By Léo Azambuja

Amanda Smith. Contributed photo

Action, passion and noble intent allowed Amanda Smith to turn her dreams into reality. A mother of two, a former Ms. USA, a TV host, an educator, and a champion of sustainable living, she’s also a successful private chef fully invested in her community.

Combining all her skills and life experiences, Smith founded Menehune Chef more than seven years ago in her own kitchen. At first, it was a family activity, but it would quickly develop into something much larger.

“Menehune Chef is a nonprofit organization teaching kids and families how to cook with sustainable foods grown in Hawai‘i,” said Smith, adding she started Menehune Chef by teaching her kids and their friends at her house in the spring of 2015.

Later, she started teaching small groups for after-school programs, and then expanded to private cooking lessons and TV shows.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Smith said, she didn’t have the capability to teach in the school system. The TV station KHON2 had just scouted her to be a food host for their 808 Lifestyle show. Then in 2021, she joined the Kaua‘i Visitor Channel team as a food host, touring and eating at some the best restaurants on the island.

“Food has always been a big passion of mine,” Smith said. “I studied various after-school programs working as a health educator for 12 years. I knew deep down I had to create something around food education and hands-on experience.”

Amanda Smith is seen here with students from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. Contributed photo

Armed with a positive attitude, an unmatched enthusiasm and a bunch of yummy ingredients, Smith shows on statewide TV how we can heal with simple, yet delicious recipes. This is the same excitement she brings to her private chef services, private cooking classes or after-school programs.

“I am reminded everyday of how much I love doing what I do. I am forever grateful,” she said.

Recently, Smith did a private chef service for a family. She said she usually doesn’t teach during those services. But she had the “cutest kids,” ages four and six, asking her if they could help.

“I couldn’t resist, and once I was all caught up, I allowed the kids to help me assemble the salad. Let’s just say the salad spinner was a hit. Before I left, I was given a card handmade by the kids. A simple thank you is what it took for me to break down crying,” Smith said.

She developed Menehune Chef to bring children and families closer to each other. Smith said she grew up in a large family, and her parents worked extremely hard to provide for everyone. Sitting down at the dinner table and discussing their day, she said, was something that hardly happened. At 10 years old, she would watch the Food Network, trying to pick apart recipes and figure out how she would make them to her own liking. One of her favorite chefs on the TV channel was and still is Giada de Laurentiis, and Italian-American chef and writer.

Contributed photo

“She was elegant, simple and often cooked for her family and friends,” Smith said of chef Giada. “I felt so compelled to one day be like her.”

Deep down in her heart, she said, she wanted more connection with her family.

“Fast forward to getting married, having kids, later divorced, to being a single mom, I am proud of what Menehune Chef provides for kids today, not only for myself, but for the families and kids that thrive off of being seen and heard while learning such a valuable skill set and knowledge surrounding food education,” Smith said.

One of her biggest achievements through Menehune Chef, she said, is seeing families engage with each other, laughing, learning and eating together. She can see their progress after each session, the knowledge they acquired, and more importantly, they tasted Hawai‘i dishes they will be able to make at home together, she said.

Menehune Chef’s philosophy is more than family connection and delicious food. It’s also about sustainability, sourcing locally and healing ourselves through food.

Amanda Smith. Contributed photo

Smith incorporates locally sourced ingredients, collaborating with local farmers, ranchers and other chefs. She uses locally grown taro — the most important Hawaiian staple — local fish, beef, honey, fruits and vegetables as much as possible.

She also collaborates with local vendors, such as Mele Wraps, to avoid using plastic wrap, foil and paper. She recycles all plastic containers used during lessons and services, and offers alternatives to customers to purchase recyclable containers.

Diet, Smith said, is a word used to make us feel we have to make drastic and uncompromised changes. “Heal-thy,” or the word heal, is a word that suits everyone.

“If we heal our bodies through food, we can change the overall structure of our lives,” Smith said. “I’m not a doctor but I can tell you from experience, eating locally sourced ingredients, local meats, vegetables, fruits and fish can make you feel amazing. It can, and will change your life. You not only feel great; you are supporting local people and connecting with Aloha.”

Additionally, people tent to find the easy way out and buy pre-made fast meals made with “fake ingredients,” she said. They usually think it’s more expensive to buy local foods, but if they did their research, they would find it’s extremely cheap to eat locally sourced ingredients, she said.

Contributed photo

Smith also encourages us to cook with our families and friends to pass the boredom of doing it alone.

“When we gather as a team or pack, we tend to have more fun making, eating and enjoying the fruits of our labor,” she said. “You will feel more connected and want to do it again and again. It only takes 14 days to create a healthy habit subconsciously. Give it a try!”

Helping kids to become more hands-on in the kitchen, allowing them space to grow, and taking a cooking class together are all ways of getting kids to become more excited about eating healthy, and also more conscious about where they will source their food when they grow up, according to Smith.

“Menehune Chef offers the tools your kids need to thrive in the kitchen to become strong, healthy learners, and that will set them up for life,” Smith said.

Visit menehunechef.org to email Smith and sign up for a class. Follow her on Instagram at @chef_amandasmith.

 

 


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