iron Chef Cook Off, held at Hanchett Family Ranch in Moloaa, is the last challenge in a four-day Food Sovereignty Camp. The event is led by Malia Chun, Kaua’i Community College site coordinator for Na Pua Noeau, a cultural enrichment program for native Hawaiian children.

“When you learn to appreciate where your food comes from and you learn how to sustain yourself on this land, with our natural resources, you develop a sense of kuliana, or responsibility,” says Chun, whose classes help pre-kindergarten through 12th grade kids discover their passion in life.

Under a canopy just up a small hill, families wait.

They will judge the dishes based on creativity, taste, texture and presentation.

“One minute left, guys,” shouts Lorna Poe. She is Malia’s mother and has been helping each team make 35 plates.

With time to spare, the green team puts finishing touches on their summer roll filled with creamy avocado and fried akule (bigeye scad). Thin curls of green papaya sit on one side of the roll; a kale and edible hibiscus salad on the other. The roll is topped with a lilikoi (passion fruit), mango and chili sauce.

Each team had to use tools and organic ingredients won in The Amazing Food Race the day before. Challenges included buying non-organic ingredients for a family meal, and tracking how many miles the food traveled. One ingredient traversed 9,000 miles. In another challenge, the students learn that making a meal from local ingredients costs less money.

“Three, two, one,” calls Poe. “Hands up!”

The Yellow Team sends out colorful plates of ahi patties on a salad of silken tofu, kale, beets, tangerine and mango tossed in a balsamic lilikoi vinaigrette. Crushed macadamia nuts are sprinkled on top and orange papaya salsa is tucked next to the salad.

Red Team sends up plates of butterflied Kaua’i shrimp, their tails still attached, that have been lightly sautéed and placed on stir-fried bell peppers, bok choy and onions. A kale salad, taro croutons, shredded casava and green papaya complete the dish.

Next to the family tent, a table with three shoeboxes waits for pink, orange and blue ballot cards. Each color represents a team’s dish, and while the families pick their favorite, Chun speaks from the heart.

“Expanding your consciousness, knowing what you believe in and where you stand, is part of life, yeah?” she asks. “Our people are suffering, they’re dying from disease, and a lot of it has to do with what we put in our kino (body).”

Chun explains that Wednesday, the teams went to Caffe Coco, where owner Hollan Hamid gave them a hands-on cooking demonstration. At Pua Kalo Farm, they learned why cultivating soil is important and the challenges of an organic farmer. They made juice and learned the nutritional values in fruit and vegetables at Aloha Aina Juice Bar. Dave Power, owner of The Feral Pig, shared why it’s important to source locally and from which ranchers he buys his meat.

“The kuliana I will carry is to protect our culture, natural resources and my family,” says Kahiau Niheu, who looks at his mother while he speaks. “I will protect the ocean from pollution by eating mostly organic, non-GMO meals.”

When he’s finished, the tent fills with cheers and his mother wipes tears from her eyes.

On Thursday, Lisa Fuller and Sun of One Song Farm teach them how to identify food plants and herbs, and show the kids that, if you treat the land good, it produces good. Kids also learn how to listen to the land for clues from organic taro farmer Chris Kobayashi.

“You don’t dictate what the land needs,” relays Chun. “If you are paying attention, the land will tell you what it needs – and that’s a very traditional Hawaiian perspective.”

Rodman Machado is the executive chef at Garden Cafe, a farm-to-table restaurant that serves local, organic food. He is of Hawaiian ancestry. Over a lunch of fresh produce and ahi steaks, he tells the kids serving healthy meals is his way of giving back to his people.

After visiting a food forest at Regenerations Botanical Gardens, Felicia Alongi Cowden, of Akamai Learning, says she believes people should water gardens, not lawns.

“Everything in her yard is edible,” explains Chun. “Aunty Felicia asked the kids, ‘If they cut the line, will you be fine?’ Meaning, if the barges stop tomorrow, are we going to be able to sustain ourselves?”

After Chun describes camp activities, the ballots are counted. The Red Team wins first place, and with it comes gift certificates to The Feral Pig, Aloha Aina Juice Bar and Kaua’i Mini Golf.

“I try to connect kids to their ancestral knowledge,” says Chun. “We all have the innate ability to sustain ourselves, and our youths are the answer.”

For more information, visit or call 245-8387.