PRESERVING AGRICULTURE IN HAWAII

Article by Julie Yaste

agriculture

The Hawaii Agriculture Research Center is working to keep agriculture alive in the Islands

For centuries, Hawaiians were self-sufficient, able to live off the bounty of the ocean and the fertile land, harvesting the plants and livestock they had brought with them across the Pacific, such as taro and chickens. When Captain James Cook first landed on Hawaii in 1778, he found a place rich in culture and not lacking in natural resources.

But with the introduction of Western culture, Hawaii started to change. Soon Kamehameha the Great united the Islands into a single kingdom, and then began trading with colonial powers.

Within 100 years of Cook’s landing, Hawaii’s landscape and culture had changed dramatically. Foreign investors planted large sugar plantations across the Islands to take advantage of the tropical climate, and immigrants from around the world were employed to work the land.

The different sugar plantations were always searching for the best strain of sugar to grow and harvest. So they came together in 1895 to fund a research center to find the best varietals for Hawaii.

Sugar production declined over the past 50 years, and, in 2016, the last sugar plantation closed on Maui. But the research center that the industry initially funded has morphed into the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center (HARC), located in Kunia and Maunawili on Oahu. The now nonprofit organization works to research agricultural techniques to promote viable farming in modern Hawaii.

Left: A cacao plant growing in Maunawili. Right: Ripe coffee ready for picking at the Maunawili farm.
Left: A cacao plant growing in Maunawili. Right: Ripe coffee ready for picking at the Maunawili farm.

 

“As the plantations closed, they asked, what could they do to replace it,” says Tyler Jones, Maunawili station manager. “While sugar declined, that opened up space to work on other crops.”

The question of what to do in post-plantation agriculture is at the heart of HARC’s research. Along with a small staff, Jones works on developing new agricultural techniques that will benefit local farmers in the wake of Hawaii’s plantation past.

One of the projects Jones and HARC has focused on is finding ways to commercially grow and cultivate koa wood. Koa, meaning “warrior,” is a strong native hardwood in Hawaii. It’s incredibly valuable as a building material for canoes and furniture, but it’s also the traditional material to make ukulele and has been adopted to make guitars and other instruments.

It’s illegal in Hawaii to cut koa trees on government-owned lands. Because of this, koa is hard to come across, and very expensive. But, Jones explains, “On private land, people can grow and harvest koa.”

The problem is that it’s not the easiest tree to grow commercially. It’s susceptible to fungus, so HARC has been working with generations of koa trees to try to determine which koa family lines are more naturally resistant to fungal growth.

HARC has also worked to see if it could be beneficial to intersperse koa trees with other crops, such as cacao and coffee. The result is a small batch of chocolate, and a larger crop of coffee that is being sold as Maunawili Farms Coffee.

“This is our first commercial crop this year,” says Jones. Previously, the coffee was just to show proof of concept. Additionally, the farm at Maunawili holds trainings and workshops to show local farmers its process.

HARC also aims to assist local agriculture through affordable housing. “One of our focuses has been preserving agricultural housing in Kunia. It’s the last remaining plantation village in Hawaii,” according to Jones.

The housing project is a way both to preserve some of Hawaii’s plantation history, and to help with current housing shortages.

Even though HARC is currently selling coffee and a small amount of honey when available, as a nonprofit, making money through coffee or honey production isn’t the goal. The goal is to do research and development that will perpetuate agriculture in Hawaii’s future, even as land costs and the cost of living increases.

“Ultimately the purpose of this is not to grow and sell coffee,” says Jones. “We use it as a demonstration space for farmers.”

For more information about HARC and where to purchase Maunawili Farms Coffee, visit www.harc-hspa.com

Saving the Best for Last

saving-the-best-for-last

SOMETIMES IT CAN BE HARD NOT TO DEVOUR EVERY BITE OF AN ENTRÉE TO SAVE ROOM FOR A SWEET FINISH. BUT IF YOU CAN HOLD OFF AND KEEP A LITTLE SPACE FOR LATER, WAIKIKI’S TOP RESTAURANTS HAVE SOME OF THE BEST DESSERTS AROUND, USUALLY WITH TROPICAL FLAVORS AND ONLY THE FRESHEST INGREDIENTS.

