By Lee Foster
Some of Hawaii’s top chefs got together to demonstrate their culinary and cultural passions. I was fortunate enough to be one of the tasters.
The question of the day was: What direction is Hawaiian cuisine taking? What can a traveler to the Islands expect?
The answers seemed to be wrapped up in an evolving agricultural and cultural emphasis on the Hawaiian connection. Two aspects were notable. The indigenous ingredients available to a chef in Hawaii continue to improve. And the diverse cultural tastes that the many ethnic groups have brought to Hawaii are working their way deeper into the culinary menu.
As a traveler, I observe that the overall culinary joy of travel is improving, both in my native Northern California and in many worldwide venues, including Hawaii. The concept of chef-as-artist takes hold with ever greater force. The “locavore” component, meaning people who prefer to eat locally-grown food, continues to expand.
Chef Roy Yamaguchi, one of the bright stars in the Hawaiian culinary sky, prepared for me a Hawaiian swordfish plate with a lemon zest and rice topping.
“Each year we develop deeper personal relationships with our farmers, ranchers, and fishermen,” said Chef Roy. “There is no substitute for this. The goal is freshness and quality. It’s all about our personal relationships, knowing who these people are and nurturing their efforts. Our ingredients get better and better.”
Chef Alan Wong emphasized that he strived for “cuisine with a Hawaiian heritage connection.”
He offered me a sliced rare beef plate with condiments on the side.
“My pickled tomato is a Japanese touch,” said Chef Alan. “The ginger and garlic emphasis in my sauce could be called Chinese.”
Chef D. K. Kodama celebrated new ingredients that Hawaii has brought in and grown locally, specifically meaning Maine lobsters aquafarmed on the Big Island.
He prepared for me steamed lobsters in a truffle broth, with noodles and greens.
“Our Hawaiian aquaculture has triumphed with the lobsters,” said Chef D. K. “We love these lobsters in our food sourcing. From the deep waters off Hawaii we can bring up the cold water needed. Lobsters from Maine will differ in taste from those of Nova Scotia. Our Hawaii lobster aquaculture produces a tasty and consistent product.”
The chefs gave me an informative book, Kau Kau: Cuisine and Culture in the Hawaiian Islands, by Arnold Hiura, Watermark Publishing.
These great Hawaiian chefs do not take themselves too seriously. One joke in the book, from the 1970s, is, “Maybe the best Hawaiian food is what is served on the airplane coming over.”
That has definitely changed.