chef paris nabavi: a passion for philanthropy grows from a backyard garden

BLOG_CHEF PARIS_MG_8478Chef Paris Nabavi, who owns and operates Cilantro Mexican Grill in Lahaina and Pizza Paradiso Mediterranean Grill in Honokowai, decided to build an edible organic garden in his backyard when his daughter, Layla, was nine years old. “I wanted to teach Layla how to cook,” he recalls. “Not to be a chef, necessarily, but fundamentals like the importance of using the freshest of ingredients. Layla’s friends started visiting the garden, and they thought it was really great. So we dedicated the garden to Layla, calling it ‘Layla’s Edible Garden.’” Last year, Layla’s Edible Garden produced some 375 pounds of tomatoes, as well as 90 pounds of mint, parsley, and habaneros, which were utilized in the two restaurants.

When Chef Paris saw how much fun Layla and her friends were having in the garden, he experienced the proverbial light bulb moment: “I decided I wanted to help all of our children here on Maui understand where food comes from, what makes food nutritious, and how to grow and prepare it correctly,” he says. “It’s important for kids to see what food actually looks like before it’s cooked or processed.”

From their initial planting, Chef Paris had approximately 10 pounds of seeds left over. “I wondered if there was a nearby school that we could donate the seeds to,” he says. “So I went online and found the Maui School Garden Network, and they came and picked up the seeds.”

The Maui School Garden Network’s mission is: “To move Maui County’s children towards taking up their kuleana to develop a greater sense of food security, as well as understanding of nutrition in Maui County, by teaching our children how to grow their own food in sustainable school gardens, and by promoting a direct connection between local food producers and our school food service providers for all K-12 schools, independent and public.” Currently, more than 40 schools participate in the Maui School Garden Network.

“I was talking one day with Lehn Huff [school garden coordinator], and she told me their dream is to put gardens in 50 to 60 schools throughout Maui, Lana‘i, and Moloka‘i,” says Chef Paris, “but that they are not rich. I told her ‘I’m your dream maker.’” Chef Paris wrote a check for $4,700 to underwrite the purchase of organic seeds for 36 schools. “He’s our savior,” Lehn says, “an incredibly generous man. He’s committed to helping reverse the serious illnesses that result from our children’s poor nutritional habits.”

Bounty from the school gardens cannot, however, be used in school cafeterias. According to a Maui News story dated February 5, 2012, Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said that was unfortunate. “It has been widely shown that you will encourage more sensible eating if the kid had a hand in growing it,” he said. “They’re more likely to eat what they grow, and [long term] they’re more likely to eat the kind of thing they grew.”

He and other advocates of gardening programs hope that bills pending before state lawmakers could make it possible for produce from school gardens to be served in public school cafeterias, including creating a new system for them to be certified as meeting food safety standards.

“The USDA is helping us explore ways to make it possible for school cafeterias to serve the produce from the gardens, but it’s complicated,” says Lehn. “Right now the children can eat the vegetables on campus as snacks, and they and the faculty can take items home to share with their families.”

“It makes me feel wonderful that I can support this program,” says Chef Paris. “I want keiki to see what potatoes and carrots actually look like—that they come in different colors, and not from a can—that you can just wash and taste them. This is something processed foods have taken away from our children for a long, long time.”

Chef Paris’s philanthropy doesn’t end with his support of the Maui School Garden Network. “I’d been thinking about building an outdoor kitchen at my house next to the garden,” he says. “So I decided to go ahead and build the kitchen and hold Persian cooking classes for adults and children.” Proceeds from the adult classes benefit the Maui Food Bank, and proceeds from the keiki classes support juvenile diabetes programs.

After a trial run last September, Chef Paris’s first cooking class was held in December. Participants enjoyed Kuku Baghali (fava beans, dill week, and garlic); Salad-e-Sharazi (cucumber, tomato, onion, parsley, extra virgin olive oil, and citrus juice); Javaher Polo (basmati rice, carrots, orange zest, barberry, almond, raisin, and pistachio); Joujeh Kabob on Wood Fire (Cornish game hen, onion, garlic, saffron); and Faloudeh Miveh (fresh cantaloupe, fresh peach, rosewater, agave nectar, and fresh mint—from Layla’s Edible Garden, of course!

For more information on Chef Paris’s Persian cooking classes, visit

–heidi pool

2 Responses to “chef paris nabavi: a passion for philanthropy grows from a backyard garden”

  1. 1 Making Dreams Come True for Maui School Garden Network / Chef Nabavi Trackback on February 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

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