Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Mieko Horikoshi
“Humility and passion. Those are the two most important personal traits that I look for in my students. Everything else can be learned.”—Chef Larry Tuzon
“Okay,” Chef Larry Tuzon announces to his students, “these are the people you’ll be cooking for today, and they know food.”
“They” are photographer Mieko Horikoshi and I, and we’ve come to watch Tuzon in action: teaching professional culinary arts to young people who have taken a nontraditional path.
A 1981 graduate of what was then the University of Hawai‘i–Maui Community College’s Culinary Arts Program, Tuzon spent six years working as a line cook at Kapalua Bay Club, then moved to the Maui Prince Hotel in Mākena as part of its opening team. Other positions followed: at the Four Seasons Resort Maui, Charley’s Restaurant in Pā‘ia, and the college’s Culinary Arts Program. Each step along the way honed the culinary, teaching and managerial skills Job Corps would demand, and led him to his passion: crafting personalized training for young people, and guiding them with innate patience and understanding.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Job Corps offers academic and vocational training in more than 100 fields to young people sixteen to twenty-four years old. It’s the largest free residential training program in the country—but “free” doesn’t mean easy. Larry’s students come from Hawai‘i, Yap, the Marshall Islands, Palau, and other far reaches of the Polynesian triangle. For some, English is a second language. And although students learn at their own pace, academic skills are evaluated every two months. Larry incorporates those requirements into a rigorous culinary training program. For example, creating their own recipes and standardizing measurements gives students practice in English and applied math; understanding how baking soda affects ingredients in baked goods is a useful lesson in science. “They need to reach a certain level before they graduate,” Larry says. “They hold themselves accountable to reach these goals.”
Job Corps’ Maui satellite secured partnerships with TS Restaurant Group’s Hula Grill; Hali‘imaile General Store; and Nā Hoaloha ‘Ekolu’s Star Noodle, Aloha Mixed Plate, and Old Lāhaina Lū‘au to create internships that provide students with hands-on experiences, so they enter their first paid position knowing how a “real kitchen” operates. Proud of his successes, Larry shares, “I have graduates at Grand Wailea [sous chef], Beach Bum’s BBQ & Grill [catering manager], and Three’s Bar & Grill [restaurant manager]. And many of my students continue at the San Francisco or Rhode Island MTC,” an instructional/job-training center contracted by Job Corps to run its advanced programs.