“Maybe the entire human experience is found within a preserved plum.” —Beau Flemister
Editor’s Letter: In October of last year, I found myself in New York City, eager to dine in what many call the culinary capital of the world.
I was there to throw an event with Hawai‘i Tourism USA, promoting the sounds and flavors of the Hawaiian Islands, so with only a few days to spare, I set out to some of my favorite haunts: Russ and Daughters for bagels smeared with smoked fish and cream cheese; Katz’s Delicatessen for slabs of pastrami piled high on rye bread; Hi-Collar, a tiny 10-seat Japanese-style bar, for mentaiko pasta, omurice, and fluffy, towering hot cakes. I went for fried chicken and biscuits in Williamsburg, freshly shucked oysters in Chelsea, Italian food in Greenpoint, and New American in the East Village.
But the best food I had in New York City was not New York City food at all. It was at our event, served by a Maui chef flown in for the weekend: Sheldon Simeon. It was the first time I had tried Simeon’s food. There was ‘ahi poke, served with chili tobiko aioli and kaki mochi; pancit bucatini with bottarga and what Simeon calls “roof lemons” (see page 28); huli-huli pork belly with marungay and shoyu poi; onaga, served lāwalu-style, wrapped in banana leaves, with macadamia nuts and purple potato mash.
Can I just say that Hawai‘i food is having a moment? Simeon competed on Bravo’s Top Chef in seasons 10 and 14, and walked away with top-three finishes and the “fan favorite” award for both seasons. Poke is trending, for better or worse, around the globe. (Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, Tail and Fin in Las Vegas debuted its customizable pineapple poke bowls, while Poké Bowl Station—accent theirs—in Brooklyn launched handheld poke wrapped in rainbow-colored waffle tacos.) Try to walk in and get a table at San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club, opened in 2015 by O‘ahu-born Ravi Kapur, who is of Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Chinese descent, without a reservation—you will likely be told to come back in two hours.
Here at home, the culinary scene is an increasingly dizzying bounty. More locally grown choices are within reach on grocery store shelves and in farmer’s markets booths than ever before. Food, as Simeon points out in our interview with him, is as powerful an indicator of culture as language and skin color. For those who hold the islands in our hearts, we know that Hawai‘i cuisine is much more than a trend. It is a reflection of who we are, a commemoration of where we have been, and a beacon of where we have yet to go.
Still, there is much work to do. Governor Ige is committed to doubling local food production by 2020, but less than half a percent of the state’s budget is dedicated to agriculture. So can it be done? Can Hawai‘i become a model for self-sufficiency? “It could be done here better than any state anywhere,” Kunoa Cattle Company co-founder Bobby Farias says, “if you let us.”