Choy connects!

Famed chef takes his message to students at two Kaua’i schools — About 30 Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School students got to find out Sam Choy’s recipe for a chicken stir fry Tuesday at lunch hour. They also found out what happened to make the famous chef connect with school enough to hang in there.

Chef Choy, who volunteers his time to the “Forget Crime, Learn to Cook the Grinds” program, wasn’t there to preach too hard about life lessons, but he did make it known that everyone must find their “connection.”

Before he became a chef with a dozen restaurants around the world, Sam Choy was a student who didn’t like going to school, who played high school football in Kahuku and got a college scholarship, but left college twice after letting himself give up, because he didn’t make himself find his connection with school.

“No matter what, you gotta come to school, and make the most of it,” he told the students. The first time Choy left college, he said his father told him he had three choices: Go back to college, find a job, or join the military.

Thanks to his mother and an advertisement in the local newspaper, he enrolled in Kapiolani Community College’s culinary program.

He related the story of finding some shrimp in a walk-in refrigerator his first week at KCC, and started eating. “That was my connection, because I knew that right next to the seafood refrigerator was the dessert,” he joked. “My dad used to have a catering company and I didn’t know at the time that was my connection,” he admitted.

He asked the students to remember what makes people get respect: Willing to be part of a team, understanding that every day is a learning experience, and having a good attitude.

Some parents and friends came to school to get involved. Cassity and Clementine Quel, an aunty and grandma of a Chiefess student, both agreed that Choy’s message was a positive one.

“It was really neat that (Sam Choy) shared some of his personal experiences. It was nice that he took the time out of his busy life that he could show the kids that they’re important,” said Melissa Foley, who has a son at Chiefess.

All of the students chosen to be in this Department of Education program are “at-risk” students in the CSAP (comprehensive school alienation program), placed due to repeated absences, arrests or history in the court system and failing grades.

Choy was on Kaua’i to visit students at Waimea also, and CKMS was the last stop on this school year’s tour. After the boys and girls made their stir-fry meals, he sat for a group picture and handed out autographed pictures.

The program started in Feb. 1998 with Waipahu Elementary School. Since then, Choy has traveled to about 77 schools, 15-20 per school year, and has talked to more than 2,400 students around the state.

Partners in the “grinds” program were BOC-Gaspro, county police departments, and DOE School Food Services Branch and Student Support Section.

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