Reasons to Love Hawaii Now
Way back in 1991, a dozen chefs launched a movement to rescue Hawaiian food. Frustrated by the dominance of imported ingredients and outdated Continental cuisine, the gang of 12–Sam Choy, Roy Yamaguchi, Philippe Padovani, Amy Ferguson, Mark Ellman, Roger Dikon, Jean-Marie Josselin, Alan Wong, Gary Strehl, George Mavrothalassitis, Beverly Gannon and Peter Merriman (below, from left)–gathered at theMaui Prince Hotel to foment a rebellion. Over the course of a few days, they articulated a philosophy they decided to call Hawaii Regional Cuisine–HRC for short. A regional cuisine needs regional ingredients, so the chefs convinced farmers to grow produce for them, providing seeds and even helping harvest fruits and vegetables. Many of these renegades shared an East-meets-West approach: Yamaguchi served shumai with a shoyu beurre blanc sauce; Gannon made fried rice with foie gras and duck confit. Today, a new generation of chefs is looking more intently at island traditions and their own personal experiences to create distinctive food that could exist nowhere else but Hawaii.
In Japan, a visit to a depachika, or department-store food hall, is a must for the phenomenal variety of classic dishes and focus on detail. Now, a department store in the Ala Moana Center, Shirokiya, has brought the experience to Honolulu, with stalls selling everything from impeccable ramen to stellar sushi. Later this year the hall will expand to an even bigger 800-seat space.
The Kahala Hotel & Resort, Oahu: FLOATING YOGA
The innovative wellness program now includes moonlight meditation and sunrise SUP yoga. SUP is short for stand-up paddleboard: Participants do sun salutations on their boards as the sun rises over Koko Head.
Grand Wailea, Maui: FORAGED DINNERS
Mike Lofaro, the chef at the hotel’s Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (named for Hawaii’s state fish), treks through jungles to pick strawberry guava; climbs down cliff faces with a backpack, wet suit and spearfishing gun; and combs reefs for uni.Then he turns the ingredients he finds into menus for his monthly Ka Malama dinners.
Grand Hyatt, Kauai: HYPERLOCAL SALADS
A former tennis court is now a large hydroponic garden producing 300 pounds of salad greens each week. Created in collaboration with the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture, the farm currently grows seven different types of lettuce.
Maui is the envy of chefs on neighboring islands, and not just for its laid-back surfer culture. Says Oahu-based Ed Kenney, “They get produce we don’t see here, and they have Hawaii’s only pasture-raised Berkshire pigs.” Sheldon Simeon, a popular Top Cheffinalist and noodle expert, uses those ingredients at his restaurant, Migrant, serving his roast pork chow fun with a garnish of extra-juicy Maui tomatoes. migrantmaui.com.
Try the Chow Fun with Roast Pork and Kale-Tomato Salad Recipe.
As a kid in Honolulu in the 1970s, Ed Kenney had a privileged view of the Hawaiian dining scene. His mother, Beverly Noa, was a champion hula dancer; his father, Ed, was a former Broadway singer. “When my folks gave shows at the Halekulani hotel, I would get free rein at the expansive buffet,” says Kenney. “My favorite things were the popover with poha [a native gooseberry] butter and the roast suckling pig.” Today, as the chef-owner of a burgeoning Honolulu restaurant empire, Kenney sources indigenous ingredients and rethinks Hawaiian classics. At his most recent spot, Mud Hen Water,he makes a vibrant vegetarian version of one of Hawaii’s most recognizable dishes, tuna poke, using beets roasted in orange juice and ginger; he mixes those beets with sesame oil and seaweed and serves the dish with wasabi guacamole. Kenney is also influenced by his mother’s Hawaiian home cooking. On weekend mornings, Noa would make what Kenney calls “the best fried rice in the world” with a mix of brown and white rices known as hapa. “In Hawaiian, hapa means ‘partial’ and is often used as a term of endearment to describe people of mixed ethnic backgrounds,” explains Kenney. He’s resurrected his mother’s fried rice at another one of his restaurants, Kaimuki Superette, where he adds bacon and Sriracha. There’s one major difference between the version she made and the dish he serves now. “Sheused to fry up thin slices of that infamous Hawaiian staple, Spam,” he remembers. “Spam is no longer a Kenney tradition.”
