Teens Cook with Heart + RECIPE & VIDEO

In this American Heart Association program, everybody wins.


Story and Photos by Becky Speer

Teens can Cook

FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE!” Students from Princess Nāhi‘ena‘ena Elementary School fidget with excitement in the Lahainaluna High School gym bleachers, but the spectator sport is neither basketball nor volleyball. It’s a mystery-basket cook-off among four teams of high schoolers. We’re at the culminating event of a twelve-week program supported by the American Heart Association and philanthropists Joe and Sharon Saunders. The purpose: to educate kids about nutrition and help them develop confident, safe culinary skills. Two of last year’s winners, currently second-semester students in UH–Maui College Culinary Arts Program, are back to witness and cheer on this year’s competitors. Also in the crowd are program organizer Rob Mason, along with 2018 chef/mentors Ryan Luckey of Leilani’s on the Beach; Jojo Vasquez of Plantation House; Kaipo Nakata of Sansei Seafood & Sushi Bar, Kapalua; Riko Bartolome, a private chef who also works with Maui Kuia Estate Chocolates; Betty McDonald of B3Beach Bunny Bakery; and Craig Erickson of Kā‘anapali Beach Club. Judging this year’s dishes: Paris Nabavi, owner of Pizza Paradiso Mediterranean Grill (and organizer of 2015–2016 cook-off); Scott McGill, corporate chef of TS Restaurants; philanthropist Sharon Saunders; Dania Katz, publisher of Edible Hawaiian Magazine; and Becky Speere, dining editor of Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Magazine.

Each year, two chefs volunteer to mentor a classroom of students between fifth and twelfth grades. Mason calls the program a success. “With a $4,000 budget, we were able to reach 500 students in Lahaina [this year]. It’s shocking, but some kids in the eighth grade have never eaten fresh vegetables in their life.” He notes that, in addition to paying for ingredients, recipe books and other expenses related to the contest, “the Saunders gave two seniors at last year’s competition $1,000 scholarships to attend college here on Maui. The program opened the students’ eyes to the culinary field. They saw opportunities that they didn’t know were available, and with chef mentoring, they found their strength and passion in the Teens Cook program. It’s our desire to take [the program] to all of Maui County’s schools and possibly the entire State of Hawai‘i. Funding is an issue, but we keep looking for grants and individuals that can help to support our goals.”

This was the second year Chef Ryan Luckey has participated in Teens Cook with Heart, volunteering his time, knowledge and skills to help students discover heart-healthy choices—and to share that knowledge with their parents, grandparents and siblings.  “This starts by supporting local farmers; buying locally grown and raised food; eating fresh fruits and vegetables; and avoiding fast foods.”

If you would like to support this local cause and help the American Heart Association’s Maui branch reach its $50,000 goal, contact Eva Bondar, development manager, at 808-212-4861, Eva.Bondar@heart.org. And check out the group’s crowd-sourcing campaign: Heart.org/MauiKids.


Whole Wheat Pancakes Recipe

Recipe from the American Heart Association’s Teens Cook with Heart competition

Yield: 16 silver-dollar sized pancakes
Preparation time: 20 minutes


  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ¼ cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • Cooking spray

Top with: Lemon zest and five frozen blueberries or orange zest and a few 60% dark-chocolate chips.

Procedure: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg and oil. Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk till combined. (It’s okay to leave some lumps.) Spray a nonstick skillet with nonstick spray and heat over medium heat till a drop of water sizzles on the surface. Spoon batter onto skillet to form pancakes the size of a silver dollar, leaving space in between. Top each pancake with a pinch of orange or lemon zest and top with chocolate chips or berries. When bubbles form on the top of the pancakes, they should be golden brown on the bottom. Carefully flip the pancakes and cook until brown on the second side.


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