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Martha Cheng Says Aloha to HONOLULU Magazine

After nearly four years leading our food and dining coverage, an editor says aloha.


Photo: Gary Saito 


This job will always be a part of me, even as I leave it. It wasn’t work. It was living.


How did I end up here, in the best job of my life? Who knows—some mix of luck and fate and choice, I guess. I had a computer science degree and worked in the tech field for a bit. I went to the Peace Corps in St. Vincent because I thought that was my calling. It wasn’t. I got kicked out. So I went back to tech, to Google. It was a great company, but I didn’t like the work. This is when I started to learn that I’m the kind of person who has to love my work, or I can’t do it.


So I ditched it all to try something different: cooking and baking professionally. I started in bakeshops in the Bay Area and, when I came to Hawai‘i, worked as a line cook at The Pineapple Room. 


Why the leap into food? I am the daughter of two Chinese immigrants from Taiwan. If you know anything about Taiwan, you know that the common greeting there is not “hello” or “how are you,” but “have you eaten?” My mom prepared simple dishes learned from my grandma, who cooked in a Hunan restaurant that The New Yorker, in 1976, called “the best Chinese restaurant in the world.” When my mom broke her arm skiing, my dad took over, cooking from Jacques Pépin’s books and making reservations for special occasions at fancy San Francisco restaurants that included Stars and Gary Danko. A friend we took on a college scouting trip lost her temper after two days, shouting, “It takes you two hours to decide on a place to eat!”


Sometimes, we are so passionate about food, our passion becomes divisive. But, more often than not, food is our common thread. I realized this in the Peace Corps—in the beginning, I found it hard to relate to my host family. And then, one day, I discovered we could come together over food—cooking, talking about it, sharing it. Since then, that’s the thread I’ve been clinging to when I write stories. 


But I am stepping out of this role—as HONOLULU Magazine’s food and dining editor—because, while I still love writing about food, I can no longer fulfill the review part of this job. I came from the restaurant industry. And that’s where my loyalty lies: in these people who pour their hearts and souls into their craft, who make themselves vulnerable, financially and emotionally, to pursue something that most of us don’t have the guts or work ethic for. Even if I don’t always like their food, I admire them for their courage. 


So I’m leaving to focus less on the dining experience and more on food and the people behind it. Food is how we give love. It is how we receive love. It is how we engage with the world. How we eat it, prepare it, grow it, sell it, is how we choose to express ourselves. The details of how each of us do it are wildly different, but the message is the same: This is how we belong to the world, this is how we are unique in the world. These are the stories I want to tell next.




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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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