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Dining: Nobu Doesn't Panic, Goes Organic

A visit with Nobu Matsuhisa, and a considerable entourage, at Waianae’s Mao Farm.


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Back in the kitchen of Nobu Waikiki, the master himself demonstrates how he wants the mizuna and cilantro salad to be served.

Photo: Matt Mallams

Today the 20 interns are all working, some planting, some hoeing furrows, many washing herbs and vegetables in the packing shed. It’s the old packing shed, with barely room for the workers, much less Nobu and entourage.

There’s a new packing shed, four or five times bigger, ready to go except for city permits, on 11 acres of land the farm has newly purchased with money from the state and the Omidyar Foundation.

Nobu's ehu.

Not your typical farm lunch: Nobu's chirashi with plenty of ikura, shrimp and egg.

Photos: Matt Mallams

On the old shed’s wall is a list of the farm’s customers—Alan Wong’s, Whole Foods, Kokua Market, Roy’s, Town, Nobu, a dozen in all—with their orders for the day. Nobu moves through the shed with Manny Miles, former intern and assistant farm manager. Both Nobu and Miles smile habitually, but their smiles grow brighter and brighter as they move through the arugula, curly top lettuce, green onions, multicolored cauliflower and tiny, spicy Hakurei turnips, the last of which will end up in Nobu’s miso soup.

“Beautiful product, beautiful place,” says Nobu. “You need a restaurant. I show you how to make Nobu dressing, Mao Farm Salad Nobu Style.”

The farm visit takes several hours. There are chants and an introductory circle, not to mention considerable contextualizing, with words like sustainable, empowerment and paradigm. The point is simple: Waianae was once a self-sufficient community that handled its land and water resources well. “Organic farming wasn’t invented in 1970,” says Enos. “The Hawaiians practiced it, and fed themselves in extreme isolation.”

We tour some new facilities, including a gathering/party space made from entirely Earth-friendly materials and several buildings repurposed from chicken sheds, since the new acreage once included Takahashi Chicken Farm.

Nobu follows farm manager Gary Maunakea-Forth into the fields, alternately praising what he sees—arugula, mizuna, baby beets, radishes—and asking Maunakea-Forth to grow things he’d like to have, such as Japanese yuzu and Peruvian rocoto peppers. The farm already grows almost 40 products. “We’d like to grow 100,” says Maunakea-Forth.

The Mao Farm Meyer Lemon Drop with grilled shishito pepper.

Photo: Matt Mallams

The biggest fuss comes in the citrus grove. Meyer lemons. It’s hard to find a steady source of Meyer lemons in Hawaii. “Great for cocktails,” I gush. The next thing I know I am puckering my mouth around a Meyer lemon wedge in the company of Nobu’s bartender, David Newman, who is of the same mind.

In the introductory circle, we are asked to name our favorite fruit or vegetable. Says Newman, “My favorite is any fruit marinated in Jack Daniels.” Newman’s been charged with creating cocktails using Mao Farm organic ingredients. The lemons seem to make him happy. Tonight, he’ll make a Meyer lemon-vodka cocktail with a grilled Mao Farm shishito pepper.

Nobu is equally happy. He will use the Meyer lemon juice instead of Japanese yuzu—after all, yuzu in Hawaii comes in a green plastic bottle and these are organic, right off the tree.


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Honolulu Magazine March 2019
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