Cooking with Aloha. An Interview with Ed Kenney

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ED KENNEY IS A BUSY MAN. The successful restaurateur owns four popular restaurants, sits on several community boards and is to host the PBS culinary travel show, “Family Ingredients.” The chef has had many accolades, including being named as a finalist several times for Best Chef: West by the James Beard Foundation. Kenney’s first three restaurants, Town, Kaimuki Superette and Mud Hen Water, are all within a few blocks of each other in this vibrant community Kaimuki, and are known for fresh farm-to-table ingredients and traditional Hawaiian flavors. In April of 2016, Kenney made the leap to Waikiki when he opened Mahina & Sun’s in the Surfjack hotel. All of these restaurants go by Kenney’s mantra, “Local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always.”

 

What caused you to make the leap to Waikiki from your base of restaurants in Kaimuki?

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When doing some research for the Surfjack’s restaurant concept, the original owners found the style and taste of cuisine they were looking for when they dined at Town. Our Kaimuki restaurants’ ongoing mission to create community gathering places that reconnect people to the food they eat and those they eat with was aligned with their vision. Spending a lot of time in Waikiki during my childhood, it brought back a sense of nostalgia when we were asked to partner with the Surfjack. My parents were performers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and Halekulani back before the properties became sprawling resorts, so I spent a lot of time in town watching them perform. With Mahina & Sun’s concept, we’re treating both visitors and locals to an authentic taste of Hawaii with what is offered on the seasonal menu.

 

What sets Mahina & Sun’s apart from your other restaurants?

Mahina & Sun’s menu has been created from the same set of values as my other restaurants, utilizing local, organic produce and sustainable seafood. We wanted to turn the restaurant into a community gathering place in Waikiki, where visitors and locals feel comfortable and “come as you are” for spontaneous cocktails, a special occasion or even just a great cup of coffee.

The theme of our menu is elevated home-cooking with an emphasis on sustainable seafood. The dishes are new and stylish, like the Surfjack, but are influenced from childhood upbringings – growing up on Oahu and my mom’s cooking – from the Portuguese Bean Soup to the spicy ahipalaha (tuna) found in the Mahina’s Bowl, most of these recipes were from my childhood.

 

You’re known for partnering with Hawaii farms like MA‘O Organic
Farm to showcase local ingredients. Tell me a little about why that
is so important to you individually and to the dishes you serve.

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Most restaurants are proud to note locally sourced products on a menu, but, for me, it’s more important to have the physical relationships with the farms and farmers. The farmers we collaborate with, like MA‘O, are now ohana. By purchasing and consuming locally sourced product, we are committed to our community, to our farmers and to our aina. In sourcing and eating local, we look at how we are able to give back to the planet that ultimately provides us with the food we eat.

 

You’ve been able to cook for former First Lady Michelle Obama.
What was that experience like?

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It was an honor! And, actually, it was one of my dreams to cook for her. When she planted a garden at the White House, she sent a message about nutrition and connecting oneself to the land. We both have strong beliefs regarding food education and policy. Mrs. Obama visited us at MA‘O and we provided her with a firsthand look of the farm of which we source most of our ingredients. MA‘O not only gives back to the community, but also educates our state’s youth by providing them with an opportunity to attend college while learning about the land. The Obamas also dined with us at Mahina & Sun’s over the 2016 holiday upon the former President’s approval to expand Papahanaumokuakea, making it the largest protected place in the world. This impacts the fishing industry and forces us to help protect our supply of sustainable seafood. We’re very grateful to have had them experience our menu offerings.

 

Many of the people who read Waikiki Menus come from out of town. Do you have any recommendations on bringing Island inspired flavors into dishes back home?

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On the menu, guests will not only be able to eat local products but most important, get to try indigenous plates based from Hawaiian canoe crops such as paiai (undiluted taro) and ulu (breadfruit). Most of our menu items are listed as their traditional Hawaiian names, such as akule (big eye scad), hee (octopus) and au ku (swordfish). These offerings are not normally found in Waikiki’s popular restaurants nor are they listed in Hawaiian. It may be some vacationer’s first experience hearing the Hawaiian name as well as tasting the Hawaiian dish!

