If you can’t get away, let cooking bring the islands to you
I USED TO SAY I didn’t need to go to Hawaii. “I grew up in Florida,” I would tell my wife. “If I want to go somewhere warm, I can go there and see my family, too.” But I had no idea what I was missing. Hawaii is more than someplace warm. It’s a way of life. And now, like any number of northwesterners, I have heard the siren song of the islands and I’m hooked for life.
It started with a culinary research trip. As the new consulting chef for Canlis I was supposed to go there and find out all I could about Hawaiian food. But from the moment I stepped off the plane and inhaled the flowery tropical air, even inside the airport with its walkways open to the tradewinds, I was spellbound.
In between the meals, I swam at Waikiki, hiked to Sacred Falls and did everything I could to work off some of the calories packed into the Okinawan sweet potatoes and the rich coconut custard called haupia. We walked up the Manoa Valley and body-surfed at Waimea Bay, and all the while, we were practicing Hawaiian words like ono (delicious), wikiwiki (quick) and hummahummanukunuku apua’a (a fish). Just saying words like that made me happy.
One of the culinary high points of the trip was spending a couple of days behind the line in the kitchen of Alan Wong. In 1998, Wong would win the James Beard Award for Best chef of the Northwest. (The James Beard Foundation always lumps Hawaii in with the Northwest).