Maui News

Culinary Arts Program graduation luncheon held at women’s prison

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The three graduates (left to right – Brysha Brown, Crystal Lawelawe and Kiana Kalima) behind one of their à la minute food stations.
Graduates with their culinary assistants (previous program graduates) and their chef instructors Warren Uchida (far left) and Lee Shinsato (far right).

A culinary class made up of three female inmates at the Women’s Community Correctional Center graduated Wednesday from the Kapiʻolani Community College Culinary Arts Program.

To celebrate, they put on a special luncheon at the Kailua facility, featuring savory and sweet, 5-star quality cuisine they learned to create.  The class was taught by Chef Lee Shinsato of Kapiʻolani Community College.

The graduation luncheon menu included: zucchini roll-up salad and potato leek soup, mini okonomiyaki, mini BLT naan bread, mini pork laualu, koala moa w/ Argentinian chimichurri sauce, Banh Mi pot stickers and somen, ube cheesecake swirls, and coffee infused brownies.


“It took them a while to figure out that they are actually University of Hawaiʻi college students and one of the most important things they ended up learning is to really believe in themselves,” said KCC Chef Lee Shinsato.

“I always say this. We mold and turn out better human beings that happen to have awesome cooking skills. I believe anybody can cook, anybody can learn something but when you get the connection between the head and the heart, that’s a really big deal.” 

–KCC Chef Lee Shinsato

The women received a culinary program completion certificate from the Kapiʻolani Community College and also earned 14 credits that will appear in their University of Hawaiʻi transcripts.


“The culinary field is looking to hire, and this program is giving these women valuable and relevant job skills that can help them find instant employment when they leave,” said WCCC Warden Sean Ornellas.  “We thank Chef Shinsato and the Kapiʻolani Community College for introducing this program to WCCC, giving the women a positive career path to pursue and teaching them teamwork, professionalism, and self-esteem.”

The students not only learned the basics of culinary arts but also the skills that accompany a rigorous college course, such as: time management, study habits, completing assignments, and the importance of showing up.

“When we say that education is transformative, this program is exactly that. It changes students’ lives,” said Kapiʻolani Community College Chancellor Louise Pagotto. “The transformative power of education is visible in the faces of these students as they prepare and serve the food.”


Anyone who does not complete the final, advanced stage of certification before they leave the facility can choose to continue their culinary training at KCC.


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