Hot for Summer

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I was very nearly an Independence Baby, set to make my debut on the Fourth of July. My patriotic parents were proud. Instead I came a few days early, on Canada Day of all days. Still, the summer sun runs in my veins and all year I yearn for backyard barbeques and that special night punctuated by bursts of fireworks in the sky. Luckily for me, now I live in Hawaii, where summer never quite leaves, and there are weekly fireworks in Waikiki.

Summer in Hawaii is a beautiful time of year for everyone, when the plumeria bloom and the beach beckons. While you enjoy your stay in our beautiful Islands, take some time to explore the special meals Waikiki chefs have to offer.

 

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Ripe fruit is a hallmark of good summer food, from strawberries to watermelon, and beyond. Here in Waikiki’s perennial summer, papaya is always abundant and makes the perfect side, or it can be cut lengthwise to make a boat that other tasty edibles can be piled onto. Cinnamon’s at the ‘Ilikai does just that. The chef there uses half of a papaya and stuffs it with savory curry chicken. It’s all on a bed of fresh tossed greens and served with toasted Portuguese sweet bread.

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Cinnamon’s is open for three meals a day, and it’s famous for fluffy pancakes in exotic flavors like guava chiffon. Breakfast is served all day, but lunch and dinner entr´ees are only available during specified hours. Your best bet is to come later in the day to try all of the tastes Cinnamon’s has to offer.

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Fresco Italian Restaurant at the Hilton Hawaiian Village brings Old World flavors to the Pacific with a Hawaiian twist. Where else would a menu have bruschetta and poke on the appetizer menu? One of the restaurant’s best appetizer concoctions is a definite blend of Island and Italian flavors with the gamberri pancetta. Picture this: jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon and pan-fried, accompanied by smoked cheddar cheese and slaw, all doused in aged balsamic. While most appetizers are meant to be shared around the table, in the interest of preserving friendships, it might be best for all diners to get their own.

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Seasonal specials are great any time of year, using what’s freshly available to complement the climate. Hatsuhana, located in the Rainbow Bazaar at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, has one of the best summer lunch specials around. The special brings together a simple side salad, a bowl of ramen soup and premium- grade sashimi on rice. It’s a little bit of everything you could want from a Japanese restaurant in paradise.

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Hatsuhana isn’t just a lunch spot. It serves food all day long. Try a traditional Japanese breakfast, or come back for dinner and feast on sushi and tempura.

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When I was a kid, summer always seemed to be the time of year when pizza was abundant. There were birthday parties and swim socials that all catered extra-large pizza pies that my peers and I ate before they were sufficiently cool. I couldn’t get enough.

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Thankfully, Round Table Pizza has always been a steady favorite with perfectly chewy crust, flavorful sauce and premium toppings. Round out the meal with a healthy salad and tasty garlic parmesan twists. If one of the specialty pizzas isn’t exactly your fancy, choose from a variety of sauces and toppings for your own unique pie. Those staying in Waikiki can also enjoy free delivery.

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RumFire at the Sheraton Waikiki is a hotspot year-round. It’s known for nightly live music followed by a DJ and dancing right by the famous swells of Waikiki beach. Visitors less inclined to nightlife can spend a relaxing afternoon there on the lanai with a spiked tea. But for something that truly screams of summer, try its modern take on a campfire classic with the “s’mores” coconut macaroon.

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The s’mores start off with a grahamcracker crumble with in erspersed flakes of coconut. That’s topped with a rich, bittersweet chocolate and finished with a lacquered marshmallow. It’s hard to improve on a summer favorite that is loved in part for its sheer simplicity, but the s’mores coconut macaroon is certainly better than any dessert I ever made at a campfire.

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Summer salads are a must when the day’s heat rises and only a cool meal will do. In Hawaii, the best salads also come with some kind of fish, preferably poke, the Hawaiian cubed raw fish. P.F. Chang’s fresh Hawaiian ahi poke salad is everything you could ask for in a summer salad. It uses fresh ahi tuna diced and spread over organic field greens, cabbage slaw, radish kaiware sprouts and green onions. The whole thing is drizzled with signature poke sauce and wonton strips, then dressed with sesame vinaigrette. For other great summer meals, try the Waikiki roll or shaka roll sushi.

