Contestants gather together waiting for the winners to be announced. (Photo by Kaithlyn Villanueva)


Elyn Ogasawara and Serey Panha Sok won the Judges’ Choice award with their take on a fusion Asian-American mushroom “burger” 11th annual The Art Of Healthy-Licous Cooking Competition here at the KCC auditorium on Saturday. They both earned a $1,000 scholarship.

Moreover the audience selected Rocio Loza and Yuriko Okazaki for the peoples’ choice award for their representation of Hawai’i on a plate with a glazed teriyaki sauce. The audience was given a ballot to vote on their favorite dish, and the students were also granted with a $500 scholarship each.

After two years of quarantine, Kāhala Nui finally made a come back on Saturday and hosted the cooking competition.  The contestants had a 20-minute time limit to prepare and present their dish, which needed to highlight the main ingredient, nutritional value, and most importantly the taste of the dish.

The purpose of the competition is to let the students of the Culinary Arts Program be challenged with a dish that is accessible and healthy for the elders at Kāhala Nui. Portabella mushrooms from Small Kine Farms was the main ingredient in this competition; it is a rich vegetable that has a low caloric pedigree of fiber, antioxidants, and protein.

Judges’ Choice winners Elyn Ogasawara, left, and Serey Panha Sok, right, present their portobello mushroom burger. (Photo by Kaithlyn Villanueva)

The winning dish, presented by Ogasawara and Sok, did their take on an American burger, but a much healthier version. It showcased a portobello mushroom, which acted as their “patty,” with tofu and a Japanese cucumber all topped with a slaw made out of cabbage with Asian implemented flavors.

And what would a burger be without fries? So Ogasawara and Sok added mushroom fries as well with a simple batter of an egg wash and panko seasoning for crunch. Both come from diverse backgrounds, from Cambodia to California, thus implementing a dish together was their overall goal for this competition.

The 19-year-old Sok entered this challenge for the second time. He used his time attentively and grabbed all the knowledge that he could from two years ago and used that to strive better for this year, and won. 

“You got to fail in order to succeed, failing is the best way to learn,” Ogasawara said. 

Loza and Okazaki presented their dish with a cauliflower rice based dish and the portobello mushrooms implemented on the side. With a pop of color they also added green beans along with red/orange peppers as well. Unlike the others they did add protein, which was chicken that was topped off with a teriyaki glaze over the rice.

Peoples’ Choice winners Rocio Loza, right, and Yuriko Okazaki, left, show off their caluflower rice dish. (Photo by Kaithlyn Villanueva)

“We created a healthier version of Hawai’i food,” said Rico. “Cauliflower rice is suppose to be a substitute for starch rice and the teriyaki glaze is to represent Hawai’i as the most popular sauce ever and we just wanted to show that we incorporated some of our techniques that we used and learned at KCC and a bit of our own flair.”

Kāhala Nui is a senior living community, a not-for-profit corporation that is committed to their residents and aim to provide all their needs with experiences to fulfill their lives. 

Small Kine Farms is a local brand that provides portobello mushrooms. It is the only farm here in Hawai’i that uses its  own compost, not only do they make the competitors dish taste better, but it is also USDA Certified Organic.

Prior to this competition the eight contestants had to complete an application in order to participate. It collectively included an essay, team profile, and ultimately their own recipe. They had until Jan. 18 to turn in their application, and four months to tweak any of their recipes until the competition date on Saturday.