Disclaimer: Dusty is a cook, Felix is the Sous Chef, and Miya is the Chef de Cuisine at Alan Wong's Honolulu.
October 3, 2013
I’ve learned that curiosity really takes you places. With the bunch of questions I’ve come up for Chef Miya, I’ve been getting my answers through experiment, one of which led to the usage of bittermelon. My questions were based on vinegars, as I was preparing a pickling mix for the olena root I was preparing for chef, which became olena root tea. I just want to add that the olena root was the most interesting thing that I’ve done as far as making tea. The best way I could describe this tea was that it was “down to earth” and that doesn’t really say much about the tea, but it really tasted natural and calming. It was an inspiration to me because I didn’t know it was as simple as steeping something in water to make tea. Although the steeping length varies the intensity of the tea, it’s being able to control that and knowing to add more water or steep longer to create such a refreshing beverage.
I didn’t know that there were percentages on the vinegar bottles, which raised my question: “is there a certain vinegar percentage you use for certain products?” My question is a little broad because chef did start with “it depends…” and from there, examples came about. Vinegars do come in different flavors, as well, and some flavors work well with certain products, so my question wasn’t the brightest thing to ask. What I really wanted to know was what would 5% acidity vinegar do to, let’s say a neutral vegetable like cucumber, compared to 4% acidity vinegar? Again, my question is a challenge to answer because the varying percentages come from different flavors of vinegar, but definitely the tartness factor from the higher percentage will be more prominent, than the lower percentage.
Chef Miya gave me a quick 101 about sunomono and tsukemono, two styles of pickling the Japanese do. Sunomono is the usage of vinegar as tsukemono is using salt or brine. Bittermelon, as I mentioned in the beginning, was the tsukemono pickling of choice. Sunomono was used on the thinly sliced olena root and that was just an experiment Chef Miya was trying out, which I wish to find out by this Saturday of its succession. Sunomono was also used in one of our productions back in Fundamentals of Cookery, as we were to make a namasu cucumber salad, so I was actually familiar with the process. The bittermelon was sliced into varying sizes, thin, thick, dice, grated, and finely minced, and then salted to extract the liquids. A few minutes later, they were squeezed of its liquids and then half were submerged in the pickling liquid and the other left as is. My palate has not aged enough to enjoy the bitterness of the bittermelon, so I had the most difficult time understanding the picking process, BUT it was the information that I’ve gained about these pickling styles that’s really opened my eyes up to what else I can pickle.
The next day I worked with Chef Felix and there was a production list for me to complete. Unfortunately we weren’t able to complete half of what was on there, but I was able to put together the Taro Potato Au Gratin, something I didn’t know how to pronounce at first, but am now able to put together. According to the online dictionary, au gratin is “covered with bread crumbs and sometimes butter and grated cheese, and then browned in an oven”. The Taro Potato Au Gratin consisted of thinly sliced russet potatoes, grated tomme cheese, parmesan cheese, and heavy cream (4 total layers). After the 3rd layer, taro is laid out and then the final layer of potatoes is put on. Being able to make this gives me the idea to try it out or even incorporate it in my schooling, as a special or a practical dish. I’ve been talking about it all week, trying to convince my group to try to get it in one of our specials when we become sous chefs as a starch component, but having to omit the taro. Dusty was also giving me heads up on how it’s a good match with braised meats, so there’s the protein already. Roasted vegetables can make the vegetable component and voila!, a potential special. I still need to discuss this with my group. Alan Wong’s is really inspiring me to try things out, to just apply what I learn in one place and execute in another.
Finally, I’m beginning to do certain tasks with no need of guidance, such as putting away the cheeses or the abalone, from removing them from the shell to blanching, cooling, and then storing them. The more I’m told to do them, the better and, maybe, even faster I’ll get.
Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC)
About 23 years ago, 12 chefs came together to start a revolution that will change the idea of what “local food” is all about. Using most products that are available on state, these chefs showcase their culinary talents and personalities through the foods they serve. The idea is to gather all the ethnic backgrounds that Hawaii has gathered throughout the years and embrace them and make them edible, using local farmers and suppliers as their “ammunition” to bang out the best of what Hawaii has to offer.
“The contemporary style of cooking today that borrows from all of the ethnic influences you find in Hawaii.” – Alan Wong
Alan Wong – Alan Wong’s Restaurant & The Pineapple Room (Oahu, 1995-Present), Alan Wong’s Amasia (2012 – Present), Honu Kai Lani (2011 – Present)
- “True slice of Hawaii”, to “Taste Hawaii”
- He who ‘melds’ East and West cuisines with his Asian roots and French culinary background as his gas and torch.
Roy Yamaguchi – Roy’s Restaurant (1988 – Present)
- “The father of East-West cooking”
George Mavrothalassitis – Chef Mavro (1998 – Present)
- French cuisine
Peter Merrimam – Merrimam’s (1988 – Present), Monkeypod Kitchen (2012-Present)
- Mediterranean cuisine
Amy Ferguson Ota – Oodles of Noodles, Paradise Pizza, & O’s Bistro (1997 – 2009) Cater Hawaii, Big Island
- One of the “creators of the new Southwestern Cuisine”
Gary Strehl – Executive Chef, Hawaii Prince Hotel (1991), General Mnager, Courtyard by Marriott, Jacksonville, FL (2011)
- “Quietest member of the HRC”
Jean-Marie Josselin – 808 Restaurant (N/A), A Pacific Café (1990)
- Infused cooking with an inspired use of spices and techniques from Pan-Asian cuisine, with a classic French foundation; Euro-Asian cuisine
- “Best chef of the Northwest”
Roger Dikon – Executive Chef, Maui Prince Hotel (1991), Food & Beverage Director, Pal Beach, FL. (N/A), Executive Chef, Roberts Hawaii (Present)
Sam Choy – Huki Lau Café, Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch, and Crab (Closed), Sam Choy’s, Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai, T.V. Personality, ‘ Sam Choy’s Kitchen’
- Characterized his cuisine as “a melting pot of the freshest ingredients from every culture on the Hawaiian Islands.”
- “Godfather of Poke”
Mark Ellman – Avalon Restaurant and Bar (1987 – 1998), Maui Tacos (1993- 2008), Mala Ocean Tavern (2005 – Present), Honu Seafood & Pizza (2011 – Present)
- Italian Cuisine
- Maui-Mex Cuisine
Beverly ‘Bev’ Gannon – Fresh Approach, now Celebrations Catering (1980 – Present), Joe’s (1995 – Present), Gannon’s (2009 – Present), Corperate Chef for Hawaiian Airlines (1990 – 2010)
- “Best Food in the Air in North America”
- ‘“Now Food”: combination of spectacular food with volcano-to-ocean views’
Philippe Padovani – Executive Chef, La Mer, Halekulani Hotel (1986), Padovanni’s Bistro & Wine Bar, now Padovanni’s Restaurant (1998 – Present), Padovanni’s Chocolates (1999 – Present), ‘Elua Restaurant & wne Bar, Joint venture with Chef Donato Loperfido (2007 – Present)
- French - Mediterranean cuisine
- French - Asian cuisine
What these entire 12 Chef’s have in common as far as HRC, is their connection and relationship with the local farmers and distributors of the Hawaiian Islands. The difference between each chef is how he or she executes their definition of HRC, which is inspired by their culture, their personality, their way of cooking.