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Nothing is as hot as the fiery spices that accompany some of the Chinese fare at Wok-kiki. For those who prefer mild food, don’t worry, the restaurant has plenty of that, too. In fact, as a Chinese buffet just steps from the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Wok-kiki has a wide array of choices.

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Open for all meals, Wok-kiki starts the day with an American-style breakfast with bacon and eggs among other favorites. At lunch, it starts the switch to Chinese cuisine with roast pork, kung pao chicken, char siu and more. Dinner diners are treated to seafood such as mussels and salt and pepper shrimp. All meals come with a drink, and there’s a full bar with alcoholic beverages for purchase.

Beyond Out West. Hawaiian Cowboys Ranching in Paradise

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by Julie Yaste

Driving through Gunstock Ranch on Oahu’s North Shore requires four-wheel drive and steady hand.  It’s clear that traversing the hilly terrain is actually easier on horseback, something the ranch is known for, than in modern car.

As we drive through the ranch, owner Greg Smith stops the pickup, slowly backs up a short slope and peers across me into the brush. He’s looking straight at a massive cow with long horns. A look of mild disconcertion crosses his face.

“This cow had a little calf with her the other day,” he says. “Now I don’t see it.”

The ranch has around 130 cows, and Smith knows every one of them. I can tell that, after he drops me off at my car, he’ll probably come back to investigate, or at least keep an eye out for the calf over the coming days.

Smith is a fourth-generation rancher, born in Kailua, on Oahu’s windward side. His late father, Max Smith, was a veterinarian in Arizona who saw a job opening in Hawaii and thought it might be fun to move to the Islands for a year. Instead, he stayed for the rest of his life, eventually becoming the Hawaii state veterinarian for 30 years. He opened Gunstock Ranch in 1973, and it’s been family run ever since.

Max Smith left a line of Western ranchers on the Mainland, but he joined an island chain with a rich history of ranching that largely predates that of the Wild West.

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Cows and horses graze in designated pastures throughout the ranch.

It started in 1793, when Capt. George Vancouver gifted King Kamehameha the Great with a few cattle on the Island of Hawaii, or the Big Island, as it’s known locally. At that point, Hawaii had no large land mammals. The following year, Vancouver returned with more cattle, enough to grow a herd.

Kamehameha the Great made killing these cows kapu, or forbidden, and the herd prospered, but at a price. They soon became a nuisance and, in 1830, Kamehameha III lifted the kapu, allowing people to hunt the cattle.

Within a few years, Kamehameha III sent a group of high chiefs to California to hire vaqueros, or Mexican horse and cattle handlers. These vaqueros helped teach people on Hawaii Island how to break horses and herd cattle.

Soon a Hawaiian breed of cowboys emerged: the paniolo.

It’s unclear exactly where the name paniolo came from, but most attribute it to a corruption or mistranslation of the word Española. Some argue that it comes from Hawaiian words meaning, “sit up straight,” (noho I pololei) for the way cowboys sit upright while riding. Either way, a quick survey of rodeos in the Islands shows that, whatever the origin, paniolo pride is strong in Hawaii.

Max Smith fit in with that tradition after his arrival on Oahu. He may have started as a cowboy, but, in 1999, he was inducted into the Paniolo Hall of Fame.

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Visitors enjoy a guided trail ride through the property; little girl makes new friends in the petting zoo; spectacular view from one of the vantages seen on most trail rides; friendly goat waits for treats at the petting zoo; female steer watches over several young calves; couple takes a ride through the ranch.

Today, Greg Smith, Max’s son, runs the ranch. Although Greg was born and raised in Hawaii, and comes from a long line of ranchers, he is somewhat reluctant to say too much about paniolo culture.

“There’s a lot more rich tradition on the Big Island,” Greg says.

That’s true. Most of the great paniolo ranches today are on the Big Island. That is where cattle were first introduced to Hawaii and it has the most acreage for ranch-land. Many restaurants around Waikiki that offer Hawaii-grown beef have selections from Hawaii Island.

