Luau brings families together, island style
47th annual event -- Students gather at Pacific to celebrate their culture and each other
Instant noodles aside, college students are not known for their cooking.
Except Jarrett Takayama, a 20-year-old Pacific University junior. He shares cooking duty in his four-person on-campus apartment with a housemate, preparing lunch and dinner most days by using familiar recipes from his Hawaiian home on Oahu.
One of the meals Takayama makes for his friends is a short-cut version of traditional ka'lua pork, cutting a few corners since he doesn't have a backyard in which to fashion an emu, an underground cooking pit.
Instead, he slow-roasts a large pork butt for hours and it emerges tender and juicy, infused with a bit of smoke as if it had been wrapped in banana leaves and baked with fiery lava rocks.
This week, Takayama will cook a much larger meal. For five days, he and fellow Hawaiian Club members will squeeze into the university's industrial-sized kitchen next to the Aramark employees who prepare the daily meals.
The kitchen will be filled with the smells and sights of the islands as students slice and chop, mash and bake, pulling together a one-day feast for 2,400 people.
'The ka'lua pork is my favorite part of the lu'au menu,' Takayama said. The public will also be treated to chicken long rice, which is actually made with rice noodles; poi, a fermented paste of mashed taro root; and teriyaki chicken, typifying the melting pot of Asian dishes that makes up Hawaiian cuisine. Coconut cake and haupia, a coconut pudding, will end the meal.
The 47th annual lu'au, an evening of food, music and dancing, will be held Saturday, April 14. It's sponsored by Na Haumana O Hawai'i, Pacific University's Hawaiian club. Hawaiians comprise 18 percent of Pacific's student body.
Edna Gehring, an adviser for Na Haumana O Hawai'i, has helped the students organize the lu'au for 24 years. In that time, Gehring has finely tuned a plan over the years so that nothing is forgotten.
From the food schedule to the cleanup, every detail of the week has been planned ahead of time. From the trip to the airport last Saturday to pick up cargo flown in from the islands, to boxing up leftovers for students to take home after the final cleanup on Sunday.
'It takes the whole Pacific ohana - and that means family,' Gehring said, 'to put this all together.'
About 220 students are involved in the planning and execution of the event, she added.
Around 160 family members are expected to fly in from the islands a few days early to help the students get ready. Then, together, they'll enjoy the lu'au.
'Without the students and parents working together in the kitchen, we wouldn't be able to pull this off,' Takayama said. Between Wednesday and Saturday, he said, there will be between 15 and 30 students prepping ingredients and cooking to get ready for the big meal.
Just as popular as the food is the show, which features 20 traditional dances from Samoa, The Philippines, Tahiti and Hawaiian Islands. At least 125 students participate in the dancing, with as many as 42 onstage at one time.
The music, too, is all arranged and performed by students, Gehring said.
Family members attend the party after the show along with the students - and get to enjoy a whole pig cooked in the traditional way. The big meal for the public will still be delicious, they promised, but is prepared on a much larger scale.
'My favorite time during lu'au is after the show,' said Chris Lee, club president. 'It's one of the few moments when I can relax with my family.'
There isn't much time to rest, Lee said, before planning starts for the next year's lu'au.
'Even right now,' Lee said, we are thinking and planning what we're going to do next year.'