 

AZURE

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Azure is known for its stellar oceanfront views and use of locally caught seafood. It should be no surprise that its dessert menu is also top-notch. The pineapple key lime pie is a prime example. It’s served with a pavlova, a pineapple chip and a scoop of vanilla gelato. Perfection.

 

JAPENGO

japengo

Pineapple and coconut are two of the standard fruit conjured up when Hawaii comes to mind, but while pineapple chunks and even whole pineapples are commonly found in desserts around Waikiki, not much more than coconut flakes have made a similar showing. Japengo’s coconut brûlée is the exception. The delectable sweet is served in a coconut husk that adds both flavor and character.

 

FLOUR & BARLEY

flour-and-barley

Flour & Barley is already popular in Las Vegas and San Diego, where it serves up pizza pies and craft beers. Now the restaurant is saying aloha and bringing its tried and tested recipes to Waikiki. The cannoli at Flour & Barley is a classic Italian dessert. Pastry shells are filled with sweet ricottamascarpone and garnished with pistachios and chocolate. You’ll definitely take the cannoli after a meal here.

 

ARANCINO

arancino

No meal at an Italian restaurant is complete without tiramisu. Tiramisu literally translates to “cheer me up,” and the version at Arancino certainly inspires joy. It delicately layers coffee-dipped ladyfingers with custard and is topped with powdered cocoa. This house-made tiramisu is a signature dessert for the restaurant, with good reason.

MY DOG HAS FLEAS: UKELELE IN HAWAII, PAST AND PRESENT

ARTICLE by Julie Yaste

ukulele

The ukulele is simple: four strings, a dozen or so frets and a gently curved wooden frame.

Within an afternoon, a novice player can pick up a song or two. There’s something beautiful in its minimalism. Songs can be as simple or complex as the player desires. No matter the song or technique, whenever a tune is strummed on a ukulele, Hawaii comes to mind.

For over a century, the ukulele has been the emblem of Hawaiian mele, or songs. Few places are so closely associated with a single instrument as Hawaii is with the ukulele. And like so many of the icons of Hawaiiana, the ukulele didn’t originate on these sandy shores. Instead it was transplanted during the plantation boom.

Sugar plantations that were tended by close-knit communities of immigrants fueled Hawaii’s economy for decades. The plantations started bringing over laborers in the mid-1800s from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and eventually from Portugal and Puerto Rico. Each influx of people brought their own cultural traditions, from food to language and especially music.

In 1879 a boat laden with workers from the Portuguese island of Madeira pulled into Honolulu Harbor, and some of these newcomers brought small four-stringed guitars called machetes. These instruments evolved in Hawaii, taking on four standard sizes and tuning, eventually settling into a modern ukulele. By the turn of the 20th century they had solidified as one of the most popular instruments in Hawaii.

There is no consensus on how it went from machete to ukulele or what precisely “ukulele” translates to. The most common translation is “jumping flea,” because of how musicians’ fingers seemed to jump around while playing. That’s probably why the song people sing to tune is “My Dog Has Fleas” for each note: G-C-E-A.

Ukuleles made their way to the international stage during the 1920’s, when jazz musicians made heavy use of them. Their popularity waned somewhat for the next few decades, but hits like Tiny Tim’s 1968 “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” kept ukuleles in the popular consciousness throughout the years.

Now ukuleles are popular all over the world, thanks in part to the hit success of Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and virtuosos like Jake Shimabukuro. There are many small craftsmen who build stunning instruments throughout the Islands, but four companies have risen to the height of the industry in Hawaii: Kamaka, Kanile‘a, KoAloha and Ko‘olau. They’re affectionately known as the four K’s. Instruments by these master builders are guaranteed to have a stellar sound, and many professional local musicians prefer instruments from one of these companies.