But there are still some ranches on Oahu, aside from Gunstock Ranch, that herd cattle and offer tours, such as the famous Kualoa Ranch (not pictured), where multiple movies and TV shows have been filmed over the years.

Gunstock Ranch is smaller than Kualoa, both in size and operation. It’s a leased property and the land it sits on was once part of the massive infrastructure of sugar plantations that stretched across Hawaii. When sugar started to decline, it opened up tracts of land around the Islands for other things, such as ranching, though that pursuit has its drawbacks in paradise.

“Ranching is hard, because there’s not a lot of money in it,” says Greg. In fact, Greg works a regular 40-hour-a-week job at Fish and Wildlife on top of running Gunstock Ranch.

The low profit margin for ranching on Oahu is largely due to the staggering value of property. It’s hard to make money with any agricultural venture in the state, even though Hawaii’s climate and rich soil are known to produce quality fruits and vegetables, such as the famous Hawaiian pineapple or Kona coffee.

One of the things Gunstock Ranch does to turn a profit, and for the sheer pleasure of it, is offer horseback riding. The rides at Gunstock are unique on Oahu, because the typical tour group is small, with only about 12 people. There are also specialty rides, such as a guided picnic ride, after which the group can relax at the top of a cliff and enjoy both a stunning view and a good meal.

The ranch itself owns about 50 horses in addition to its 130 cattle. The ranch also boards about 50 horses, so that locals without the land or means to keep horses at home can still have their own equine friends.

Greg is glad to provide this and other services to Oahu. “That’s kind of how we feel we help preserve the paniolo lifestyle,” he says, “by letting people own horses.”

Colors of Paradise

BLUE HAWAII

Combine rum, blue Curacao, pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and crushed ice in a blend.  Puree on high speed until smooth.  Pour into a chilled glass.

Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a maraschino cherry.


MAI TAI

Combine orange juice, pineapple juice, light rum, Triple Sec and lime in a glass and stir or shake.  Top with dark rum.

Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a maraschino cherry.


PINA COLADA

Combine rum, coconut milk, pineapple juice and ice in a blender. Puree on high speed until smooth and serve in a tiki glass.

Garnish with a slice of pineapple.


MOJITO

Muddle lime juice, sugar and mint leaves in a glass. Add white rum and fill the remaining space with ice and soda water. Stir or shake before serving.

Garnish with mint.


BANANA DAIQUIRI

Combine half a frozen banana, light rum, coconut milk, lime juice and crushed ice in a blender. Puree on high speed until smooth. Pour into a chilled highball glass.

Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Hawaii’s Best Beef

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NOTHING BEATS HAWAII’S LOCALLY GROWN BEEF

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Burgers are an American favorite for good reason. Nothing can compare to quality ground beef grilled to perfection and served up on a bun. Bill’s does one better with a patty made from Big Island grass fed beef. Grass fed beef tends to taste slightly different from traditional mass-produced corn-fed beef, because the cattle are allowed to roam, developing muscles and feeding in pastures. The result in this burger is an almost buttery flavor, deliciously paired with pickled chillies, rocket and herb mayo, and crispy French fries.


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The truth is in the name at Heavenly in the Shoreline Hotel. The eatery specializes in locally sourced, healthy options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of the dinner favorites is the Big Island Kulana Ranch rib eye steak. It is served steaming on a skillet with grilled vegetables. If that’s not enough, it’s served with Naked Cow truffle sauce to make an already mouth-watering meal positively tantalizing. Try it with a signature cocktail from the bar
for a well-rounded meal.


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Azure is one of Waikiki’s premierefine dining locations, with Chef Shaymus Alwin, who last year was invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House. It’s no surprise that the restaurant takes steak seriously. Its Hawaii rancher’s rib eye steak is a prime cut of local beef, cooked to the diner’s preference (although a nice rare is always delightful), then served on a bed of creamed kale and Hamakua mushrooms, with creamy Yukon potatoes. The steak is topped with crispy shallots and a divine red wine sauce. Be sure to wear loose clothing, because you’ll want to eat every morsel.