Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Kali Speere
The culinary student returning my call apologizes, “Sorry, we’re booked on that day . . . but we do have an opening on. . .”
Leis Family Class Act Restaurant can fill its reservation book faster than you can fry a malasada. It serves one of Maui’s most ambitious menus, a four-course luncheon directed by a highly respected Maui chef. And it’s open only during fall and spring semesters at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College campus. Which makes sense: These meals are prepared by UHMC’s culinary students under the guidance of chef/instructor Tom Lelli. Akin to getting a table at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Napa, planning is key.
It’s my last chance to dine here before the end of the spring semester, and apparently I’m not the only one in search of good food. When I enter, I see Marluy Andrade. She’s perched on a barstool at a pop-up Chef’s Table, her arms resting on the brown marble counter as she leans forward to observe students plating appetizers, salads, entrées and desserts. It’s a lot to take in; the Chef’s Table is held only a few times each semester—and seats only eight lucky diners—but when it pops up, they feast on not four, but eight or nine consummate courses.
As Marluy waves me over, I can see her happy anticipation of the meal to come. Our readers may know her as the curator of Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi’s “Great Finds” department, but more importantly (for this occasion), she’s general manager of The Beast & Spoon, a personal-chef/event-catering company. Marluy knows her stuff.
She tells me, “One of my favorite parts about having lunch here is how the students make a fine-dining experience less froufrou. It’s as if they took the ‘pretentious’ out and replaced it with ‘love and dedication.’”
A lot of the credit belongs to Mark Malone, dining-room instructor for Leis Family Class Act Restaurant. His culinary and master’s degrees in hospitality and management won him a position at the Grand Wailea Resort in 1991; nine years later, he had worked his way up to director of catering and conference services. He spent the following fifteen years as director of meetings and special events for The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. He says, “I learned that the opportunity to serve is an honor and a gift; it is rich and it is humbling.”