Kanile‘a employee at his workstation
Kanile‘a employee at his workstation

 

So while you enjoy a perfect dinner in Waikiki with resident musicians serenading you on the ukulele, take a look at the instruments. Chances are, that “uke” came from one of these four companies.

KAMAKA UKULELE

Kamaka is the oldest ukulele manufacturer in Hawaii. It’s been family owned and operated since 1916. The company started when Sam Kamaka Sr. started making koa wood ukuleles out of the basement in his Kaimuki home, and it grew from there. By the 1930s he enlisted his two young sons, Sam Jr. and Fred, to help in the shop, even though they were both still in elementary school. Now, at 92, Fred Kamaka still helps with factory tours four days a week, where he regales visitors with stories from his youth and how the company came to be.

Fred tells how his father gained a reputation for creating quality handcrafted instruments. During the ukulele craze of the 1920s Sam Sr. experimented with body shape, and engineered the first “pineapple” ukulele. That original pineapple ukulele—painted to look like a pineapple—is on display inside the shop.

Pineapple ukulele under construction at Kamaka
Pineapple ukulele under construction at Kamaka

 

After Sam Kamaka Sr. died in 1953, Sam Jr. and Fred took over the business and honed the skills they had started to learn as children, making ukuleles by hand. Now their sons run the business.

With the new generation have come new innovations. While much of the assembly is still done by hand, some of it is now automated. The necks and front and back panels are all cut by machine then put together. Chris Kamaka, Sam Sr.’s grandson, checks each instrument before it is shipped out.

2017 marks the 101st year in business for Kamaka Ukulele and it’s going strong. “What happens the second hundred years?” Fred will ask visitors. “I don’t know. I won’t be around.” But it’s clear that he’s not worried. The business is in good hands.

Tours are offered Tuesday through Friday at 10:30 a.m.

KANILE’A UKULELE

Kanile‘a Ukulele was founded by Hawaii-born couple Kristen and Joe Souza in 1998 in the hope of producing heirloom quality instruments.

The majority of the ukes that come out of Kanile‘a are made from koa wood that was largely harvested on the Big Island.  In addition to koa instruments, Kanile‘a uses walnut and a few other wood types, often by request in custom orders.

Ukulele sides in different molds at Ko‘olau
Ukulele sides in different molds at Ko‘olau

 

Kanile‘a blends traditional by-hand construction methods with some newer mechanized steps. The necks are cut by machine and a special laser cutter generates the pearl inlays. Everything else is done by hand. The resulting instrument is quality checked before being sold. Any instrument that doesn’t pass muster is sent back to the factory and not made available for sale.

In addition to handcrafted instruments, Kanile‘a also has a more affordable line of instruments called Islander Ukuleles. These ukes are shipped in from overseas and while less individualized, they are still good instruments that are great for a new player.

Owners Joe and Kristen also have a vested interest in conservation, and run a nonprofit geared towards protecting and enhancing koa wood forests. Their nonprofit is called Reforest Hawaii.

Tours are available daily at 10:30 a.m.

KOALOHA

Unlike Kamaka and Kanile‘a, all aspects of forming the body of the ukulele at KoAloha are done without machinery. “Everything is cut and glued by hand,” says employee and tour guide Daniel Nakashima. It’s clear that Nakashima, as well as all employees, takes great pride in the work.

The instruments here utilize an interesting internal bracing system. Instead of traditional bracing along the interior of the ukulele and by the sound hole, KoAloha has a unibrace that gives it increased stability. They are so stable that, during a factory tour, Nakashima will place the body of a ukulele on the floor and stand on it. It’s a cringe-worthy sight, as most instruments would buckle under the weight of an adult male, but the KoAloha uke holds.

