In Good Company: Trislyn Tom ’00 Ferris 

A Generous Serving of Life Skills

Trislyn Tom ’00 Ferris was raised in a family of great cooks, so food was a defining part of her life. While attending Santa Clara University, the finance major realized her deep passion for food. She remembers how much joy she got from cooking dishes like shoyu chicken and stir fry for the other Hawai‘i students. After a career in commercial real estate, Ferris went back to school and received her AS in Culinary Arts. She taught at Waipahu High School before coming to Punahou in 2018 as a Culinary Arts teacher for grades 6 and 8. In her 90-minute classes, students learn to make foods ranging from simple biscuits to pasta alfredo. When she’s not in the classroom, whipping up exciting cooking experiences, Ferris loves exploring new places and activities with her husband and their two children: wakesurfing, skiing and snowboarding, and driving an RV across Washington and Oregon. 

What is Culinary Arts and what are your main goals through this course?

Culinary Arts for me is about engaging kids around food. I want them to feel empowered to be able to make their food on their own and to be independent in the kitchen. So I teach them knife skills along with different cooking methods, like how to boil, simmer, sauté, blanch, and how to shallow fry. We go through equipment use, we go through food safety and sanitation. I want to get them confident in the kitchen and to give them a skill set for life. 

Can you explain “a skill set for life”?  

I want them to learn how to collaborate with each other. I’ll partner a student with one person they really want to be with and intentionally place them with people who are very different. In life you can’t always choose who you work with so I want them to learn to adapt when things don’t turn out. For example, if somebody added three times the amount of baking powder, suddenly, you have to start all over again. So it’s learning to adjust and adapt and then communicate positively with your peers. If you fail, we’ll just start all over again. And it means having that positive mindset that even though you make a mistake, it’s fixable.

How does cooking intersect with students’ lives? 

I love Culinary Arts in middle school because it’s a time in life where there’s a lot of stress with academics and with sports – and being in the kitchen with your peers can be a really bright spot for students. They often take home the skills they’ve learned and share what they’re making alongside their parents or grandparents. When you’re cooking at home with your family, that’s the perfect time to be talking with your loved ones. You’re working side by side, your hands are moving, and all of a sudden you’re learning so much about them that might not have come out at any other time. That food experience opens and creates a space for sharing to happen. 

Recently, a parent stopped me to say, “I’m so happy that my son took your course because he’s now wanting to help out in the kitchen.” Or I’ll hear things like, “my daughter made scones this weekend” or “she made brownies for the family party.” I love hearing things like that. 

Do you explore the cultural contexts of food?  

Working with Mark Noguchi ’93 and Kamuela Yim, I’ve been learning how to adjust my curriculum so that it’s more place-based. For example, I have this blueberry cornmeal cake recipe that I’m trying to do with kalo. So as much as possible, we’re trying to integrate culture into some of the recipes. We also have an herb garden outside where the kids can harvest their herbs, and I’m working with faculty Eliza Leineweber ’92 Lathrop and Director of Sustainability Debbie Millikan to source more of the foods locally. 

What most excites you about teaching? 

I love giving kids new experiences. The kids will groan when I have them roast vegetables, for example. But once they go through the process of prepping, cutting, tossing the vegetables in olive oil and garlic and roasting them, when it comes out they’re so proud. And I watch them pick up that roasted carrot and eat it and, before you know it, the whole tray of veggies is gone! I love seeing how you can shift their palate so quickly through an experience. It’s particularly meaningful because they end up with a healthier, tastier product, and they have the option to eat in a more healthful way. 

– By Carlyn Tani ’69

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