A Study in First-Class Dining

We would tell you without reservation that it’s one of Maui’s best-kept secrets . . . but without a reservation, you may not get in.

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Dining instructor Mark Malone makes sure the service at Class Act is top-notch.

Mark brought that work ethic with him when he joined the University of Hawai‘i Maui College Culinary Arts Program. “There is no higher honor than  to serve our students. My biggest goal and greatest accomplishment has been to see our students succeed, and to see them serve with dignity and style.”

The team’s other half is Tom Lelli; the New Jersey native has been teaching a “class act” here since 2002. My introduction to his cooking style began at his former restaurant, Mañana Garage. As a regular patron, I relished the vibrant flavors of the Caribbean–South American fare. The house-cured salmon and arepas (corn cakes) with crème fraiche were my favorites. Today, Chef Tom pours that exuberance into his work with students. “I love seeing the look on a student’s face when they learn how to do something they thought they never could, or when they realize they have found their passion in life and I was part of the reason, sharing what I have learned in my career as a chef and as a person.”

Creating a handsome table setting is a skill front-of-house students learn to ace.

The admiration is mutual. Tanya Doyle, chef de partie at The Ritz-Carlton’s Banyan Tree restaurant, is a 2016 graduate, and credits the program with helping to open doors to her career. “While learning the basics, I was able to work with many well-known Maui chefs and pick up techniques from each [of them]. The culinary arts program is the best way to get connected with [the island’s] culinary industry.” Although I called too late to secure a reservation at today’s Chef’s Table, Class Act’s regular menu is worth the anticipation. Besides, I know that Marluy will later share a vicarious taste of her eight-course banquet. (And she does: “We started with a foie gras dish that, in my opinion, stole the show. The soup and salad were elegant,” she sighs, then launches into a description of the two primi courses: crispy duck confit and beef tenderloin with a classic Béarnaise sauce. Following that, “a cheese course and a stunningly plated mille feuilles.” Marluy smiles, remembering. “It had parchment-thin layers of puff pastry sandwiching vanilla and strawberry cream, dusted with dark cocoa powder.”)

I am seated at a table that still lets me peek at the pop-up lunch those lucky diners are savoring, then immerse myself in this week’s French menu. I can already taste the tender duck confit, its brittle skin more delicate than the thinnest fried potato chip. And maybe, next time, I’ll try the Chef’s Table.

Seafood gratin dusted with buttered breadcrumbs.

Leis Family Class Act Restaurant
Pa‘ina Building (upstairs), 310 W. Ka‘ahumanu Ave., Kahului | 984-3280 | Hours : 11 a.m.–2 p.m. (last seating at 12:30) | Find next semester’s schedule and menu at OpenTable.com. Reservations: OpenTable.com, or 984-3280

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