Part of Hawaii’s incredible history of aquaculture, the He’eia Fishpondwas built laboriously by hand more than 600 years ago on the east side of Oahu. Chefs like Mark Noguchi of Honolulu’s Mission Social Hall and Café come to harvest their own seaweed, fish and crustaceans—like the fierce but delicious Samoan crabs in the photo here—from the 88-acre fishing spot. Still, the primary goal of the nonprofit that runs the fishpond is education, with the pond as both classroom and lab. Noguchi organizes monthly “industry days” with volunteers from the food community. paepaeoheeia.org.
Try the Bacon Fried Rice with Avocado and Fried Eggs Recipe.
Honolulu’s Chinatown, one of the oldest in the US, has a sketchy past as a red-light district. But creative new businesses—especially restaurants and bars—are making their mark on the neighborhood. Andrew Le’s The Pig & the Lady,which got its start as a series of pop-ups and farmers’ market stalls around the island, is now located in a brick-lined space on North King Street. Le’s menu is a mix of inventive mash-ups like brussels sprouts with brown butter and shiso and traditional Vietnamese dishes that his mother, Loan (the namesake lady), made for her family—especially her noodle soup. Le describes his mom’s soup as “a cauldron of epicness.” He continues, “We’d eat it for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and midnight snack. It was that delicious, that magnetic.”
There are fantastic food trucks all over Oahu, but Honolulu’s Kaka’ako neighborhood is becoming the hub with its new Makers & Tasterstruck park and the monthly Honolulu Night Market.
The Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu includes 2,000 surreally lush acres of pineapples, sugarcane, plumeria, orchids and other types of Hawaiian ingredients and flowers. Plus, it’s right next to the terrific Kumu Farms. This is a dream setting for a cook, and Jeff Scheer, who runs Maui Chef’s Tableon Friday and Saturday nights, is aware of his good fortune. “The area is just so beautiful, and it stretches all the way to the mountain line. I love being in the Chef’s Table space and looking through the palm trees across the pond,” he says. Scheer will also open a restaurant on the plantation, The Mill House, later this month.
Try the Charred Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter and Shiso Recipe.
Chef Lee Anne Wonggrew up outside of Albany, New York, but the Hawaiian chef community has adopted her as one of its own.“I went from having no relatives and living alone in New York City to now having a big family of awesome people here,” says the owner of Honolulu’s Koko Head Cafe and Hale Ohuna. She brings a newcomer’s curiosity to island traditions and has been studying the local food and culture, though she’s not constrained by it. For instance, she makes her version of the luau staple kalua pork in an oven or slow cooker instead of a pit. “I like to use the pork in omelets, quesadillas, fried rice or sandwiches,” she says.
Try this Smoky Kalua Pork Sandwiches with Spiced Pineapple Jam Recipe.
Hawaii grows some varieties of sugarcane that are almost 1,000 years old. Now, on Oahu, an ambitious new distillery is making outstanding rum agricole from that sugarcane. At Ko Hana, co-founder Robert Dawson focuses on heritage selections that are hard to harvest and thus shunned by big sugar-processing companies. He uses the fresh juice to make single-variety rums like the clear, tropical-fruit-scented Kea and the barrel-aged, golden-brown Koho. The distillery is open for tours and tastings of both the rum and food made with it, such as rum-infused gelato; bottles are also available by mail order.
Ask chefs in Hawaii about rising stars, and a name you hear a lot is Isaac Bancaco,the 34-year-old behind Ka’ana Kitchenat the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. Like a lot of chefs, he has close relationships with farmers, and he pushes them to innovate. “Instead of sitting back and asking farmers, ‘What have you got?’ chefs can help create demand for new ingredients and make sure we’re keeping up with what’s happening in other cities,” Bancaco says. He has encouraged farmers to grow ingredients not typical in Hawaii–parsley root, celery root, rutabaga—and he has come up with new ways to use indigenous produce such as breadfruit, which he turns into gluten-free flour.
