The great thing about having gratitude is the realization that things we’d typically consider “not perfect” really are. My lunch last week at Maui Community College’s Pa`ina Food Court started with gratitude, and became one of the most perfect meals I’ve ever eaten.
While visiting the food court the week prior, I was struck by how my beautiful plate of fresh island Opakapaka and vegetables cost me just $6, and that my school’s cafeteria was not only run by and for the benefit of MCC culinary students, but was also open to the public. I realized right then I’d found the best dining value on the island and had to spread the word.
But now my eureka moment was validated on this magical day, as a good friend and I dined on healthy, gourmet fare at fast food prices. We walked in arm in arm, grateful to see each other and to be alive, loving Maui’s embracing sunshine and the chance to enjoy this hidden culinary marvel.
The cafeteria is divided into five stations: The Paniolo Grill, which offers made-to-order sandwiches and quick order items; World Plate (international cuisine); Raw Food Camp (sushi); Farm to Table (fresh garden salads); and The Patisserie (high-end baked goods). My friend selected the Salmon BLT Wrap from the Paniolo Grill, while I ordered a Garden Burger from the World Plate and some of Maui’s freshest and most affordable sushi from the Raw Fish Camp. In the name of research, the two of us also decided upon three desserts.
Over lunch, we discussed how lucky we were. While thousands of Maui residents and visitors have to shell out big bucks for similar cuisine in stuffy high-end restaurants, we were enjoying the simple pleasures of Pa`ina. We were surrounded by smiling students in a large, bright and stimulating environment. We felt good about contributing to the funding of the college, one of Maui’s most precious gifts.
Student chefs and bakers run Pa`ina. In addition to the main cafeteria, diners have the option of experiencing the more upscale Darvin Lei’s Class Act Restaurant, which is above the cafeteria and open Mondays and Wednesdays (reservations recommended). According to Bobby Santos, a former Pa`ina Program Director who teaches purchasing and coordinates work experience for MCC students, the open layout of the restaurants gives culinary students the invaluable opportunity to have face-to-face interactions with diners.
My friend and I felt like thieves as we transitioned to the bounty of goods made fresh at the college’s Patisserie. The homemade granola, which set us back a whopping $1.50, was perfectly toasted and blended nicely with its cranberry counterparts. The Almond Meringue Chocolate Mousse Praline Butter Cream was as good as it sounds, but almost at risk to be underappreciated, for the Chocolate Lilikoi Mousse with Hazelnut Praline Cookie is the type of dessert that could be considered a sin. Both of these treasures were priced under $3.
At most local restaurants, you’re paying up to 12 bucks for a dessert. On this day, our entire lunch cost $18. Now that’s certainly something to be grateful for. MTW