Nakashima shows two unfinished ukuleles at KoAloha
Nakashima shows two unfinished ukuleles at KoAloha

 

The company uses a wide variety of wood including koa, monkeypod, rosewood and mahogany. The different types of wood all produce their own sound. The only items not made in-house is the instrument’s necks, which is laser cut overseas then glued onto the body.

Tours are available Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

KO’OLAU GUITAR & UKULELE

Ko‘olau Guitar & Ukulele is a custom shop, with no standard models. Patrons will pick and choose the shape, size, type of wood and design based on personal preference to produce something customized to the player.

This is another family-run business with a father and son, Jon and Noa Kitakis. Noa crafts the instruments. Because it is a custom shop, Noa has the freedom to tailor every detail for optimum sound. That careful attention comes at a price. Ukuleles from Ko‘olau routinely sell for $2,000 or more.

Part of that cost is the intricate inlays Ko‘olau is known for. Just about any design you can imagine can be made into an inlay including tropical flowers, green sea turtles and taro leaves.

The other three ukulele shops make custom orders upon request, but that isn’t the primary business.

You might think that with a tight market for high-end ukuleles these companies might have a strong rivalry, but that isn’t the case.

“We’re all friends,” Noa says.

40 Years of Elegance

Chef Justin Inagaki
Chef Justin Inagaki

 

In most of Waikiki, shirts and shoes are not a requirement for service. The laid-back beach and tropical weather tends to inspire casual clothing and many restaurants cater to visitors in all states of dress.

At Hy’s, however, collared shirts and closed-toe shoes are a must. The lavishly decorated restaurant features tuxedo-clad servers, and only premium food and wine. It’s a fine-dining establishment in Waikiki and, at the end of 2016, it celebrated 40 years in business.

Hy’s is known for its in-house aged steak, seasoned with its proprietary spice blend, all grilled over a live fire stoked with local keawe wood as diners look on. Greens are often locally sourced, and all steaks are prime.

Executive Chef Justin Inagaki takes pride in refining the award-winning menu, and finding specialty foods like Big Island cheeses, to make unique specials.

“This is a calling for me,” he says. Food and cooking have long been a part of the chef’s life. He was born and raised on Oahu. When he was young, his family often had luau, where he first learned about cooking and Island flavors.

Bone-in ribeye with baked potato and steamed vegetables
Bone-in ribeye with baked potato and steamed vegetables

 

That love of food led Chef Justin to study culinary arts at Kapi‘olani Community College, where many great local chefs got their start. He’s been the executive chef at Hy’s for the last two years.

Chef Justin likes to be creative in his kitchen, and enjoys the freedom to play with the menu and food sourcing. “They actually let me do what I want to do,” he says.

That passion and liberty makes for an interesting blend of ingredients from near and far. The steaks, for example, often come from small farms, sometimes tended by Amish farmers in Pennsylvania. “I always want to find a company that’s unique in what it does,” says Chef Justin.

In addition to that prime beef, Chef Justin uses lamb from Niihau, the Forbidden Island, venison from Maui, and he offers occasional Big Island steak specials. “That was my goal when I came here,” he says, “to use local products.” That attention to detail in ingredients is part of why Hy’s is such a classic Waikiki restaurant and has been for almost half a century.

All-American Fare

all-american

Hawaii may be the youngest state in the Union, but that doesn’t mean the Aloha State hasn’t fostered a love for American food. Waikiki in particular has an abundance of classic American comfort foods, often with an Island twist. If you’re visiting from the Mainland and feeling a little homesick, these restaurants are for you!

 

ALOHA TABLE

aloha-table

Tucked away on Lauula Street between Royal Hawaiian and Seaside avenues, Aloha Table is a hidden gem, and one that even comes with parking. The restaurant specializes in fresh foods made from local ingredients. The local all-star hamburger is a great example of an American favorite with local flare. An all-beef patty is served on a taro bun with lettuce, tomato, onions and minced pickled ginger. Instead of traditional French fries, it’s paired with sweet potato fries made from Big Island sweet potatoes. Other restaurant favorites include garlic shrimp, loco moco, a pupu sampler and signature acai bowl.