Hawaii’s cocktail reputation was built on blue drinks topped with paper umbrellas. But now there’s a serious new scene. Manifestin Honolulu, for instance, makes an excellent old-fashioned, as well as the Manifest Mule, a mix of bourbon, ginger beer and yellow passion fruit shrub.
Smoked Fish Hawaiian-Style
“In all of my childhood memories there is smoke in the background,” says chef Mark Pomaski,who grew up on the Big Island. “People here like to hunt and smoke meat. My father had a smokehouse in our backyard.” At Pomaski’s restaurant Moon & Turtlein Hilo, his hometown, one signature dish is smoky sashimi, inspired by his childhood as well as his time spent working at a number of sushi spots on the mainland, including Nobu 57 in New York City. He thinly slices fish, often ahi (tuna) or ono (wahoo), and dresses it with Hawaiian chile water, soy sauce he smokes over kiawe (a type of local mesquite) and extra-virgin olive oil. 51 Kalakaua St., Hilo.
Hawaii’s beer scene is booming. Here, a few of the best producers, selected by Dave Newman of Honolulu’s cocktail-and-craft-beer spot Pint + Jigger.
BIG ISLAND BREWHAUS “They started bottling their beers a few years ago, which means you can find them in even more places. The White Mountain Porterhas coconut, coffee and chocolate notes. It’s amazing.”
KAUAI BEER COMPANY “I really enjoy the Tropical Armadillo,and not just for the funny name. The brewery has probably the best local beers on nitro (taps that make beer creamier) that I have come across.”
HONOLULU BEERWORKS “It’s in the up-and-coming Kaka’ako neighborhood. The Animal Farmhouse Ale is a citrus-forward, lower-alcohol brew that fits the climate perfectly. When I am in the mood for something a little bolder, I go for their Rye Not?”
MAUI BREWING CO. “You can’t go wrong with a Coconut Porteror a Lorenzini Double IPA, but my suggestion when visiting the brewery would be to have one of the seasonal beers.”
Everyone knows that Kona produces spectacular coffee, but now the Big Island is also growing tea. With help from the Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii, farmers at plantations like Tea Hawaii & Company, Onomea Tea Company and Big Island Tea grow oolong, green, black and other varieties that get unique flavors from the island’s volcanic soils.
As chef at Honolulu’s Vintage Cave, Hawaii native Chris Kajiokastudded his $295 tasting menu with truffles and caviar. (He is, after all, an alum of New York City’s luxurious Per Se.) Now he and his chef-partner Anthony Rush are launching Senia,and the menu won’t focus on pricey imports. Instead, Kajioka is preparing dishes like grilled cabbage salad, which he tops with a creamy herb sauce as well as a pungent, ginger-spiked Asian-style dressing. 75 N. King St., Honolulu.
Try this Grilled Cabbage with Two Sauces Recipe.
In Hawaii, the fried dough of choice is the malasada, a holeless Portuguese doughnut. (The Portuguese arrived in the 1800s to work on sugarcane plantations.) Honolulu’s malasada temple is 64-year-old Leonard’s Bakery; fans include Momofuku Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi, who traveled there to learn the malasada art.
Halekulani, the iconic beachfront hotel in Honolulu’s Waikiki, is arguably the best place on earth for a sunset cocktail. The drink to get is the mai tai, which includes three types of rum and a special blend of rock candy and orgeat syrups. .
Up-and-Coming Chef Couple
When pastry chef Michelle Karr-Ueokaapplied for an internship at The French Laundry in Napa Valley, she sent a toothbrush to indicate that she would start at the bottom, even scrubbing toilets. Now, at MW Restaurant, the Honolulu spot she owns with her chef husband, Wade Ueoka,she tweaks classics like banana cream pie, making her deconstructed version with an eggless chocolate pudding. Wade creates MW’s savory dishes. He ingeniously uses the Japanese rice cake mochi—best known as an ice cream wrapper—as a crispy-chewy coating for pan-fried snapper.
Try this Banana and Chocolate Cream Pie Parfaits Recipe.