The prestigious program fosters next generation culinary talent across the country

Honolulu, HI (March 4, 2020)—Thanks to the prestigious Ment’or BKB Foundation and the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, two young Hawaii chefs are headed to stages—or apprenticeships—outside of Hawai‘i to hone their skills and broaden their horizons. Jeremy David of Honolulu and Kelsey Takara of Pearl City, received confirmation letters earlier this month from Ment’or BKB, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring culinary excellence in young professionals. They are two of twenty-one grant recipients selected from across the country for the 2018-2019 grant program.

The two grants are funded by a donation Hawaii Food & Wine Festival made to Ment’or specifically for Hawaii applicants.

Selected from a competitive pool of applicants, the Ment’or Grant Program is designed to provide young, aspiring chefs who may not have the resources with unique opportunities to expand their training and skills. Through this initiative, established mentors from around the country and the world’s top restaurants open their doors and provide invaluable access and training for young chefs.

Available to all young cooks in the U.S., the program awards one- to two-month grants both stateside and abroad, covering housing, transportation, salary and basic living expenses. Through this incredible initiative, grantees are able to learn new techniques, work with different products, as well as understand different styles of kitchen cultures and approaches to food and hospitality.

Hawaii Food & Wine Festival co-chairs Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, as well as MW Restaurant chef Michelle Karr-Uoeka, are on Ment’or’s Culinary Council. Wong connected the two organizations. “Chefs need to travel to see new things , expand their awareness as to what’s going on out there and learn new possibilities,” says Wong. “We thought it would be great if we could offer chefs in our community the opportunity to stage in places outside Hawai‘i, to help them widen their world view, along with further developing their talent.” In 2017, HFWF donated $29,000 to fund two Ment’or grants for two chefs from Hawai‘i. Of that amount, $4,000 came from a fundraiser hosted by MW Restaurant.


Kelsey Takara is the pastry sous chef at Kaka‘ako restaurant Piggy Smalls. A graduate of the Johnson & Wales–Denver culinary program, Takara found out about the grant opportunity just three days before the application deadline in 2017, so had to wait another year to apply. “Some things are worth waiting for,” he says. “I am super excited. Ment’or’s mission is to educate and advance American cuisine and restaurants, so I think it’s great that people in Hawai‘i have the opportunity thorugh the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival.”

Grantees are responsible for securing their own stages at restaurants of their choice, and Takara hopes to work at a restaurant in Japan.

“I have Japanese roots so I want to learn more about the food, culture and history of Japan—that’s where my food tends to go, toward the Japanese influence,” says Takara, who has been to Okinawa twice, but has yet to visit Japan.

It’s a dream come true for Takara, who has been pursuing a culinary career since he was a junior at Pearl City High School and involved in what was then the Food Service department. This year it became the Academy of Culinary Arts.

Jeremy David is a graduate of the Kapi‘olani Community College Culinary Arts Program and in 2017, he was part of the six-member team that competed at the American Culinary Federation’s National Student Competition. He started taking culinary classes while a student at Kaimuki High School and from there “slowly grew into it.” What cemented his decision to pursue a culinary career was volunteering at HFWF events as a student at KCC. “It was a really good experience,” he says.

David hopes to do his stage in California—in the Bay Area or Los Angeles. To save up money, he has for the time being switched to working the front of the house at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. “It’s also a good experience learning the other side of the business,” he says.

The Ment’or BKB Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire excellence in young culinary professionals and preserve the traditions and quality of classic cuisine in America. Ment’or is led by a Board of Directors including Chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jérôme Bocuse, as well as an esteemed Culinary Council of over 40 renowned chefs nationwide who act as mentors for young chefs, serve in an advisory capacity to the organization and participate in fundraising events.

Educational grants are offered to young professionals through the Ment’or Grant Program for Continuing Education which has awarded more than $1.2 million since 2014. Our Young Chef and Commis Competitions for young cooks provide further opportunity to advance their careers in the culinary world. Ment’or is also responsible for recruiting, training and financially supporting the promising young American chefs who compete on behalf of the United States in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition, held in Lyon France, every two years. For the first time in history, Team USA 2017 won the coveted Gold Medal at the Bocuse d’Or.

The Hawaii Food & Wine Festival is the premier epicurean destination event in the Pacific. The Festival features a roster of more than 150 internationally renowned master chefs, culinary personalities, sommeliers, mixologists, and wine and spirit producers. Co-founded by two of Hawaii’s own James Beard Award-winning chefs, Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong, the Festival showcases culinary experiences, wine tastings, cultural engagement and exclusive dining opportunities with dishes highlighting the State’s bounty of fresh, local produce, seafood, beef, poultry and spices. Since 2011, the festival has given nearly $3 million to support local beneficiaries committed to sustainability, agriculture, and cultural and educational programs in Hawaii.

Stay connected with the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival via www.HFWF.me or follow HFWF on Twitter/Instagram @HIFoodWineFest and Facebook at hawaiifoodandwinefestival.