relle lum makes food taste yum

Craig DeSilva
December 26, 2023

Relle Lum is a champion in the eyes of Hawaii even if she didn’t win The Great American Recipe cooking show on PBS.

“I wanted to make my family, friends, and community proud,” says the Maui nurse practitioner and home cook. “My goal was to portray the recipes from my mom and grandma well and show the world that Hawaiian food is not just about pineapple.”

Raised by a single mom in Upcountry Maui, Lum grew up learning to cook family recipes at home. She has no formal culinary training or restaurant cooking experience. She created a food blog after friends started requesting recipes from dishes she’d taken to potlucks. That led to national attention. The show chose Lum as one of nine contestants from around the U.S. to compete in the eight-part TV series that showcases their multicultural dishes.

“I’m not a chef,” says Lum. “I’m just a mom who likes to cook. My goal is to inspire people to cook. If I can work a full-time job and put a home-cooked meal on the table to feed my family, so can you. It’s not as hard as you think.”

Nurse practioner and cook Relle Lum in her kitchen in Upcountry Maui.

At the end of the spirited cooking competition, Lum returned home with lifelong friendships and memorable experiences with the show's contestants. “Everybody eats and food connects everybody,” she says. “Although we came from different walks of life, we learned from each other and shared so much through food.”

Lum doesn’t plan on leaving her day job as a nurse practitioner to become a full-time chef. But she wants to combine her love of food and medicine to promote better health and well-being.

“The top three things I treat patients for – diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol – can be controlled with diet. Cooking your own healthy meals at home can play a huge role in your life,” she says.

Greatest challenge: “Explaining to the judges why you don’t put sugar or shoyu in poi to enhance the taste.”

Greatest learning experience: “I did better than I thought I would under pressure with the clock ticking and being under the lights with cameras in my face.”

Maui's sweet-heart cook
Relle Lum won a round on PBS’s The Great American Recipe cooking competition after making malassadas and Sweet Potato Manju. Here’s her manju recipe.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1½ cups unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. reduced fat (2%) milk
  • 4 egg yolks


  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1½ cups peeled and cubed Okinawan sweet potato

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp. water

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Work quickly to keep the butter as cold as possible. Add milk and egg yolks. Mix well until dough can be formed into a ball. Roll dough into a log and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour.

To make a simple syrup for the filling, boil sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is clear, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

In another small saucepan, bring some water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and cook 10-15 minutes or until fork tender. Drain and mash until smooth. Stir in simple syrup and mix well.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Divide dough into 18 pieces. Flatten each piece into a round, keeping the center thicker than the edges. Scoop about a tablespoon of sweet potato mixture onto the center of each round. Bring edges of the dough to the center and smooth together. Shape dough into a ball with a slightly flattened top. Place manju on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Whisk egg with water and brush it on the manju. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool before eating. Makes 18 servings.

Check out Lum's malassada recipe and be sure to visit her website for more delicious, local recipes. 

Photos courtesy Kristy Copperfield


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