New Waikiki restaurant offers valuable experience for culinary students

A new restaurant has opened in Waikiki, but you won’t find award-winning chefs or seasoned waiters and waitresses.

Instead, it’s run by budding young chefs, students of a nationally recognized culinary arts program.

They say they’re game for competing with the best that Waikiki has to offer.

At Leahi Concept Kitchen, the staff is busy getting ready for the dinner rush.

From prepping fresh, local ingredients to making sure each place setting is laid out perfectly, careful attention is given to each and every task.

What sets this restaurant apart? It’s run nearly entirely by students from Kapiolani Community College’s Culinary Arts Program, serving up the best of Pacific Rim cuisine.

“When we approached Kapiolani Community College and the culinary program it was almost as if it was meant to be,” said Julie Arigo, Waikiki Parc Hotel general manager. “We could see that it had a very special appeal to the community, not just to our guests who, of course, initially this was the intention for, but the community who already supports KCC.”

The restaurant is on the ground floor of Waikiki Parc Hotel, the site of the former Nobu Waikiki.

Halekulani Corporation, which owns the space, is partnering with the school to allow the restaurant to operate while a new, more permanent restaurant is being built for KCC on the slopes of Diamond Head.

For the students, the experience of working in Waikiki couldn’t get any more real.

“I will remember it for my whole life, because this is a real customer, but this is operated by the school, so it’s the school that kind of makes me get the reality experience so I can improve for my future,” said student Min Wong.

The restaurant isn’t all students. Four managers and the executive chef, who’s an alumnus of the culinary program, help to train and motivate the 35 students working there.

“I can see some of the skills that they have, and I see the weak parts, and I kind of coach and make sure I have my staff to teach them all and get them stronger on their weak parts,” said executive chef Eddie Mafnas.

“I remember the first month of training, we take like two hours to set up the whole room with 10 servers, but right now we need only five servers and it only takes like half an hour to set up the whole place,” Wong said.

Their boss says no matter the obstacles, the students are motivated to improve and learn from their mistakes.

“I enjoy what I do. The kids, to get them to learn and to get them excited about what they’re doing, and they’re very passionate, and I would put my name on them when they’re ready to out to the big world,” Mafnas said.

Diners can also enjoy live entertainment and free valet parking. No tips will be accepted, as this is a learning experience for the students.

Leahi Concept Kitchen is open for dinner service only, 5-10 p.m. with the last seating at 9:30 p.m. For reservations, call (808) 971-6300.

Click here for more information.

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