Farm to Table: 6 Dishes from Hawaii Restaurants
Here are six locally grown dishes you can order in Hawaii restaurants right now—and the farmers who made them possible.
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I end up cooking with Alan Wong in his King Street kitchen. I’ve cooked with Wong before: It’s a mixed blessing. Since Wong’s a genius, you always learn something. On the other hand, he’s constantly scolding you for not doing things the “Wong way.”
He’s taken exception to the way I’ve pitted green olives. “Don’t hack them up. I’m going to call you Hackathorn from now on.”
Now I’m bleeding. Trying to slice yellow tomatoes and talk to Wong simultaneously, I nick my finger with one of his incredibly sharp knives. Sure that writer’s blood is not one of Wong’s preferred ingredients, I run off to get a Band-Aid.
When I return, Wong is laughing heartily. He’s spread the contents of a first-aid kit at my kitchen station. Chef humor.
Despite the distractions, we are making Big Island goat-cheese mousse on toast, a recipe out of Wong’s new cookbook, The Blue Tomato.
As Wong’s recipes go, this one’s simple. I’ve nearly broken my wrist whisking whipping cream. Wong mixes it with the mild goat cheese from Dick and Heather Threlfall’s Honokaa goat dairy, where the animals all have individual names.
We spread the mousse on toast and then pile on a salad of red and yellow cherry tomatoes from Ho Farms, olives, shallots, and torn parsley and basil. The final touch is strips of pipikaula; Wong scolded me until I fried them sufficiently crispy.
The dish has layers of flavor, contrasts in textures and a natural feel.
Wong has lots of reasons for using as many local products as possible. It helps assure the Islands’ food security, is good for the local green economy, supports farmers, and gives him direct access to and knowledge of his food sources.
Why Ho Farms tomatoes in this dish? “Simple,” he says. “Unlike a lot of Mainland tomatoes, they taste like tomatoes.”
Ed Kenney of Town’s Shinsato Farm Porchetta, with Braised Mao Farms Bitter Greens and Breadfruit
Tucked into the green Koolau Mountains, set back from the road, Shinsato Hog Farm is a collection of a dozen old buildings, all, in the words of farmer Glenn Shinsato, “in various states of disrepair.”
Brightening up the aging farm are patches of torch ginger and heliconia, tropical flowers the Shinsatos grow as a side business.
Shinsato didn’t start as a farmer. He had a job diving, collecting specimens for the Waikiki Aquarium. Sound fascinating? Shinsato thought it was boring. “No challenge, same thing every day.”
He was dating Amy Tomei, whose father owned Tomei Hog Farm. Amy’s father was looking for a helper. “I thought I might as well try it,” says Glenn.
That was in 1972. He’s been a hog farmer ever since. He and Amy married, and the farm eventually became Shinsato Hog Farm. “She’s still the boss,” says Glenn.
Is hog farming less boring than diving? “Sure,” says Glenn, “if only because you’re always desperate to find some way to survive.”
Hog farms are measured in the number of breeding sows. Shinsato Farms has 75, with more than 200 pigs.
Free-range pigs? “No, no,” says Shinsato. “Our pigs aren’t in the mud. They’re nice and dry indoors on concrete. It’s beautiful here—when it’s not raining. It rains a lot.”
Shinsato says you’re unlikely to find free-range hogs anywhere on Oahu. “We simply don’t have the land they have in the Midwest.” Shinsato Farm is 9 acres, 3 and a half of which are in actual use. “You need at least 20 to 30 acres to raise free-range pigs.”