What’s Cooking with Chef Peter Merriman

The award-winning chef dishes about his new cookbook and O‘ahu restaurants.
Photo: courtesy of Peter Merriman

“I’m always busy. Just trying to make a living.”


That’s the way Peter Merriman described what he was up to one recent Wednesday morning.


He had just gotten off the phone with the architect who’s helping him design O‘ahu’s first Merriman’s restaurant, slated to open on the ground floor of the Anaha mixed-use residential tower being developed by the Howard Hughes Corp. in Ward Village. The 200-seat, 7,800-square-foot restaurant—1,800 square feet will be outdoors—is scheduled to open in June 2017.


And next March, Merriman is opening a casual eatery in the 85,000-square-foot SALT retail and restaurant complex along Ala Moana Boulevard. Called Moku Kitchen, this 7,000-square-foot restaurant will be reminiscent of his Monkeypod Kitchen brand but with an “upcountry downtown” vibe. It will feature one of the first keg wine systems in Hawai‘i, with 12 sustainable and biodynamic wines on tap, a visible kiawe wood-fire rotisserie, pizza ovens and a griddle for burgers. In addition, it will boast 36 craft beers on tap, served at a cool 29 degrees.


It will also be one of a few LEED-certified restaurants in the state.


“Architecture is about design, and food is a lot about design, too,” he says, a bit philosophically, about his phone conversation with his architect. “We were talking about all the fun stuff. Where the entrance will be, what the floor will look like, what the ceiling is going to be, what the experience will be. It’s like throwing a party.”


Merriman is doing more than just making a living. He’s influencing—as he has done for more than two decades—the way people think about, cook and eat food.


First, it was pioneering the landmark Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine movement in 1991—he was a founding member and president—with the goal of encouraging restaurants to use and promote locally grown ingredients. And since he opened his first restaurant, Merriman’s, in 1988 in Waimea—an unlikely place for the upscale landmark restaurant it’s become—it remains the flagship for his brand, which also includes the more casual Monkeypod Kitchen.


As an award-winning chef and restaurateur, Merriman has long been a champion for Hawai‘i’s farmers, ranchers and fishermen, with his six restaurants featuring a slew of fresh, island-grown foods on their menus. (Moku will be his seventh eatery; a third Monkeypod Kitchen opening next year in Kāʻanapali will be his eighth, with Merriman's in Kaka‘ako his ninth.)


Then, this year, he decided to pen a cookbook, widening his reach with his philosophy on farm-to-table and his unbridled enthusiasm for Hawai‘i’s agriculture industry.


Yes, there are recipes, too—75 of them—including the one for his famous wok-charred ‘ahi with Asian slaw. (He said it’s the most-requested recipe from diners and fans.)


Amazingly, Merriman’s Hawai‘i, The Chef, The Farmer, The Food, The Islands (Story Farm, $39.95), written by Merriman and his sister-in-law Melanie, is his first cookbook. It will be available in December.


“Hawai‘i is changing so much and a lot of our agriculture lifestyle is disappearing, and this book reflects some of that,” says Merriman, who has won the Gold Hale ‘Aina Award for Best Big Island Restaurant 18 consecutive years. “The whole beauty of Hawai‘i is in the agricultural lifestyle we have here. It’s a really special kind of thing. And the tourists don’t get to see that.”


The book features stunning scenes of Hawai‘i’s agricultural community, from rolling ranches to rugged coastlines.


And then there’s the food. Miso-steamed clams, chicken papaya with Zinfandel, bean thread noodles with sweet chili shrimp. These are all recipes handpicked by Merriman—some of his personal favorites, some his most coveted from the restaurant—and tailored for the home cook.


“I don’t like recipes for home cooking where you have to do, like, six sub-recipes and spend the whole day doing one dish,” Merriman says. “This is get-it-done (recipes) with bold flavors in the easiest possible manner.”


Merriman’s Hawai‘i, The Chef, The Farmer, The Food, The Islands will be available for purchase in December at Merriman’s and Monkeypod Kitchen restaurants throughout the Islands and at merrimanshawaii.com.