 

GIOVANNI PASTRAMI

giovanni

The United States has always been a melting pot for different flavors from Europe in the same way that Hawaii has long blended different types of Asian fare. So while spaghetti and meatballs may technically have its roots in Italy, it’s now a beloved meal in all 50 states.

Giovanni Pastrami serves up mama’s spaghetti and meatballs in a slow-cooked Italian beef sauce with two giant baked meatballs, all topped with Parmesan cheese. It tastes like it just came out of the family kitchen.

 

TONY ROMA’S

tonyromas

Nothing says good southern cooking like barbecued ribs, and nobody in Waikiki does ribs better than Tony Roma’s. Get a full or half slab depending on what your stomach’s telling you, and have it smothered in the signature sauce of your choice. Pair it all with your favorite sides for a perfect meal.

While you wait on the ribs, treat yourself to an appetizer or two. The kickin’ shrimp is a seafood lover’s dream, uniquely served in a jumbo martini glass. Or have the signature onion loaf. It’s hard to go wrong with the comfort flavors at Tony Roma’s.

 

d.k STEAKHOUSE

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In Maine, more than a hundred years ago, lobster was so abundant it was considered a cheap food and served to orphans. The tasty crustacean has gained in popularity since then, and now the New England staple is also a staple of fine dining the world over. While you may have heard of lobster mac and cheese as a decadent side to a perfectly seared steak, d.k Steak House takes it a step further with lobster mashed potatoes in a creamy garlic sauce. It’s a taste of the divine.

Of course no steak house journey is complete without the main course. d.k premium steaks are free from growth hormones, antibiotics and steroids. Try the dry-aged, bone-in ribeye for a classic steak, or if you need a little more lobster, go for the surf and turf filet mignon and lobster tail.

 

MAC 24/7

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Food challenges are a uniquely American trend that is gaining in popularity throughout the country. If you want to test your tummy, head to M.A.C. 24/7 at Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel and try the M.A.C. Daddy Pancake Challenge. It’s three jumbo pancakes stacked with different fixings, weighing in at a hefty five pounds. If you can finish your plate in 90 minutes or less, your picture will adorn the M.A.C. Daddy Wall of Fame. Pictured are the Elvis pancakes, which are topped with bacon, bananas and peanut butter drizzle.

For a lighter meal, M.A.C. 24/7 serves breakfast 24 hours a day with traditional American and Island favorites like classic eggs benedict or loco moco. The restaurant also has non-breakfast items available and showcases live music nightly around the corner at the LBLE lounge.

 

TROPICS BAR & GRILL

tropics

Did you know that eggs benedict originated in New York City? The exact source isn’t exactly known, but the practice of topping an English muffin with ham, eggs and hollandaise sauce definitely began in the Big Apple.

At Tropics, the luau eggs benedict is treated with a Hawaiian flare. Instead of a traditional English muffin, it’s served on a taro roll and the ham is swapped with kalua pork. The poached eggs and hollandaise are what you’d expect though. It’s a great way to fuel a day of sightseeing around Waikiki.

 

CJ’S NEW YORK STYLE DELICATESSEN/RESTAURANT

cjs

Some food concepts are genius in their blending of unlikely pairings of exotic ingredients. Others are genius in their sheer simplicity of combining classic favorites in a new way. CJ’s mac and cheese omelet is a clear case of unbridled brilliance in the kitchen. This omelet uses a classic extra cheesy mac and cheese in an egg envelope, served with bacon and potatoes for an ultimate breakfast experience.

Lunch and dinner options at CJ’s are also full of comforts. The restaurant serves an array of all-beef ballpark-style hot dogs that snap when you bite into them. Have one plain, or get one smothered in chili and cheese.