For Chef Dan Swift of ‘Uala Leaf Café, today was going to be a little different. Instead of the usual business of assisting with culinary and baking workforce development at Windward Community College (WCC), he was preparing for the arrival of a very special young chef: 12-year-old Arizona wish kid Liana.
Liana loves cooking and dreams of opening a bakery before the age of 18. She wished to cook Hawaiian food for her family and was on her way to meet with Chef Dan for her first taste of a professional kitchen experience. “Liana was funny, happy, and a real joy in the kitchen,” Chef Dan remembers. “Her curiosity about food and genuine interest in how things were done was great to witness.”
Liana’s was not Chef Dan’s first wish experience; in fact, he had already helped another child, Grace, fulfill her wish to be a chef. He was a natural with the wish, and Make-A-Wish Hawaii Wish Assist Manager Angel describes him as “fabulous, out-going and friendly.” So, when Liana requested to cook Hawaiian food, Angel knew exactly who to call. She noted that although wish kids often meet a lot of new people during their wish, which can get overwhelming, “kids warm up to [Chef Dan] really quickly.” Sure enough, Liana and Chef Dan were cracking up laughing in a matter of minutes.
After talking story for a little bit, it was finally time for Chef Liana to look the part. She received a hat, apron and jacket with her name embroidered on the pocket. A four-course meal was scheduled, including a green salad with lomilomi tomato, lilikoi vinaigrette and Hawaiian sweet bread croutons, kalua chicken with cabbage and roasted sweet potatoes, brown rice and vegetables, and pineapple upside down cake with kulolo and coconut ice cream for dessert. Many of the ingredients came straight from the garden at WCC.
Chef Dan and the team at WCC made sure Liana’s family was just as involved in the process. While the chefs were busy whipping up food in the kitchen, another coordinator, Aunty Char Akina, helped share the story and background of the dishes and ingredients they were preparing. The team educated everyone on the kitchen’s sustainability efforts, Hawaiian culture and the importance of taking care of the land.
For Chef Dan, a standout moment was the presentation of the meal. With her family seated at the table, Chef Liana came out at each course and explained what went into every dish she created. Liana had achieved her dream of being in the kitchen, and Chef Dan was able to help provide a fun-filled and memorable experience for her and her family.
“Making wishes come true for anyone is a special thing. If we can laugh, cook, eat and have great time together, it can help take the focus away from treatment for health issues and shift it to the treatment of family and friends through the preparation and service of a great and memorable meal,” he reflects. This was certainly the case for Liana, and the positivity in the room was infectious. Chef Dan also shared that “the pride in the eyes of her mom and dad was very cool to see.”
Make-A-Wish Hawaii is grateful for volunteers like Chef Dan, Aunty Char and the team at WCC who come together to help make wishes come true. Says Angel, “Volunteers give an experience that is more than Make-A-Wish can provide alone. For Liana, Chef Dan cooked with her, but also gave her a connection.” The two even exchanged contact information so that Liana could reach out if she ever had questions about starting her bakery in the future.
Adds Angel, “[With wishes,] you can engage with the community. You get to meet the wish kid and their family and learn their story… it’s not just something you see on TV or read about in a magazine.” From a volunteer perspective, Chef Dan put it simply: “Giving is great medicine.”