Last March, Christian Lee-Tomita was hired as the temporary cafeteria manager after the former manager, Darryl Okamura, retired. “I saw the job opening and took the temporary [position]. Coming from Castle High School, it was a change of scenery [to see] if I liked it,” Lee-Tomita said. He fell in love with the friendly atmosphere. “I liked the job so I left Castle and took the full time position here,” he said.
Lee-Tomita was not always a school cafeteria manager. Before becoming a chef, he attended culinary school at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific and Culinary Institute of America. After receiving his degree, he worked at many locations, spending a total of 15 years in the industry. “Before [becoming a cafeteria manager] I was the sous chef at Aulani Disney Hotel,” he said. “I [was also] executive chef at Kakaako Kitchen and Waialae Country Club.” He gained a great deal of experience by working with high profile chefs such as Alan Wong and Sam Choy.
Using the experience he gained from past jobs, Lee-Tomita hopes to improve Kaiser’s cafeteria. “I want to make [lunch] more fun and less regimented,” he said. In order to achieve his vision, he wants students to be able to listen to music during lunch. He is even thinking of implementing live entertainment on the first Friday of every month. “I would like to have the students perform live,” he said. “I used to play music, so I think it would be good for students to participate.”
Lee-Tomita is always looking for ways to improve the lunches.“I would like to change the menu little by little to make it better [with] more fresh fruits, different entrees, more variety, and better dressing for the salad bar,” he said. To find out how he could improve the lunches, Lee-Tomita conducted a taste test on the school lunches. “There are some things that I tasted that are actually pretty good. I am trying to bring my experience from culinary school and my palate to the menu to make it taste better,” Lee-Tomita said.
However, initiating changes isn’t always easy. There are challenges he must overcome. “I don’t have the proper equipment or space, so I’m working on getting better equipment. I’d like to have longer salad bars that can fit [items] like mushrooms, croutons, and cheese,” he said.
In addition to improving food quality, Lee-Tomita would like to speed up the lunch line. “I am working on getting a fingerprint reader instead of using an ID or having to manually type in names [on the computer],” he said. “It’s very costly, but it could be used [in other places like] the library for checking out books or getting into football games.”
It will not be an easy change, but if it were to become a reality, Lee-Tomita will add a breath of fresh air to Kaiser’s lunch program.