Class Act –· Reservations Recommended: 984-3280
· Seating Hours: 11:00 am – 12:30 pm.
· Price: $30 per person plus gratuity. Visa & MC accepted. Gratuity accepted in cash.
One of the island’s most trend setting lunches is happening at the Class Act venue the Maui Culinary Academy. There is unbridled passion for food when interacting with the students here, they are excited to embark on their new careers, and the world is still that unpicked bowl of cherries. Innocence instead of jadedness comes to mind. The restaurant is staffed and run entirely by the students, and supervised by Culinary professors. The Class Act venue is one of about six in their food outlets. In the food court that services the campus and the general public you have the restaurants Farm to Table, Paniolo Grill, Raw Fish Camp,World Plate, Campus Cafe and the Patisserie. The Culinary Academy moved into the Pa’ina Building in 2003, establishing themselves as a top of the line program.
Chris Speere, Program Coordinator says, “This premier teaching facility cost $17 million dollars and we are very proud to have it. We are an award winning culinary program, working out of this 38 thousand square feet space with nine kitchens and the six quick serve venues and the Class Act upstairs.”
The Class Act dining room looks out over the windward ocean coast of Kahului Bay. Elegant lighting and carved wood tables and chairs juxtapose modern and classic design inside. The menu is a five course pre-fixe that changes weekly and rotates through the class schedule. Themes for the pre-fixe include, Pacific Rim, New American, Italian, Asian, Latin, and French. Half of the class works in the kitchen, the other half the front of the house service. Halfway through the semester they switch. It not necessarily trained professionals, but professionals in training. Reservations are recommended for their 11 am through 12:30 seatings, and the cost of lunch is a bargain at $30.
After you are seated with water, bread and butter its amuse bouche time. The deep fried poi mochi balls served on fresh lomi salmon served debuted at their ZAP event held earlier this year. Mochi is one of the most unusual textures, deep fried its crisp on the outside, inside gummy as hubba bubba. It can be sweet or savory, in this case a little of both. The rice flour behind mochi is versatile, a texture and flavor chameleon.
This is the also the debut semester of Chef instructor Kyle Kawakami. Chef Kawakami is on the cutting edge of culinary techniques as evidenced in the menu, with sous vide eggs, and molecular gastronomy featured. Kawakami says, “Our goal of having sustainable island based menu and training students utilizing local purveyors is moving right along. In the future we would like to have a featured item like the pohole fern from hana, and have the vendor actually in here telling you about that product.”
At first I was a little disappointed that I was there on Pacific Rim day, thinking I was going to see the familiar rice and fish fusion and sauces. I was completely wrong, as the menu twisted and turned and kept me on my culinary toes. The eggroll was served with a mango chutney and thai basil oil. The pesto grilled shrimp and pohole fern salad was the best pohole I have had. Tender bite sized shoots of fern gave way to a briny flavor while the grilled pesto shrimp added a mellow chewy herby shellfish finish.
The winning dish of the afternoon for me was the deconstructed oxtail soup. The oxtail consumme was rich in flavor and color a nice dark mahogany brown. The deconstruction of the soup consisted of the oxtail appearing as a meat pillow padded by a thin layer of pasta dough, highlighted with micro ginger and cilantro caviar. These little beads of highly concentrated flavors are attained with the assitance of complicated chemicals that I won’t explain here, suffice it to say its not your everyday process, its totally safe and very edible, and shows how the students are pushing the envelope. My little oxtail pillow was a gastronomic delite, and the surprise soft crunch of the boiled peanut inside added to the overall mystique of the dish.
Joining me at the table was Sasanna Baboshoff, a mixologist from Three’s Bar and Grill. A Class Act newbie, she proclaimed her favorite entree was the re-invented loco moco. After the salad and soup course a palate cleanser of homemade sorbet is applied, apple fennel and kula strawberry. Then it was on to the entree, a hoisin braised short rib with horseradish cream, on a bed of rissoto with truffle oil, with a sous vide poached egg crowning the glorious dish.
If you have never heard of sous vide I won’t hold it against you, it was my first time learning about the process, which I am still trying to wrap my mind around. It involves holding your food product in a vacuum seal, and putting that in a water bath at a consistent temperature. If you are in a top of the line kitchen at the academy, a machine assists. At home, good luck, I have heard using a cooler may work. The egg will never over cook, always remaining the perfect temperature.
(still interested in making your own sous vide egg try this article from New York Eats.)
While the fish entree did not stand above those two dishes, but it still deserves mention for being perfectly prepared. fish is tricky, too long over heat and its dry, too little and you have raw fish, which might not be the right texture for how you are serving it. The steamed opah was excellent, and the fresh ginger hiding beneath it brought out more of its mild and sweet fish flavor. (Read more about opah in the Honolulu fish auction site)
At this point you don’t even have room for dessert, but my advice is to make room, you don’t want to miss a thing. The ginger crunch cake served with Jasmine tea gelato was a perfect finish. Cappucino and regular coffees are available too. You will not find liquor served here, its just too much to maintain the liquor license just yet for the program, but they welcome you to bring your own beer or wine to pair with your food.
I chatted up Bill Carroll, a longtime diner at Class Act. Carroll said, “When they first opened we used to bring our own glasses and bread. But now look how far they have come!” He said he rarely misses a week here, and looks forward to dining at Class Act every week. He also picks up food at the food court as well. The food court down below also sells some of the manufactured goods that the students create and package, like the roasted pineapple jam, or the seasoned sea salts, and the Patisserie outlet sells fresh baked breads, cakes and cookies.
The Class Act students have just made the switch, and those who were in the front of the house are now behind in the kitchen and vice versa. So its a whole new experience for the rest of the year till their final Class Act seating on December 5, which features a special $50 dining experience. Also of note: This friday’s Noble Chef fundraiser for Maui Culinary Academy at the Fairmont Kealani. Call 984-3261 for tickets and info.
From their website:
Class Act Restaurant and Exhibition Kitchen — Maui Culinary Academy’s highly acclaimed fine-dining restaurant is a 75-seat facility with a breathtaking ocean view. At the center of this living classroom is the Exhibition Kitchen, where restaurant patrons can watch up-and-coming chefs as they deftly wield pots, pans, knives and spatulas to prepare cuisine that is unrivaled on Maui. Appetizers, salads, soups, entrees and desserts will highlight the Island’s freshest locally-grown produce. Tucked into the corner of the restaurant is a beautifully appointed 16-seat private dining room.