Great Eating at the Hawaii Rice Festival

What else would a Rice Festival be about except eating?

Yesterday, Magic Island was lined with food booths. There was a Spam musubi eating contest, and crew assembling a Guinness World Record 200-lb. musubi.

But the real action centered on not one, but two cooking contests, as amateur and professional chefs vied to create the greatest rice dish.

The amateurs all made the recipes that they had contributed to author Cheryl Tsutsumi’s Hawaii Book of Rice. The amateur recipes were mainly variations on fried rice, with a caramel-glazed cascaron thrown in for variation.

Emerging victorious was Laureen Matsushima with her Hurry  Curry Fried Rice, complete with coconut and dried cranberries.

Among the judges was the Star-Advertiser’s Nadine Kam, who opined that she didn’t really like rice. Who knew?

In contrast,  Miss Hawaii, Lauren Cheape, insisted she was made of rice.  She proceeded to defy her trainer’s edicts by eating everything the contestants put in front of her.

Cheape was so into it, that in the break between the amateur and the pro competition, she donned a pair of plastic gloves and went to work constructing the world record musubi. (Pictured above with young coworker Gabrielle Biersach).

When the pros hit the stage, the competition got serious. The winner was Hideaki “Santa” Miyoshi of Tokkuri-Tei, edging Wayne Hirabayashi of the Kahala Hotel and Resort by one hundredth of a point.

Hirabayashi seemed to have a sure winner on his hands with Hoku’s classic ahi poke musubi with King Crab namasu and Asian-style remoulade (right).

Miyoshi riposted with an unagi donburi–but hardly a typical one. It was so loaded with butter and cream that it hardly seemed Japanese food.

Even the non-finishers were fabulous. Hector Morales of Turtle Bay came up with a spicy steak with black bean and salsa rice. Kent Thompson, formerly of Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab, put together a stunningly presented coconut crusted chicken rice ball with a duo of sauces on bamboo tray he cut from his garden (left).

How good are Hawaii chefs at cooking with rice? How great were the professional entries?

Usually by the end of the competition the judges are jaded and won’t touch another bite. This time all five judges (Biting Commentary included) borrowed clamshells from one of the vendors and took home the leftovers.

See you at next year’s Rice Festival.