Kau Kau to Cuisine: An Island Cookbook, Then and Now

A love letter to Hawaii's unique local food and the "old-fashioned values" it embodies
Left: Kau Kau to Cuisine: An Island Cookbook; Right: Jason Takemura, Arnold Hiura and Derek Kurisu 


“In the old folk tale, Hansel and Gretel left a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest so the way home would not be lost," writes food historian Arnold Hiura in his latest book, Kau Kau to Cuisine: An Island Cookbook, Then and Now. "Greedy birds gobbled up all the bread, leaving the children hopeless, alone and hungry. There’s a lesson there for us today: to take better care of our own precious morsels from the past, so that we can always find our own way home!"


Hiura is a caretaker of crumbs, the ones that lead us home. In his previous book, Kau Kau: Cuisine and Culture in the Hawaiian Islands, he looked at the history and evolution of local food from its beginnings to now. His new book "is an opportunity to really look at the past and present side by side, to look at the connections that exist between the traditional stuff and the contemporary stuff," Hiura says.


Kau Kau Then and Now juxtaposes recipes from plantation days to their modern counterparts: a kabocha and ebi (dried shrimp) recipe next to a roasted kabocha risotto, shoyu pork alongside pork belly bao, Goteborg UFOs transformed into steak with mushroom and truffle-edamame cream risotto. The "then" recipes are provided by Derek Kurisu, executive vice president of KTA, and the "now" by Jason Takemura, executive chef of the Hukilau and Pagoda.


In the "then" category, the book even includes a recipe for Vienna sausage, cooked in the mother sauce of plantation days: shoyu sugar.


But for Kurisu, the recipes are less about the ingredients than they are about passing on "the old fashioned values that are buried in this plantation food," he says. It's about no waste, of economical cooking. "You cook with whatever you have. You really don’t have a recipe. Everything is fast and quick. you don’t have to buy expensive seasonings and spices. If you don’t have something, it’s ok, you can use something else."


Ultimately, the book is a love letter to Hawaii's unique local food, that all generations continue to love and eat in spite of its humble beginnings, or perhaps because of them.


"Although we talk about all the different ethnic groups that contributed to Hawaii’s mixed plate, most of local food is just local food," Hiura says. "Chicken hekka is not Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, it’s a local dish. As is loco moco, Spam musubi, it’s local. They're dishes that everyone shared and had in common."


Sharing is the crumb from "then" days that Hiura holds onto most dearly: "My concern sometimes today, as food gets more and more refined, as it gets more and more specialized and people are emphasizing gluten-free, organic, GMO-free, whatever it is, we're getting further and further apart. There's less and less of this sharing spirit and a more specialized view of what food is. So I think if we go in that direction too far, and we all specialize in just what we like–I'm only going to eat this and you eat your canned goods, I'm not going to eat Spam—I think there's a danger in that. So while we applaud the innovation and evolution, the most important thing is you gotta try it all, you gotta share it all. You gotta embrace it all. That's the local-style spirit. Without that, the food becomes secondary."


From Kau Kau to Cuisine will be in local bookstores at the end of the month and is available for pre-order now at bookshawaii.net.


There will be a book release party, benefitting the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii on Saturday, February 8, 5:30pm to 8:30pm at Pagoda Floating Restaurant Ballroom. Sample some of the recipes from the book—classic plantation dishes alongside their contemporary reinventions. Individual tickets, $75; VIP tables (10 seats), $2000. To purchase tickets: call the JCCH at (808) 945-7633, ext. 28 or email programs@jcch.com 


(Disclosure: This cookbook is published by Watermark Publishing, a sister company of Pacific Basin Communications, which includes HONOLULU Magazine, all part of the aio family of companies. Additionally, aio is led by chairman Duane Kurisu, whose brother is co-author Derek Kurisu. Co-author Jason Takemura is the executive chef of the Hukilau and Pagoda, other sister companies within the aio family. )