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Leeward CC alumna ToryAnn Nakayama

By Mitchell K. Dwyer

This must be what a peach tastes like,” thought ToryAnn Nakayama in what she calls her San Francisco Lightbulb Moment. “It was in season, from a local farm, just a few moments after it was picked. From there, I graciously accepted every moment to try something when it was in season—it was amazing to see, feel, and taste it in its element, and I grew a greater, more special, more intense respect for food. I literally fell in love with food all over again, and through cooking I wanted others to experience that love.”

Not long after her graduation from Leeward Community College’s culinary program, ToryAnn realized she could take her skills and expertise abroad, where she expanded her experience to vineyards, farms and seasonal ingredients. Her education at Leeward and her experience in local restaurants helped her with the jump. “It was life-changing, independent growth,” she says. “I’ve seen things I never could have if I’d stayed in one place.”

“Growing up in Hawai‘i, you get comfortable, and you think you never want to leave,” says ToryAnn, now the junior sous chef at Waikiki’s BLT Market. Although the Hanalani Schools graduate had always wanted to be a chef, she began as a liberal arts major at Leeward in order to consider other options. That first semester, when she read about the many events Leeward culinary students participated in, she knew her heart hadn’t changed. “I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “These special events and programs cemented my studies in real-world contexts. They weren’t for grades or credit, but they helped me see what happens in real life in this industry. I volunteered for as many as I could.”

“I really liked the teachers at Leeward,” ToryAnn says, “especially assistant professor Linda Yamada. She’s like everybody’s mother: she’s been there, and everyone respects her because they know she’s super-qualified. She treats her students like they’re her own children. It’s not just a job for her—she genuinely cares for us.”

University of Hawai‘i Alumni