Family Ingredients: a show that traces Hawaii's family recipes to its roots

The crew of Family Ingredients with Jiro, one of the show's stops in Japan. Photos courtesy of Dan Nakasone. 

On a recent trip to Japan, Ed Kenney and Alan Wong visited a restaurant that was born in 1760. It specialized in just one thing—oyako donburi, the classic Japanese chicken and egg dish. The chef was the eighth generation running it. “He reminded us that the restaurant is older than the United States of America,” says Wong.

The historical context is somewhat fitting, considering Kenney’s and Wong’s task. The two Hawaii chefs were filming the pilot for Family Ingredients, which hopes to be a part travelogue, part food documentary series that traces Hawaii’s family recipes all the way back to their origins. If the show gets picked up, Ed Kenney will play host, the Anthony Bourdain along for the ride in each guests’ journey to self-actualization via food.

The pilot guest stars Alan Wong and highlights two simple recipes from his mother, who came to Hawaii from Japan: miso soup and tamago kake gohan, hot rice mixed with shoyu and a raw egg. Perhaps because of their simplicity, they are the two dishes he remembers the most. Following the recipes to their roots brings Kenney and Wong to Wahiawa, where Wong grew up and worked the pineapple fields, to Peterson’s Farm and Honda Tofu Factory, the oldest tofu factory in the U.S.

Husband and wife, Yoshihito and Toshiko Asano with the chefs. Asano raises Shamo chickens, a traditional Japanese poultry. 

Then they journey to Japan, where they also stopped by the Hachisu Farm, which grew and made all three components of tamago kake gohan—the rice, the egg, the shoyu. And, while Kenney will talk about the revelations at Jiro, sushi fanatics’ Mecca, it’s really their time at the Hachisus’ that he loves to remember. There, Tadaaki Hachisu taught Kenney and Wong a thing or two about tamago kake gohan. Kenney mimes the technique: whipping the hot rice and egg with chopsticks while rotating the bowl, turning what could have been a slimy heap into a fluffy, frothy sabayon-like dish.

Producer Heather Giugni, the creator of Family Ingredients, selected Kenney to be the host because “He has a foot in both worlds…He was mentored by the HRC group, but is not necessarily of the HRC group,” she says. The whole show is about bridging people, culture, countries. Giugni calls Family Ingredients “an obvious and wonderful story of Hawaii. Food is what connects people everywhere. We’re a multicultural community. What better way to honor the multiculturalism than to honor the recipes that were brought here and how we got here.”

The Family Ingredients pilot premieres on PBS Hawaii, May 23 at 9 p.m.,