9 Things Hawaii Chefs Wished You Knew
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#3 Offal isn’t awful
A lot of chefs here want to cook outside the box by going beyond prime rib and pork chops. But if they cook it, will you eat it?
“Offal is delicious!” says Andrew Le, chef-partner of pop-up restaurant The Pig and the Lady and a former Chef Mavro sous chef. “Braised tripe in a hearty tomato stew, Vietnamese pig-feet noodle soup, grilled tongue banh mi, succulent headcheese, cornmeal-crusted chitterlings, bold blood sausage—all of it tests a chef’s creativity and challenges the diner to try something out of the norm. [Eating offal is also] more respectful to the animal. What the general public consumes is only a small percentage of the whole animal. The rest is used as ground meat products or discarded.”
Kevin Hanney, chef-owner of 12th Avenue Grill and Salt Kitchen & Bar, advises diners to try new things, but have your server explain them to you first. With the prices of mainstay fish and beef items going through the roof, the ‘off cuts’ and lesser-known fish are getting their moment to shine. The short plate or plate steak is a perfect example. From the rib area of the cow, this cut has been typically ground, but in the right hands it is a flavorful, unique experience. Hanney also points to flap steak, one of the most flavorful cuts available. Tenderness is not the only mark of quality in beef; some of these cuts need braising or proper slicing, but have tremendous flavor.
Svensson wants you to know about hanger steak. “It’s a fantastic cut of meat, very flavorful and tender if handled right. Not a lot of restaurants have hanger here. A year ago, I had to order it from California. But now I can buy it locally.”
#4 Eating local isn’t cheap
When even Zippy’s is touting locally raised beef, it’s safe to say sustainability has gone mainstream. But while Island-grown bounty doesn’t have to be shipped in, it can be more pricey than produce that traveled for thousands of miles.
“I just bought a $12 pineapple. Just because it was grown here doesn’t mean it’s cheaper,” says Jim Moffat, chef-owner of Kauai’s Bar Acuda and well-stocked Living Foods Market & Café (and a former Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef). “We’re not trying to gouge anyone. We try to keep prices down and serve wonderful, local, seasonal food, but the fact is it’s expensive to farm in these Islands.”
Mark Noguchi, chef-partner of Heeia Pier General Store & Deli and alum of Chef Mavro and Town, has fish on the Heeia Pier menu only when he can buy a fresh catch at the pier. “You can’t get all kinds of fish all year long,” says Noguchi. “Fish is not an endless supply; there is a reason why we have or don’t have fish.”
#5 We’re allergic to attitude
A number of chefs mentioned this nugget of knowledge. Jackie Lau, corporate executive chef for Roy’s, wants you to let your server know if you’re allergic to something, or if you plain don’t like it.
On the other hand, she, and the rest of her cohort, have had more than their share of what might be called “the boy who cried mushroom.”
“So many times the guests will be on their last course and all of a sudden their entrée comes back because they are ‘allergic’ to, let’s say, onions,” says Lau. “Sometimes that is just code for ‘I don’t like to see onions.’ [But we have to take it seriously and] the alarms are going off, everyone is scrambling because, Oh, no! The onions! What about shallots? They are in everything, stocks, garnishes and right on down the line. Of course, the guest has probably eaten the equivalent of a whole onion up until that point, but we are still on high alert to get a no-onion dish back out to the guest!”
Chef Le adds, “Being able to eat onions only if they’re grilled or caramelized, but not raw or sautéed, doesn’t mean you’re allergic to onions. It means you’re crazy.”
Lau also cites diners’ using vegetarianism to get what they want when it suits them. “One time we had a guest call and give us very long instructions. Great! This we like. We even went so far as to make a very special dessert, with no dairy. When we were ready to send out the dessert, they informed the server that they would be having two chocolate soufflés with extra ice cream! Because they always eat that when they are at Roy’s!”
Special requests can also be a chef buzz kill. Going to a Thai restaurant and asking the chef to hold the fish sauce is like going to a steakhouse when you don’t like beef. Yet that’s what happens to Usamanont.
“People ask for no fish sauce, no sugar, no peanuts. I want to accommodate people’s needs, but there’s only so far we can go,” says Usamanont. “In terms of the sauces, it kind of breaks down the creative process of what we’re trying to do. If I go to a French restaurant, I don’t ask for no butter.”
What a wine guy wants you to know: Master sommelier Roberto Viernes chimes in.
“I wish they wouldn’t wear so much cologne or perfume. It ruins the aroma of the wine.”
“Smelling the cork doesn’t gain you any points with us. In fact, you can’t really smell anything on the cork, except cork!”
“We are not the final judge or arbiter of taste. In the end, as sommeliers, we’re just happy you’re ordering wine and having a good time. Drink what you like.”